SlingshotMNL Opportunities in Tech Investing

(null)Monday, 6th July 2015, saw the Philippines hosting the largest ever tech startup gathering in the country: SlingshotMNL, the official APEC-related tech startup conference, which attracted 1,200 participants and 120 startup exhibitors. People trooped to the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) to listen to key government agencies, global tech companies, local startups, academics, investors and other key ecosystem players participate in a two-day conference that aimed to help build a bridge between the public and private sectors in the country who had an interest in building a more robust startup ecosystem. The Department of Trade and Industry was the key government agency here; but the Department of Science and Technology was visibly present and supportive.

I moderated a panel on “Opportunities in Tech Investing” in the afternoon of Day One. I had a great panel!

The panelists, in alphabetical order:
* Jay Fajardo – CEO and co-founder, Proudcloud; and our partner for the Launchgarage acceleration program from 2012-2014
* Justin Hall – Principal, Golden Gate VC (SG)
* Daniel HerssonCleantech VC/PE Team Leader and Consultant, Asian Development Bank
* Hugh Mason – CEO and co-founder, JFDI
* Shyan Menon – Investment Director, Infuse Ventures (India)
* Koichi Saito – Founder and General Partner, KK Fund

I sent the panelists an advance email with the themes I planned to cover. Brilliantly, the startup community pitched in over the weekend with questions of their own! Which was great, because whilst the panel’s original intent was to point out opportunities for investors, clearly the founders’ perspective was key to a balanced discussion. Shoutout to Vin Dancel, Pavan Challa, Eric Clark Su, Maoi Arroyo, Gian dela Rama, Alvin Edwald Chan, Valenice Balace, Marielese Tan, Carlo Valencia and Gerry Cruz, who gamely joined my weekend prep for the panel!

We got quite positive feedback about the panel and the flow of the conversations, so I thought I’d share the content here. I won’t edit the draft: you’ll see the original thoughts, and can compare them with the actual discussion. Like a good startup, a good panel moderator has to be agile, and pivot when the situation calls for it!

First, the questions:

  • A quick round of introductions: maybe 2 minutes each, to say what you do, and what you want to get out of SlingshotMNL
    • After the round, we could do a quick show-of-hands summary: who’s been a founder / who’s worked for a startup / who’s invested in a startup outside of their own / who’s worked in corporate / who’s worked in VC — it’ll be “raise your hands for all that apply” to help the audience remember the context of each panel member
  • Investing is a tough profession, subject to both the company execution as well as market shifts; and tech is a sector that has shown rapid shifts. Why invest in tech?
    • What are the upsides investing in tech vs traditional industries?
    • What are the risks? How do the opportunities outweigh them?
    • How do you mitigate this kind of risk?
    • Do you have different criteria for investing in different regions / markets?
    • Which KPI matters most to you for valuation, and does this change from seed to Series A and beyond?
  • The literature on tech investing suggests more generosity, transparency and collaboration than is prescribed for traditional industries.
    • Do you subscribe to this when you make your own investments? How?
    • Have you seen bad investor behaviour, and how do you deal with it?
  • People say “tech investing” as if “tech” was a single category, subject to a single set of factors. But the truth is that tech has a broad spectrum of sectors, each of which is its own universe. Are there sectors that you are currently focusing on?
    • Any global tech trends that you are observing?
    • Any regional shifts that you anticipate coming to SEA?
  • Thoughts about specific regions / markets:
    • In your current investment portfolio, where do you have the most exposure, and why?
    • Do you favour any market or region for your current investment activity? Would you start to shift in or out of any particular region?
  • Are there government or regulatory policies that the SEA region needs to accelerate the development of innovation ecosystems here? Any best practices we should adopt?
    • In fact, should governments get in on the act at all?
  • In SEA, we talk about a gap between early stage to Series A, and we see a number of startups raising bridge rounds to get them to milestones that will allow an A raise.
    • Do you believe this is a systemic gap, caused by smaller seed rounds, more modest valuations in the region, or slower growth due to inherent market characteristics?
    • Or do you think this is par for the course, and not unusual given that only exceptional startups in any market achieve the kind of traction that gets them to a Series A without a bridge round?
  • There are growing concerns of a possible tech bubble, in the US and in a few other regions.
    • Do you believe there is a bubble? Why or why not?
  • Last: What is your fearless forecast for tech investing in the ASEAN from 2015-2020?

It wasn’t meant to be a punchlist to be checked off in sequence. The panel’s perspective was to share experiences and insights that could be useful to public and private sector participants who care about accelerating the development of a Philippine startup ecosystem. We kept a brisk pace, provided differing perspectives, and tried to keep things interesting and fresh for the audience. I certainly enjoyed, and I hope the panelists and the audience did, too.

Next up: the discussion highlights.

(You may also view the session below beginning at 33:29)