Please explain a little bit about JFDI.Asia. What do you want to achieve through your company?
We want to help build the future. That’s partly about working with individual technologies and products and companies, and also about working with a bigger ecosystem so that others can see their ideas become real too.
We believe that it really is possible to make the future different with technology. When I was a kid, the idea that I could shoot a video while I am out with friends and share it with the world, all using a device smaller than a pack of cigarettes, was unimaginable. Now, smartphones are becoming available for under $100.
Digital technology is particularly exciting because it affects every area of life and it is now so quick to put it together. In a weekend a couple of guys can do something really cool and if they get it really right, millions of people could be using it within a few months.
We want to achieve innovation in Asia, for Asia. I am an outsider to this part of the world, so I see things with a different perspective. Meng spent much of his childhood in Canada, so even though he is Singaporean he has that perspective too.
We see that Asia has huge creative talent and the opportunity to do things in different ways from the West. For example, in India most people have gone straight from having no phone to having a mobile phone, without ever owning a phone wired to the wall. We see no reason why education, healthcare, transport or anything else must be done exactly the same way here that it is done in the West. Perhaps, working with our friends across the region, we can leap over the existing technology, like a frog, and get to a more exciting future that way.
Please give some information about the business system of JFDI.Asia.
The core of what we do is called ‘Lean Startup Methodology’. Lean, because it uses the same principles as the ‘Lean Manufacturing’ techniques developed by companies like Toyota to make sure that all the energy in a company goes into creating value for customers and is not wasted.
At JFDI we love to think in broad, expansive ways, because thinking and ideas takes only some beer, fun and friends. But when we start turning ideas into reality, we like to focus our work on creating businesses that have the best chance of being sustainable.
We are inspired by the ‘Customer Development Model’ articulated by Steve Blank; the ‘Lean Startup’ ideas of Eric Ries and the methods set out by Ash Maurya for putting them into practice.
We see ourselves very much as part of an ecosystem. We could not do what we do without the open source software movement, transnational organizations encouraging entrepreneurship like Startup Weekend and the Global Accelerator Network, of which we were the first member in South East Asia.
In 2012, JFDI.Asia launched ‘The JFDI-Innov8 Bootcamp.’ Could you give a little detail of this event? What is it and what purpose does it have?
We saw the success of two organizations in the US: Y-combinator and TechStars, both using the Lean Startup Methodology. Between them, they have created hundreds of companies worth billions of dollars in the last five years, along the way inspiring thousands of entrepreneurs. Businesses like Dropbox and AirBnB came from these organizations. They have done all this with remarkably little investment of money. So we wanted to see if it was possible to bring that model of ‘seed acceleration’ to South East Asia.
We are a member of the Global Accelerator Network, set up by TechStars, and so we have built on what works for them in the US. We recruit teams of entrepreneurs, mostly engineers who can actually make things, from around the world. We work remotely with them before they join us, then they come to Singapore for 100 days and we incorporate and invest in a business for them. They receive very intensive mentoring for that 100 days and, at the end, show what they have done to a group of investors. We hope that around half will get substantial follow-on funding to carry on developing their businesses.
As a founder of JFDI.Asia, I think you would have a lot of interest in the companies in Asia. Then, what do you think of Korean business and startups? Do you have any interest in them or is there any Korean startup that you are interested in specific?
I was very impressed that Korea invested in broadband internet to every home so early compared with other countries. I imagine this must have created the opportunity for many young people to experiment with digital techology in the same way that I did when I was a teenager. So I imagine that there must be a lot of talent in Korea and I would like to meet entrepreneurs from your country.
However, I have to admit that I feel quite isolated from Korea’s start-up scene. Perhaps that is because of language. One of the things that Meng and I want to do is to create a platform that shares what is going on across national boundaries more in South East Asia. Then we can connect entrepreneurs with vision to build larger companies and projects that work across the whole region.
If so, do you have any plans for incubating or investing to Korean startup companies?
We would be delighted to have the chance to work with Korean companies. In 2011 we did run advertising in Korea on social networks, as we did across the world, but out of 300 teams that applied to the JFDI-Innov8 2012 bootcamp, none were from Korea. It has been the first year we are in operation so perhaps we did not connect to the right people, blogs and social networks. We would welcome the chance to put that right.
Lastly, what do you think that Korean startup companies and venture entrepreneurs need to be successful in global market?
It seems very hard for any company or investor to work in isolation. All around the world, it seems that creating an ecosystem where yesterday’s successful inventors become tomorrow’s investors; and yesterday’s founders become tomorrow’s funders, is the way forward. I do not know how the startup scene is structured in Korea but if there is a chance for people to come together and create something larger than themselves, this could be the answer.