At beLAUNCH2013, I had the privilege of interviewing Christine Tsai, Partner and ‘pug herder’ at 500 Startups. (Confession time. I almost fell in love.) “Grace under pressure” really did define Christine as a person – throughout the interview, she was collected, passionate, and incredibly charismatic. But she was also sharp, clear and spoke with conviction. Christine is a true compétant of a woman and role model.
Previously, Christine was in product marketing at Google as the lead for Google I/O and Youtube where she drove co-marketing for syndication partners including Panasonic, EA, and Sony (just to name a few!). She holds a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of California at Berkeley. She is also a ballet dancer of over 20 years.
Q. So you’re the – the – ‘pug herder’ at 500Startups. Is that correct?
Christine: (laughs) Yes, that is indeed my nickname.
Q. I understand that you are not only the ‘pug herder’ but also a Partner at 500Startups, a global seed fund and mentor-driven accelerator program. You boast a very, very impressive investment portfolio with companies such as Medialets, Appbistro, OtherInbox, and 9GAG, perhaps most well known amongst students and people around the world! Now, are there startups like that in Korea that is noteworthy, in your judgement?
Christine: I’m getting familiar with a lot of the companies in the Korean startup ecosystem – we have invested in Shakr Media, led by David Y. Lee. I’d love to get to know more startups though, and what I am hoping for is to have one or two Korean startups in our accelerator batch program. We’ve heard of bigger startups such as Kakao, and VCNC. So there are a couple of really good startups here that attracted our attention. We’ve had companies from Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, but none from Korea yet.
Q. As someone experienced in venture capital and startups, would you be able to tell me what the notable difference is between Asian startups?
Christine: There’s definitely going to be a difference, because there is a difference in cultures and language. In terms of Korea, there’s a lot of talent here. There are obviously very strong universities that support startups, and big conglomerate companies are also based in Korea. I think that may be the case for other Asian countries, but right now, there is a huge ‘wave’ of startups and vibrant startup communities are being set up.
Q. Koreans (typically) being into trends would have got to do with it, at least a little bit!
Christine: In the next year or so, there will be a lot more. So now is definitely a good time to get involved, connect and see what’s going on.
Q. Christine, you’re interested in consumer internet, marketing, social media, branding, and developer marketing. But what exactly do you look for in a startup though?
Christine: We definitely look at the team and see how strong it is. And we look at the product. We don’t invest in ideas, but we invest in actual products. We look for whether they are solving a problem for the consumers. We don’t look for just a ‘consumer app’. They need to already be making money, or alternatively have a very clear business model.
Christine: Yes, that’s something that we try to specialize in, helping our companies in that way.
Q. Makes sense.
Christine: We have certain verticals in terms of what we like to invest in. I guess a good way of describing what we’re interested in is ‘things that are not very attractive’. We probably wouldn’t have invested in Instagram, but we invest in what we call ‘unsexy’ but they’re making money, and have a clear revenue model. One other thing is we see if they can operate with little resources. And that’s much easier to do nowadays, because it’s a lot easier and cheaper to kickstart a startup nowadays.
Q. Yes – there are so many startups booths at beLAUNCH2013. What do you think about the conference?
Christine: Events like these are so vital – there are smaller meetings like these, but having a big event like this is also very important. This is actually my first time here at beLAUNCH, and I think it’s a fantastic event.
Q. What do you expect from beLAUNCH2014?
Christine: A lot of the Korean startups I’ve seen aspire to go overseas, so making it even more global while still catering to the Korean market would be great. That would be my take of it.
Q. Thank you Christine for making the time for us, and hope you have a good time in Korea!
Christine: Thank you Sue & Justin!