3 Learnings from How a Travel Startup Overcame the Pandemic, Featuring Ming Ming Chen, CEO & Founder of KKday

Jack An, Analyst (安良方 / 分析師)

Jack is an Analyst covering AppWorks Accelerator. Before joining the team, he was a co-founder and early team member at two InsurTech startups, where he developed a passion in user experience and product development. Previous to his startup journey he worked as a commercial property underwriter at Chubb Insurance in New Zealand. Jack graduated with a Bachelor of Music from Waikato University where he studied classical piano. He loves to cook, read and is a practicing stoic.

Hi, I’m Jack, I joined AppWorks as an Analyst in April 2019, not long after I burnt through two startups, one I co-founded in 2017 and the other as a founding team member. My experience taught me that building a successful company is extremely difficult, and if I wanted to improve my odds, I needed to learn from people who have successfully built them. 

Now at AppWorks, I get to work alongside 1,300 founders of all stages amongst a variety of startups, 395 active ones to be exact, across the most exciting region that is Greater Southeast Asia, giving me truly a grand scope of founders to learn from.

This year, the coronavirus disrupted the normal world order, taking millions of lives in the process and slowing down economies all around the world. Amongst the chaos, startups from all stages were affected. Besides the select few that prevailed, most startups either saw stagnant growth, or worst, shut down their business. 

On my journey to become a better founder myself, behind this very unfortunate event was a learning opportunity of a lifetime. This is why I set out to write this piece, to document my learnings and improve my understanding. I got to see just how startups that overcome the pandemic reacted differently to those that didn’t.

Amongst our network of founders, I had the chance to closely observe Ming Ming Chen, the founder and CEO of KKday – a travel platform that provides local experiences and tours across Asia. I got to witness first hand how he coped with drastic changes that affected his business, how he made quality decisions that pushed KKday to prevail, and how he quickly mobilized the entire company to effectively weather the storm.

I believe the key lessons distilled here are applicable to early-stage founders all the way up to founders heading into series B, especially for those that want to learn how to lead a team through uncertainties. The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-generation crisis, pushing founders to the test in every single aspect possible, so the lessons observed here should be great additions to your arsenal.

First, plan for the worst to conquer yourself

Back in January when the pandemic first broke out, I hopped on a call with Ming Ming to check in on KKday’s pulse. I remember distinctly that he was very calm and collected. It was hard to tell from his demeanor that 90% of travel in this region was wiped out almost over night.

I asked him what’s going through his head. Ming Ming mentioned that in his 20+ years of entrepreneurship, a key principle he practiced was to always plan for the worst. 

By always planning for the worst, KKday has been extremely disciplined in managing their cash flow and balance sheet. The key principle is to not sink short-term assets into long-term investments, optimizing for cash flow flexibility in return. 

This played a major role in neutralizing the initial shock of the outbreak, allowing KKday to protect their brand and refund customers fully, despite a significant drop in revenue.

The other benefit of planning for the worst is better managed expectations. When bad situations don’t turn out as bad as you had anticipated, then your own morale and energy are left unperturbed. 

This side effect may seem negligible at first, but being the captain of the ship that’s lost at sea, the crew’s attitude is an extension of it’s captain. Displaying the slightest frustration and anger does not instill confidence in your team, but only serves to discourage them. What seemed like a minuscule change in perspective can actually impact the entire company.

By simply planning for the worst situation possible, Ming Ming and KKday were able to soften the initial blow of the pandemic. But as the travel industry came to a near freeze, how can a founder turn around their startup’s fate from barely managing survival to proactively creating opportunity?

A decision framework against uncertainty

Having led 2 companies to IPO before starting KKday, Ming Ming draws from a wealth of knowledge and experience to overcome the pandemic. He explains that the result of any decision is amplified during troubled times, either directly adding more uncertainty to your team or reducing it. 

Furthermore, the result also impacts the decision maker’s future credits to lead their team. Thus, increasing the decision quality across the company was a key lever to pushing KKday forward.

Ming Ming distilled his decision framework into for steps ”見-識-謀-斷” which can be translated to “seek-digest-strategize-decide”. Every decision made within KKday goes through this rigorous process.

The first step is to “seek” information and data that’d accurately represent the reality of the decision. The second step is to “digest” the information and to understand the scope and the stakes. The third step is to “strategize”, plan and test the hypothesis of your decision; it is important to stress test your thesis and evaluate whether or not it adequately stands up to reality by inviting other stakeholders into the discussion to either validate or invalidate your understanding.

The last step is to “decide”. The founder or the leader of the team needs to make the decision alone, as they need to carry the responsibility of the result. They need to decide on the tradeoffs of making the decision, and whether or not to proceed or revisit the preceding steps.

Throughout 2020, KKday has transitioned from selling tours for foreigners traveling in a new country to weekend getaways and other domestic excursions for people living in Taiwan, while also branching into products that extend far beyond their typical offering including protective masks and packets of mala hot pot. 

In the process of venturing into the unknown, Ming Ming and his team carefully used this framework to test their hypothesis, efficiently and effectively pushing forward their progress without losing precious resources and energy. 

And as the year draws to a close, we are seeing all of these initiatives not only making up for the missing revenue, but also enabling KKday to strengthen its brand and build goodwill among its customer base, while acquiring a slew of new users in the process.

But making better decisions is only part of the equation, what truly pushed KKday above the line was their execution upon these decisions. So just how did KKday, a company with hundreds of employees, with operations spanning across 6 countries adapt to the new normal so swiftly?

Using organization structure to drive your strategy

Much like a sports team that changes their lineup according to their game plan and the opposing team, a founder needs to structure their organization and teams relative to the environment and strategy, to maximize the organization’s output. 

Once Ming Ming and his team decided to introduce new products and focus on domestic travel, the way the organization was previously structured needed to be reshaped, as it no longer yielded optimal efficiency in promoting the new strategy.

Rather than having the Taiwan HQ team approve all products for travelers on their platform, KKday adapted to procuring products locally, authorizing local teams to source products for their own markets allowing them to move much faster than before. 

The teams also overhauled their KPIs to focus on improving new product sales and domestic travel sales. These new KPIs became the guidelines and instructions that empowered the new teams to directly facilitate the change in strategy, enabling the company to quickly transition from serving outbound travelers to domestic travelers. 

COVID-19 hit different countries with varying severity, creating non-linear recovery across all of KKday’s active markets. The organizational restructuring served as an effective way for local teams to rapidly respond to local conditions as needed, helping the travel company to pull off an incredibly successful year by all standard measures—no doubt exemplified by the US$ 75 million Series C they recently raised in the midst of a pandemic. 

There is much more to learn

By always planning for the worst, Ming Ming was able to soften the initial impact for the pandemic, and by improving the decision quality across the board, KKday was able to create opportunities even when the odds were stacked against them. Most importantly, by efficiently managing the organization, KKday was able to execute quickly upon the opportunity they identified and improve their chance of survival at every corner and every turn.

These lessons observed here are not commonly found in public domains, and only really shared from one founder to another. As I tried to build my first startup at the age of 25, I mostly did it in isolation without knowing any other founders at all. Looking back, so many mistakes could have been avoided, and so much time could have been saved, if I had just learned from founders who were a few years more journeyed than me. 

【So if you are like me, and you wish to become a better founder and build a successful company in the future, then I encourage you to join a community like AppWorks Accelerator, where you can interact with and learn from over 1,300 founders just like Ming Ming.】

AppWorks Celebrates 10th Anniversary and 2020 Milestones with Dedicated Landing Page

  • AppWorks Ecosystem breaks a US$10B valuation, with aggregate turnover and funds raised both more than doubling in growth
  • AppWorks Funds outperforms the world’s top quartile of venture capital and private equity funds, generating 2.5x TVPI, 1x DPI, and 26.5% IRR
  • AppWorks School graduates 256 students, with a 92% placement rate

On February 2, 2021, AppWorks unveiled its key milestones over the past decade, while highlighting operational results from 2020 in the “10th anniversary and 2020 Year in Review” webpage. Despite the raging impact of the pandemic, the AppWorks Ecosystem displayed the utmost resiliency, with the funds and all encompassing companies producing healthy growth and profits.

AppWorks has just passed its 10 year anniversary in 2020, and with all pillars of its influence only continuing to grow, including AppWorks Accelerator, the AppWorks Ecosystem alumni, AppWorks Funds, and AppWorks School. AppWorks has achieved several key milestones, and made significant headway in establishing Taiwan as the technology epicenter of Greater Southeast Asia (ASEAN+TW). Looking forward into the next 10 years, AppWorks’ goal is to continue positioning Greater Southeast Asia at the forefront of an increasingly digital, automated, and decentralized 21st century.

Milestones in the AppWorks Ecosystem: Aggregate valuation, fundraising, and turnover each exhibited more than 2x growth, with the overall valuation exceeding US$10B

In 2020, AppWorks Accelerator announced its updated focus on “ABS” strategy, narrowing the recruitment of startups to only those focusing on AI, blockchain, and Southeast Asia. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, AppWorks Accelerator graduated 51 new startups across AW#20 and AW#21, of which 27 are working in AI/IoT and 13 in blockchain/crypto. More than 62% of the entrepreneurs hail from countries across Greater Southeast Asia, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesia. In response to the widespread lockdowns and travel restrictions, we also shifted our program to a hybrid online-offline model in order to facilitate a seamless experience for all of our founders despite physical limitations.

With the addition of AW#20 and AW#21, there are now a total of 395 active startups and 1,331 founders in the AppWorks Ecosystem (including accelerator alumni and portfolio companies). Collectively, all companies produce a turnover of US$ 8 billion, an annual increase of 162% compared to the same time last year, and foster 17,359 employees, 73% more than the year prior. Altogether, the Ecosystem raised a total of US$ 2.36 billion, an annual increase of 140%, with an aggregate valuation reaching US$ 11 billion, growing 160% YoY.

With COVID-19 effectively turbocharging the demand for digital technologies in 2020, the Ecosystem’s overall valuation, total funds raised, and annual turnover have each more than doubled in growth, notably exceeding the 29%, 36%, and 98% respectively experienced a year prior.

In the course of building this ecosystem and cultivating Taiwan and Southeast Asia’s innovative capabilities, AppWorks has helped generate sizable economic impact both in terms of value created and jobs produced. The combined annual turnover of US$ 8 billion is now equivalent to 0.7% of Indonesia’s GDP, and the more than 17,000 employment opportunities created are equivalent to 0.3% of Singapore’s working population.

Coincidentally, the year AppWorks exceeded a decacorn valuation is the very same year of our 10th anniversary. The increased adoption of digital technologies and outsized demand for innovative business models under COVID-19 was just enough to inch the Ecosystem into the ten billion dollar territory, not only marking a new milestone in AppWorks’ history but also representing the sheer impact that a community of digital innovators can bring. We see the scale and influence of our ecosystem only growing from here on out, into the next decade. 

The strength and potential of the AppWorks Ecosystem is perhaps best represented through the many achievements over our alumni this past year:

AppWorks Ecosystem highlights: ShopBack successfully entered the Vietnamese market; Mighty Jaxx successfully sold 5 million collectibles

Medtech startup iWEECARE (AW#9) closed a US$2.4M pre-A financing, led by previous round investor TransLink Capital. The company’s ergonomic, child-friendly smart thermometer “Temp Pal” played a critical role in disease prevention and control in hospital systems across the world during this pandemic including Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, and Ireland.
Online cashback platform ShopBack (AW#13) officially landed in Vietnam, attracting more than 800,000 users since launch and generating nearly US$200K in cashback rewards. The company now maintains a presence in 9 countries across GSEA, covering more than 20 million users.

ShopBack team

CakeResume (AW#14), Taiwan’s leading technology job search platform, announced in 2020 that it completed a seed round of approximately US$900K. It plans to use the funds to expand into Japan and India, ultimately striving to become the largest talent platform in Asia.

Hong-Kong based Omnichat (AW#16) recently completely a seed round of US$800K in 2020. The company offers a chatbot-based marketing automation service that helps e-commerce clients enhance performance and improve checkout conversion rates by 3x – 7x. Building on its success in the Hong Kong and Taiwanese markets, Omnichat is planning on expanding its service to Southeast Asia in 2021. 

Taiwan’s leading digital identity verification solution AuthMe (AW#18) helped identify a security flaw in the MyData platform, the National Development Council’s latest effort to promote personal data ownership and privacy protection. After stumbling upon the vulnerability, the AuthMe team worked together with digital minister Audrey Tang to quickly investigate the issue and install a security patch before re-launching the service 24 hours later. 

MightyJaxx (AW#20), a technology-driven trading platform for art and toy collectibles, received US$3.2M in financing this past year.  They’ve partnered with some of the world’s leading brands such as Warner Bros, Marvel, and Disney to design a variety of pop culture collectibles, shipping 5 million units to collectors in over 60 countries in 2020.

Cryptokitties developer Dapper Labs announced several partnerships with IP owners such as NBA and UFC, while launching a new public chain designed specifically for the entertainment ecosystem called Flow, which recently raised US$18M in a token sale. 

Taiwan’s largest cloud POS provider iCHEF, completed a US$5M Series B round of financing, while accumulating more than 8,000 restaurant clients across Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. At the same time, it successfully integrated delivery services with platforms such as Uber Eats and foodpanda, while putting in place imminent plans for an IPO.

KKday, Asia’s leading e-commerce platform for travel experiences, successfully closed a US$75M Series C round of financing. With the support of strategic investors, the funds will be used to deepen its presence across all its international markets.

The good news and milestones also extended into the personal lives of our founders, with several newlyweds coming to light. In 2020, Kevin Wong of Origami Labs (AW#15), and Tina Lin of Flipweb (AW#15) became locked in holy matrimony; Just as well, in the same year, Matthew Lee of Codibook (AW#15) and Hanna Wu of Anno (AW#15), also found themselves entering the next stage of their lives together. This is the second and third AppWorks couple after Richard Zhu of WriteTime (AW#15) and Fiona Shi of Good Moon Mood (AW#15) became the first in 2019. 

AppWorks Funds II has outstanding performance: TVPI reached 2.5x, DPI reached 1x, and IRR reached 26.5%, outperforming the world’s top quartile of venture capital and private equity funds.

After 10 years of hard work, AppWorks Funds is today one of the largest and most active early-stage venture capital funds in Greater Southeast Asia. It has three venture capital funds totaling US$176M AUM, with investments in 56 startups encompassing 4 IPOs, 1 decacorn (worth more than US$10B), 1 unicorn (worth more than US$1B), and 6 centaurs (worth more than US$100M).

In 2020, AppWorks Funds continues doubling down on three key areas AI, blockchain, and Southeast Asia, with a total of 9 new investments this past year, including WeMo Scooter, Taiwan’s leading shared electric scooter operator; Fabelio, a fast-fashion furniture retailer that provides OMO consumer experience in Indonesia; and Dcard, the most widely used social media platform among Taiwanese youth.

In addition, AppWorks Fund II, which was established in 2014, reached peak performance in 2020, reaching a TVPI multiple (Total Value to Paid-in-Capital) of 2.5x, a DPI multiple (Distribution to Paid-in Capital) of 1x, and an IRR (internal rate of return) of 26.5%, surpassing the top quartile of global venture capital and private equity funds with the same vintage, while creating superior financial returns for our investors.

Source: Cambridge Associates

Exceeding a 1x DPI multiple not only means that we’re now at a point where we can generate substantial returns to our shareholders, but also that AppWorks Fund II has begun to produce carried interest, generating profits that effectively cover all the accumulated losses over the last 10 years.

Most of these bonuses have been distributed to all members of the AppWorks team. Thank you to all of our colleagues for their hard work in the past 10 years. With the addition of the bonuses, the average annual salary of AppWorks (excluding partners) colleagues has reached US$ 87,000  in 2020, operating on par with most internationally recognized VCs.  In the next few years, as AppWorks Funds continue to realize profits, we plan to further increase the annual compensation packages to better attract and retain the best talents both domestically and from abroad. 

Key figures of AppWorks School: 256 graduates, 92% successfully placed in software engineering roles

Needless to say, quality talents are the lifeblood of any startup, but they continue to be a scarce resource in this part of the world. In order to plug the increasing talent gap and truly help facilitate the region’s digital economy, AppWorks School was started in June 2016, offering intensive 4-month long coding programs spanning iOS, android, front-end, back-end, and data science which are free, practical, and efficient.

Since its establishment in 2016, AppWorks School has successfully graduated 256 students across 12 batches. 92% of the graduates have been successfully placed in prominent tech companies such as iCHEF, 91APP, KKBOX, LINE TV, WeMo Scooter, LineTaxi, PicCollage, Hahow, VoiceTube, Bonio, Omnichat, and Gogoro, with a median starting salary is US$25,060 (approximately NT$700,000).

AppWorks School Batch #12 Orientation Day

Chairman & Partner Jamie Lin: AppWorks will help grow an early-stage VC ecosystem in Southeast Asia over the next 10 years

Looking back on the first 10 years since its establishment, AppWorks chairman and partner Jamie Lin said: “It was no miracle that helped us get to this point, only hard work and consistent effort. After a long and continuous 20-mile march, AppWorks’ flywheel has finally begun spinning at high velocity. Whether it’s the nearly 400 startups fostered, US$ 8 billion of economic value produced, or over 17,000 jobs created, AppWorks has helped spawn an entirely new digital ecosystem in Taiwan and across the region without consuming a single dollar of social capital. We’ve also helped solidify venture capital and the broader startup industry as a prominent asset class for potential investors and employees.”

He took a step deeper and pointed out: “A society that wants to accelerate digital transformation while empowering and providing opportunities for the younger generation to flourish requires more VCs like AppWorks — I think Taiwan and Southeast Asia can have at least 10 more AppWorks. Therefore, looking at the next 10 years, AppWorks will continue to operate accelerators, alumni communities, and venture capital funds based on the original ethos of “by founders, for founders”, that is assisting more startups and promoting win-win collaborations between them and corporates. To promote the development of the digital economy in Greater Southeast Asia, we will dedicate our resources to cultivating the “venture investment ecosystem”, with hopes of producing more high-quality venture capital firms, especially those focusing on early stages to seed the region’s future pipeline of innovators. On the other hand, the scale of AppWorks School will continue to expand, providing more interested tech talents an intensive environment to learn and hone their craft among like-minded peers. In other words, building on top of the current momentum, AppWorks hopes to further accelerate and amplify our contributions in the next 10 years, and we look forward to presenting an even more outsized impact during AppWorks’ 20th anniversary.”

At the end of the year, taking this opportunity to look back, Jamie also extends his gratitude to all the friends, partners, and stakeholders that have assisted AppWorks along the way: “I sincerely thank the 1,331 entrepreneurs who have given AppWorks the opportunity to serve you over the past 10 years. I also thank all AppWorks Mentors who have enthusiastically mentored these founders without asking for anything in return. I would also like to thank our platform partners, including AWS and GCP,  investors in AppWorks Funds, and partners in government departments that have given us their continued support over the past 10 years. Of course, I also want to thank our media friends for their long-term interest in AppWorks and all the initiatives that we’ve undertaken in the past decade. In addition, I would like to especially thank all the present and former AppWorks colleagues who have participated in this journey, if it were not for your contribution, the company would not have been able to reach this point. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the angel investor who took a bet on me and generously lent the tens of millions of NT dollars that helped get AppWorks started — my mother, Dr. Lin Jeang-Yun, without you and your blind faith, all of this would not have been possible; Grandpa and grandma are proudly looking down from the heavens. Thank you, everyone, and please continue to lend us your support and guidance over the next 10 years.”

Jamie’s sharing on long-term thinking

【If you are a founder working on a startup in SEA, or working with AI / IoT, Blockchain / DeFi, apply to AppWorks Accelerator to join the largest founder community in Greater Southeast Asia.】

AppWorks 10 週年暨 2020 年終總回顧:生態系整體價值突破百億美元,創投基金、公司同步展開獲利

正值歲末年終之際,2020 年創立滿 10 週年的 AppWorks,在今日 (2/2) 公布「10 週年里程碑暨 2020 Year in Review 年終總回顧專屬網頁」,具體展現 AppWorks 過去 10 年的經營成果,尤其在疫情衝擊之下的 2020 年,AppWorks 以及其生態系新創仍舊大步逆風前行,旗下基金與 AppWorks 公司本身也開始產出健康獲利,整體進入收成階段。

在 2020 年,剛走過第一個 10 年的 AppWorks,影響力持續放大。包括 AppWorks Accelerator 創業加速器、The AppWorks Ecosystem 校友生態系、AppWorks Funds 創投基金,以及 AppWorks School 數位人才培育等各主要服務,AppWorks 都寫下重要里程碑,推升台灣在大東南亞 (東協 + 台灣) 數位經濟的重鎮地位。展望下一個 10 年,AppWorks  的目標是在日益數位化、自動化、去中心化的 21 世紀中,繼續扮演一股推升的力量,讓大東南亞能居於領先的地位。

AppWorks 生態系里程碑:2020 年整體價值、募資金額、營業額翻倍成長,整體價值首度突破百億美元

2020 年,AppWorks Accelerator 宣佈聚焦在 ABS 策略,限定招募來自 AI、Blockchain 與 Southeast Asia 的團隊。這一年,對加入 AppWorks 的創業者來說,過得並不容易,因應疫情帶來各種挑戰,得要展現絕佳的創新與韌性,在 2020 年自 AppWorks Accelerator 畢業的 AW#20、AW#21 兩屆中,共有 51 支新創團隊,其中,有 27 支來自 AI / IoT 領域,另外有 13 支來自 Blockchain / Crypto 領域,超過 62% 的創業者來自大東南亞,包括香港、新加坡、越南、馬來西亞、菲律賓、印尼等。由於疫情造成國境封閉,AppWorks Accelerator 也改為兼顧線上與實體活動的混合模式,以利創業者更方便參加。

隨著 AW#20 與 AW#21 兩屆生力軍加入,以及 AppWorks 生態系所有新創的共同努力,在 2020 年帶動 The AppWorks Ecosystem 新創生態系大幅成長。活躍新創累積至 395 家、共 1,331 位創業者;全體總價值達到 110.7 億美元,較前一年大幅成長 160%;生態系累積募資金額為 23.6 億美元,年增率達 140%;所有新創的加總年營業額來到 80.5 億美元,較 2019 年大幅成長 162%;整體新創提供的就業人數達 17,359 位,年增率為 73%。

其中,全體總價值、累積募資金額、整體年營業額均有一倍以上的成長,較 2019 的 29%、36%、98% 高出許多,顯示出疫情之下,AppWorks 生態系新創,仍舊快速且健康的成長,成長幅度甚至超越疫情前。

另外,值得一提的是,80.5 億美元的加總年營業額,相當於 1.3% 台灣的整體 GDP,1.7 萬工作機會則相當於 0.15% 台灣的工作人口,代表所有 AppWorks 生態系新創加總起來的力量,已確實帶來可觀的經濟推升力,並為創造就業提供具體貢獻。

巧合的是,AppWorks 生態系全體總價值在 10 週年這一刻,在疫情加速數位轉型、應用及新商業模式的帶動下,突破百億美元大關,不僅因此寫下新頁,也代表 AppWorks 生態系的規模與影響力,將在 2021 年起的下一個十年,換檔進入另一個成長階段。

回顧 2020 年,AppWorks 生態系中有多家新創,繳出了以下的好成績:

AppWorks 生態系新創好成績:ShopBack 成功進軍越南市場;Mighty Jaxx 完成 500 萬件收藏品認證

醫療科技新創 iWeecare 愛微科 (AW#9) 在 2020 年宣佈獲得 240 萬美元 Pre-A 輪延伸投資。在疫情當下,iWeecare 站在防疫最前線,開發出世界上最小的連網智慧體溫貼片「添寶」(Temp Pal),並加速佈局中國與美國等國際市場。

大東南亞最大電商現金反饋平台 ShopBack (AW#13),在 2020 年完成越南市場落地與拓展。目前,ShopBack 已成功進軍新加坡、馬來西亞、菲律賓、印尼、台灣、泰國、越南、澳洲、韓國等 9 個重要市場。

2020 年,ShopBack 成功進軍越南,目前版圖涵蓋 9 個亞太區的重要市場。

台灣領先的科技求職平台 CakeResume (AW#14),在 2020 年宣佈完成約合 90 萬美元的種子輪融資,計畫將把這筆資金,用於拓展日本與印度市場,並致力成為亞洲最大的科技人才平台。

提供業界領先的行銷機器人訂閱服務 (SaaS)、來自香港的新創 Omnichat (AW#16),在 2020 年完成 80 萬美元的種子輪融資。整體而言,Omnichat 能為電商客戶帶來顯著的業績成長,例如,轉換率比電商整體平均高 3 到 7 倍。站在既有的成功基礎上,Omnichat 預計在 2021 年啟動大東南亞拓展計畫。

台灣領先的數位身份驗證解決方案 AuthMe (AW#18),在 2020 年與 MyData 數位服務個人化平台進行串接測試時,意外發現 MyData 平台及戶政系統存在資安瑕疵,所幸迅速通報政務委員唐鳳,針對漏洞進行調查,在 24 小時內完成漏洞修補並將 MyData 平台重新上線,重啟服務。

打造由技術驅動的潮玩與收藏品的交易平台 Mighty Jaxx (AW#20),在 2020 年獲得 320 萬美元融資,至今,Mighty Jaxx 已與全球數百名藝術家,以及 Marvel、DC、Disney、New Balance、Fox 等國際品牌合作,預計在 2020 年,完成 500 萬件潮玩與收藏品認證。

Cryptokitties 開發商 Dapper Labs,宣佈與 NBA、UFC 等 IP 擁有者合作,並推出專為娛樂生態系統所設計的新公鏈 Flow,完成 Token 社群銷售,募資 1,800 萬美元。

台灣最大 SaaS 模式的餐飲 POS 系統 iCHEF,完成 500 萬美元 B 輪融資,在台灣、香港、新加坡與馬來西亞等市場,成功累積超過 8,000 家餐飲客戶,同時成功與 Uber Eats 及 foodpanda 等平台整合外送服務,並正式啟動 IPO 計畫。

亞洲領先的旅遊體驗電商平台 KKday,成功完成 7,500 萬 C 輪融資,在策略投資人的支持下,這輪資金將用於深化國際拓展。

除了事業上的好消息,AppWorks 生態系也陸續有校友宣佈人生好消息。在 2020 年,同為 AW#15,來自香港 Origami Labs 的 Kevin Wong,與 Flipweb 的 Tina 林姸廷共結連理;同樣也是 AW#15,來自韓國 Codibook 的 Matthew 李侑錫,與同屆的 Hanna 吳小涵在 2020 年邁入婚姻的新人生階段。這是繼 2019 年 AW#15、WriteTime 手寫時光的 Richard 竺佳慶,與同屆的望月女子谷慕慕 Fiona 史文妃締結百年之好,成為首對 AppWorks 夫妻後,第二及第三對 AppWorks 夫妻。 

AppWorks Funds II 績效卓越:TVPI 達 2.5 倍、DPI 達 1 倍、IRR 達 26.5%,優於全球前 1/4 創投與私募基金 

經過 10 年的努力,AppWorks 今日已是大東南亞區管理資產規模最大的早期創投之一,旗下三支創投基金,總計達 1.76 億美元,累計投資 56 家新創,目前為止創造 4 個 IPO、1 家十角獸 (Decacorn,價值 100 億美元以上)、1 家獨角獸 (Unicorn,價值 10 億美元以上),以及 6 家半人馬 (Centaur,價值 1 億美元以上)。

在 2020 年,AppWorks Funds 持續深耕 AI、Blockchain、Southeast Asia 三大重點領域,共有 9 筆投資案。包括台灣領先的共享電動機車平台 WeMo Scooter、印尼最大的快時尚 OMO 傢俱零售商 Fabelio、台灣年輕世代最常使用的社群媒體平台 Dcard 等。

此外,2014 年設立,目前進入收成期的 AppWorks Fund II (本誠創投基金) 在 2020 年繳出亮眼的投資績效,收益乘數 TVPI (Total Value to Paid-in-Capital) 達 2.5 倍,已分配收益乘數 DPI (Distribution to Paid-in Capital) 達到 1 倍,年化內部報酬率 IRR (Internal Rate of Return) 達 26.5%,皆勝過同時期全球績效前 1/4 的創投與私募基金,為投資人創造優異的財務報酬。

資料來源:Cambridge Associates

跨越 1 倍已分配收益乘數 DPI,除了代表 AppWorks 已開始實質貢獻獲利給予基金股東,同時也代表 AppWorks Fund II 開始支付收益獎金 (Carried Interests) 給予 AppWorks,讓創業 10 年的 AppWorks 正式開始獲利,並且一口氣彌補過去 10 年所有的累積虧損。

這些獎金絕大多數已分配給 AppWorks 團隊全體成員,感謝同仁們過去 10 年的辛勤付出。加計所有獎金,AppWorks (合夥人以外) 同仁的平均年薪,在 2020 年達到 243 萬新台幣,初步拉齊與國際投資機構的水準。接下來幾年,隨著 AppWorks Funds 投資案陸續實現收益,AppWorks 計畫持續拉高同仁的年薪,以吸引並留下國際最優秀的生態系經營、投資人才。

AppWorks School 關鍵數字:256 名畢業學員,92% 順利轉任軟體工程師

人才是新創企業最重要的資產,為了因應新創以及網路企業對軟體工程師的龐大需求,同時也提供想投入數位、網路與電商產業的人才,重新快速學習與成長的機會。AppWorks 在 2016 年 6 月開辦 AppWorks School,現經營有 iOS、Android、Front-End、Back-End 與 Data Engineering 專班。透過免費、實作、高效、與業界結合的紮實培訓計畫,培育新一代的優秀工程師。

自 2016 年創辦以來,AppWorks School 已有 256 名學員順利畢業。其中 92% 的畢業生,順利轉職投入軟體產業,在 iCHEF、91APP、KKBOX、LINE TV、WeMo Scooter、LineTaxi、PicCollage、Hahow、VoiceTube、Bonio、Omnichat、Gogoro 等知名新創中服務,年起薪中位數為 25,060 美元 (約 70 萬元新台幣)。

AppWorks School 成立四年多來,已有 256 名畢業學員,其中 92% 順利轉職為軟體工程師。

林之晨總結 AppWorks 經驗:創投是加速社會新陳代謝,幫助有志者上進的關鍵物種,下個十年,將在台灣與區域催生更多 AppWorks

回顧創辦至今的第一個 10 年,AppWorks 董事長暨合夥人林之晨說:「沒有奇蹟、只有累積。經過長期且持續的 20 哩行軍,AppWorks 的飛輪已高速運轉,在 2020 年大放異彩。生態系近 400 家活躍新創價值跨越 100 億美元、貢獻每年 80 億美元產值與超過 1.7 萬個工作機會,創投基金展現健康獲利,產生實質收益給予股東,AppWorks 公司本身亦彌補累虧,進入長期獲利階段。換言之,AppWorks 過去 10 年為台灣與區域深耕新創生態系,催生出巨大且實質的數位經濟產出,以及大量的新興工作機會,不僅沒有消耗一塊錢社會資本,還創造出新的資產給予股東與員工,這就是『創投』這個物種神奇的地方。」

他更近一步指出:「一個社會要加速新陳代謝,促進轉型,提供有志者上進的機會,需要更多像 AppWorks 這樣的創投 — 我想台灣與東南亞,至少可以再有 10 個 AppWorks。因此,放眼下個 10 年,AppWorks 除將本著由『創業者、為創業者』的初衷,持續經營加速器、校友社群與創投基金,協助更多新創、促進他們與企業雙贏合作,以此推動大東南亞區域數位經濟的發展,我們也將投入『創投生態系』的深耕,催生更多優質創投,尤其是早期創投,透過他們來加速台灣與區域的發展。另一方面,AppWorks School 規模化也將增速,提供更多想轉職科技公司的人才,最有效的衝刺環境。換言之,基於目前的基礎,下個 10 年,AppWorks 將全面加速、放大我們的貢獻,請大家跟我一起期待,20 週年時 AppWorks 能呈現的 Impact。」

歲末年終,趁此回顧機會,林之晨也代表 AppWorks,對曾協助過 AppWorks 的各界夥伴致謝。他說:「衷心感謝過去 10 年來,給 AppWorks 機會、接受我們服務的 1,331 位創業者,也感謝所有過程中不求回報、熱情輔導他們的 AppWorks Mentors,還要感謝包括 AWS、GCP 在內的所有加速器平台夥伴,以及 AppWorks Funds 的投資人,政府部門的夥伴,在過去 10 年給我們的支持和指導。當然也要感謝媒體朋友們對 AppWorks 以及眾多 AppWorks 新創的長期關心,謝謝你們持續講述這些故事,激勵更多有為亦若是的年輕人。此外,更要感謝所有參與過這段旅程的每一位同仁,如果不是你們的參與和貢獻,AppWorks 無法達到今天的里程碑。最後,我想藉這個機會感謝當初慷慨借款千萬,讓 AppWorks 得以成立的天使投資人、我的母親林靜芸醫師,您的善款,催生了如今對台灣的巨大貢獻,外公外婆在天上看到,應該會覺得非常驕傲。謝謝大家,往後的 10 年,還請繼續支持、指教。」

AppWorks 董事長暨合夥人林之晨期待在既有的基礎上,AppWorks 的下一個 10 年將更為精彩。

【歡迎所有 AI / IoT、Blockchain / DeFi、面向東南亞市場的創業者,加入專為你們服務的 AppWorks Accelerator

Taiwan’s AI Ecosystem Ripe with Corporate Transformation and Internationalization in 20H2

Original file for download: Taiwan’s AI Ecosystem Map 20H2

Natalie Lin, Analyst (林楓 / 分析師)

Natalie is an Analyst covering AppWorks Accelerator and Greater Southeast Asia. Before joining the team, she worked in the search engine marketing and email marketing teams at Zappos, America’s leading shoes and fashion online retailer, where she primarily focused on KPI management, campaign optimization, and project management. Born in Canada and raised in the Middle East, Natalie returned to Taiwan for high school before moving to the US for college and work. She received her Bachelors of Marketing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Outside of work she likes to read, travel, and play video games.

2020 has finally come to an end. Although the world is still shrouded in the shadow of the black swan event of COVID-19, the crisis has reached a turning point. As the pandemic continues to affect all parts of the world, many organizations, companies, and startups have turned to big data and AI to transform and optimize the efficiency of business activities, directly accelerating the overall development of the AI industry. According to IDC’s report, the global AI market in 2020 will amount to US$ 156.5 billion, with a growth rate of 12.3%, of which 80% will be attributed to software. IDC also optimistically expects that the market size of the AI industry, considered by some as a blue ocean, will compound at an annual rate of 17% and exceed US$ 300B by 2024.

For various AI initiatives and applications to flourish, data centers must be fully developed to support the storage of data and training models, brain-like IaaS (information-as-a-service), and PaaS (platform-as-a-service) cloud services. After meeting the performance requirements of AI for cloud services, data in various fields such as finance and manufacturing can be used more efficiently to accelerate AI technology.

It should then come as no surprise that leading international cloud players such as Google and Microsoft have recently announced their intentions to deepen their investments in Taiwan’s AI Infrastructure. Last September, Google unveiled that it would build a third data center in Yunlin, while Microsoft disclosed at the end of October that it would set up its first Azure data center in Taiwan. As Taiwan’s future cloud infrastructure realizes, developers will no longer need to build services through overseas data centers, which will accelerate AI innovations and applications by local teams, especially in areas that are more sensitive to data sovereignty, such as finance.

Every 6 months, AppWorks releases an updated Taiwan AI Ecosystem Map, distilling the latest trends and developments while highlighting various companies leading the charge. In the process of reviewing the overall ecosystem changes, we have observed the following trends in the second half of 2020.

AI in healthtech has attracted investors’ attention 

Although the pandemic has negatively impacted economic productivity and overall investor appetite, it has unequivocally accelerated the adoption of AI innovation in healthcare.  Despite the rather barren investment landscape in the first half of 2020, aetherAI, which provides medical imaging AI development services and AI digital pathology systems, managed to close a  US$ 6M series A round led by Quanta Computing. In the second half of 2020, Deep01, which assists medical staff in interpreting computer tomography (CT) and provides an AI image interpretation system for cerebral hemorrhaging, successfully raised NT$ 80M (US$2.7M) in seed funding led by ASUS Capital. In addition, Heroic-Faith, which pioneered innovative medical devices such as an AI stethoscope and a smart respiratory monitoring system, also completed a US$ 4M series A round of fundraising in 2020.

Moving forward, the next step for Taiwan’s healthtech and AI industry is to go global. As the main markets for medical AI-related products are still focused in developed countries like the United States, Japan, and Europe, Taiwan’s visibility coupled with the impact of the pandemic will have an effect on an international scale. Whether these innovative startups can successfully go overseas to scale will become the focus of attention in the future.

Corporates are accelerating their search for transformation and collaboration opportunities in startup circles

For many traditional Taiwanese companies, big data and AI have been at the crux of their digital transformation initiatives and overall search for the next growth engines. In 2020, Commonwealth Magazine and Europe’s IMD jointly released the first digital transformation survey between Taiwan and Europe. It pointed out that up to 52% of Taiwanese companies have not yet been digitally transformed, and only 4% of companies achieved or exceeded their digital transformation goals. Whether it’s in-house big data and AI project teams or looking for partners in the startup world, it has become the newest goal for companies to innovate.

The most direct model is creating corporate venture capital (CVC) arms to invest in new ventures with strategic value. In addition to investment, Taiwan’s major companies are also exploring other collaborative models. For example, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of IoT systems Advantech worked with StarFab to establish an accelerator. Wistron, on the other hand, not only promotes upgrading the industry through partnerships with startups but also actively lays out future transformations. They collaborated with NCTU to establish embedded AI research centers, and jointly planned Wistron Lab @ Garage+ with Chia Hsin Cultural Foundation and Times Foundation to find growth opportunities in the next decade.

Taiwan’s AI ecosystem is bolstered by the successful prevention of the epidemic

Due to the success of the Taiwan government and all citizens and residents in fighting the pandemic, Taiwan’s AI ecosystem continued to flourish in the second half of 2020. On the startup accelerator side, AppWorks Accelerator has been recruiting specifically for AI startups since August 2018, fostering a total of 84 teams from both inside and outside of Taiwan. Other community partners such as Microsoft for Startups, SparkLabs Taipei, and Taiwan AI x Robotics Accelerator also recruited a number of AI-related startups to inject new energy into Taiwan’s AI ecosystem. In the second half of 2020, due to the proper control of the coronavirus, it was relatively safe to host physical events in Taiwan. The largest startup event 2020 Meet Taipei showcased many startups using AI and big data to create more value-added services. 

Taiwan AI Academy, Taiwan AI Labs, and the Artificial Intelligence Foundation are Taiwan’s representative institutions in the field of AI education and research, and continue to inject talent and innovative technologies for the development of AI in Taiwan. With the support from the government, institutions, and overall ecosystem, Taiwan can continue to promote the implementation of AI in various industries and integrate innovation into traditional businesses. This gives an opportunity for startups to leverage the resources that Taiwan can offer and connect with players in the ecosystem that are upgrading Taiwan’s AI capabilities.

Taiwan’s AI Ecosystem Second Half 2020 is produced by AppWorks and is updated every 6 months. If you have any comments or suggestions, please send an email to a@appworks.tw.

【If you are a founder working on a startup in SEA, or working with AI / IoT, Blockchain / DeFi, apply to AppWorks Accelerator to join the largest founder community in Greater Southeast Asia.】

3 Trends that Defined Taiwan’s Blockchain Industry in 20H2

Download the map here: Taiwan’s Blockchain Ecosystem Map Second Half 2020

Jun Wakabayashi, Analyst (若林純 / 分析師)

Jun is an Analyst covering both AppWorks Accelerator and Greater Southeast Asia. Born and bred in America, Jun brings a wealth of international experience to AppWorks. He spent the last several years before joining AppWorks working for Focus Reports, where he conducted sector-based market research and interviewed high-level government leaders and industry executives across the globe. He’s now lived in 7 countries outside US and Taiwan, while traveling to upwards of 50 for leisure, collectively highlighting his unique propensity for cross-cultural immersion and international business. Jun received his Bachelors in Finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business.

It’s been one heck of a year, for blockchain especially. The industry hasn’t seen this much excitement since the ICO fervor of 2017. In March 2020, crypto prices saw a significant crash as the global economy entered into lockdown due to COVID-19. Fast forward to the year-end, BTC has reached an all-time high of US$33K on the back of increasing interest from major institutional investors. Meanwhile, decentralized finance (DeFi) has very quickly captured everyone’s mindshare, now with over $18B of total value locked into an ever expanding list of decentralized platforms such as Compound and Uniswap.

They say heroes are often born in a crisis. Well, despite the pandemic, this past half year saw 14 new companies added to Taiwan’s blockchain ecosystem map, indicative of three primary trends currently driving the industry forward.

1. Proliferation of DeFi

The concept of DeFi may be relatively unknown to outsiders prior to 2020, in the same way that BTC was prior to 2017. That’s because it was really only this year that DeFi was thrusted into the limelight. Decentralized lending protocol Compound was arguably the frontrunner of the DeFi craze. Launched in 2018, the platform enables users to collateralize cryptocurrencies and earn interest, while also allowing them to borrow other cryptoassets against the collateral. Algorithms are used to automatically adjust interest rates based on supply and demand, while smart contracts eliminate the traditional need for an intermediary such as a bank. 

Compound was certainly novel in and of itself, but what really helped jumpstart adoption was in June 2020 when it started distributing its native governance token COMP to all lenders and borrowers on the platform. Similar to shareholders of a publicly listed company, token holders are entitled to vote on any changes to the protocol, or sell their tokens on the secondary market for extra returns on top of the interest earned from lending.

Source: DeFiPulse

The free reward was enough to attract hordes of early users eager to park their crypto in hopes of maximizing yield, otherwise known as “liquidity mining,” allowing Compound to briefly overtake Maker as the leading DeFi project in terms of total value locked-in (TVL). It wasn’t long before the rest of the industry started rolling out liquidity incentives of their own. Decentralized exchanges Balancer and Uniswap each announced distribution of their respective governance tokens to users within months of each other. Both serve as automated market makers that create liquidity pools for users to seamlessly buy and sell tokens, albeit in slightly different fashions.

Similarly, in Taiwan, we saw the launch of Black Hole Swap, developed by AW#21 alumni Hakka Finance, and C.R.E.A.M Finance, started by the founder of both Mithril and M17 (AppWorks is an investor) Jeffrey Huang. C.R.E.A.M repackages the best functionalities of Compound, Uniswap, and Balancer all into one platform, and is now among the top 5 decentralized lending platforms in terms of TVL according to DeFi Pulse.

The DeFi space is relentless. Hacks, forks, “vampire attacks”—it seems like the moment any one project finds some modicum of success, there will be a handful others lurking in the shadows, ready to replicate, iterate, or outright steal the idea right out from under. But it’s still early days for DeFi, and one can argue that this type of competition is natural for such a nascent industry. The hackers, arbitrageurs, speculators, and bad actors will stress test the technology and incentive schemes and fully push them to the limits. Ultimately, only the fittest, the most resilient and practical will be left standing, collectively strengthening the ecosystem as a whole. 

2. NFTs on the rise

Following DeFi, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have continued rising in popularity globally. Gaming and artwork collectibles serve as the primary use cases so far, no doubt perpetuated by decentralized marketplaces such as Rarible, SuperRare, and Async. There are now fully virtual worlds like Decentraland dedicated to showcasing NFTs. In the offline world, famed auction house Christies recently sold their very first NFT artwork for over US$130,000 back in October 2020. 

The jetsetters of digital collectibles, Dapper Labs (the team behind CryptoKitties, AppWorks is an investor) officially launched NBA Top Shot in mid-2020, with revenues reaching US$2 million by year end. The NFT-powered marketplace allows users to buy and sell “digital moments” captured from NBA games. These moments are then stored on the Flow blockchain, an entertainment-focused protocol developed by Dapper Labs which recently raised US$18 million in a token sale.

In Taiwan, AW#20 alumni Lootex has been a long-time believer of NFTs, creating a decentralized auction house for people to create, buy, or sell cryptoitems. They just recently partnered with startup Eternalink and Spanish winery NEKEAS to create NFTs every time a bottle of the limited edition Eternalove red wine is sold. Meanwhile, Alex Liu, the founder and CEO of Taiwan’s largest crypto exchange MAX mentioned in a recent interview that NFT serves as a critical bridge between the virtual and physical worlds and will be the focus of their development efforts in the coming years.

Riding off the excitement of DeFi, NFTs are clearly growing in prominence, with weekly trading volume nearing US$2.5 million in December, up severalfold from a couple months prior. While collectibles and entertainment have occupied the spotlight, NFTs and their verifiable proof of authenticity have the potential to extend into many other areas including real estate, supply chain, identity verification, and copyright management, and yes, even crossovers into DeFi. Compared to DeFi, however, where Taiwanese startups have gained global recognition, NFTs have received much less interest in Taiwan; but, certainly there’s much more room to play and momentum is already visibly picking up. 

3. Crypto goes mainstream

Although beginning with a rather sluggish start, 2020 was most certainly a win for crypto bulls. Increasing interest and support from major institutions like Square, MicroStrategy, MassMutual, Visa, and PayPal collectively served as a monumental endorsement, helping to push the price of BTC far past its 2017 levels and into a record high of US$33K at the time of writing. Evidently, COVID-19 was a large driver in accelerating digital adoption, boosting confidence in cryptocurrencies like BTC as a safe and reliable store of value. Many countries from China to the US are now exploring the creation of their own central bank digital currencies (CBDC), perhaps in direct response to Facebook’s Libra project, which has since been renamed to Diem to signal its independence and distance itself from the social media giant.

Source: Coinmarketcap

When it comes to crypto investment, although much work has been done under the hood to reduce friction and improve the overall user experience, widespread skepticism and caution is still common among the average retail investor due to the volatility and complexity of the market.

In the second half of the year, we saw several Taiwanese startups working on innovative ways to reduce the entry barriers for new investors. Targeting newcomers with zero crypto investing experience, Cappuu (AW#17) is an easy-to-use crypto wallet that allows users to purchase stablecoins with credit cards and invest in high-yield DeFi products without any gas fees. Recently closing a US$1 million seed round, Steaker (AW#20) is a crypto asset management platform that presents several different predetermined investment strategies based on users’ risk appetite and return profile. Fuly.AI (AW#20) helps investors automate their portfolio allocation and interest collection on crypto exchanges like Bitfinex to maximize returns. 

The pace at which blockchain has been evolving is truly astounding, and the pandemic has likely only turbocharged the development. Given its more conservative nature, Taiwan has traditionally lagged behind the latest and greatest in software innovations. But if its success with DeFi this past year is any indication, Taiwan punches well above its weight when it comes to blockchain, so far matching industry trends stride for stride. If Taiwanese entrepreneurs can continue evolving and iterating alongside the speed of crypto, they will be well positioned to define the next wave of blockchain projects moving into 2021, whether that’s in DeFi, NFT, or otherwise. 

Taiwan’s Blockchain Ecosystem Map Second Half 2020 is jointly produced by AppWorks, Blockcast (AW#14), BlockTempo (AW#16), and Zombit (AW#21). It is updated every six months. If you have any feedback and suggestions, please email a@appworks.tw.

【If you are a founder working on a startup in SEA, or working with AI / IoT, Blockchain / DeFi, apply to AppWorks Accelerator to join the largest founder community in Greater Southeast Asia.】