When is the Right Time for a Startup to Hire an HR?

Izza Lin, Recruiting Master (林于荃 / 招募輔導長)

Izza is a Recruiting Master responsible for advising AppWorks Startups on all talent acquisition matters. Before joining AppWorks, she built a successful early career in headhunting firms such as Rising Management Consulting and Recruit Express, where she specialized in recruiting quality talents for internet and e-commerce companies, guiding hundreds of engineers, product managers, marketers and general managers to fulfill key positions for her clients. In between Rising and RE, she headed Southeast Asia Market for an e-commerce startup, USO HK, where she found her passion for helping small guys break the status quo. Izza received her B.A. in Economics from Washington State University and spent 5 years of her childhood in Myanmar and Cambodia. This diverse background has inextricably contributed to her love for traveling and “wine tasting”.

As a HR consultant for startups, I’m often asked this question by founders. In the early stages of their startup journeys, founders typically spend the majority of their focus on product development or sales and marketing, with recruiting often left as an afterthought. At some point, however, they always arrive back at the classic chicken and egg problem: in order to grow, they need the right talent, but in order to attract and retain the right talent, they need to grow.  To get out of that cycle, I usually advise founders to bulk up their startup’s HR muscle.

There’s certainly no hard and fast rule on when to hire an in-house HR, but generally after achieving product-market fit, there are some rules of thumb around team sizes founders can first take into consideration.

10-15 team members: Resources can be quite limited at this stage. As a founder, you probably didn’t have many issues recruiting the first few employees on your own, but as the business starts to scale and accelerate, the team will also need to expand accordingly. Bringing on outside talent to manage the hiring and onboarding process internally will be critical in preventing HR matters from occupying valuable mindshare. 

15-30 team members: So you managed to get to this stage without hiring any dedicated person to handle recruiting. It still might be wise to bring in someone, as HR expands beyond just recruiting to also include retention. While attrition is quite normal in any startup, retaining an employee (granted they’re performing well) is significantly cheaper than hiring a replacement, which can often waste valuable time and resources. 

30+ team members: If the startup has more than 30 employees and doesn’t have an HR yet, you may need to consider hiring this role as soon as possible. At this size, sourcing job boards, editing job descriptions, facilitating interview and onboarding logistics will likely distract you from more mission critical things such as fundraising, product, or business development. 

HR pains of a scaling startup

Many early-stage founders refuse to hire an HR because they view it as an unnecessary expense, and one that’s more suitable for large enterprises. In reality, many founders are unaware of or substantially underestimate the HR problems and needs they’ll encounter as a startup scales and the team sizes grow: 

1. Recruit specialists vs. generalists. In earlier stages of your startup, you’re likely hiring more generalists that can wear multiple hats due to limited resources. Once your company starts to scale, however, you’ll usually need to divide and conquer, that is recruiting more specialists that can significantly amplify the efforts of each function. For example, full-stack engineers might be more commonplace in fresh startups, who would then gradually be replaced by separate front-end and back-end engineers as the organization grows. 

2. Attracting and retaining talents. This includes everything from building the employer brand and marketing specific job openings to sourcing better quality candidates to adjusting compensation/benefits and work-life balance policies to optimize retention.

3. Regulatory & compliance requirements. Labor laws can be quite complex from country to country. Founders need to stay informed on basic hiring & firing legal frameworks to prevent the company from encountering any lawsuits.

4. Company culture, mission, vision, and values development. Setting the vision, mission, and values is extremely important, as these help create the company’s culture and establish objectives and goals that help employees navigate the organization. Unfortunately, many companies lack these core components in the early-stages as the founding team is usually too occupied with other things. 

5. Performance / OKR / KPI appraisal and compensation structure. Compensation and performance reviews are resource-intensive but nonetheless critical components of any growing startup. 

6. Design effective training and development programs. At a certain scale, a startup doesn’t necessarily need to go outside to seek out talents. Instead, they could facilitate internal training to upskill existing talents and cultivate leaders from within. However, many founders are not experienced in properly assessing employee capabilities and designing training programs for them.

The different type of HRs

So, you’ve started to face some HR issues as your company has grown bigger and have decided to hire a professional to give you some peace of mind. Actually, there are two types of HR professionals that you most often see in early-stage startups.

HR coordinator: This role takes on broader duties and responsibilities, generally encompassing the recruitment, retention, training, management, and development of employees; legal issues concerning employment; and salaries and benefits design. 

Recruiter: Given the critical nature and time intensive nature of talent sourcing, recruiters are often brought in separately to specialize in building a strong pool of candidates for hiring managers to choose from. The scope of their responsibilities include understanding the organizations’ recruitment needs, creating accurate job descriptions, posting job descriptions in different channels, and even attending career fairs or recruiting events to source for candidates. They also conduct the initial screening interviews before passing the candidate along to the hiring manager, while also managing the job offer process and onboarding.  

There’s no doubt you will need an HR professional in your organization at some point. If you have strong hiring needs, and if budget allows, it is best to have at least one HR and one recruiter in an ideal HR team. But if the budget only allows the organization to hire one, then you should try to look for a candidate with a multi-tasking gene—that is an HR coordinator with a knack for marketing and sales, which are critical for acquiring talent in a competitive industry, or a recruiter with solid interpersonal communication skills, which will often be used internally for talent management and development. 

Choosing one or the other is contingent upon the individual needs of each startup. Nevertheless, no founder wants to be brought down by back office operations. Although certainly an investment upfront, hiring a high quality HR professional can actually save a founder a lot of time, resources, and headaches, particularly those on a hyper-growth trajectory.

【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.】

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

2020 下半年台灣 Blockchain 生態系地圖,DeFi 開啟新契機

原始檔案下載:Taiwan’s Blockchain Ecosystem Map Second Half 2020

Ching Tseng, Associate (曾意晴 / 投資經理)

負責區塊鏈投資,尤其專注東南亞市場。學生時期曾於 AppWorks 實習一年半,2015 年政大企管系畢業後正式加入擔任分析師,主要參與投資案相關業務,最得意的案例是協助 CHOCO TV 從 A 輪一路到被 LINE 併入。是我們的年輕人趨勢專家,2019 正式升任經理。平常熱愛嚐鮮、美食以及旅遊。

2020 年對全人類來說,都是不容易的一年,在上半年,對許多 Blockchain 新創而言也是如此。從 2018 年後,業內已鮮少群起興奮的刺激,今年 3 月中幣價閃崩,更跌掉了不少人的信心,上半年的生態系介紹文章中,我們提到整體生態系正在靜待的風口,沒想到並沒讓大家等太久,2020 年下半年,吹起一陣 DeFi (去中心化金融) 炫風,機會也真的是留給準備好的人,不少在這段低迷過程仍然堅持的創業者,也乘著這個熱潮大放異彩。

AppWorks Accelerator 每半年更新一次「2020 H2 台灣 Blockchain 生態系地圖」(Taiwan’s Blockchain Ecosystem Map Second Half 2020) 的過程中,我們觀察到 2020 下半年三個值得注意的趨勢:

1. DeFi 應用遍地開花

DeFi 的概念,對 Blockchain 產業的人來說,在 2020 年以前是半熟悉半陌生,即便許多產品或服務,確實運用了 Blockchain 的技術推出服務,例如 Compound 利用智能合約的運作機制,決定利率與清算等原則,服務中不需如銀行的角色做為中間機構,卻又不失公平性,但在今年以前所收到的關注度也就是一般而已。然而即便 Compound 推出許久,用戶多只能提供流動性賺取利息,直到 Compound 在今年推出了流動性挖礦,讓提供流動性的人,在賺取利息報酬之外,能分配治理協議的代幣,多了一層代幣可以做應用,最直接的,像是在二級市場做協議代幣的交易賺取報酬,到此之後,DeFi 才真正一炮而紅。

爾後 DeFi 也遍地開花。在國外有了 Uniswap 在九月上架的 UNI(Uniswap) Token,在台灣也有 AW#21 校友 Hakka Finance 推出的 Black Hole Swap,以及麻吉大哥推出的 C.R.E.A.M Finance,都在國際上取得不錯的聲量與成果。

DeFi 彷彿就是加密貨幣的天命。透過智能合約,讓現實生活中耗費龐大人力的體制,能在虛擬世界高效率的運作,給了大家使用加密貨幣而不是法幣的完美理由。近期的 DeFi 發展,多數新創團隊參考現實既有金融體系所提供的服務,打造單一功能的類似產品吸引用戶從其他產品移轉加入。較為可惜的是,由於產業內開發的節奏速度極快,產品只有單一功能時的防禦性不高,多數的產品在吸取到一定用戶量後,多會被競爭對手以改良版吸走流量。未來是否有團隊能在獲取用戶後,維持良好的節奏推出新功能及豐富使用場景,持續將用戶留在自己的生態系,是非常值得觀察的重點。

2. NFT 漸成焦點

繼 DeFi 之後,NFT (Non-Fungible Token) 在國際上熱度也持續增加。例如 Dapper Labs 團隊在今年與 NBA 合作推出的 NBA TopShot已創造超過 200 萬美元的營收,同時也為團隊苦心研發的 Flow 鏈打出了聲量,其後在 Coinlist 上募集得超過 1,800 萬美元。在台灣,除了 AW#20 校友、長期耕耘 NFT 領域的 Lootex,有與新創恆鏈創科合作,推出「恆戀」(Eternalove) 紅酒外,經驗豐富的 MAX 交易所創辦人 Alex 劉世偉也在受訪時,提到未來一年 NFT 是他們的主要發展重點

有好一陣子,如何連結實體的收藏品以及虛擬的 NFT ,是大家關注的一個主題,近一年來,我們可以發現,有更多純數位原生的高價收藏品,也開始漸漸被用戶接受,擺脫一定要在現實生活評價實體創作價值的枷鎖。比較可惜的是在台灣,相較於 DeFi 已有幾個台灣新創在國際大展光芒,NFT 還有更多空間可以發展。

3. 投資加密貨幣更普及、門檻更低

在加密貨幣投資方面,在過去幾年,主要的發展以圈內人閉門相互練功,進而開發新產品與操作方法為主,對想要投入的新手,參與的門檻極高,普及化的速度較為緩慢。對新手而言,即便有了交易所帳號,由於對產品與市場不夠瞭解,投資時候心裡總是不安。然而,在今年下半年可以看到,有更多新創推出讓新手能簡易入門的方式,例如 AW#20 的兩個新創校友 SteakerFuly.AI,又或者是 AW#17 校友 Cappu,透過工具讓用戶能夠簡單快速的賺取一定收益報酬,來吸引沒接觸過加密貨幣的新投資人進場,為產業發展注入新資金活水以及新用戶。

2020 年全球受到疫情影響,改變了許多人類行為,Blockchain 產業在 DeFi 發展的推動下,也有了一大進展,在這半年的激情過後,多數的新創團隊與參與者,都學習到了不少的經驗,期待下一個半年,大家能汲取這段洗鍊的收穫,讓更多由台灣創業者打造的產品與服務,能乘著下一波風起飛,而已經在浪頭上的團隊,也能抓緊時間穩固自己的護城河。

Taiwan’s Blockchain Ecosystem Map Second Half 2020 由 AppWorks,以及 Blockchain 媒體 Blockcast 區塊客 (AW#14)、BlockTempo 動區 (AW#16)、Zombit 桑幣筆記 (AW#21) 聯合製作,每半年更新一次,有任何指教與建議,請 email 至 a@appworks.tw

【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

2020 下半年台灣 AI 生態系地圖,產業轉型與國際化的挑戰

原始檔案下載:Taiwan’s AI Ecosystem Map Second Half 2020

Norman Chi, Analyst (紀泳瑜 / 分析師)

負責投資與基金管理。在加入 AppWorks 之前,曾於勤業眾信審計部門服務近兩年,參與過的財務報表查核案件橫跨多個產業。畢業於台大會計系,學生時期曾擔任台大學生會活動部部長與會計系系學會公關長。喜愛品嚐美食、棒球與推理懸疑類影集。期許自己成為理性,但不失熱血與溫度的創投分析師。

充滿挑戰的 2020 年終於來到了尾聲,儘管全世界仍籠罩在新冠肺炎這隻黑天鵝的陰影下,但危機即意味著轉機。在疫情持續影響世界各地之下,利用大數據與 AI 轉型,並以此最佳化營業活動效率,已成為各產業的共識,並直接加速了 AI 產業整體的發展。依據 IDC 的報告,全球 2020 年 AI 整體市場規模為 1,565 億美元,成長率高達 12.3%,其中,軟體所佔比重達 80%,IDC 同時也樂觀預期,AI 這片藍海的市場規模,將以年複合成長率 17% 的速度成長,在 2024 年突破 3,000 億美元。

然而,各種 AI 應用要能蓬勃發展,負責儲存數據、訓練模型,有如大腦般的 IaaS、 PaaS 雲端服務和資料中心就必須發展完備。滿足 AI 對雲端服務所需的效能需求後,才能更有效率運用各領域 (如金融、製造、零售業等) 數據,推動 AI 技術向前邁進。

國際三大公有雲業者中的 Google 與 Microsoft,不約而同在今年下半宣布加大投資台灣 AI 基礎建設的力度。Google 在九月宣布將於雲林建置第三座資料中心,Microsoft 則是於十月底宣布將在台灣設立首座 Azure 資料中心,並建置 Azure 雲端硬體與基礎建設團隊。隨著台灣未來雲基礎架構更加完備,使用者將無需透過境外資料中心建置服務,進而加速在地團隊落實更多 AI 的創新與應用,尤其是金融等對資料主權較為敏感的領域。

隨著 2020 即將結束, AppWorks Accelerator 發表每半年更新一次、最新版本的「2020 H2 台灣 AI 生態系地圖」(Taiwan’s AI Ecosystem Map Second Half 2020) ,檢視整體生態變化的過程中,我們觀察到 2020 下半年較值得注意的趨勢如下:

醫療 AI 新創獲投資人關注,是否能成功帶來正向循環? 

由於新冠肺炎疫情增加了太多未來不可控的風險,2020 年投資人普遍對新創投資案趨於保守,但疫情也同時推升了投資機構與企業對醫療 (Healthcare) AI 新創的關注度。在籌資較為困難的今年,提供醫療影像 AI 開發平台服務,以及 AI 數位病理系統的 aetherAI 雲象科技,在上半年獲得由廣達電腦領投的 600 萬美元 A 輪募資。到了 2020 下半年,協助醫療人員判讀電腦斷層掃描 (Computer Tomography,CT)、提供腦出血 AI 影像判讀系統的 Deep01也成功獲華碩領投的新台幣 8,000 萬元 (約 270 萬美元) 種子輪募資。此外,打造 AI 智慧聽診器,並開發智慧呼吸監測系統的 Heroic-Faith 聿信醫療也完成了 400 萬美元的 A 輪募資

下一步的觀察重點,將是台灣醫療 AI 新創如何邁向國際化。由於醫療 AI 相關產品,主要的銷售市場,仍以美國、日本、歐洲等已開發國家居多,台灣新創的國際能見度較低,再加上受到疫情影響,對各種國際化業務推展有一定的影響與限制,因此,這批已獲得投資人青睞,進入 Scale Up 階段的團隊,是否能成功出海規模化,為新創圈與投資人注下一劑強心針,帶來更多新創出海的能量,將成為日後值得關注的重點。


如同本文開頭所提,企業利用大數據與 AI 數位轉型,或是尋找下個成長引擎,已成刻不容緩的問題。在 2020 年《天下》雜誌和 IMD 瑞士洛桑國際管理發展學院合作發布台灣與歐洲的第一份數位轉型調查中也指出,高達 52%  的台灣企業尚未數位轉型,僅有 4% 企業表示數位轉型達成或超越轉型設定的目標。因此,不論是內部自建 大數據以及 AI 專案團隊,或是向新創圈尋找合作夥伴,成了各企業積極佈局的戰場。

最直接的模式,當屬以企業創投 (CVC) 直接投資綁定具戰略價值的新創,但除了投資以外,台灣各個大企業,也在探尋其他合作模式。例如,研華科技即與 StarFab 合作成立加速器;在新創、AI 生態圈一向活躍的緯創資通,除積極推動本業升級外,更是積極佈局未來轉型,不放過任何下一個潛在的商業引擎,除了以企業創投投資 AI 新創外,今年下半年,緯創更是分別與交大合作成立嵌入式人工智慧研究中心,以及與嘉新兆福文化基金會和時代基金會共同規劃 Wistron Lab@ Garage+新創空間,以各種模式與 AI 新創合作,找尋下一個十年的成長機會。

台灣防疫有成,加速 AI 生態系發展

有賴台灣政府與全體國民攜手抗疫有成,整個台灣 AI 生態系 2020 下半年仍持續蓬勃發展。在創業加速器部分,2010 年成立、自 2018 年 8 月 (AW#17) 起限定招募 AI / IoT 與 Blockchain 新創的 AppWorks Accelerator,目前為止已經招收五期 AI / Blockchain 共 150 組新創,其中有 84 組 AI 新創,持續為台灣 AI 生態系挹注新能量。AppWorks 之外,包括微軟新創加速器 (Microsoft for Startups)Sparklabs TaipeiTaiwan AI x Robotics Accelerator 等以 AI 新創團隊為主要招募對象的創業加速器,均持續活躍舉辦;到了下半年,更由於疫情控制得宜,台灣也相對安全得以舉辦實體活動活絡生態系的交流,像是 2020 下半年台灣新創圈最大的盛會:2020 Meet Taipei 創新創業嘉年華中,也可發現多數新創均尋求利用 AI 和大數據,創造更多附加價值高的服務,或是以自身 AI 的 Know-how 成為大企業的轉型合作夥伴。

台灣人工智慧學校、台灣人工智慧實驗室,則分別仍是台灣在 AI 教育與研究領域的代表性機構,持續為台灣 AI 發展挹注人才與創新技術的能量。財團法人人工智慧科技基金會,則是持續推動 AI 在各產業落地,提供企業訓練課程、導入 AI 專案評估與轉型策略的建議,促進台灣產升級。

Taiwan’s AI Ecosystem Map Second Half 2020 由 AppWorks 製作,每半年更新一次,有任何指教與建議,請 email 至 a@appworks.tw

【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


Anne Chen, Investor Relations Manager (陳祈安 / 投資人關係經理)

負責 AppWorks 創投基金的投資關係與服務。就讀台大財金時期曾在 AppWorks 實習半年,畢業後於星展銀行企業金融處擔任客戶關係經理,協助上市櫃及私人企業客戶進行財務規劃。在商業銀行工作四年後,再度回歸 AppWorks,期待帶著她累積的經驗與能力貢獻創業圈。平時熱愛下廚、海洋及多肉植物。

對創業者而言,現在是創業的最好時機;對面臨數位轉型挑戰的大企業而言,現在則是與新創合作的最佳時機。隨著 AI、IoT、Blockchain、DeFi、5G 等重要的典範轉移,現身的頻率越來越快,背後所浮現的機會也越來越多,擅長把握趨勢變化的創業者,有比以往更大的機會,成為既有世界的顛覆者,而與掌握前緣趨勢、Know-how、商業模式的新創合作,也成為大企業在進行數位轉型、希望快速跟上趨勢變化時,最有效、成功率最高的一種方法。

大企業藉由與新創合作,加速推動數位轉型,這在 AppWorks Accelerator 所打造的創業者社群中,已是現在進行式。自 2010 年正式啟動 AppWorks Accelerator 至今,AppWorks 生態系至今已累積 395 家活躍新創、共 1,331 位創業者、總估值達到 110.7 億美元。對大企業來說,AppWorks 生態系已成為重要的策略夥伴,我們今年陸續辦了幾場 Corporate Day,每次針對一家大企業的數位轉型需求,從 AppWorks 生態系中,安排與大企業發展策略相符的新創,邀請大企業的管理階層,與創業者們一同在 Corporate Day 中交流想法,尋求未來深度合作與發展的契機。

大企業與新創合作,加速數位轉型也是全球商業領域的重要趨勢。根據 Pitchbook & GCV Analytics 的統計,2011 到 2019 年企業佔全球新創投資總額的比重持續攀升,這個比重在 2011 年為 33%,在 2019 年則是 52%,而在 2017 年甚至高達 67%。

Source: Pitchbook & GCV Analytics

大企業與新創合作已不是新做法,從企業創投 (Corporate Venture Capital, CVC) 成立蔚為風潮,即可看出大企業越來越重視新創在數位轉型中扮演的合作角色。我常常與各企業的投資部門,以及策略發展部門接觸,對大企業來說,「數位轉型」已是專業經理人、家族二代接班的頭號任務 (也是頭痛任務),昔日影片出租霸主百視達破產的故事,告訴我們,面對典範轉移帶來的新商業模式,沒有大者恆大這件事情,再大的企業,如果停滯不動,也可能會被淘汰在洪流中。

當大企業面對數位轉型的挑戰時,與某個垂直領域發展有成的新創合作,通常是大企業直覺想到的第一件事。常見做法,包含投資新創、與新創策略結盟、併購等。新創通常代表著新的商業模式,能更快、更好、更便宜,甚至從根本上顛覆既有的產業與商業模式,大企業與新創合作,看中的,往往不只是與新創合作帶來的財務效益,更是企業下一個五年、十年是否成功數位轉型的關鍵。對創業者來說,如果你是已經找到 PMF 的新創,也考慮與大企業合作來加速成長,我從過去與大企業溝通、主辦 Corporate Day 的經驗中,分享一些企業觀點與案例,讓創業者思考如何提高與企業合作的勝率。

辦了幾場 Corporate Day,企業經營階層也分享他們對於與新創合作的策略與挑戰,由淺到深的合作方式包含投資新創、與新創策略結盟,最後甚至走向併購之路。總結來說,我認為創業者跟大企業合作,共有三個挑戰:

挑戰1. 創業者需思考資源如何分配?




挑戰2. 預期的併購綜效,是否難以達成?


通常,大企業併購新創,都會有附帶條款,希望創業團隊能繼續留下打拼數年,負責擔任購併後的新事業負責人。我們常說合併要有綜效 (Synergy),雙方結合前畫出的美好藍圖,一定都是一加一大於二,但常見的失敗案例,是新創被併購後,以為找到終身飯票,再也沒有斷炊煩惱,卻因為當初雙方的結合目標與效益難以達成,最後成為集團中爹不疼、娘不愛的孤兒 Busienss Unit。我們也曾見過讓人扼腕的案例,就是母公司指派的管理階層,對新併購組成的事業部缺乏理解,導致原團隊全數拂袖而去,使得集團之後面對新創併購案謹慎以待。








挑戰3. 如何度過磨合陣痛期?


一名大型科技公司的管理階層就曾不諱言指出:「併購新創好似器官移植,與其經歷如此耗費資源與溝通成本的排斥反應,倒不如鼓勵員工內部創業,從集團內長出新事業後再獨立。」要讓先天 DNA 不同的大企業與新創成功合作,難度由此可見一斑。


案例分享:Fugle 與玉山證券合作創造雙贏

打造頗受年輕投資人歡迎的股票交易 App、AW#12 校友 Fugle 富果投資,今年宣佈與玉山證券合作推出玉山證券富果帳戶,投資人可以透過 Fugle 富果的 App,直接在玉山證券開戶。使用 Fugle 富果的 App 研究投資資訊、交易股票,可讓習慣以手機作為主要資訊來源的年輕股票投資人,更便利地在 App 上整合公開資訊觀測站、PTT、 104 人力銀行等各大資訊來源,進而做出投資判斷。

Fugle 富果創辦人 Anyway 葉力維從創業者角度出發,分享他的經驗。他認為,Fugle 富果與玉山證券的策略合作,符合雙方共同的戰略目標。事實上,創辦 Fugle 富果的願景,是希望成為新一代的網路券商,但後來發現,台灣的券商市場非常破碎且客戶不易流動,而設立券商有一定門檻,與其花更長的時間去完成監理要求、自己拿券商執照,倒不如與合適的既有金融業者合作,可讓 Fugle 富果拿到更快進入市場的入場門票,而玉山證券在金融創新領域的開放的態度及對新興客群的興趣,正是 Fugle 富果選擇合作的原因之一。對於玉山證券來說,與 Fugle 富果合作,則可以在不增加人力成本的前提下,將這群願意積極使用新工具研究股票的年輕新客群,帶入玉山證券。

Anyway 指出,創業者若想與大企業合作,對企業所在產業的深入了解,以及制定明確的合作目標,將有助於洽談時的推進力道。確定合作關係後,雙方定義合作目標時,可以利用績效指標 (例如新用戶數量) 等方式,確保彼此利益一致,這將有助於發展出長期、健康的合作關係。

對於正職員工只有 15 人的 Fugle 富果來說,執行大型合作案時,資源分配則是必須仔細評估的重點。即使與玉山證券的合作案極具指標與創新意義,Fugle 富果還是保留三分之一的人力來開發既有功能,以維持整體服務前進的速度。在與玉山證券合作前,Fugle 富果也曾有幾個接案性質的合作案,Anyway 建議,如果這樣的合作,一開始就定位為階段性效益的接案,在合約中要將權利義務定義清楚,戰線不要拉太長。

創業者最後還是得思考清楚,與大企業合作後想要達成的目標是什麼?Anyway 也不諱言,合作之後才是挑戰的開始。Fugle 富果與玉山證券合作的窗口,以數位發展部門為主,在合作的過程中,他發現各部門重視的問題與績效未必都相同,如何從各部門角度思考,會是溝通的關鍵,而且與其透過窗口代為溝通,與各部門建立直接溝通管道是更有效率的溝通方式,玉山證券的數位發展部門也認同這樣的做法,常邀請 Fugle 富果一同參加與其他部門的會議。舉例來說,金融業的 IT 部門,因為對資訊安全、客戶資訊保護以及系統穩定度的要求較高,因此決策流程較為嚴謹,自然會偏好減少各功能模組更新的頻率,但這並不符合今日市場求新求變,新創透過快速疊代來優化服務、提升使用者體驗的 DNA,最後 Fugle 富果在與 IT 部門充分溝通、盡可能滿足對方在意的重點後,成功獲得 IT 部門的認可,加快更新功能模組的頻率,實際執行後, IT 部門也發現這樣的更新頻率,透過彼此建立有效的流程,也能激勵創新開發的能量,更快地滿足市場需求,並獲得用戶的肯定。 


【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

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Why is Taiwan’s Fintech such a Laggard? What Does Its Future Hold?

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.

Taiwan is often not top of mind when it comes to fintech in this part of the world. For one reason or another, first impressions generally evoke a sense of conservatism or stringency, with little room for fintech innovation, at least when compared to some of its peers in the region like Singapore or Hong Kong. Certainly, when I dug into our own ecosystem, out of the 395 active startups that have passed through AppWorks Accelerator, only 15 or 4% were found to be working on fintech, with only 8 of them headquartered in Taiwan. 

It’s rather a curious phenomenon. I’ve always heard about Taiwan’s lacking fintech capabilities, but at the same time, I also recognize that the country features many characteristics conducive to innovation around financial services, including a strong talent pool, high rates of internet/mobile penetration, widespread access to credit cards and bank accounts, and a generally higher willingness to pay and save compared to other, more emerging countries in the region. 

Yet, activity in this space feels paltry at best. There are currently less than 60 fintech players operating in Taiwan, in contrast to around 350 in South Korea, 600 in Hong Kong, and 1,200 in Singapore. Regulations are often cited as a primary deterrent. Regulations, however, are the bedrock of any financial system to prevent it from breaking. So, what is it specifically about Taiwan’s regulatory regime that seems to turn founders away? And what opportunities, if any, have yet to be uncovered for prospective fintech players looking to enter Taiwan?

Money in the bank

Taiwan displays a very robust financial services sector, and is considered “overbanked” by most standard measures. There are 36 domestic commercial banks and 5,055 branch offices catering to a population of 24 million people according to Taiwan’s Central Bank. That’s equivalent to 210 branches per million population; by contrast, Hong Kong counted 165 and Korea 133 in 2017. Consequently, roughly 94% of all Taiwanese adults now have bank accounts, visibly surpassing the global average of 69%. The high concentration of financial services in Taiwanese cities has led to high levels of convenience, demonstrated by the ratios of 141 ATMs per 100,000 people (compared to the global average of 53), roughly 2 credit cards and 3 NFC payment cards (i.e. Easycard, iPass, iCard) per person, and the highest insurance coverage in the world.

Despite the well established banking system, penchant for digitalization among financial institutions is still sparse. Speaking to my own experiences as a consumer, I find myself commonly faced with clunky mobile banking apps or often displacing my physical passbooks which are still widely used by banks. Strict KYC/AML/anti-fraud procedures and largely paper-based processes can sometimes turn simple banking requests into half-day, in-person affairs. And of course, limited English speaking staff, user interfaces, and forms pose a distinct set of challenges for foreign entrepreneurs.

From a startup’s perspective, establishing partnerships with banks and more specifically winning their trust is an uphill battle to say the least. One lending startup that I spoke to spent more than a year meeting with multiple rungs of internal team members within a bank from product to sales to credit risk to compliance, all in an effort to convey their value proposition and get buy-in across the hierarchy for a potential collaboration. By contrast, it only took them 3 months to establish the same type of commercial partnership in a neighboring country.

The tides, however, seem to be gradually changing. In 2016, the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) which oversees all finance sectors unveiled a strategy to revolutionize fintech development in Taiwan. It details a handful of priorities including doubling e-payment penetration, promoting blockchain adoption, creating a fintech incubation hub, while issuing an industry-wide mandate for banks to collaborate more with startups and digitalize some of their existing service offerings. All these initiatives aim to ensure that financial institutions adequately meet consumers’ evolving needs and play an active role in facilitating Taiwan’s digital economy, instead of falling by the wayside. 

In 2018, for example, the country’s largest P2P lender LnB successfully established a customer data-sharing agreement with Standard Chartered Bank Taiwan, which leverages the online platform to reach a younger, more digitally savvy segment of the market. Meanwhile, Fubon Financial, towards the end of last year announced its partnership with local blockchain developer AMIS to launch a blockchain-based money transfer service. 

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find many other recent press releases from banking institutions similarly touting their embrace of startups and digital technology, distinctly contrasting the general tone several years ago. It’s a good start, but more work needs to be done in moving beyond PR rhetoric and reforming the overall mentality towards innovation among decision makers in both financial institutions and regulatory agencies. 

Better safe than sorry

The basis of Taiwan’s regulatory and broader legal system finds its roots in Germanic civil law, which is widely adopted across continental Europe, Latin America, and many parts of Asia including Japan and South Korea. It’s a rule-based system that basically says “you’re only allowed to do what I say is allowed” as opposed to the more principle-based common law found in the US or UK where it’s more of a “if I don’t prohibit it, then you can do it” attitude, according to Shan Luo, managing director of FinTechSpace, a government-supported incubator for local and international fintech startups. 

Consequently, many regulations in Taiwan follow a positive-listed approach, restricting the scope of possibilities to a very narrow band that may not adequately capture the evolution of technology. For example, a typical KYC process for opening an online brokerage account might stipulate a national ID card as a requirement under Taiwanese laws, whereas a negative-listed approach might just require anything that proves your ID. The latter is a broad stroke up for interpretation, whereas the former is a granular instruction that specifically dictates what is allowed, with anything outside those bounds requiring a codified change in the law, which can take upwards of 2 years.

The rigid legalese not only stems from the fact the regulators can be held personally liable for any fraud, misconduct, or oversight that resulted from their decrees, but also Taiwan’s largely export-driven economy. As a global manufacturer of electronic goods, Taiwan derives roughly 55% of its GDP from exports, and is thus very cautious in preventing money laundering or any financial crime that might undermine its status as a reliable trading partner.

It comes as no surprise then that most finance-related activities require a license, which normally comes attached with steep capital requirements and strict AML procedures that fall beyond the means of a typical early stage startup.

Finatext, for example, is Japanese startup that offers zero-commission online stock trading, very much in a similar fashion as Robinhood in the US. In order to set up shop in Taiwan, they would need at least NT$200 million (US$6.7 million) of paid-in capital to secure a brokerage license, a steep hurdle from what they’ve experienced in their home country. “Japan has long recognized that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to startups. Their brokerage license actually comes in 4 types, ranging from light to heavy, depending on the nature of your business. For us, we’re doing a purely online business and thus qualified for the light version which requires minimal capital requirements,” says David Tsai, managing director of Finatext Taiwan. 

Zero-commission trading is actually not even allowed due to protections by not only the FSC, but also the brokerage unions who fear that the business model may threaten the job security of thousands of brokers. Nevertheless, Taiwan has long recognized the value of fintech and begun to make small but resolute steps forward. In 2018, FSC launched a regulatory sandbox for startups to trial their business without the associated regulatory risks. EMQ (AppWorks is an investor) was the first startup to enter the sandbox, where they’ve been able to successfully roll out their cross-border remittance service to the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Taiwan. 

More recently, the FSC announced its plan to roll out Open API across its entire banking sector, which essentially allows third-party service providers including startups to more seamlessly integrate with banks and leverage their data. Ultimately, this would allow customers to enjoy a more diverse and convenient array of financial services through technology, bringing Taiwan closer in line with global standards.

Complement, don’t disrupt

While Taiwan’s financial system may not have as many glaring pain points as those markets in Southeast Asia where up to 70% of the people are either unbanked or underbanked, the country still has its fair share of gaps and inefficiencies in the market. But the more successful models have skewed more towards those that complement existing infrastructure, not disrupt it. 

Moneybook, for example, is riding on the fact that most adults are simply inundated with financial products and need a better way to organize their personal finances. “Consumers on average have 2 to 3 bank accounts, with a new one opened whenever they switch jobs, and 2 to 5 credit cards, each with a different purpose. Our online platform helps consolidate all of that and provides users with a holistic view of their spending and overall financial health,” details Isaac Chiang, co-founder of Moneybook. 

While consumers have no trouble quickly gaining access to cheap financial products like low-interest loans, SMEs often have challenges obtaining a debt facility. “Companies that have annual sales turnover over NT$100 million (US$3.5 million) shouldn’t have a lot of problems when applying for bank financing. But smaller companies, with turnover below NT$100 million (US$3.5 million) it’s still not easy, due to a lack of collateral or financial history. But if they are eligible for a loan, the terms are usually not very favorable, and the 3 months of KYC and overall onboarding process also presents its own set of pain points,” depicts Anson Suen, founder of FundPark (AW#14). 

Clearly, there are still many parts of the economy where traditional banking institutions cannot necessarily reach. This is why the FSC recently granted online banking licenses for three digital banks Next Bank, Line Bank, and Rakuten International Commercial Bank, who can theoretically offer more low-cost services and access a subset of the population due to the absence of physical branches.

E-payments is another area that the government has been promoting heavily, setting an ambitious goal of 90% penetration by 2025. Heavy tax incentives for mobile payment adoption has led transactions to reach NT$120.9 billion (US$4.15 billion) in the first seven months of this year, growing 127% from the year prior, with the lion’s share dominated by JKOPay, LINE Pay, and Apple Pay. 

Beyond the pastures

In the realm of venture capital, we often try to visit things from first principles; that is, holding our unconscious biases and knee-jerk assumptions up to a microscope and see if they still hold true, usually after several rounds of asking “why.” 

Any impressions of stringency surrounding Taiwan’s fintech landscape are generally true. Taiwan is a developed market with an extensive and in many cases restrictive regulatory regime; however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any problems to solve. The country’s fundamentals are comparatively solid, in terms of internet/mobile penetration and availability of financial services, which collectively lead to a whole new set of opportunities. This is clearly evident in the growing success of mobile payments and potential promise of digital-only banks.

Of course, a conversation around fintech wouldn’t be complete without mentioning blockchain. 2020 has been the year of decentralized finance (DeFi), now with over US$14B of total value locked-in, with many Taiwanese companies riding the wave such as Steaker (AW#20), Fuly.ai (AW#20), and Pelith (AW#21). Certainly, the very concept of decentralization is rather provocative, as it negates the need for any centralized authority like the FSC in the first place. But it’s still early days DeFi, and whether or not it can fulfill the everyday financial needs of consumers while adequately protecting their interests has yet to be fully proven. As we’ve seen with the eras of ICOs/STOs/IEOs, regulatory frameworks are likely imminent as DeFi grows in adoption, but hopefully not to the point where it throttles innovation. 

Nevertheless, with recent initiatives like the regulatory sandbox and open banking, Taiwan has been making a steadfast push in not only catching up with other fintech hubs around the region but effectively putting itself ahead of the curve.

【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.】

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