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.】

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.】

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