如果說募資是一門藝術，疫情下的募資，大概就是一場魔術了。不過，創業者也不要灰心，其實所有合約條款的協商，都是雙方相互折衝與取捨 (Give and Take) 的結果，當新創希望投資人在某些權利讓步，投資人便可能期待有更優惠的價格，或增加相對應的停損機制。事實上，專業的投資人並不介意新創針對具體情況提出客製化的合約條款。基於這樣的理解，便有機會為自己爭取到合理的條件。當然，也別忘了「時間」往往對團隊不利，募資過程的每一天，資金水位都在直線下降，團隊的壓力只會愈來愈大、籌碼愈來愈少，唯有及早啟動募資佈局，面對前述種種交易條件，才有談判的餘裕。
疫情下的募資，真的比較難嗎？如果你是先天不良的新創，確實應該誠實面對疫情帶來「擇優汰劣」的結果，從失敗的經驗中獲得啟發與再造。但如果你是戰神型的創業者，外在的困境正能考驗並突顯出你愈挫愈勇的韌性 (Resilience)。所謂「A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.」 (平靜的海面無法造就高超的水手) 不只是老生常談，像 AppWorks 這類長線思考、資金無虞的投資人，反而更積極在尋找萬中選一、能看清自身處境、擅於權衡協調、勇於異軍突起的創業者，並給予他最大的信賴與支持。
最後，卻也最重要的，是提醒所有在疫情下募資的創業者：「資金入袋才算數」。這一點，在平常時期的募資，本來就是第一鐵律，如今身處非常時期，外在環境瞬息萬變，更要時時刻刻提醒自己，就算 Term Sheet 談得愉快、就算董事會和股東會一秒拍板、就算投資協議簽署順利、就算修章過程毫無困難，你的募資還不是你的募資。唯有資金入袋，才是真正「Deal Closed」。
Douglas is the English Master in Communication. A marketing strategist and content writer, he spent three years with Microsoft in Silicon Valley managing the global social media marketing strategy for BizSpark, Microsoft’s Azure and software program for entrepreneurs. Douglas has a deep love for technology, literature and travel. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts from Syracuse University and a Masters in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong.
Two quarters ago, the future seemed optimistic for Southeast Asia. Economic projections for the fastest-growing of these economies rose to the high single-digits. Broadband adoption was reaching a critical scale. New startups driven by a generation of young founders with international experience were rising to the region’s challenges and searching for traction.
It now seems very likely that the economic consequences of this disease outbreak will be generation-changing. While economic and tech expansion will continue, the ground-truths of the current COVID19 situation show that innovative thinking will have to lead us through the disaster. With sealed off countries, work from home lockdowns, and breakdowns in profit growth in nearly every industry vertical, where can founders turn when it comes to finding solutions in this environment?
At AppWorks, we are certain that founders will be among the group of people creating solutions that will bring SEA back to normalcy, and as always, we are ready to rise to the challenge. We have evidence to show that Taiwan can be a country from which SEA founders can re-launch when they are ready.
Taiwan possesses an e-economy that is not only well-versed in tech usage, but as the largest e-economy in the region, at US$42 billion per year, it has not slowed down significantly during this pandemic. Startup founders have worked with government officials to take an already planned-for mitigation strategy and accentuate it with tech.
From the installation of vending machines that distribute face masks, to an unprecedented tracing technology through mobile and GPS coordinates, Taiwan has stayed ahead of the pandemic curve. It’s economy and its national health statistics have reflected this tech-forward approach.
In terms of infection rates, the country has year-to-date had the fewest COVID19 cases. While no country has been left unscathed by the economic impact of the pandemic, Taiwan’s economists still project Taiwan to reach 2.37% to 2% in GDP growth this year, though this has been bolstered by a NT$ 100 billion injection in main business infrastructure to support the economy.
The knowledge networks that have kept the country’s portion of the supply chain running, and a decade-long history of aiding startup growth, means that smart founders who still have their eyes on expanding through SEA should consider the island as their starting point when this horrifying pandemic eases.
Taiwan will clearly be among the first countries for startup founders to turn for growth and learning when it becomes possible to move freely around the region again.
Predecessors define the trend — Taiwan is an undiscovered launch pad for the region
Companies like AI-driven consumer analytics company Tagtoo (AW#1) and Hong Kong-based Omnichat (AW#16) whose founders participated in the AppWorks accelerator, gained much of their traction by leveraging the Taiwan ecosystem.
Taiwanese companies like Mooimom (AW#16), purveyor of maternity goods, have used local engineering talent and experience in digital commerce to dominate Indonesia’s e-commerce market in that vertical.
All of these companies have used the microcosm of the AppWorks Accelerator and the macro-economy of Taiwan to gain a foothold and expand, through either direct or indirect experience in the semi-annual sessions devoted to Blockchain and AI and the community.
The accelerator and its network offers three critical sets of resources that make Taiwan a strong tech hub for the SEA region.
A community of peers and experts who can answer questions and give support, while providing opportunities for hiring, funding, and partnerships
Mentorship from seasoned public company executives who launched their own companies over the past 10-20 years
Resources like software and access to supply chain that make entry into a local market easier
Community is an accelerant for learning and scaling
For young founders, a community is a lifeline to growth. In the AppWorks network, 376 operating startups and the 1,113 founders who run them have proven vital for any founder that is trying to solve a hard problem, grow at scale, make acquisitions of talent, or find funding.
Sometimes this network and community is in-person, but it can also be virtual, as it has been so especially during the COVID19 pandemic. To accommodate founders who are not able to travel to Taiwan, and to enable connection among founders who continue to build during this time, the accelerator team holds virtual office hours and online seminars via Zoom on a regular basis.
This would be true, in any case, and it has become something of a new manner of doing business. Over the past 3 years, AppWork’s community has started to span across tech hubs throughout SEA and become more distributed. Over the past 18 months, the number of these startups infiltrating SEA has grown at a 1.6x pace.
The types of founders in this network give some insight into what kind of knowledge network is at hand during these virtual calls and virtual meetups. In many cases, former accelerator teams have reached a point where they have started to grow and are raising money to fuel expansion. Their insights can provide valuable feedback for other founders who want to go down the same path.
Some of these former accelerator teams include: WeMo (AW#12), Taiwan’s first shared e-scooters startup, helmed by Jeffrey Wu; Voicetube (AW#7), the largest language edutech startup in Taiwan, which recently raised a US$3.5M A round; Novelship (AW#16), a Singaporean team that raised a US$2M seed round; and Booqed, also of AW#16. This Hong Kong team raised a US$1.68M round.
There are also peers who have made the journey of an acquisition. Kevin Chan of LINE Taxi (AW#11) started his company as a challenge against a fast-scaling, but wayward, Uber, which didn’t seem to have grasped the dynamics of the local market. After a few years of development, LINE acquired them. Chan mentors the community in private and public events around Taipei.
Founders like those at Omnichat (AW#16), Allan Chan and Lewis Pong, have found that connections to peers who are at this level have been key to their learning. They started in Hong Kong with their e-commerce marketing solutions startup and then came to Taiwan to join the accelerator and build out the market here.
Three years after graduation, they have secured Taiwanese companies as clients at a scale larger than those they have in Hong Kong. Chan and Pong recently raised a US$ 800k seed round for further expansion, which will help them launch in Malaysia and Singapore in 2021.
They have found the virtual and in-person connectedness with their peers have put them in a good place for continuing to build.
“If we have any kind of question, we can just send a Facebook message and a lot of people will help us,” says Allan. “That’s amazing.”
Mentorship by leaders of IPOs shaping decades of ecosystem growth
The AppWorks mentor network provides access to 100+ seasoned founders, each with at least 10-20 years of experience in nearly every technology business vertical.
Through an in-person Mentor Day, the accelerator team connects early stage founders to this network in an intimate setting organized around pitching and personal meetings.
Founders get to meet founders in our investment portfolio like Sui Rui Quek, founder of Carousell; Joseph Phua, co-founder of live streaming social platform M17; Benjamin Wu, co-founder of iChef.
Equally, they can meet founders who have IPO’d, like Ben Tseng, founder of Net Publishing, a publicly-listed game publishing platform.
Early stage founders can meet with Tai Chi Chuan of Fusion Media, which manages three of the top media platforms in Taiwan; or cryptocurrency founder Alex Liu, who created MaiCoin; and Wang-tun Chou, CIO at Next Bank, which has been granted one of the first virtual bank licenses in Taiwan.
Peggy Cheung, a Hong Kong founder who established photo platform startup KaChick (AW#19) with co-founder Larry Lam, has firsthand experience with this. She came to Taiwan last year and says that the experiences with her mentor, Ming Chen from travel startup KKday, have focused her development efforts.
“My mentor sometimes sees what I can’t see in myself and gives me the courage to be bold,” she says. “In some cases our discussions saved me time from dwelling into unimportant matters or walking towards directions that make little sense.”
Having this kind of human support makes it easier for founders to extract value and make important connections with the macroeconomics of the country.
To build out his HaaS startup, he partnered with tech giant Foxconn and hired local engineers. These AppWorks Accelerator-fostered connections solved critical problems in Jiang’s mission.
“We believe Hardware-as-a-Service is a massively undervalued opportunity. Engineers in Taiwan are the most experienced in the world,” he says.
“We partner with Foxconn, which has an extensive footprint in Taiwan. When you show up in person, you get 10x the time and 10x the attention that you are able to get via WeChat or a video conference. It is also significantly easier to get agreement when you can build real relationships with your OEM,” says Jiang.
Besides connections, AppWorks provides all the essentials that a startup needs in the early days and that they could otherwise find scattered around the island’s tech hubs.
During the accelerator session, we give founders six months of free co-working space, available 24/7. After they “graduate” from the program, founders can provision seats on an on-demand basis for a fraction of the cost of a regular co-working space.
There are also business credits supplied to founders from partners at AWS, GCP, and more. Founders, who might not have the resources to build internal teams for design, PR, HR, legal or accounting, can also utilize connections to a team of “Masters” on staff. These industry specialists work on-demand with founders to solve critical operational and strategic challenges.
Separate from the AppWorks offering, the Taiwanese government itself makes it easier for founders to get established on the island. Recently, the government built out a new initiative called Startup Island, geared to help international founders explore Taiwan as a launching pad. Though the COVID19 pandemic has put a freeze on new visa issuance temporarily, the government makes it possible for entrepreneurs to apply for an “Entrepreneurs Visa.”
In December, Taiwan’s National Development Fund — a fund of over US$ 18 billion — announced that it is primed to make investments of at least US$180 million in the next few quarters, largely in Blockchain and AI.
While many economies around SEA find themselves grappling with precipitous falls in GDP, with many eyeing security strategies that will seal off their borders and preserve resources for their citizens indefinitely, Taiwan will remain a willing partner to SEA founders seeking to find a foothold here.
We expect that when life returns to what will likely be a new form of normal, the nation and our accelerator will be open, and willing, to help founders from all around the region.
在 Head 的觀察上，還有另一個觀察重點，就是創業者對於重要問題的掌握能力，也就是抓重點的能力。因為創業的過程，充滿太多的可以研究與探討的問題，但如何針對問題排序，就很考驗智慧跟經驗，因為那直接牽涉到如何分配有限的資源。優秀的創業者，需要很快就理解目前營運模式的重要影響要素是什麼，甚至在拜訪投資人時，能理解投資人可能的擔憂，有沒有能夠在投資人客客氣氣的問答之間，聽出真正的問題在哪，這些都是觀察 Head 的重點。
Hand — 快速累積營運成長動能
在 Hand 上，觀察的重點在執行營運的核心團隊。不少創業者會不自覺得認為這項指標表現不錯，但並沒有特別意識到，要確保任何計畫得以快速、成功地執行，擁有一支與創業者患難與共的團隊非常不容易，而在核心團隊內，更重要的是資訊分享，讓核心團隊成員都能夠有同樣的認知跟思考，而且當營運模式要大幅 Pivot 時，核心團隊更是創業者最關鍵的資本。
由 Hand 所展現出的執行力，也來自於團隊成員的素質。如果創業者能夠在重要的職務上，爭取到有經驗的成員加入，通常能夠事半功倍的加快營運成長，比如我近期正在 DD (盡職調查) 的新創，過去十年成長幅度不錯，但事實上，前七年的成長非常緩慢，整個成長的驅動力，來自於在三年前找到了非常有經驗的行銷長，有效地帶動自然流量增長，而這樣良性的循環，才能夠快速積累營運的動能。
如同武俠小說中曾說：「天下武功唯快不破。」就新創而言，則是「創業唯成長不敗」。成長除了來自使用者、業務或流量之外，創業者與核心團隊的成長更是關鍵，一位能夠快速成長的創業者，假以時日就能夠變成號令群雄的武林盟主，要具備這樣的功力，就必須不停在 Heart、Head 與 Hand 上持續精進，鍛鍊出能夠快速反應、有效打擊各種營運衍伸問題的能力。
越南在過去 15 年中，在科學、科技、工程與數學教育上投下鉅資。再加上 Internet 基礎建設大幅提升，以及相對年輕、低成本的人才，催生出蓬勃發展的 IT 外包產業。根據越南科學與科技部的數據，越南國內目前擁有約 3 萬家 IT 企業，大學每年培養出 8 萬名 IT 相關科系畢業生 (台灣約為 3.5 萬名，包含資訊、電機相關科系)。種種因素匯集，讓越南超過中國，成為日本第二大的軟體外包國，僅次於印度；此外，越南也是 IBM、Intel、Oracle、Samsung、Grab 等科技巨頭的研發基地。