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Month: January 2013

Startup Dating is Now Sd

Startup scene in Japan has been a sort of black box for those who don’t speak Japanese.

Amongst many tech blogs in the scene, Startup Dating aimed to fill the gap between two worlds since its beginning. No wonder they got their recognition not only in Japan but also in the whole Asian regions.

Now that they are taking a further step to become a global media hub for Japanese startups. They got a new brand name Sd, and English website will be up and running soon at according to their announcement.

Wish my colleagues working at Sd the best luck.

Every Startup Needs to Have Wow Factor

There is a favorite quote of mine borrowed from Zappos.

WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative.

You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.

In a today’s highly competitive market, companies without much differentiation are forced to go out of business no matter how well the companies are funded or how experienced their founders are. It’s simply because market isn’t big enough to sustain all of the incumbents and customers tend to choose the best one or two of them only.

So what’s a WOW factor anyway? For web startups, it might be a product that truly disrupts existing industry. For content startups, it might be something original and unique that makes people say “Wow, I’ve never seen this before.” For startups in general, it might be a superior customer service like one offered by Zappos. It’s easy to say, but difficult to execute.

From time to time I happen to face a meeting where all attendees are discussing topics that are completely irrelevant to their customer’s interest and have nothing to do with differentiation of their company. If it’s an operation level meeting, perhaps that’s okay. If it’s a company board meeting, that’s disaster.

Above statement applies not only to startups, but also to big players. Sony used to WOW people for long time. However, does 4K TV really WOW customers today? Well maybe, but so does its competitor Samsung.

Startup needs to understand WOW is a critical factor and treat it respectfully or startup will have a tough time down the line without it.

Are Investors Really Being Pickier Recently?

Few days ago New York Times published an interesting article.

The article basically states that investors are becoming more cautious about making investment in tech startups, especially in Silicon Valley area, after seeing troubled IPO of Facebook and questioned profitability of highly anticipated companies like Gilt Group.

I totally agree with David Sacks’s opinion saying there aren’t much opportunities left for startups where they can protect themselves from the onslaught of big players while figuring out what they are on to.

However, it doesn’t mean starting business in tech industry a bad idea yet. There is plenty of unsolved problems in the ares like education, nursing, and medical where software technology alone can be a true innovation.

If you shift your focus a bit on to these areas, you will find your startup can still look attractive to those investors. It’s just a matter of which angle you take.

Guide to Raising Money From Angels

This is a bit old information, but I post it here anyway since I found the contents of this book still valid for angel investment environment today.

The book is called Guide to Raising Money From Angels, which is written by an established entrepreneur / angel investor Bill Payne.

As mentioned in its preface, the book is not a template for writing business plan, a worksheet for valuing your company, nor a set of legal documents to guide an angel investment round.

However, the book gives very insightful knowledges to both startup founders and angel investors. In fact, I read it from both perspectives and enjoyed a lot.

I highly recommend this book to founders and co-founders starting their business even if they are not raising money from angels.

5 Tools to Kickstart Your Startup

So you have a great business idea, but don’t know how to turn it into actual startup. Use below 5 tools to kickstart your startup.

1. Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend is not just an event. Think of it as a tool to verify your business idea by giving pitch to audience and then check how many people vote for you. Needless to say, Startup Weekend is one of the best places to find prospective co-founders. For non-tech entrepreneur, this is also one of the few places where you can meet tech people with startup mindset.

2. LauchRock

Now that you have some sort of founding team, but no MVP (Minimal Viable Product) yet. Use LaunchRock (or KickoffLabs) to create a simple landing page until MVP is ready. In fact, this is something you should do while you are attending Startup Weekend.

By having the landing page prior to product launch, you can examine potential of your business idea by looking at the number of people who actually signed up. At the same time, you have a mailing list of potential customers to whom you will be conducting initial email marketing, which we will discuss next.

3. MailChimp

Okay. You have successfully created a buzz amongst people and got a mailing list of hundred to thousand people. It is time to conduct initial email marketing. Why email? Because it works. People still use email as primary communication channel and it is one of the most efficient ways for businesses to reach customers. MailChimp or any similar services offer ready-to-use templates for your landing page. Make sure you briefly explain a value proposition of your product (a.k.a. what you are offering to customer) on the landing page.

4. AngelList

Even if you are not raising money from investor, it is still advisable to have presence on AngelList. As of this writing, AngelList contributed more than $14,000,000 worth of venture capital to startups. If you are serious about making use of this service, first thing you need to do is getting the first key investor on board. He/she functions as good referral to following investors.

Let’s take a look at example of Zaarly, a Startup Weekend alumni that raised substantial amount of capital in short period of time. The company has a list of well knowns investors as well as industry celebrities. This makes other investors have a lot of confidence in the company.

5. Facebook / Twitter

Social media is the last tool to complement all above tools. Use it to communicate directly with customers, to keep them updated about your product status, and to get feedback from them.

There are lots of tricks and tweaks you can do with social media, but my simple advise is to buy Facebook Ads until you have at least 1,000 fans to your Facebook page first. This is because you cannot expect much viral effect if you have only hundreds of fans. My experience says virality starts to show somewhere around 1,000.

Next advise is to use Twitter with appropriate hash tags. For instance, using #startup tag doesn’t bring you any benefit unless you are blogging about this specific topic. Use something related to your product or content of your tweet.

That’s all for now.

Summary of 2012

Last year was yet another period of drastic changes in my life followed by series of trips to SE Asia.

Things I felt in each startup scene in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan are very diverse. At the same time I saw great necessity for creating bridge between these countries and Japan in terms of access to venture capital and human resources.

Hence, 2012 was also the year I started making angel investment in startups.

Trend in each startup scene was somewhat similar. I saw many startups in the area of P2P marketplace (from car sharing to job outsourcing), cloud & micro financing and smart phone based eCommerce targeted at niche segment.

By acting as angel investor I can be more involved with not only individual startup but also entire ecosystem across SE Asia as a whole.

If two startups are trying to get into the same area but from different countries (or angles), why not collaborate and increase chance of survival?

I understand there is opinion that chasing more than one region at the same time will result in higher failure rate since development and marketing effort will have to split. It totally makes sense to just focus on own region first and then move on to the next.

However, we have seen cases like Twitter, Groupon, Instagram where second dominant user comes from Japan. In recent cases, startups originated from Asian countries such as Between, Burpple, KakaoTalk are the few examples that are quite keen and aggressive to Japanese market.

What does it imply? From my point of view, it’s clear that Japanese market can function as secondary (or sometimes primary) accelerator to their business due to its high penetration rate of smart phones and habit of spending more money for online services than ones in other Asian countries.

I believe by making angel investment in startups I can narrow the gap between two ecosystems and help startup get the most out of what our country has to offer or vice versa.

I’m hoping 2013 will be the year for startups finally beginning to see both venture capital and human resources freely flowing across Asia.