Mar 8, 2019 Lee Wang Jong
There has been growing interest in investing in emerging markets, especially in Southeast Asia. Our speakers, Kay-Mok Ku (Gobi), Soo Boon Koh (I-Globe), Kaspar Hadiyat (Koro Partners) were joined by Jorel Chan, who is the head of Investment Operations for Slush. Their discussion ranged from: personal insights, their experiences, as well as how Southeast Asia has been gaining global attention as something more than a geographical location in between China and the West. More importantly for Japan, they shared their ideas about how Japan should take its next steps in investing in Southeast Asia.
“It’s more diverse and since it is emerging, we tend to be more lax on the rules,” Kay-Mok Ku, Managing Partner for Gobi Southeast Asia, added to the discussion. This is one of the key reasons why Japan seems to have a hard time in gaining ground in the venture capital industry in Southeast Asia. There are trends within Japan that in order to make investments, following rules and building relationships, play a role. These relationships between potential partners sometimes “need more than couple of meetings to set things into motion” as Soo Boon Koh, the founder of iGlobe, agreed. She had experiences in coming to Japan for few meetings that ended without a result for one of her investments. The investment saw success and gained traction after.
What seems to be more apparent is that diversity is a greater factor (compared to Japan) in Southeast Asia in overcoming challenges. This is especially so for localizing different markets. Since entrepreneurs tend to be more critical, multilingual-multicultural facets tend to be one of the determinants in overcoming challenges. This is a problem for homogenous Japanese venture capitalists making an effort to make their footprints in Southeast Asia. “Find local partners,” this is one advice the three panelists gave.
Kaspar agrees and adds on that it’s important to “understand your own skill set, and what it takes to have multiple firms and building a portfolio(s).” Distribution and return, these rates and data are necessary to understand how much of a “meaningful impact” an investment will make.
What’s at stake for Japan? Soo Boon Koh has recently saw Japanese money in Southeast Asia. “Because many venture capitalists failed in the US, and although many found success in Europe, Japan seems to find more comfort in investing closer to home.” Using Singapore as a hub to penetrate deeper into Southeast Asia is a plan that needs careful direction. Notwithstanding, due to low interests rates, Japan can still find some success and build upon the momentum.
Last words for future Japanese startups? They all agree: “Treat Southeast Asia separately and look for a local partner.” This can increase chances to find more recruits from the region rather than from home (Japan).
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