- Hustle Fund | Hilariously-early startups
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- Cul-de-sac | Personal Blog
- No longer believes that Youtube & Twitter are Satan
I love Shiyan Koh. Not just because she invested in my previous startup, but because she’s just down to earth. When I talk with her, I feel like I just need to bust open a bottle of wine and just chat about the world. Maybe in the future, I should make it a priority to do just that.
Knowing Shiyan’s past and how she got into venture capital is a plus, but there are stories to tell, and I wanted to hear them myself. I started off asking Shiyan about her early college days, moving from a focus on policy and economics to a focus on business. She attributes most of it to internship opportunities she had which allowed her to see which types of work she liked and didn’t like. What I found fascinating is that she ended up in the same world as her parents, who are both into venture capital. Isn’t that the irony of life? We always just end up being like our mama.
“I think what they [parents] liked is that I moved back home to Singapore, so they’re not really arguing over the decision to move into venture. I think more than anyone they have an appreciation how challenging the job is, but also how fun it can be. It makes dinner conversations pretty fun!”Shiyan Koh – VC Hunting S1E13
Shifting the conversation to what Shiyan’s up to now at Hustle Fund, her mandate was to go back to Singapore and begin searching for the best hustlers out in the Asia-Pacific region. I really wanted to know more about the landscape out there. As far as I’m concerned, I know there is a ton of interest in the blockchain space out there (due to my deep previous experience), but other than that, what’s cooking?
“Singapore is tiny, but it sits within south-east Asia, which is 10 countries which encompasses over 600 million people, and the vast majority who are under the age of 28. It’s a very young region. There is super high cell phone and mobile connectivity penetration. Most people are mobile-first. What is exciting is that for many people they are just beginning to come online. We’re adding 3-4 million internet users per month, and people are super engaged online.”Shiyan Koh – VC Hunting S1E13
What Shiyan also finds interesting and exciting is the fact that if you benchmark startups and the ecosystem against Silicon Valley, Singapore is still very nascent. She loves being part of that unknown:
“That’s part of the excitement of being here. Being part of that growth, working with young teams, and hopefully finding the next set of unicorns!”Shiyan Koh – VC Hunting S1E13
I could totally see Shiyan’s exciting rise when I put together a convergence of what I believed to be 3 powerful incentives:
- She chose to be in VC
- She wanted to move back to Singapore
- She loves being part of building something from nothing
As I write this, I just had to sit back and admire her tenacity and excitement for such a challenge. It’s hard enough to just focus on building your own company but to be part of a rapidly-growing economy trying to find great founders… where do you start and what has surprised her so far?
“The fact that people use Facebook or Youtube as their homepage. When you look at people using their phone, they don’t search using Google. They search using Youtube! They don’t use email, they just use Facebook messenger. The internet wasn’t supposed to be a closed garden like AOL was back in the day. And now, we supposedly have all this choice, but people ended up creating their own closed garden inside Facebook and inside Youtube. I think that’s really fascinating to watch.”Shiyan Koh – VC Hunting S1E13
Being a technologist… I feel sometimes that I shouldn’t be surprised at the unique ways other demographics or cultures use the internet. During this taping, I was shocked. Many of the youth out in Asia don’t have email! They use social platforms differently and this requires a whole new way of thinking around how to provide products, services, and value to this customer market.
“What I find the most interesting is that we have 600 million people in South East Asia where their habits haven’t been set yet. So there is an opportunity for people to come and build new things that take advantage of the fact that you don’t need to refurbish a web product into mobile. You really have a chance to next-gen how you think about what you’re using and what emerges out of that.”Shiyan Koh – S1E13
Learning about all that Shiyan has experienced really got my brain moving. I wanted to know how her mental-models had to shift moving back to Singapore. I know we all carry experiences (biases) that can often force us to think improperly about a new market. I wanted to know how Shiyan has addressed this nuance and how she has ensured she doesn’t bias her own thinking:
“When I first started investing 10 years ago, my boss at the time said to me, ‘Just pay attention to how people spend time and spend money. It doesn’t matter if you would use it, you are not the user. It just matters if lots of other people want to use it!’ If they are spending time and money, then you should pay attention!”Shiyan Koh – VC Hunting S1E13
Shiyan believes this is absolutely true where she is now. There are certain applications that she would never use, but millions of people use it. She has to be consciously aware of the fact that in this new nascent market, people’s expectations are different and lower. Meaning that because the technology is new, people are willing to put up with bad user experience or user interfaces. Regardless, she has to be willing to change her models to adjust for the user habits in her chosen market. To me, it sounds like she’s doing an excellent job!
“A lot of it is just watching consumers, talking to them. I love whenever I go to a new place, I want to see what is on people’s home screen. It tells you a lot about their interests and consumer behavior.”Shiyan Koh – VC Hunting S1E13
One thing I didn’t know is that Shiyan is also a professor! She teaches at a local university in Vietnam and I loved her example of how she gives her students the real-deal when it comes to startups: It’s just hard, and you never know if it’s going to work before you start. I had had to laugh. Isn’t that the truth though?
“I always ask people: ‘What is your theory of the world? Why is it different from what other people believe?'”Shiyan Koh – VC Hunting S1E13
What a great way to better understand the problems of today than to find someone who’s been working on a problem in their own world! Shiyan desires to find those people and understand how to help them solve those problems. I found this to be a great way of getting insider knowledge and leveling-up quickly in a market that you’re new to. I hope many other VC’s take Shiyan’s advice to heart.
When it comes to Hustle Fund’s theory of the world, Shiyan really said it best:
“When it comes to southeast Asia, many investors don’t necessarily want to invest out of the US, there’s just too much risk. We think that building software is not that different no matter where you sit. The process of understanding customers is still the same. We can still have a reasonable perspective on whether someones going to build a great business, regardless of geography.”Shiyan Koh – VC Hunting S1E13
Finally, I’m really excited that Shiyan was willing to share some of her learnings from her team off-site that they had recently. It’s really encouraging to hear that Hustle Fund is considering creating powerful content to help their existing startups (and the greater startup world). I can’t wait to get my hands on it as one of their investments!
Shiyan was a true blessing. I’m so very glad that I was able to catch her during her busy schedule and I look forward to the many great successes that she and her two partners, Eric and Elizabeth (previously interviewed!), will announce in the very near future!
Enjoy my retrospective:
SHIYAH KOH SOCIAL MEDIA
Och, ya cannae beat the smell of fresh pine in the breeze.