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Resource  21, Mar 2014

The Toad @ JFDI: Jeep in a Sahara desert with limited fuel

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e27 watches the fresh batch of startups accelerate at JFDI. Day 1 goes in introductions, exchanging pleasantries, rounded up by a Dinner at Holland Village

The Houston Toad is an endangered species. It takes up to 100 days to mature from a tadpole into a little toad and it seems that’s also true for start-up companies. So that is why I’ve come to hang out with JFDI.Asia. Over the last two years, 27 businesses have been through its programme and six out of ten have raised money in the end. I wanted to watch and find out how.

To set the scene, my name is Theon Leong, I am a fresh Singaporean graduate waiting to enlist into the Army. I will be reporting on my experiences with startups in Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI) programme. Who am I to comment? Well, to be honest, it’s non-essential. It’s my first week on the writing job at e27 and I’m just as confused as these startups are. What will be presented in this 100-day series are opinions of a young person who is interested in entrepreneurship without the rose-tinted lenses. I will be speaking to more experienced entrepreneurs that walk in and out for free coffee at the cafe and open house day — trying my best to extract from them as much insight as possible. I also will be talking to startups, to get to know them better and find out why they do what they do.

Thirteen startups will be pitching to 150 venture capitalists on Demonstration Day to obtain an average of S$600,000 (US$470,000).

I asked John Fearon, parallel entrepreneur at Singapore-based Gilcrux Holdings, for insight on what patterns are common in startups. It eventually yielded analogies like driving a Jeep through the Sahara desert on limited fuel. Eventually, the fuel runs out and the founders will need to push it for the rest of the way until they can get more fuel. An important distinction between teams that eventually get funded and teams that fall out in the middle of the desert is the amount of commitment that is involved and how prepared they are to take risks to ensure that the businesses succeed.

Read more: JFDI looks to scale up with 3 new accelerator programmes in 2014

Here’s the cast of characters, in alphabetical order: Autocus, CodeToki, ContentFactory, Doctree, Glints Intern, Huddling Penguins, Kallifly, Oblilis, Storyroll, Stumply, Vixhub, Wikasa and XYSEC Labs. These firms are mostly technology firms that leverage on the Internet to deliver value to their customers. Do check out their websites and find out more about their businesses from the teams themselves, though I will write about all of them eventually. I will also be mentioning staff at JFDI, venture capitalists and alumni from time to time.

Even from Day 1, within the group, there are people with different motivations and also different levels of seriousness towards the businesses they have started. There are startups with good products and some that would need to pivot. Day 1 more or less restricted to introductions, briefing by JFDI about what they are and what they’d be doing in the following days as everybody gets to know each other more and test the waters. The teams are international; they hail from countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore. There’s even a team from Lithuania, which by the way, is part of northern Europe. Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic states, which all used to belong to Russia. It was somewhat like the first day at school or college. The evening was closed with a dinner at Holland Village – socializing over food and introducing the foreigners to local culture and cuisine.

It is noteworthy that 20 venture capitalists will be coming down on Day 2 of the acceleration programme to give constructive criticism and realistic appraisals of the businesses. Will any of the teams drop out after only a week? We are warned that on Day 2 each one will be put into fire. Metaphorically. Watch out for the Day 2 updates on Monday.

Starting March 20, Theon Leong will be watching the fresh batch at JFDI, closely. Watch out for the #ToadAtJFDI tag on Twitter. Also, you can check out all the daily diary archive here.

Theon Leong

Theon Leong

Theon is a skeptic who believes in possibilities after learning that three thirds of a pie does not add up to one and that cats can be dead and alive at the same time. He writes about business and technology, and is particularly interested in deconstructing complex ideas into bite-sized chunks. His favorite novel is The Little Prince, and spends his free time on chess and video games.

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