The Toad @ JFDI: Of venture capitalists and startups

JFDI on Day 2 makes startups jump through hoops of fire to pitch in front of a crowd of VCs and media

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If I had to begin this day with a quotation, it would be about the man in the arena, which basically sums up what the startup teams would be going through today.

The arena is not as tense as I would imagine, but much more densely packed. I could have sworn that there are more than 20 venture capitalists in the hall, and I am likely right. Perhaps because I’m merely a spectator in the arena, as such, I don’t feel the foreboding that the gladiators would no doubt experience. Hugh Mason, Co-founder and CEO of JFDI, put it eloquently saying that “they were sh****ng themselves on the inside”.

Friday is actually open house day for JFDI; something that is conducted on a weekly basis to avoid the trouble of meeting individuals one by one. So if you’re free, you’re welcome to cruise in and drink some Americano at the coffee stand. In fact, there was even a group of students from Philippines who travelled to watch the show, as well as many creatives and tourists.

From what Hugh Mason was describing to me the day earlier, it almost seemed like one of the groups would break down in front of the pressure. I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t any open weeping, but for the teams, this is good news. If you think I’m being unrealistic, you should see the reactions of some Singaporean students when they get a B grade for their final assignment.

IIPL, the investment arm of IDA, was filming the event. When I asked them about it, they said that it is for a reality TV series for promotional purposes. With an episode every 20 days, looks like the JFDI accelerator Group A will see the film crew quite often.

When writing the notes during the presentations, I tried associating the groups to objects or animals that I could think of. This is because I’m a fan of symbolism, and also it seems more entertaining doing it this way!

Do remember that all these startups are digital as I have said previously, and most of their businesses have to do with crowdsourcing, Software as a Solution (SaaS) or mobile applications, with one exception. The investors shared insights on their commercialisation strategy, team, product, target audience, traction and competition involved.

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

Autocus, API combination software, is like a jigsaw puzzle, difficult to puzzle out and its business is in combining things. It allows social media APIs from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to be compiled to a single application. It presented first, but some investors did not really get what was being said. I would not have understood without talking to the team in detail as well.

Codetoki, a gamified matchmaking site for programmers, is like a homing pigeon. It knows where it is going and is going there pretty fast, but there are much bigger avian creatures in the vicinity and they would need to deal with them eventually. Other than that, solid pitch even though they had it scripted on paper and read it out word for word.

ContentFactory, a content management tool for SMEs using an algorithm, is like a machine and a really useful one at it. At least to me, I find that a service like this would save writers a lot of time. But investors were skeptical about its commercialisation model and the extent of  human element in the creation of content. One investor who works in media stated that most of the content on the web is lousy in terms of quality, and doubts ContentFactory feasibility in that regard.

Kallify, telephone on the go, is like a beaver. Simple to understand, practical and seems to know the market. It was acknowledged that the BPO market for SMEs was interesting and sizable. However, one investor commented that the numbers don’t make sense and that he didn’t understand the secret sauce behind the idea.

Huddling Penguins, mobile application for fashion, quite simply is a penguin. The South Korean team had trouble getting across the language barrier, but investors could see they have a good product. They might also be slightly awkward, as penguins are perceived to be. Also, don’t use the word “playboy” and “hot women and parties” in a venture capital presentation, or female investors might get offended. The exact quote was, “you need to watch your language so as to not offend female investors”.

Glints Intern, an overseas and local portal for interns specifically, reminds me of a unicorn due to its name. It attracted many comments about its business from investors, as it seemed an interesting concept to them. It’s also clear that there is already some degree of traction with their users and their pitch was well presented. Investors, however, were particularly concerned that there is little to stop larger companies from entering the market to squash them.

Doctree, web service that helps save costs for patients in India, is similar to a tree like what its name suggests. It provides a useful service of providing people with oxygen and shade, but what do trees stand to gain from this? The team might also need some help with the pitch. Investors commented that they need a better story. Important to note was also the issue of trust between doctor and patient in its commercialisation model.

Obilis, localised Pinterest for discovering products from anywhere, is like a fox. Strong pitch, clear value proposition and clearly understands the industry. However, it’s intelligence of its competitors may be a double-edged sword as investors felt that they would invest in their competitors instead of them. There also seems to be gap between the group in the form of age. There are four young people with the idea, and an older, more experienced individual pitching for them.

Storyroll, video game storytelling application that crowdsources, is like a bear. The team is from northern Europe, Lithuania and the bear is an ancient symbol of the Samogitia region. It’s clear that they have spent time working on their product, which is a great idea, in my opinion. No immediate competitors comes to mind, few comments and mainly positive likely because investors are still busy digesting the idea.

Stumply, is for booking rooms to live with trusted people quickly for medium term stays. The company reminds me of a migratory bird, because of the nature of business. The period of their stay is also relatively short in my opinion for booking rooms, up to a maximum of six months. A investor brought up the point of how sizable is the market as there might not be many people who need such a service.

Vixhub, a SaaS solution for SMEs, is like a car. It gives people a lot of utility, but might be too expensive for the less well-off in Singapore. One venture capitalist commented that it sounded like the name of a porn site, which did not really cross my mind at first but once it got there, it did make some sense. Subsequently, the team changed its name to SM Solutions temporarily. Bernard Leong, Vice President Digital Services at Singapore Post and Angel Investor, commented that the startups who are focusing on SMEs should look more towards the ‘medium’ segment of the market. You can read an in-depth blog article, where he elaborates on what he means by it.

Wikasa, Github for online learning, reminds me of an Owl. The founder gave an authentic pitch and investors said they are interested to see how the concept develops further. However, the founder shared with me that there might be a misunderstanding that their solution is the same as Open University or Coursera. The difference lies in the supply side, as ordinary people, not institutions, should be able to post learning solutions online. Also, it aims to have a non-linear pathway, compressing large topics into bite-sized information that can be read in 10 minutes, and hopes to engage users to interact with the platform. Investors are concerned with commercialisation of the business, hoping that the company will target the business side of the market to gain revenue.

XYSec Labs, is the dark horse, because it seems to be the odd one out due to its focus on network security. There was improvement over previous day’s problems with the communication of its core concept. However, it was still difficult to understand by investors and was faced with some degree of skepticism. The team might need to pivot its business and modify some parts of it as they go along. However, the founders seem determined to press on and improve further.

Note that this is not really the Hunger Games because teams will not be competing against each other. There is nothing to stop all of them from getting funded in the end at demo day, but it will not be likely. Who will be the first to go? Or will this be the exceptional group that defies expectations? Want to see how these teams progress through the feedback? Keep on reading e27′s daily updates here or watch out for #ToadAtJFDI on Twitter.

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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  • Elaine Huang

    “…you should see the reactions of some Singaporean students when they get a B grade for their final assignment.”

    *smirks

    But in all seriousness, all the best to the men (and women) in the arena!

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