The fund, to start with, will have offices in Singapore and Jakarta. Speaking to e27, from the Silicon Valley, Ong said, “While our focus is on technology companies across Asia, initially, we are going to start with Singapore and Indonesia. We will slowly enter other cities too in the near future.”
He, however, excluded China and India from the focus geographies as he felt the countries already have a “strong domestic VC market”. “That said, there are many Indian companies in Singapore and targeting Southeast Asia. They certainly are on our radar,” said Ong.
Bringing entrepreneur experience at one place
The team of Monk’s Hill Ventures has experience in social, mobile, gaming, cloud, Big Data and analytics, and e-commerce. These will be the primary digital and technology focus areas for investment for the team. The partners of Monk’s Hill Ventures have built numerous Silicon Valley and Asian VC-backed companies over the past two decades, with operating experience in all of the major countries across Asia—from China and Japan to India and Indonesia. The team wants to leverage this experience to help entrepreneurs build big companies on a global scale. The four, including Clayton as an adviser, also bring strong networks across Asia and the US, to help entrepreneurs with further fundraising, landing key enterprise customers, recruiting top talent, and expanding internationally.
The core team: (L-R) Kuo-Yi Lim, Thomas Clayton, Peng Tsin Ong and Stefan Jung
Ong was the Founder and CEO of Interwoven, which had a successful IPO on NASDAQ. Prior to Interwoven, he was Co-founder of Match.com (acquired by IAC). After Interwoven, he founded Encentuate (acquired by IBM), a leading player in enterprise identity management. The three businesses he started now generate annual revenues that total more than US$1 billion. Most recently, Ong was a partner at GSR Ventures, a leading VC in China. He has also served on many boards, including SingTel and YY.com.
Lim was the CEO of the US$200M Asian VC fund Infocomm Investments, leading the fund through unprecedented returns with investments in Twilio, Reebonz, Dataxu, Gengo, DS3, Quid, JustCommodity and Mobilewalla; co-investing with Sequoia, Bessemer, Union Square Ventures, and Accel. Prior to Infocomm, he founded SportsHook, a social media SaaS platform targeted at the sports industry.
Jung built several of Southeast Asia’s largest e-commerce companies as Co-founder and Managing Director of Rocket Internet, with Zalora and Lazada raising over US$400M in funding. He was also a Venture Partner of Global Founders Capital, a US$200M early-stage fund, where he led amongst others the investment in Traveloka (Indonesia).
Clayton has started and run numerous technology startups, together which have raised US$160M+ from the likes of Sequoia Capital, Goldman Sachs, JAFCO, SV Angels, SingTel Innov8, etc. Currently, he is running Bubbly, a mobile social media company with 40M+ users.
Clayton, according to Ong, brings in the Silicon Valley link to Southeast Asia and play the role of a coach to startups in the region.
The need for the fund
The concept of the fund is simple: entrepreneurs backing entrepreneurs. The partnership sees lack of operational experience as a critical deficiency across the VC landscape in Asia today. Monk’s Hill Ventures will invest in high-growth technology companies that will take advantage of the fast growing Asian markets. The fund has two primary areas of focus. First will be on early-stage, Series A and B, technology startups primarily across Southeast Asia. Second will be on growth rounds of leading startups in Silicon Valley and from around the world that want to expand in Asia.
“There are clearly two big gaps in the market. One is the much talked-about Series A funding gap. However, the more significant one that we see is the lack of seasoned entrepreneurs, with deep operating experience as investors—people who can roll up their sleeves and really help entrepreneurs,” said Ong, adding, “This is what separates the best VCs from the rest.”
Ong told e27 that the startup scenario in Southeast Asia is at a stage where China was about 10 years ago. However, that may not be as big in terms of the fund sizes. He said that China’s domestic market has startup hubs which may be as big as Germany and even Japan. Similarly, Southeast Asia too has the potential to have these big size markets in the region.
While there have not been too many big exits in the recent past, except for Viki (acquired by Rakuten for US$200 million last year) in the region, he was optimistic that the next couple of years will see a lot of IPOs.
Meanwhile, partner Lim reiterated that the fund will aim to bring best practices to the region. “We also want to set the bar for how venture is done in Asia, by bringing the best practices we have personally experienced through working with top VCs,” he was quoted as saying in an official release. “Monk’s Hill Ventures brings a straightforward and transparent process that treats entrepreneurs as partners,” he added.
Clayton too felt that Southeast Asia is ready for an explosion of leading technology companies, driven by a confluence of favourable macroeconomic conditions, exciting talent and available capital. “When I first moved to Asia seven years ago, there were only a handful of VC-backed startups,” Clayton said, adding, “In just the past three years, there has been a rapid emergence of new entrepreneurs and great startups across Southeast Asia with vibrant ecosystems forming, from Singapore and Jakarta to Bangkok and Manila.”
Jung on his part felt that his experience in setting up and incubating multiple startups will go a long way in scaling up Monk’s Hill Ventures. “I learned a tremendous amount about what it takes to build successful businesses across Asia, along with the nuances of each country, as we incubated and scaled up a number of businesses— including Zalora, Lazada and FoodPanda,” he said.
“Moreover, we have hired and trained many budding entrepreneurs and now many of them are building some of the top startups across the region,” Jung added.
What’s in a name?
Monk’s Hill Ventures is an intriguing name, yet it might find affinity with Singaporeans. “It’s difficult to find good names,” Ong told e27, “Yet, Singaporeans and other people from the region will be familiar with the name as there is a street by the same name in Singapore.”
Also, there was a Monk’s Hill Secondary School in Singapore, which was merged with Balestier Hill Secondary School in 2007. Ong added, “I have studied at Monk’s Hill School. Our partner, Kuo-Yi, too has gone to the school for some course. Having a deep association with the name, we thought of extending it to our fund too.”