Now that I am back, what did I take away from the Bay Area? Being in the Singapore tech community over the last one year taught me a lot of things, and the trip to Silicon Valley provided me with a broader and different perspective of the two startup ecosystems.
One thing which Singaporean startups complain is the small market size. While we all do concur that the market is small, a recent interaction with a Silicon Valley based founder gave me a really interesting perspective of looking at market size. Before I dive deeper to that, lets talk about market size. In Singapore, a mobile app that is doing reasonably well has about 20,000 downloads. Case to note: LoveByte. Assuming LoveByte has managed to capture 20 percent of the early adopters in Singapore, the total size of Singapore’s early adopters market is about 100,000 people (there will be a separate post about this so keep a lookout for that).
In Silicon Valley, a founder based here recently shared that you need at least 7 to 8 million downloads with 30 percent active users to land an investment round nowadays. While this is not statistically significant, it shows the massive difference in market size between Singapore and US.
So it is natural for Singapore startups to complain about the small market size. However, that should not be an excuse for not performing. A Silicon Valley-based startup founder operating in the online food delivery space used the early days of Facebook to dismiss the argument of small market size. “Look at Facebook. When they first started, they only targeted Harvard and totally dominated the school’s social network. They then expanded to other schools and built small but strong communities. The rest is history. While Singapore is small, if you cannot even capture the market, how can you compete with other startups and companies from the region or internationally?”
Competition and metrics
When I visited Tempo and Cjin of Cubie Messenger at 500Startups, Tempo shared something which left a very huge impression on me. When asked whether is Cubie worried about competition, CEO Tempo responded: “One of the things which we took away from 500 and being here in the Valley is the difference in questions asked and difference in focus. Here in the Valley, people focuses on metrics and growth and people talk less about competition. Whereas back in Asia, people kept asking us about our competitors. Silicon Valley taught us to focus more on our metrics and our product.” Most people also think of market size being a constant number but forgets that it is could also be constantly increasing.
Which brings me to my next point. Singapore startups do not openly discuss about its metrics. There are not enough marketing and growth hacking case studies specific to the Singapore or Southeast Asia market going around in the community. If there is something which I hope to see more from Singapore startups, it would be for more public sharing of metrics and growth hacking.
Working for a high growth startup versus starting out straight after college
Another sub-theme which was constantly discussed throughout my first two weeks at the Valley was whether one should start a company straight out of college or work for a high growth startup first. Surprisingly, most of the founders and entrepreneurs I had the chance to interact with shared that it is better to work for a high growth startup first. Working at a high growth startup puts one in a high pressure cooker and you would be in a good position to learn and grow along with the company. It also helps a lot of building up your personal brand, network and reputation. That said, many also agreed that college provides one with the best opportunity to startup and work with amazing people on small projects.
Over the last few years, the average quality of startups has gone way up because everyone is getting better and better. As a first time entrepreneur, it is better to build things for yourself. When you build stuffs that you are passionate about, you will have a higher chance of succeeding. Another thing which I found equally important was also to really be disciplined, consistent and always be there. One of the articles written by Joel Runyon which I always revisit from time to time beautifully captured the essence of being disciplined versus being motivated: Motivation is fleeting, situational, and everywhere, but discipline is consistent, habitual, and rare.
To be a great leader in a tech startup, you have to have the ability and charisma to influence and sell. It also helps a lot if you learn how to code.