John Fan is Co-Founder and CEO of Cardinal Blue, which makes PicCollage, a top photo app for iOS/Android. John has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford, and previously worked at a wireless startup (Flarion) acquired by Qualcomm. Follow him on Twitter at @john_fan.
Recently Jacky Yap wrote about what Asian entrepreneurs can learn from Silicon Valley. Asian startups look to Silicon Valley for inspiration in many ways (e.g. vision, ambition, metrics, funding). As a counterpart, we offer some observations on Asia for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, based on our experience operating an office in Taipei, Taiwan. (We build PicCollage, the #1 freeform collage app for iOS and Android, and our team is based in Mountain View and Taipei.)
1) Relentlessly Ramen
Paul Graham wrote about startups being ramen profitable, and that founders should be relentlessly resourceful. Asian startups are true ramen warriors, apparently able to survive indefinitely on cheap noodles. It’s difficult to get funding in Asia, so by necessity, Asian startups are frugal and resourceful. Luckily, the cost of living is lower, so startups can work on their ideas with limited resources. Like other cities in Asia, Taipei has offices (such as AppWorks, TMI and IEH) filled with scrappy young entrepreneurs chasing dreams while sharing crowded desks, taking on consulting projects, hiring student interns and eating cheap.
2) Startup life in the big city
Most Asian startups are located in convenient cities with mass transit. Unlike Silicon Valley, you can get around easily without a car and restaurants are open late. Our office is next to a MRT station in an interesting part of Taipei filled with boutiques and cafes, yet it’s possible to take our team of 10 out for lunch for US$30. Urban conveniences and low costs are a good combination for a startup.
3) Finding your Jeremy Lin
Silicon Valley has a shortage of developer talent, and Asia has a multitude of engineers… but the reality is that it’s still challenging to find the right developers for your startup. In Taiwan, many engineers work at big hardware companies such as HTC and Asus, so it takes creativity and effort to find suitable candidates to fit in a startup. We’ve found that taking part in developer meetups, hosting hack events and posting on university networks can be more effective than traditional job boards. With persistence and luck, you may find untapped superstars who surprise you with their version of Linsanity. For PicCollage, we have been very impressed with our developers in Taiwan and Vietnam.
4) Tomorrow, the world!
With the rise of truly global platforms (i.e., Facebook, Android, iOS), Asian countries (minus China) are now using the same mobile app stores and social networks as the US and Europe. While many still focus on their local market, some Asian startups have used these global platforms to expand their reach. Japanese startups like SnapDish and Snapeee are expanding into Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Apps such as POP, MixerBox, and Cubie are “Made in Taiwan” but used in many countries. With the help of tools such as Gengo, we’ve localized PicCollage to eight languages and reach millions of users in the US, Japan and around the world.
Be resourceful, work in the city, hire creatively, go global. Startup entrepreneurs can benefit from looking to Asia for examples, resources and markets.