Khailee Ng, Managing Partner at 500 Startups

Khailee Ng, Managing Partner at 500 Startups

When Khailee Ng, Managing Partner at 500 Startups, walks onto the stage on the second day of Tech in Asia Jakarta 2015, he shocks the crowd with a sentence that seems more fitting in an underground punk rock gig.

“This world is a f**ked up place!” he says.

Soon we learn what he means by that: There is a problem of access in Southeast Asia’s tech startup scene.

“I see lots of smart, driven people who want to make a change by starting a business, but these people have no access to money, knowledge and network,” he explains.

Understanding this problem, he says his mission is crystal clear.

“Let’s turn this around. Let’s turn them into smart, driven people with access to money, knowledge and network.”

The works that Ng has been doing with 500 Startups is achieving exactly that. In the past five years, the VC has became the most active seed-stage investor for 1,200 startups in 50 countries, helping them get access to funding, network and knowledge.

In Indonesia alone, 500 Startups has invested US$2.5 million across 20 companies, including Qraved and YesBoss. While this number sounds fantastic, Ng feels that he needs to do more for Indonesian entrepreneurs.

“I feel like I am going too slow in Indonesia,” he says.

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Give them some love

Before leaping into the future, Ng takes the chance to talk about the past two years. He notes how the journey has been filled not only with successes, but also failures.

“We are all familiar with the ‘move fast, break things’ approach, and I think we have been taking this too seriously,” he says. “As a result, I have not been giving enough love to the founders I am partnering with.”

He recalls talking to a guy once about a certain company he had invested in, completely oblivious that the guy he talked to was actually the founder of that company.

“At first, this seems to be an issue of the founders not approaching me often enough. But I think it’s more than that. Ever since that moment, I decided to change. And this is my new principle: ‘Move fast, fix things’,” he says.

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Reaching out to ‘average Joes’

The new approach is apparent in the new programme that 500 Startups has for its portfolio companies. Ng divides the venture capital’s service into pre-deal and post-deal stages.

“We developed an online application method that actually works. Before this, meeting investors seemed to be only for those who are already in the network – Someone who knows this guy in that VC, and that guy in this VC,” he explains.

“I don’t want that to happen anymore. I want a random kid with huge potential in Medan to be able to pitch to us!”

Apart from making pitches more accessible to aspiring entrepreneurs with limited networks, 500 Startups will also provide free required legal documents, as well as a clear and transparent pitching process.

One week after a deal is sealed, it will announce the investment through press releases, give startups free office equipment and enter them in workshops and into a community of startups and investors.

To prevent the mistake of not giving startups “enough love”, the company will also provide a Startup Concierge service to help founders connect with investors better.

“If you are in Malaysia, we also have a partnership with the government and several corporations that allow you perks,” he adds.

Once the startup nears the fundraising stage, apart from helping them with M&A, 500 Startups will also help them to pitch in Silicon Valley.

“The US is hungry for the Southeast Asian market,” he says, stressing that 500 Startups will replicate this model in the next few years.