Valuations for startups in ASEAN still modest, allowing for more bets to be made, and investments in this space growing at 200 per cent year-on-year, Jamie Camidge, the head of Strategic Partnerships & Alliances at Telstra-backed startup accelerator muru-D,, said in an interaction.
Camidge was of the view that Singapore was the place to be in currently, despite facing intense competition from several existing accelerators that were already established here, and also pointed out that the city-state has more than 10 time the venture capital funding pool when compared to Australia, ensuring that there was enough room for all players.
A business and corporate strategy specialist, Camidge is bullish on the emerging startup ecosystems in Southeast Asia and Australia. Commenting on the opportunities in this region, Camidge, said there were large gold nuggets in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines in particular. Camidge described them as “just waiting in the stream, to be picked,hile in Asia’s developing markets, there was a lot of juice left in the B2C market.”
Camidge further said that e-commerce was currently the space to be in, especially given the rising tide of affluence, adding that the region also presented incredible opportunities in serving the unbanked. Muru-D recently announced the intake of nine startups from across a number of sectors for its seed accelerator program in Singapore.
Against this backdrop, DEALSTREETASIA caught up with Camidge to discuss the underlying ethos and strategy that are the foundation of the muru-D’s operating system.
What is your outlook on the outcomes Southeast Asian and Australian startup ecosystems from now till 2020?
I am bullish, as all of the underlying metrics for success are overwhelmingly positive. If you look at ASEAN, you have a population of 600 million, many of whom are young, increasingly affluent and mobile-centric.
As the emerging middle class starts to mature, it will drive an increase in consumption, creating a tidal wave of growth when it comes to consumption of all forms, especially those that are technologically enabled or digitally delivered.
Purchasing behaviour will be highly digital. Right now, it’s kind of like the US back in the 1950’s – the urbanisation of population is driving wealth creation as populations move to cities. When that happens people have to transact in a formal sense, rather than the informal fashion that’s found in agriculturally-oriented economies.
The ASEAN region has and continues to exhibit strong organic growth over the last decade, with a combined GDP of $2.4 trillion, growing at a rate of more than 5 per cent CAGR. And with Asia as a whole generally expected to generate more than 80 per cent of the worlds GDP growth over the next five years, the
The region is marked by economies with young populations that are tech-savvy, increasingly wealthy and spending more time online. With some of the most social and mobile users in the world, Southeast Asia presents fertile ground for technology startup category leaders to emerge and a highly attractive market for category winners from outside the region
Similarly, valuations are modest. This allows for more bets to be made, without having to “bet the family farm” on any one. The aggregate investment amount is estimated to be more than $450 million. This represents 200 per cent year-on-year growth, though a few larger size deals account for about 60 per cent of the total amount. More than two-third of the Southeast Asian deals are seed stage investments.
Strategywise, what’s a general rule of thumb entrepreneurs should keep in mind when ‘growth hacking’, or otherwise just growing their business?
As a bit of a startup ecosystem heretic, I think the practice of “strategy” in the ecosystem as a general rule has been wrongly positioned and is perceived as an overly cumbersome process which inhibits adaptability. The practice of strategy within the startup community is largely ignored. People associate it with long, navel-gazing exercises which are both data-heavy and time consuming.
Founders and conference presenters have thrown disciplined problem solving out in favour of more cool terms like “growth hacking” to sell books and conference tickets. My feedback to startup teams is to approach your hacking (doing) from a scientific perspective and iterate quickly from a core hypothesis which is tested with data (thinking).
This learning then forms the strategy in more discrete level of detail. The thinking is actually the hard bit, which is why so few people do it but it’s often the basis of successful execution.
Business strategy at the corporate level often involves a lot of processes and data, which is essential for large organisations to deal with the size and complexity of the markets in which they operate.
The art and science of strategy is finding the clarity of purpose that leads to effective resource allocation decisions. The purpose is to maximise the potential by reducing the options down to a few high-impact decisions. That’s really the objective of strategy, which many startups have ignored, in terms of the principles around strategy formulation. They’ve replaced it with growth hacking & hustling – which are still valid practices.
I think that startup teams and founders should meld the best practices with the best of thinking. When it comes to iterating (e.g. A/B testing), what the pratice of strategy would say is to build your hypothesis, test, measure, adjust and then attack. Entrepreneurs would benefit from a view of problem solving that is more structured and enhance the execution of the startup.
Every startup is actually a hypothesis built around what will win in the market, and the two factors that they’re betting with is their time and other people’s money. Applying a scientific method approach to growth and product development, in addition to the other areas, should yield a better outcome.
How do you feel working with a small team of very experienced and driven peers in this accelerator, especially in the face of more competition as accelerator numbers grow?
I have the utmost respect for all my colleagues. I have a lot to contribute and I have a lot to learn from them. You have a large set of teams with a small database and you tend to over-index towards passionate, skilled, experienced peoples that have opinions. And its’s this contest of opinions that generate ‘heat and light’.
There are times when perspectives and personalities conflict, and this is a source of good creative tension. It is in the management of this creative tension that we can ultimately manifest a positive outcome.
We really believe that Singapore is the place to be right now and view our inclusion into the Singapore ecosystem as additive to the existing players. It might appear that there is a lot of “competition”, but comparatively, Singapore has more than 10X the VC funding pool than Australia, so think there is enough room for us and others.
Whilst we don’t have a specific vertical or horizontal focus, we do think that our programme has some unique differentiators which can make us an attractive proposition to founders.
Our programme is six months long, we work very hard to establish a high profile set of contributors to the programme and we leverage on Telstra’s global footprint, its relationships with MNC’s, top-tier consulting firms and others global entities to bring to bear the best talent in the world for our teams.
We also work hard to get our teams testing and iterating in real business environments quite early in the program and matching each teams to the very best mentors, coaches and advisors which we design specifically for each team.
Whats your take on the phenomenon of ‘corporate innovation‘?
Overly simplistic dichotomies: Startups do innovation, corporates do product & process. Startups are nimble & agile, corporates are bureaucratic & inagile. Only another entrepreneur can help you build a startup while a corporate executive can’t. Apple has reinvented itself seconds from disaster and built itself up to become the largest company in the world on the basis of three products.
What people tend to forget is that companies like General Electric have been innovating successfully for 130+ years. I think that it’s overly simplistic to assume corporations and corporate executives can’t innovate while entrepreneurs can.
Corporates have a long history of innovation and its manifested in how Henry Ford invented rapid prototyping. He had two different ventures prior to Ford Motor Company. No one asked why he had a Model T; he went from Model A to T before he reached a perfect mass market product.
“Corporate innovation” is a phenomenon which has been happening since the Industrial Revolution. I think that as a rule, to assume that only internet co-founders are innovative and corporations (and corporate executives) are not is an unfounded statement. As an aside, I also think that people pay too much attention to innovation when imitation is a valid strategy for many players. A mix of innovation and imitation works wonders for many!
I think that corporates which don’t innovate well often have a “good news culture” which fails to recognise that identifying a small set of new good ideas with potential means funding a lot of bad ideas which are dogs. At some point, “productisation” needs to occur to scale any good idea into a profitable line of business, but the good ideas need to be nurtured (and killed off) outside the budgeting process..
Silicon Valley started off being populated by engineers fresh out of Bell Labs from AT & T. Throughout history, corporates started with powerful innovation and corporates can be innovative, but not in the same way as entrepreneurs. They have a more serious set of stakeholders to satisfy. With startup founders, its themselves, their co-founder and the weekly rent bill.
I had a talk with a successful founder in an entrepreneurial venture that has seen significant traction and we discussed how to grow and manage their topline and resources. The point at which a startup gets to 30 people is when there is a critical need to implement processes. That’s when innovation and adaptability start to diminish.
The level at which you shift towards process orientation – to trusted, predictable planning processes – doesn’t take long to transition into bureaucratic behaviours. You can move into being protective of what you’ve built and being biased against new, innovative stuff, rather than being focused on building something cool.
In an interview with startup tech blog e27, your colleague Joseph Ziegler commented that the Australia and Southeast Asian startups ecosystems were complementary. What are the gaps you’ve noted in each respective ecosystem that needs improvement?
It’s easy for Australians and Singaporeans to do business in each country. They’re close to each other, maintain similar levels of education and affluence and there is a great affection between the people. The two distinctions that work well together is an abundance of financial capital for good ideas in Singapore that doesn’t exist in the Australian system.
The corollary in Australia is an abundance of good ideas without the capital to see them scale within Southeast Asia and I actually wrap Australia within ASEAN. In Australia, there’s a systemic gap from seed and Series A onward, when it comes to investment capital. And this lack of capital in Australia is a market failure when it comes to entrepreneurship.
Singapore is an excellent ‘bridge’ between developing Asia and the developed world. Meanwhile, Australia has a lot of talent and an Asian orientation, but little domestic capital. There are obvious synergies here. For instance, Asian tech teams who wish to address developed markets should use Australia for testing in developed markets, prior to a US/Europe push.
What do you foresee as the major growth verticals that present opportunities in the region?
Some obvious categories that emerge, like Indonesia and the Philippines. Entrepreneurs are going to rock up and there’s going to be a gold nugget in the stream. There’s large gold nuggets in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines in particular, just sitting in the stream. In Asia’s developing markets, I think that there is a lot of juice left in the B2C market, and it might be a little early for B2B, but this will change quickly, so I guess there is a lot of room in both domains.
E-commerce is a great space to be in, especially with the rising tide of affluence. There are incredible opportunities in serving the unbanked and the thing holding them back is the lack of an effective banking system, which doesn’t facilitates the existence of a credit market and credit is an important driver of growth.
From an industry vertical perspective, it’s hard to go past e-commerce and solutions for the ‘unbanked’. Access to credit for transacting is probably the biggest unlocker of value for these emerging markets and I am not convinced the banks will lead this charge.
Technology can solve the problems associated with these gaps and obstacles to growth. Viable B2B businesses that take on he hairy problems of delivery, maintenance services and healthcare, these are all areas that have massive potential. That’s especially so for Singapore and Malaysia, where they are viable opportunities. But not so much for the other markets.
What should Australian entrepreneurs bear in mind when expanding into Asia and what do you make of the phenomenon of countries seeking migrant entrepreneurs – a trend that’ll reappear every economic cycles or a long-term effect that’s an investment in the future? And what about the middle-income trap?
It takes an investment in time to develop enough market sensitivity and knowledge, as well as establish the relationships required to be truly successful in Asia. As for the middle-income trap – that pathology is real and perpetuated in inwards-looking, insular domestic economies. When you start to introduce the free flow of labour into the economy, it spurs innovation, facilitates the free flow of trade and makes people more outwards looking.
When you add in abundant financial capital and highly skilled labour – which opening up the labour market can help resolve – this opens up a country to migrant entrepreneurs and foreign capital. In general, opening up markets can help shift a country out of a middle income trap.
Australia has built itself upon migrant labour and capital from other markets. We have proven the case that more open flows of labour and capital is additive to the market and should be the natural stance of all countries. I also think Singapore has proven that, and market which take the position that ‘these expats are taking our jobs’ will fall behind.
Australian entrepreneurs should remember that when expanding into Southeast Asia, that ‘Asia isn’t Asia’. It’s a marketplace of markets and being on the ground here is 90 per cent of the answer when they’re growing the business.
What’s your take on the strengths of Australian entrepreneurs and Aussie ventures?
Australia has a long history of innovation which sadly isn’t matched by the pool of available financial capital. Australian’s are well educated, industrious and have an inherently global outlook so this works in our favour. Concurrently, in spite of excellent adoption of technology, much of Australian industry is still ripe for digitisation.
When you look beyond consumer applications to business, enterprise and government, there are structural headwinds, which necessitate significant improvement in the way services are delivered. There is literally tends of billions of dollars on the table for startups looking – for example – to solve big problems of delivery of health and education services.
There is an abundance of opportunity for technology to transform the economy and simply not enough focus on this from the startup ecosystem. We don’t need more hotel booking apps; we need a transformation in the way Australia operates.
In the field of media, what are the sort of ‘disruptions’ and innovations you’d like to see more of from the startup community? What are the pain points in the field that entrepreneurs can solve?
I hate that words. Disruption is overdone and overused. It mostly physical media (i.e. CDs, books, etc.) and NOT electronic media (e.g. TV, Radio) than have truly been disrupted. Those business evolved over a hundred years, from a bunch of fragmented business, which progressively consolidated into distribution ‘Goliaths’.
They were ripe for disruption because content doesn’t necessarily require a physical form.The entry barriers in physical media revolved around distribution. Distribution businesses are those that used to distribute media. Television, radio and other electronic media are being enabled by the Internet.
The world and new technologies have led to fundamental difference in how we think about the “value of content”. This is not a new phenomenon as it was a lesson the Hollywood movie studios learned in the post-World War 2 period, when the US regulators filed an anti-trust suits against Hollywood and forced the studios to divest their cinema’s (i.e. unbundled content from distribution). Many of the studios went into bankruptcy in the aftermath.
Telecoms firms, by virtue of their ownership of networks, are fundamentally distribution businesses. However, you can’t unbundle internet access from the Internet, so the same dynamic will not occur. You can increase the number of access providers, but you need a very large balance sheet to do this and it is bigger than most companies can afford so the sector remains more resilient from internet disruption.
Newspapers are losing money because they no longer have pricing power over advertisers and consumers, especially after losing distribution power. It’s not because people have stopped reading them. Telco’s are different creatures, as they’re distribution pipileines and infrastructure for the Internet.
To play in the telecommunications market, you need a big balance sheet and they’re not being disrupted by the Internet but rather, they’re being enabled by it. There’s not a single example of a telco going out of business because of the Internet. They’ve innovated on price and flanked the OTT (over the top) messaging and call players like Whatsapp and Viber, the communication apps.
This market always consolidates to two to three players and ultimately their only real challenge is the regulators. That’s why telcos are resilent, as they own and maintain the underlying infrastructure on which the Internet prospers.
EDB Investments, Infocomm Investments (IIPL), Temasek Holdings, Vertex Ventures and a few other state funds are operating in the venture capital space. There’s also a plethora of public grants available for entrepreneurs to tap on. Does the presence of so much public funding distort incentives for entrepreneurs?
In my prospective, a real distortion would involve overtly picking winners and being speculative with their investments, meaning over-capitalising on one or two speculative options. This is something that the state VC’s don’t seem to be doing. I think Singapore has it right, in terms of building the right environment to attract and keep the business ventures here.
There is a strong role for government in setting the playing field up for maximum success and I think Singapore is doing this in spades. Singapore is the right place from which to “hub and spoke” entry into the new emerging markets in Southeast Asia, and perhaps the Asia Pacific. More investments have been made in 2013 than in the prior year, with Singapore continuing to be an epicentre of venture capital activities.