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Highlights from day 1 morning sessions at Startup Asia Singapore 2014

Our third ever Singapore conference started with Tech in Asia‘s Gwen (she’s head of business development for us) explaining the vision for the event and how it can be useful as a hub, for connections, sharing best practices, and exploring the way ahead for tech startups in Asia.

Keynote by Teo Ser Luck – Why Asia can be the next Silicon Valley

Singapore’s minister of state began with his vision for Block 71 and its expansion as the nation’s startup cluster.


Changing generations create opportunities for a change in outlook in creating businesses, minister Teo Ser Luck noted:



Fireside chat with Le Hong Minh, co-founder and CEO of VNG


VNG’s main man introduces himself as a “gamer” – and that’s still the main focus for the Vietnamese web giant. It’s making big numbers:


Minh says he was in a race to beat other companies into gaming in Vietnam. The young company got a break over a decade ago when it published a Chinese game localized for Vietnam. They chose the Kingsoft-made game “because they replied to us,” he jokes.

VNG is working on building up non-gaming revenue. Sounds like it’s still being inspired by China’s Tencent, just as it was when it first pushed into gaming.

VNG has Zalo, a mobile-only messaging app. It’s battling hard against Viber in Vietnam. Zalo has over 10 million users and is growing at about one million a month, he says. Viber focuses on free calls, but Minh says Zalo will concentrate on messaging.

Keynote by Akiko Naka – Why you need to pay attention to Japan’s startup ecosystem

Akiko, the CEO of Wantedly, shows the audience the shifting trends in Japan – the growing number of funds and tech IPOs after the 2008-9 financial crisis, a big shift to smartphones, and the impact of Abenomics as Japan’s prime minister helps revive the stagnant Japanese economy.


She highlights Gunosy and Smartnews as hot Japanese startups serving the local market at a time when it’s important to create a good experience on smartphones.

Overseas startups like Yelp, Airbnb, and Flipboard are doing well in Japan as they tune into these changing trends.

Fireside chat with Hootsuite’s Dario Meli

Hootsuite was built from concept to launch in four weeks, Dario says. It came from something the team as a media agency needed for themselves, with analytics and a URL shortener. “Most Twitter applications at that time were built by a guy in his basement,” he says – but Hootsuite had a team to help build it.


Dario’s new project is Quietly. He wants quality publishers to “thrive, not just survive.” He says it’s a bit of a personal project in that he’s passionate about seeing that kind of content do well at a time when it’s being diminished by the faster pace of web publishing.



Discussion: Ecommerce giants in Southeast Asia

We have no shortage of eshopping giants on the panel for this one – there’s Hyun Wook Cho, country manager at Qoo10 Singapore; Kelvin Lee, business development director for Southeast Asia at Taobao; Magnus Grimeland, managing director and founder of Zalora Group; and Saemin Ahn, managing partner at Rakuten Ventures. Oliver Segovia from AVA.ph is the moderator.


Challenges vary wildly across the region, such as with some markets only just opening up, such as in Myanmar. Also varying customs laws, differences in how to advertise between countries, logistics challenges, and so on, also create obstacles.



Taobao’s Kelvin Lee says the Chinese firm, part of Alibaba, is looking into more markets across the region. So far it’s focusing on Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan. For the mostly China-based sellers on Taobao, regional customs laws and product returns are an issue, Lee says.

Saemin Ahn, representing Rakuten, says the ecommerce market will see more liquidity in the future for consumers, as well as consolidation among online shopping businesses.

Zalora’s Magnus Grimeland says he’s excited about the new marketplace for third-party merchants, focusing on hipster fashion boutiques and labels, he says.


One audience member notes that Australia is a bit out of this increasingly important Southeast Asia loop:


Can Southeast Asia learn from China’s growth? Lee from Taobao believes so, as seen in the efficiency of shipping and logistics in China right now, despite the size of the nation. It’s surprising, Lee says, and also a promising sign for solving Southeast Asia’s infrastructural problems.

There’s lots of good advice from the onstage crew, including the fact that startups should not try to reinvent the wheel, and should look into solving pain-points in their own lives.


Check back for afternoon highlights later, or follow the fun live on Twitter using the #startupasia hashtag.

This is a part of the coverage of Startup Asia Singapore 2014, our event running on May 7 and 8.

Editing by Paul Bischoff

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