Singapore is the best place to startup because it is easy to legalize a business and it is a comfortable place to live — that is if you have the money.
But is that sunny island what investors are really looking at in Southeast Asia? I don’t think so. They are looking at countries like Indonesia and Vietnam in this region, and the huge potential they represent.
In all honesty, Indonesia isn’t at all ready for harvesting, at least in my opinion. It is far behind the cycle compared to China or even India. But it has the potential, which is why investors are flocking into the country. Japanese investors have been very fast to enter the Indonesian market with Batavia, CyberAgent Ventures, and GREE Ventures leading the way.
Interestingly, Batavia and CyberAgent Ventures didn’t even bother to set up shop in Singapore. Both marched straight into Indonesia to immerse themselves with the local culture and entrepreneurs. And GREE Ventures is dedicating half of its fund to Indonesian startups even though its office is based in Singapore.
No matter which angel you are, Indonesia is booming hot. Perhaps too hot. Even the locals are setting up venture funds and accelerators. I’m also hearing that the Chinese investors are looking at the Indonesian market, according to a reliable source. Whatever it is, it’s surely good news for the entrepreneurs. But but but… potential is still just potential. Will it ever be realized?
So let’s go back to the basics. What makes any tech ecosystem exciting isn’t the money that the investors bring in. It’s the entrepreneurs.
The ones who are hacking early in the morning and late at night building products that solve problems. If the entrepreneurs suck then yes, the ecosystem will suck too. Period.
I have spoken to several investors in the Southeast Asia region. The common and consistent feedback that I get is that entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia and Indonesia are way too laid back. Or to put it bluntly, lazy. Few people want to sound the painful truth publicly. I was also kind of glad that Serkan Toto said something similar onstage at our recent Startup Asia Singapore conference. Investors also noted that it is easier to spot the hardworking ones out of a crowd of lazy bums.
It goes so far out that investors have to test how hardworking entrepreneurs are by calling them on Friday nights or sending them email over the weekend to check if they are working (I’m serious and that’s a little ridiculous). I don’t think that’s slave driving, if that’s what you’re thinking. If the entrepreneur is really passionate about solving a problem, working late nights and over the weekend is expected. It shouldn’t be enforced as a rule. It never should be that way. It should be a culture that every entrepreneur takes to heart. The team within the startup should be passionate and working their asses off, not entirely for money but because the things that they are doing that could potentially make a great difference. Founders should lead by example and influence by actions.
Don’t be sad though, not all is gloomy. The potential and huge markets are still there. And of course, not all entrepreneurs are lazy (you know who you are!). We need to bring our skills, dedication, and perspiration, because a big market alone won’t get us there.