More startup founders have been changing the face of the investment game and helping to fund a new generation of companies, passing on their entrepreneurship knowledge and experience.
While the jury is still out on whether or not being a founder leads to smarter VC deals, there are some obvious perks to having been on both sides of the fence.
The most obvious is the inherent perspective that these investors have on what founders want and need.
VCs who have experienced the negotiating dynamics from the founder side are better equipped to leverage those dynamics to achieve better deals and relationships with founders.
There’s also an undeniable respect that founders have for investors who have walked a mile in their shoes.
Additionally, one of the most important parts of being a venture capitalist is being deeply connected to the startup founder scene.
Having that “one of us” street cred creates a genuine trust and respect in those circles that’s invaluable to gaining access to those communities.
Given the dynamics in the capital markets, many VCs are taking leaps through the revolving door as well, leveraging their relationships and access to capital to launch new companies.
Although venture investors used to control the leverage in conversations with founders, there definitely has been a shifting balance of power that has created a revolving door of founders turned investors and vice versa.
In particular, here’s a list of such individuals in Singapore who are taking on dual roles as both a startup founder and investor:
1. Henry Chan, co-founder and CEO of ShopBack
Founded by three NUS Overseas Colleges alumni — Henry Chan, Joel Leong and Bryan Chua — ShopBack has since grown to be a successful cashback rewards platform since its inception in 2014.
This brings its total funding to US$13 million (S$17.5 million), following its US$2.2 million Pre-Series A and US$800,000 seed funding rounds.
Founded in 2020 by 26-year-old Theodoric Chew, Intellect is dubbed to be the largest and fastest-growing mental health startup in Asia. In just under two years, it has served over three million users and provides coverage across 20 countries.
The fresh injection of funds will be used to rapidly scale its offerings and team as it expands across Asia.
Intellect is looking at growing its product offerings to serve the entire spectrum of mental healthcare, from self-care programs to live counselling, coaching, and crisis management care. As part of this expansion, it is also actively hiring across its product, engineering and commercial teams now.
2. Quek Siu Rui, co-founder and CEO of Carousell
Besides ShopBack’s Henry Chan, Quek Siu Rui, co-founder and CEO of Carousell is also an angel investor in Intellect.
He participated in Intellect’s undisclosed seed round of funding in December 2020, led by Insignia Ventures Partners.
Besides Quek, other angel investors include former Sequoia partner Tim Lee and startup consultancy xto10x’s Southeast Asia CEO Chai Jia Jih, who is also the former Senior Vice President of Growth and Strategy at Carousell.
This investment round is reportedly Quek’s first personal investment.
Carousell’s secondary sale offering saw the three Carousell co-founders sell 1.37 per cent of their shares, according to VentureCap. This means they banked around US$465,000 each, and there’s a likelihood that Quek used these funds to pump into Intellect.
Besides Intellect, Quek’s investment portfolio includes ADPList, Doyobi, SkillsUnion and uWave. It’s interesting to note that these startups are focused on education and learning that benefits students and professionals.
3. John Tan, founder of Doyobi and Saturday Kids
John Tan is a seasoned entrepreneur — he is the founder of coding school Saturday Kids, Doyobi (spin-off of Saturday Kids), and Japanese-inspired fashion label Controlled Commodity.
He is also currently a partner at venture capitalist group 8capita, which dabbles in early and growth-stage angel funding.
To date, he has made significant investments in numerous companies, including Ninja Van (he wrote them their first cheque of US$50,000), Chope, Redmart, Glints, TribeCar, and over a dozen Y-Combinator startups. He also sits on the board of Ninja Van and ErudiFi.
John is particularly passionate about the ed tech space. One such startup that he backed in this space is online school Galileo, which teaches students skills like how to launch a podcast, how to be a YouTube celebrity, or how to launch their own Kickstarter campaign.
“Fundamentally, what drives me is this sense that schools are not preparing kids, and someone needs to do something about it. So that is why I spend all my time and energy and resources on the future of work and learning. Because I think that that needs to change,” shared Tan in a podcast interview last year.
“I think schools are still very much stuck in the industrial age. And that change can happen from within and without.
4. Yiping Goh, co-founder of CasaJulia
Singaporean Yiping Goh and her Spanish husband Carlos Bañón would travel to Spain twice a year to visit their family and friends during pre-pandemic times.
With Covid-19 restricting travel however, they couldn’t travel to Spain for the past two years. Besides family and friends, local delicacies like Spanish wines and food like freshly sliced jamon iberico (Spanish ham), olives and cheeses, was something they truly miss.
This spurred the couple to directly import their favourite Spanish delicatessen and wines, building a business out of it. They set up an online marketplace called CasaJulia that specialises in Spanish food and wines in October 2021.
She may be new to the F&B world, but she is actually a serial tech founder.
She is the former co-founder of AllDealsAsia and MatahariMall (Indonesia) by Lippo Group — the same group that produced unicorn OVO. Now, she is a venture capital investor and a partner at Quest Ventures, which has backed household names the likes of Carousell, ShopBack, Carro, 99.co, Style Theory, SGAG and Ion Mobility.
5. Darius Cheng, founder and CEO of 99.co
Darius Cheng is most notably known as the founder and CEO of property tech platform 99.co.
A serial entrepreneur, he co-founded mobile security firm tenCube in 2005. Five years later, software giant McAfee acquired his company, reportedly for a whopping S$25 million. He was 25 then.
He became an angel investor, was an adviser for other startups, built another – BillPin – that failed and then created 99.co, which has grown to be one of the largest property portals in the region.
According to Crunchbase, Darius has made nine personal investments so far, the most recent in which he participated is Homebase’s venture round. He also particpated in its seed round in November 2020.
Last year, Darius also participated in Rocket Academy’s pre-seed round. For those unacquainted, it is a local startup that provides online coding courses.
His other investments, which dates as early as 2011, include Glints, Carousell, JFDI.Asia and AppyZoo.
6. Royston Tay, co-founder and CEO of Zopim
In 2007, Royston Tay and a few friends started Zopim out of a small office space provided by their alma mater, the National University of Singapore (NUS).
They developed an award-winning cloud-based live chat widget that is frequently utilised by businesses to augment their online customer service support.
The business idea was born back in 2006, when four of the co-founders were on the NUS Overseas College Programme in Silicon Valley, where they earned the chance to pitch their idea to Tim Draper.
In 2014, Zopim made headlines when it was acquired by San Francisco-based customer service company Zendesk for US$30 million.
Over the past years, Royston has invested in more than 10 companies, the most recent of which is a S$3 million funding in Upmesh, which provides e-commerce functionality for live commerce merchants on social media.
Other companies that he invested in include Motorist, RaRa Delivery, Akronym, ADPList, Radarr, StaffAny, MindFi and Saleswhale.
7/8. Lim Der Shing and Huang Shao-Ning, co-founders of JobsCentral
The husband-and-wife duo co-founded JobsCentral, which is one of Singapore’s largest online career portal.
It started out as a two-man team in 2000 and now has over 1,000 employees across the region. The company was later sold in 2011 to US-based CareerBuilder for an undisclosed amount.
Today, the couple, alongside Phey Teck Moh, chairman of investment and advisory company Xpanasia, runs AngelCentral, a community that was started in February 2017 to facilitate angel investments.
It aims to provide deeper angel training and investment support, with the key mandate to bridge good angels with good startups in Southeast Asia, starting from Singapore.
According to Crunchbase, Der Shing has personally invested in Alodokter, Homage, MetroResidences and Motorist. Shao-Ning also invests in Homage and Motorist, in addition to EngageRocket, Hmlet and Doctor Wealth.
9. Aaron Tan, founder and CEO of Carro
Aaron Tan founded his first business at age 13. He pursued the polytechnic education route, landed a government scholarship for university after that, and eventually a stint at Carnegie Mellon University.
He went on to help set up one of Singapore’s first startup spaces, BLOCK71, and ran a venture fund investing in other startups, before he co-founded online car marketplace Carro in 2015.
Carro has since become one of Singapore’s newly-minted unicorns in June last year, following a US$360 million funding round led by SoftBank.
Aaron has made a few personal investments, the latest of which is uWave in October 2021. Other investments dated as early as 2016 and 2017 for Airfrov and iCommerce Asia.
10. Jani Rautianen, co-founder of PropertyGuru
Founded by entrepreneurs Steve Melhuish and Jani Rautiainen in 2007, PropertyGuru has become a household name in the property-crazed Singapore. The real estate marketplace also has operations in countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
The company scrapped plans for an initial public offering on the Australian stock exchange back in 2019 over valuation concerns.
However, in July 2021, PropertyGuru announced that will be pursuing a deal to go public through a merger with Bridgetown 2 Holdings, the blank-cheque company backed by billionaires Richard Li and Peter Thiel.
A transaction could value the combined entity at about US$1.8 billion, according to sources.
Separate to the growth of PropertyGuru, Jani has made two personal investments in startups like Square Yards in September 2019 and online grocery platform RedMart in January 2014, in which he is the lead investor.
Startup funding sees heated activity in Singapore
The startup funding activity in Singapore has regained momentum despite the Covid-19 pandemic still lingering.
According to SEEDS Capital chairman Ted Tan, Singapore saw about 355 deals amounting to S$5.3 billion in the first half of 2021, compared to 317 deals worth over S$3.4 billion in the same period last year.
Thanks to the positive economic outlook and the continued demand for digital services amid the pandemic, local startups could enjoy a record funding year in 2022.
The overall economic outlook is still strong and the pandemic is continuing to drive change in customer behaviour towards tech as the number of internet users continues to grow.
“Covid-19 has been a catalyst for change. Many tech companies that have been promoting change have benefited from the pandemic as it has forced everyone to rethink the way we operate and go about our lives. Examples include video conferencing, e-commerce, and food delivery,” said Dr Jeffrey Chi, vice chairman, Asia, Vickers Venture Partners.
This explains why there has been an increased investor interest in sectors such as foodtech, proptech, healthcare, fintech and sustainability.
Additionally, observers have expressed that more companies could look to go public this year or early next year as the startup ecosystem in the region matures.
Some Singapore-based startups tipped to go public in the coming year include Carousell, Ninja Van, ShopBack and Carro, which could spell exciting times ahead for the tech sector.
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Featured Image Credit: ShopBack / Prestige Hong Kong / Carousell / 99.co / Carro / TechinAsia