RISE 2017: An Outlook on Southeast Asia’s Start-up Culture

I signed up to volunteer out of excitement over getting a free pass to attend (and an excuse to travel). I went there alone, and quite oblivious to the tech environment (I was actually laughed at when I didn’t know what a gyroscope was–Is everyone supposed to know what that is?). Nevertheless, my learning curve steepened. Expectations were met–and exceeded–when I came to know a number of brilliant people, most of them my age. People from all over Asia and other parts of the world flew in to meet and listen to the pioneers of the region’s tech scene. Some, like me, had nothing to do with the industry and were simply driven by curiosity. We were grateful to find that there was a place for people from all walks of life; that somehow, technology is something everyone should be concerned about.

Being there was electrifying. Well-known profiles from Alibaba, Lazada, Salesforce, Go-jek, 9Gag, Hypebeast, etc. shared a piece of their brilliant minds on stage, as each talk rewired my thinking and prepared my mind for the future of things. I easily took in the culture in which everyone was open to listen and share ideas. Each one either carried a deep passion for something or passionately sought what they would build their career around. I always knew that we lived in exciting times, though it was the first time I felt it. I was enchanted, euphoric even, inspired by how quickly people turned challenges into opportunities and how each seemed to value their time, effort and energy and channeled them to elevate society and the world around it.

(Disclaimer: Although I do not think it’s ideal to submit to this kind of lifestyle 100% of the time, it strongly resonates with the kind of entrepreneur I want to be.)

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Takeaways?

In a general sense, technology’s effect on the enterprise. As a business, you either innovate or adapt, otherwise, you risk being obsolete. From marketing to human resources, there is a place for software to offer a solution. Data science, which fuels artificial intelligence, creates a dynamic change for businesses to become more efficient, and to tailor experiences for each individual customer. It allows for more accurate measurements through analytics, which lead to wiser decisions on every key area of the business. As business operators, we must always be on the lookout for new solutions in the market, but have a keen sense for picking out the best ones from the lot.

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The focus of attention from merely photos & videos to augmented realty (e.g. driverless cars) & audio intelligence (e.g. voice controls, etc.). Futuristic movies seem to be coming to life, as supercomputers may soon take over the chauffeur industry, and as devices from your home and office connect with your smartphone (these scenarios eerily reminiscent of Tom Cruise-starred Minority Report). Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of Vine, gave an outstanding informative and inspirational keynote speech on where our attention is headed, and areas entrepreneurs and investors must watch out for if we want to stay relevant. His words blew my mind and to this day, I still replay his talk over and over again. Indeed, we live in exciting times, and in order to stay on top of things, businesses must ride the waves. The earlier, the better.

Watch Gary’s keynote HERE

Robots are becoming more real and more relevant than ever. I recently read about the valley’s finest AI creating its own language. We will have to accept that sooner than later, humans and robots will co-exist (though I don’t think we’re foreseeing some kind of galaxy war anytime soon). Two robots actually debated upon the future of humanity, and their documented banter broke the internet.

Watch the debate HERE.

The culture is the secret. Moving away from the unfamiliar, technical side of the start-up environment, I was completely swept away by how many of the respected visionaries emphasized their vital key to success: organizational culture. And that makes a lot of sense. These businesses weren’t created with a plan to expand to a limited extent only after a few years, they’re geared to soar quickly and exponentially. Scaling may happen even before monetization, and that denotes having a strong army of creative, gritty, and most importantly, happy people that will steer the company miles ahead. It is the business leaders’ responsibility to create a vision that resonates with each of their members, and at the same time possess a strong regard for their mental, physical, and emotional health.

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Build a solid brand image, for the long haul. When a successful company creates one product after another, it builds a whole ecosystem for a particular niche. Take Razer, the self-proclaimed lifestyle brand for gamers, as an example.* They employ an increasing focus on the customer’s journey, values and preferences, and continuous innovation and iteration to stay on top of the playing field. According to Alibaba’s Joe Tsai**, product fit must be prioritized over profit. He shares that their company operates on this model: within the first three years, the business must perfect the customer experience. After creating a tribe around it, only then must revenue streams be built in. From its fifth to seventh year, it should be well on its way to generate steady cashflow which to be harvested from its seventh to tenth year. The cycle repeats for every product it makes.

*Watch CEO Min Liang-Tan’s keynote HERE.
**Watch his interview HERE.

China is at the forefront of technological advancement. It is happening, people, sooner than ever. With an increasing population (in which part of the world do you not find Chinese people?) and income-per-capita, it will soon outgrow the United States. That is why companies and investors are pouring in their capital and continuously find ways to tap a market of enormous potential. Businesses that want to get a slice of the pie (or want to somehow expend internationally) have got to start moving.

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And so…

Although some of what I’ve learned does not affect our real estate business directly, it would behoove those in the marketplace to stay on top of these things, especially to those who expect to build or grow an enterprise. Long-standing industries can learn a thing or two from start-ups, adapting the energy, transparency, efficiency, and customer-centric approach. Other companies should be concerned whether this phenomenon could disrupt their industry, rendering them obsolete in the near future. There might be much to think (and worry) about, but it helps business leaders stay afoot. We can now access more than we could 10 years ago, and it all comes with risks and responsibilities.

The real estate industry isn’t seen to decline soon. In fact, technology drives forward the supply and demand for property of all kinds. It’s exciting for an emerging realtor to find herself between the future of cyber and an industry that has existed for many generations. I am ready to disrupt.

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