1. Please explain about NSI Ventures. What's the story behind?
How do you differentiate with other VCs?
NSI Ventures is a US$90 million Series A/B fund focused solely on early-stage Southeast Asia tech companies. Back in 2013, its founding partners Hian Goh, who previously ran the Asian Food Channel, and Shane Chesson, who headed the technology investment banking practice for Citigroup Asia-Pacific, saw the need to fix the Series A void in Southeast Asia and professionalize venture capital. Before NSI Ventures was founded, there were very few Series A and Series B specialists in the region as there was not enough quality and quantity of tech companies emerging in the region.
But several data points suggested an active ecosystem that will continue to grow in the next few years. One factor is that Southeast Asia has always demonstrated strong fundamentals when it comes to mobile and Internet penetration rates, disposable incomes, etc. These are further supported by studies conducted by Temasek and Google. The other factor that helped many countries outside Singapore (who benefitted from strong government support, attracting both local and foreign entrepreneurs) was the influx of returnees – individuals who have had education or work experiences abroad and decided to come back to Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar.
The combination of these factors has delivered several success stories we see today, including Go-Jek (which is also our portfolio company), Garena, Grab – companies that have reached the unicorn status.
But to achieve that status is no easy feat. Hian and Shane always believed that companies would need a high-touch venture capital partner to achieve their fullest potentials. At NSI, we have a full-time operational team that helps with the companies’ HR, tech, strategy, fundraising and other needs. We are also backed by a private equity platform called Northstar, which has over US$2 billion assets under management, which gives us access to several resources in the region.
2. Please explain about your life story before NSI Ventures.
My formative years (15 years) were spent in the Philippines until I was given an opportunity to further my education in Singapore. At a young age, I had a handful of side projects, including reselling MP3 players and giving academic tutorials for profit. It dawned upon me that starting a new business (especially with a completely new idea) is extremely challenging yet also fulfilling in some ways.
Given my fascination for math and technology breakthroughs (I grew up at a time when Apple, Google and Facebook rose to popularity), I initially majored in engineering. However, I eventually ended up doing economics while getting my hands dirty with a handful of entrepreneurial projects in school. I also had other side projects including running the first few Model UN conferences in Singapore (which are now becoming popular) and organizing community-initiated runs together with my friends.
As you can tell, I always enjoyed doing something new and seeing it grow. Thus, it was only natural that I joined NSI as I wanted more of these but only more real – companies with strong ambition to offer innovative solutions with technology as their core.
3. What is the investment criteria of NSI Ventures?
We typically write US$3-5 million checks. So if you work backwards, we would invest in companies that have already demonstrated some strong early traction and capital is needed to drive rapid growth. Achieving strong early traction is a function of a solid team and strong product-market fit – things that are rare in the region but if we find one, we would definitely love to back, especially in the Philippines where we have yet to make an investment.
4. What is the common mistakes of early stage entrepreneur? How can they avoid?
I’m not an entrepreneur myself so I don’t think I’m the best person to understand their pains. But one of the things I noticed from my vantage point is how an entrepreneur should transition his role as his company goes into the hypergrowth mode. Founders in this position would need to rely on the expertise of trusted colleagues instead to head the different key functions of the company. Y Combinator has written a good article on this, and the best way to avoid this is to be cognizant of these transitions as the company grows.
5. Which one is your favorite portfolio company? Why?
It’s hard to pinpoint one favorite portfolio company as all our portfolio companies are addressing very interesting problems and have unique solutions to address them. From apps that address market inefficiencies like Go-Jek and Chope (restaurant booking platform and discovery), we also have companies address regional and global enterprise issues such as Whispir (enterprise communications), TradeGecko (inventory management) and CXA (health benefits platform). I would recommend visiting our website to find out more!
6. What is the challenge of NSI Ventures at this moment?
One of the daily challenges we have at NSI Ventures is that our companies are growing fast and as hands-on investors, we always find ourselves busy with the day-to-day issues faced by our companies. Although some may view this as challenging, we have always been passionate in walking the journey together with our portfolio companies as they go and realize their next phase of growth.
7. What is the most important factor to be successful entrepreneur?
Personally, I think the most important factor for an entrepreneur to be successful is to have the grit to go through several challenges in his journey. Although as high-touch investors we have always been ready to work with our portfolio companies with their issues and build all-terrain vehicles, entrepreneurship can be lonely at times. A strong tenacity against these problems will go a long way to getting through to the finish lines. I just finished reading the Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog, and his story gives a very interesting perspective on how he did all these.
8. What is your view on Startup ecosystem in the Philippines? What will happen in next 5 years?
The Philippine start-up ecosystem is exciting given it has the right fundamentals in place. We have definitely seen a marked increase in the quality and quantity of start-ups in the country and continue to keep ourselves updated with what’s happening on the ground.
It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen exactly in the next five years, but we are already seeing early signs of a maturing ecosystem, similar to that of Indonesia and Vietnam. While consumer-oriented companies like e-commerce will grow well on the back of a hundred plus million population, themes such as education, healthcare and banking & finance will be particularly exciting given the limited reach of existing infrastructures.
There’s also some potential with B2B companies in the Philippines given the country’s BPO heritage, but the country would benefit more would with a larger tech talent base and the means to make this happen.
You can check the website of NSI Ventures HERE.