Singapore based Jungle Ventures, early stage investors, incubated under the Government's National Research Fund Technology Incubation Scheme talks about their investments, Southeast Asia, India and the reality of incubation, early stage investments and more.Excerpts from our conversation with their Managing Partner, Amit Anand:
YS: Tell us about Jungle Ventures
Jungle was started in 2012 by Anurag Srivastava and me. We have both been tech executives, and worked with a wide spectrum of companies from large multinationals to bootstrapped startups. We've also made several angel investments in the past. Our strength is the understanding we have of the Asia pack region and of early stage companies.
We started with a small fund initially. In 2012, we raised the second fund. We are incubated under the Government's NRF scheme.
NRF (National Research Fund), the research and innovation hub of Singapore is linked to the Prime Minister's Office. They had made a public call and of the hundreds of application, we were one of the 7 selected teams under their Technology Incubation Scheme.
They have been great partners to work with. [NRF is] a pretty hands off investor, they are basically enablers. [We have] access to any market research they conduct, their network and their annual event, where you get to meet a whole lot of people is excellent.
YS: Give me a sense of your portfolio. What drives Jungle's investment decision?
Broadly speaking, our investment falls under three buckets - we have startups in the marketing and analytics space. so startups like Zipdial, Mobicon. Discovery of products and services (using internet as a medium) is our other interest. Companies like travel mob, doc doc etc. fall under this bracket. Lastly, startups working in mobi payment space.
Currently we have investments in the entire region including Singapore, India, Thailand, New Zealand. Our focus is really the company itself rather than the market they're in. we want to help build companies that grow in the whole region as opposed to their country of operation.
YS: Southeast Asia is an interesting region. Each country has its own nuances. And the socio-cultural differences would impact the thought process of the entrepreneurs from different countries?
That is true. However instead of differences, let me tell you a little about the similarities - being an entrepreneur and having a startup is almost like being part of a cult right now. Something like 'pop culture', you could say. The joy and pride of 'I created something' is the common thread that binds entrepreneurs we back. It's not about the money, it's value creation.
These are values we find in entrepreneurs across the region. We are interested in backing these startups, which look at the region as whole.
YS: Several Indian startups looking at Singapore as the logical step for global presence - most common reasons we hear are proactive government, business friendly policies and of course access to the entire southeast asian markets. Your take on it?
Singapore is undoubtedly business friendly and the fact that processes and procedures in India (and many other countries) need to become more straight jacketed does not need to be reiterated. There are also other factors that work in Singapore's favor, but I think the most important access which Singapore gives is to talent, from all over the world. To give you an example, Travelmob has people from 12-13 nationalities in their team, which is hard to imagine happening anywhere else. And if you are looking at expanding into the region, you need people who understand that market well.
Having said that, one needs to remember that hiring people in Singapore is very expensive. Sure enough it is a big market (2/3 world population within 4 hours) but you need to be clear on whether there is really a market for your product, across the region.
As far as government support in Singapore in concerned, yes there is plenty. And that was required since the market is so small in Singapore, and generally less risk taking attitude of people, so the Government needed to incentivize and encourage entrepreneurs. India is a very different place - people are enterprising there and it's a huge market. While some Government attention is always good, I am not sure how much lack of it impacts the startup community there.
YS: What is the best way for a startup to reach out to Jungle?
Events, I think. Anurag and me try to go to as many events as possible, in the region, in India. It is important for us to get a ground level feel of things. Besides that, we come in touch with startups through references - from people we have worked with before or late stage investors often refer startups which they think are better suited for our portfolio.
We usually know in the first meeting whether we want to work with them or not (and I think it's the same with them as well). Since these are early stage investments, we help the startups with everything from team building to corporate strategy. More of ten than not, they have a good product but they don't know how to build a company. So you work very closely with them. The founders often look at us as 'co-founders' rather than investors. So a great rapport is very important.
And once they are on board, we completely back the founders, all the way through. Even if we don't agree with them we put forth our opinion but we never impose it. That detachment is a very important quality of being an investor and the toughest part of being an entrepreneur turned investor.
YS: Lot of talk about Incubator/Accelerators and many opnions of the 90-100 day model that they follow. How well does it work?
There is definitely place and need for incubation. However the 90 days may be insufficient time to get anything substantial done in this region. Things happen much slowly here (unlike the US, where this model works perfectly well). So perhaps an incubation model with a longer gestation period is what is required here. Particularly since not many VCs take risks early on with a venture, which I think more VCs should. So 90 or 100 days of incubation and very few early stage investors creates a huge market gap.
Having said that, this would vary from business to business and perhaps there is space for both (longer and shorter incubation) model.
YS: How big is your team.
We are a team of 4 right now. We also have several operating venture partners, veterans from the industry, who come in on a need basis for mentorship and advise to the startups. In fact we make sure that each of these guys are attached to one company, so they play an active role in the growth of that company.
Website: Jungle Ventures
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