In Episode 33 of the Impulso Podcast, we share raw, unfiltered conversations between Chao Gao (CTO of FinAccel), Shaolin Zheng (Co-founder and CTO of NextBillion.ai), and our own Jianggan Li (CEO Momentum Works) about their experiences in tech companies (startup or corporate), why tech companies in US, China and Singapore operate so differently, and how to deal with the difficulties thrown by 2023.
We also touched upon:
- Differences in working culture in USA, China, and Singapore: How much certainty in product success a team needs?
- Business model design/ no design: When does it work and when doesn’t?
- How is founding with Rocket, Alibaba, corporate different from starting on your own?
- Burden of a founder: Destined to be lonely?
- Year of 2023: Navigating through high cost of capital and risk aversion
If you’ve ever wondered about the human side of tech officers, and how to resonate with them – this episode is for you. Now on YouTube as well!
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the Impulso podcast. We’re continuing to bring more guests today. And with us we have Jianggan.
Hi, hi everyone.
Very nice to meet you all. And if only you could briefly introduce yourself first?
Maybe I can start. My name is Chao. I’ve been in the tech industry for more than 12 years so far, spend most of my time being startups being in US and in Southeast Asia. I work with Shaolin in the large internet company in Southeast Asia, which I wouldn’t I’m not sure if I can name the name. But we, we build things like blockchains together, including ride hailing food delivery and logistics apps. I have been focusing myself on building FinTech arms in the US in Southeast Asia in last 23 years. And but I’m also very keen in exploring opportunities in AI. And in more cutting edge technologies, starting from last year. Very nice to meet everyone here. Love to chat more about things that are interesting.
Yeah, so thank you, Dalia. Thank you, thank Jianggan. So hi dear audience of of this podcast. So I’m Shaolin, I’m so glad to be invited to this channel to share about my experience. So I started working for large internet platform in Southeast Asia since 2015. And I was an engineering leader role there that is established and operated its China r&d centers since I began, I began spend a lot of time traveling between China and Southeast Asia, start getting a real feeling for this place. And in 2020, I decided to start my own thing and set up NextBillion.ai in Singapore. We are a SaaS company that helps businesses with map and location technology. It was actually a big change for me moving from the tech lead role to a founders role. So I would love to share more about that experience.
Great, you guys didn’t want to name the company. But you mentioned for ride hailing, you mentioned your food delivery, and everyone can guess which company that is in Southeast Asia. Have some, of course, some discussion points, which I will want to find out from you guys about your perspectives and insights. But before we start, Cha, the stack of books behind you. Why are they stack in this way?
Where they’re stack in this way? I think shuffling them a lot quite often actually. You know, they’re different. There’s no standard principle and following to structure the books. But in general, you know, the business books are in this position. And above that are some you know, self help. And Chinese legendary books, and novels. I guess, just, you know, depends on the time in a year, you know, which, like, I like to read different types of books. Yeah.
So do you always take the book from the top? Or you actually play the game of like, no, trying to take a book out from the bottom without causing the stack to collapse?
I wish my life is that far. But unfortunately, it’s not. Because when I’m sitting on this chair, you know, the easiest book, I think is there, you know, I just put the my most recent book, I’m reading on that position.
That’s it. The only book I can recognize is the number fours from the top is Jiazhi. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Aha. So and you cannot. So basically means you don’t read it.
Okay. So basically, Shaolin, you recognize this book, you read this book, Jiazhi means value? Right?
Yeah. It’s from founder of Hillhouse.
Okay, founder of Hillhouse, which is, I think, one of the largest, like investment firms in China, which has really, really sort of followed the journey of the whole the tech development in China over the last 20 years. But of course, now we’re in 2023. There’s a very different reality we’re living in now. So you guys have worked in different places. Right. And you certainly have worked in Beijing, and you’ve worked in Singapore, and have led multinational teams and how you have worked in Seattle, if I’m correct. Yeah. And now Singapore, so you have also led sort of cross cultural teams. What are you guys sort of I think what are the key key sort of lessons and, and? And feedback that you have, from that experience? How to compare the different cultures in different markets that you’re in?
Yes, so I think that there are a lot of things, a lot of differences there. So but if I have to highlight one thing that I observed between a Chinese team, or Chinese tech team, or Singapore tech team, or an US tech team, that would be how to embrace changes, have different teams have different teams? So for example, the Chinese team are clearly the strongest, they are usually old fashioned. So
that was part of the that was part of the Alibaba value in price change.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I also find it quite important, when you are trying to break into a new market that you do not know about, you cannot just do something that you used to do, you need to do something new, and you will be failing a lot of the times, so how to face that failure and how to embrace the change, I find it quite important, and it also varies from different culture. So so the Chinese team that usually they are the they are the strongest against these kind of changes, they usually they are open to fast iteration, they can do quick trial and fail fast. And they accept that what they are, what they are working on might not be success. So by the end, in the other hand, the US tech team really, really need a lot of certainty. So they feel that working out product that might fail, is kind of a waste of their time. So they usually they will voice their concerns loudly in the company, and demanding more solid evidence that our product is viable. So I once heard a joke about this. The engineer says that show me that they have points to prove the product design is viable. And the product manager replies, we will have the data points after it’s launched. That’s it’s very common conflict, when Chinese team is working directly with a US team. And a Singapore team is kind of in the in the middle. And it’s not that it will embrace the changes. And it also asked you to consider it more and to do it in a sophisticated way. So I personally are like this. This Singapore culture.
Yeah. So I think we’re starting selling shirt shirt just now was quite insightful is very, you know, interesting comparison between US, Singapore and Chinese teams. My experience is a little bit different. Right? So I feel, you know, in terms of embracing change, the willingness and how, how much agility a team demonstrates, really depends on who you hired. Right. So they’re, you know, companies in in China as well, you know, they’re large tech companies in, but not not necessarily operating in the fast moving environment. Right. So, you know, I wouldn’t want anyone to name the names, right. So, you know, their companies, you know, they’re coming, maybe they’re US companies, maybe they were European companies, they have established for how many years or 50 years, right, so the pace of change changes quite slow. And people usually coming from that background, they will demand a lot of, you know, data points, to understand why we’re building this, is this the right approach to build this? Right. So you spend a lot of time basically negotiating, you know, convincing, aligning research teams. But that makes sense. Because, you know, your company is like that they are the decision, the time they spend on making a decision is like maybe no fewer miles, right. So by the impact of the decision will last for maybe 5 or 10 years. Right? So that’s kind of normal. In the US, there’s similar companies as well. Right? So they have been established for quite a while their business is quite large, you know, whatever changes you’re making, is going to be a big hit on the revenue or profit. So they want to take decisions more consciously. But in for example, silicon, silicon valley, right. So and maybe Seattle, right. So a city where you can find a lot of startups, right so and you you can find a lot of people Before actually willing to make changes quickly. In fact, when Facebook was started, one of the motors, you know, principle they follow is no move fast and break it break things, right? So they’re willing to, you know, embrace not only change but failures, right. So as it’s really depends on the culture you set for a team and the talents you can attract, right. So, but in general, what I find is in, in countries like the US and Singapore, because I think Singapore maybe we discuss it later. In the US, because the tech industry or the software industry has been established, established for a longer period of time, you’ll find more people with more systematic thinking, right. So they can structurally expressing themselves, you know, analyzing the policeman more time, more time on analyzing the progress, which makes their argument more you know, more structured and easily understandable by different parties. So, communication was quite easy for me, as you know, when working with teams in the US, but versus you know, the Chinese teams sometimes, right. So, also depends on the people you can find, right. So, and the background they come from, sometimes lining your thinking, which then it can be a little bit challenging, not only not only, you know, in trying to try and train these teams, but also in, in countries where the entire software industry was in an earlier stage, because people have been experienced more, you know, rigid training, or, you know, practices, right. So communication, aligning your thinking in terms of technical solutions can be different from, you know, the US teams. So that’s, that’s some some nuances. You know, I want to add to your comments running.
Yeah, there are some some. So when I tried to prove my point, and in the past, one data point I would always share is about going to a restaurant. So for example, in China, in Singapore, in the US, it’s quite different type of experience. So when you are trying to get to a restaurant in China, a lot of them are not taking any reservations, they’re just walking. So because they don’t want to perfectly plan tonight, like who is taking this table from seven to nine, who is going to take it over from 9 to 11. So usually, they don’t want to do these kinds of things. And people don’t want to make such very precise reservation and make their life quite with a lot of certainty. And but in Singapore, and in the US, is quite different. So even your personal life, people are sending a calendar invite to your, your calendar, that’s quite different culture. So when it comes to people get together as a team. But as you said, there are different cultures of different group of people in the US, you can similarly have a team that is quite work like crazy, like Elon Musk team, or I remember that that guy, Andrew, right. So he shared that he need engineer to work 80 hours a week, which people in the community says no to him. But in China working 80 hours a week is quite normal.
Yeah, security is different system designs, right. So when designing company or teams in a way that the team members have to work 80 hours a week, you know, and you basically, you need to be very vocal about it and transparent about it. Right? So we talk about it when you’re hiring, you know, interviewing your candidates, you tell them, Hey, you are expected to work 80 hours, 100 hours a week. And then the people you attract or you hired are this type of people. Right, so another example I can think of is Netflix. So Netflix is a you know, they based in LA right? So which is really interesting and fun city. I mean, the the measurement they used to, you know, basically measure the velocity is not about you know, how many hours they people put into work, but it’s about the velocity of making decisions. Right. So I think that’s one of the things I want to count out. You know, sometimes when people are thinking we’re moving fast is simply saying people are putting more hours in the office or at work, right. So but in a larger or growing organization, the how quickly you can make a decision and get a result and you know, to circle back and basically iterate is, you know, on a broader scale that helps you To move much faster as an organization, rather than as individuals, right, so I think a lot of the restaurants as you mentioned, right, so because their business model are designed, right, so it’s not like I’m opening a restaurant, and I’m waiting for gases, gases come and you know, they order whatever they want, right? So bad, I’m designing a system, that I’m only taking this amount of guests. So my kitchen can run in a way, that efficient, efficient enough and also maintainable by myself. Right. So and I can still have a business. So I think a lot of times, you know, just, you know, when, when you when you’re in a trend that is growing, you know, basically going up, right? So you know, you have more and more populations that are using mobile internet in last 10 years, not only in China, but also in Southeast Asia. Right. So a lot of opportunities are unseen, you just don’t know where they are, right? So you just wanted to do something, and then you know, maybe opportunity that like will hit you, right? So at that point of time, try and do other things without design. That works. Right. So but if you compare it, you know, a more mature market, maybe in the US or Europe, right? So a lot of the systems or companies or business models, needs to be designed beforehand, before you make restarts anything like that. Anything you know, that you want to try. So I think that’s a key difference. I see. One of the topics we’re going to cover today is you know, what opportunities are there. And if the market is still in a chaotic mode, I think, you know, putting more designs in your team and companies and business models, maybe initially makes you feel you’re moving slower. But maybe over time, you know, you’re on a hillside, you’re actually moving faster, because you’re making less mistakes.
Yeah, we were looking at, I think we mentioned about Alibaba culture, embrace change, or at least what they want their people to adhere to. Alibaba says embrace change, I think you mentioned but Facebook in early days, move fast and break things. And I also remember that I think in Amazon, there’s this thing called learn and be curious. So So of course, organizations are trying to get their people to adapt, right, because it’s a, it’s a changing environment, but how to adapt to the changes and, and how to plan for things, how to execute different cultures, different cultures, different companies, different countries are in different sectors will probably do it very differently. So both of you actually transitioned from working in a large internet company, which we shall not name to, to become founders, and just try to understand what’s the what’s the, what’s the sort of mental process that that you guys went through to make that decision and what has been the mental journey afterwards, because I would imagine, like working for a large company that we should not name has been quite comfortable.
Yeah, it used to be super comfortable to me. So because I’m leading a large team, and my boss is always in a different country, so he won’t be able to watch me. So it, it was a wonderful journey there. But, to me, I’m the part of the reason that I decided to leave the company, because I wish to do something even bigger in my life. So the working experience of it in a very large company, and especially like what Chao has shared, they design that company in, in a certain way that you want to push something you need to talk to, to dozens of of, of the other leaders. So and you will never find the time that you can get every one of them in the meeting room altogether. So you need to have three separate meetings with them. And you need to have 10 rounds of back and forth before you can really do anything. So I cannot comment that if it is correct or not correct. But that is the experience I I was facing. So and so I am also I was also observing that there are so many new technologies there. We still remember when we first joined that company in seven, eight years ago. It’s it that the company was using gold language which make it a pioneer in the some some kind of pioneer in the industry. So because at the moment that the gold language is that not that muture, is still not even version one, it is version zero point something I remember. So it’s but now it’s not pioneer at all. So the kinds of technology become quite bold and as a company at that scale, you cannot just change your fundamental technology. But as a small company, you can always try new things. And, and that I think that’s part of the reason that at least my mental mental model that why I decided to leave, but to adapt to a new role is that different things. So it’s been even harder, actually.
Okay, can you tell more?
Oh, yeah, I think it’s, it’s a totally different way of being somewhere in the middle layer, or someone as the co founder. So the key differences is the who take the responsibility. So it’s the as a middle layer, or even the executive layer, you still don’t take the final responsibility of what you have done. Because the worst case you just quit, and you won’t need to pay back or your salary or salary is already paid. That’s, that’s yours. So there’s actually no not that bad, right. So that’s why you don’t need to think thanks for your need to you some of the time you’re fearless. Because there’s no consequences. So you can just do it. So but as a founder, you take the final responsibility of the company, and some of the time the outcome can be quite bad. So you may need to, you may end up like, in a scenario that you need to sell one of your house to get the money to keep the company run for another six months, which you don’t know if this six months can serve us can save the company. So it’s it’s much, much worse, which makes you feel like make you’re feeling totally different. So and this helps people to grow. That’s the best part I found here.
So basically, you’re talking about selling one of your houses, and we can only imagine how many houses you have. But
that’s the problem. I don’t have much so I can only save the company for six months.
Okay, one house okay. So, so I think, I think I think what did you what you’ve just mentioned is something that I can personally resonate. So many years ago, I was sort of a founder with Rocket Internet. And, and now of course, I sort of, I’m in charge of my own company, which I found it with external investors. And, and people often asked me, What’s the difference between between a rocket fund versus your own funder. And it took me a while to reflect and but the reflections is exactly what I just mentioned, right? So at rocket, and even though you’re, you’re managing a whole company, you can always quit. If you don’t like it, or if you if you feel tired, exhausted, you can always quit saying that, hey, I quit. I give my one month notice. And, and that’s it, I don’t have to worry about it, I can go on a holiday for one month. But, but, but but you’re gonna find yourself with your own company with external stakeholders, etc. So you really don’t have that option, right? Because, because whatever you do have consequences, you appear to be responsible for the people who trust for you to join you on this journey. And people who trust you enough to give you money. So and of course, your clients will trust you enough enough to, to let you so to try your product, even though it’s not as established as a mature company.
Exactly, yeah. It’s different from you guys. Because sounds like you guys are really, really having some good life, you know, and, and, you know, feels comfortable. My experience in the large company was not a pleasant, because, you know, what, while the biggest reason is, you know, I was living in Seattle, back then. But my teams and, you know, the product we’re building are used by associations, right? So there’s a 16 hour difference between meeting hours. So, you know, I didn’t realize that but when I quit company, you know, doing something in the US, I realized my hair grows much faster, because I get so I used to wake up in in the morning at 2am or 3am, because, you know, system went down or, or issues here and there. Right. So I feel I’m just like a working machine. So, you know, I woke up receiving emails, you know, check my slack messages, you know, for a couple of hours and go to work. Start working with folks in Seattle and at 4pm meetings with Singapore stars, right. So and last until you know, 10 P and lumpy, and you just don’t have any personal time. Right. So so that was that was not really great. Right. So and, and the time where the quick copy, you know, the company was doing was doing quite okay. Right. So and we are on a, you know, stable track to IPO. Right. So but yeah, that taking living longer than that, but I, you know, when companies going going public, before you were actually listed, you want to have a more stable track or so you don’t actually want to try a lot of you know, audacious things, you just want to make sure you’re the financially you know, and regulatory wise you are, you are on track, right. So, you know, that was the period of time you feel things are being slow down, right. So you can still invest your 16 hour a day into this, this this job, right. So, but the return is diminishing, right. So and especially that was doing COVID time, you just stay, you’re just too far away from all the things that happened in this community. Because I think, you know, whenever we faced a crisis like that, you know, at this large scale, there are some common memories, memories you share with your virtual community, right. So you maybe people in Singapore, you all experienced this lockdown, period. Right? So and then you order things from grab food, right? So but I was free, it is in the other, I can drive around, right? So I can go, you know, go hiking, do whatever I want. So that was a complete different, different experience. So you know, it was time for me, I was is the company for more than almost six years. And then, you know, it was it was quite demanding. Right. So and I feel a little isolated. Right, so what so when there’s opportunity for me to start something, you know, meal in a more like, local market background for me. So I, I was actually a no brainer for me. Right. So and the biggest difference as Shaolin suggested, you know, you just feel a massive responsibility on the people that, you know, join you on this journey, you know, no matter you know them before you hire them from LinkedIn. Right. So I think that a lot of folks I hired back then, you know, where were strangers committed complete strangers, I just keep sending their LinkedIn messages, you know, emails every week. Finally, they respond, and then you sell a story to them, right? So this company is going to be big, right? So it’s going to be something, you know, one of the ones in the life journey for you. Right? So you say that, you believing that. But, you know, when the dream hits reality there, you know, you know, there are hiccups. Right? So how do you make sure your face is strong enough that bringing the people along and while leading them, right? So and really, basically giving them the sense you promise to them? Right? So that was quite. That’s a huge responsibility. But also, I’m feeling very excited, because now you have the options, right? So it because we know the goal, you know, where we want to go, and you decide which path you want to go there, we will take to go there, right? So different from either established organization or companies, right? So you just follow instructions. And you sometimes leaders just ask you, you know, a lot of leaders, they’re not asking for you, right? So just ask you trust me, right? So I will lead you through this pass, but it’s really hard to trust them sometimes. Right? So and you feel you’re just, you leave it in there, you’re certainly in living kind of uncertain way. Versus when you’re building something here. Alright. So as an entrepreneur, as a founder, you are infused a lot of uncertainty. But you are certain that you’re going to do this company, you’re going to do this team to get to success, you promised yourself and your team. So that sort of you know, subtle difference I’ve noticed.
There’s another aspect I wanted to touch upon. I mean, it’s interesting mesh about common memories, right? I mean, because that’s what bunch of group of people together. But as a founder or co founder, I mean, it’s almost, you’re almost destined to be lonely, right? Because there are lots of things I mean, of course, you duped or your people to work for you. And and there are lots of things that you can tell. And there are also things on here. And there are lots of mental struggles that you have to put on maybe have some mentors to go to. I was talking to some of the early very early guys of Alibaba. And they were saying that in the early days when things were tough, Jack Ma actually hit lots of things right that he didn’t tell them a lot of challenges that he was facing and he was keeping to himself and and how do you reconcile that Loneliness?
I have this (bottle of alcohol) sitting right beside me (joking). I think that’s, that’s quite true. That’s quite true. So one mistake I had I was made is, is that I, quite the majority of my current team is someone I used to know. So it’s someone that I used to work with someone as my old team members. So I hire them because we know each other, because we know that they are the right people, they have very good mindset that they have very good technology, capability, but the bad part is they used to be my friends, but hire them into the team that makes you very hard to, to choose how to how to face them as friends or as you know, team members, that’s very different. So if, if in the future, I would rather say, let us hire someone we don’t know, then makes things much easier. In my head, so some other types. So so but it’s true that that is a huge problem. So and that that is the one thing that you need to, to learn to, to handle so easily to this. This helps. quite helpful.
Yeah, I hope your team is not listening to this podcast. Otherwise, you have to elaborate who you’re talking about. Make sure they don’t feel scared. Yeah, I think I think that’s really true. Right. So you know, founders are, you know, I want to hear your thoughts as well. Right. So I think, you know, when you’re building something, you know, for yourself, or, you know, for a group of people, you have a bunch of co founders, even though you have co founders, like each, each one of you, you’re feeling different types of loneliness. Right. So I wonder how is sorting conquer this? You know, obviously, it’s co founders. So I think that is the hardest part, right? So, you know, that’s one of the things I write, right. So people when, when people are guiding their final success, right, so they went through all these difficulties, you know, different sets, you know, see different case scenarios, you know, find new funding rounds, and you know, try to hire a team, right, so actually, the founders, they wanted to quit every day, right? So they just try to overcome this fear when they wake up, right, so I try to do things, that’s what, that’s one of the reasons you see a lot of founders, like, give a mask, or, you know, all these successful guys, right? So they’re doing doing new things every day, you know, every month, you know, they maybe buy a new company, every year. Right? So it’s interesting to just keep trying to find new things, incentives, or you know, or things that can make them excited, right. So otherwise starting a company like signing stars, you hire your friends, now, now, you become confused, whether they are a family, or they’re your team, you know, they’re your employees. Right? So that’s really hard to handle sometimes, and you just want to quit, right? So sometimes you just want to quit. So I think finding new things that excites you that, you know, help you to see new opportunities, right, so the bigger future you can go, that’s, that’s the only way.
I, I see that sometimes as a as a drug that you’re addicted to. Right, so, so, so. So when I was doing rocket, I had lots of like, you know, counterparts, were running different rocket companies. And that was exhilarating, right? Because, I mean, your late 20s, you get like, no millions of dollars to burn, and you don’t really have any real responsibility as you can be reckless. Because it’s not really, really young companies who can afford to supercharge it and, and leave the consequences to someone else. And that’s exciting experience. But for many people, and afterwards, they become depressed because because they get addicted to that excitement, to find something more exciting, more exciting, more exciting. And, and and of course, chances are most of you will not be I mean, and I had to attend a session with people who have been very successful as well. So after after success, they want to find things which are much more exciting than what led to their success, but it’s difficult so so it’s like, how would I say, I mean, I also know people who who have always been in a in a very, very stable environment and refuse to look at what’s our site and but it is comfortable, comfortable because it already gets you addicted to this excitement drug and which, which you will never never find any like no And final solution because you constantly want to have something more.
Yeah. I thought they are chewing the grass or somehow. I think they did chewing the grass.
In the house, the society, you want to have a small group of folks, right? So doing exactly that. That’s basically how you grow the entire part. So everybody of ours, you know, everyone always got a little bit more. Right. So but you also do want to have a lot of people doing that, otherwise your society is not going to be stable at all. Right? So I think the US is what is going into extreme right, so we just aren’t really doing that in the Bay Area. Right. So you know, you might be a, I don’t know, stuff, engineer and muda or Google, but nobody gives us your shit. Right? So because you don’t have anything on the site, you don’t have a site. So you are not a founder, no matter how small things are doing. Right. So but in Singapore, I see a little bit different. I think a lot of people are choosing, you know, more stable life. Right. So but you you also, I think that’s why you know, this policy is really encouraging, right? So you need entrepreneurs in the founders to come to the table in this country, and to grow the pie together. Yeah, it’s a duck. But you know, people are voluntarily to take,
let’s come back a little bit to the year we’re living in, like 2023. And most like everybody that I spoke to, who is an entrepreneur founder, is saying that this year has been difficult. I mean, for a number of reasons. I mean, first capital cost is high. So which means that for the same ideas for the same for the same sort of quality of product they put in and fundraising is more difficult. And of course, your corporate clients are more stingy with their budget, because because of the cost of capital, and of course, mortgage rates, etc, etc, that led to consumers to be more careful with their spending. So, the whole year is in this uncertainty of okay, is the interest rate going to remain high? And I think we thought that certainty like this, like last week, saying that, okay, yes, it’s going to stay high for a while. And the year has been difficult. And so how do you guys think about this year? And how do you see yourself and the friends around you as we go through this and, and stay motivated, like for the next year? Because I mean, we’re known I mean, everyone knows that things will become better sooner or later, but the period of, you know, you don’t know when things will start to pick up. It’s actually quite painful.
Yeah, exactly. So I think to us, it’s been a tough year. So and like, exactly like what you have shared, the interest rate caused us very hard to raise another round, and uncertainty of the economy, cause our customers don’t want to spend, and they they, they are also not growing their business so that we are not growing as we expect it. So that’s very true. And we don’t see clear has that this is going to be fixed, at least within the next 48 months. That’s how we are planning for that.
48 months, that’s like four years.
That’s what Yeah, it’s quite bad. Honestly, it’s quite bad chewing the grass for four years. So yeah. So, so, how to motivate this also quite hard. So because because the uncertainty is so many uncertainties. So take us as an example. So we are doing a SaaS business. So as we begin, we thought that we are going to be growing extremely fast. So because we believe that we have the, we know exactly how the customers are thinking we know exactly how to build a product. And voila, I was talking to some of the very experienced investor they told us that to build a successful SaaS platform, it may take you like three to five years. So at the very beginning, I don’t believe to it. I think you only take me like one to two years to finish that. But now is the fourth year we are still not that kind of mature as a product. And also because the fundamental model of this SaaS business we are not growing like extremely fast, like like those ecommerce or other social network type of company, which makes us even harder to raise money these days. So slow revenue, growth, hard fundraising, and we are still in a stage that we are building the products so makes it I don’t know triple heart to our lives. So we need to manage this carefully. We are planning it carefully, like I just shared for the eight months is the estimation. So how we can survive that for the advance?
This is a very hard this year. So I highly recommend this book written by Jianggan, Seeing Nothing. (Taking from the book shelf)
How come you get a book and the whole thing does not crash.
Whole thing does not crash? Oh, this one. you mean the whole stack. Yeah. Well, this is a floating bookshelf is, is really nice. I really like this.
Yes, we can actually just take the book out.
It’s not a stack of books only. Okay. Yeah. But it’s this book is quite good. Alright. So I think like Shaolin suggested, a lot of people are preparing the wrong way for next 36 to 48 months, right. So in, in case, they are not able to raise another rounds. Right. So but, but I think the biggest difference is, you know, in the last five or 10 years, you know, five to 10 years people are getting growth with an expensive money, right? So because the money money was cheap for the longest period of time history. Right. So and this is a critically pouring market in emerging markets or in in a more established market as well. Right. So buying users buying their loyalty is worse. Another question? Until most recently, this year, maybe we’re starting on trying to do that was not the case. Right? So when so that’s why we see a lot of companies started during COVID in 2020, or 2021, when money was extremely cheap, right? So there is a lot of money. And the guy, some girls initially, now they are facing similar issues. Right. But I think it’s a, it’s a quite quite a fair game. Right. So you know, it’s not only one company, but all company companies are experiencing the same. So it’s a it’s a, it’s a battle for resilience. And also, because people are every company, every startup company is facing the same issues. So you don’t worry too much about people. You lose people to the other companies. However, since the changing, right, so I just, I mean, this community of you know, US engineer and tech talents, looks like Meta is started has started current crazy again. Right? So they want to hire another 4500 employees across the globe. Right. So including Singapore, London and US. I think that might be just a start for another hiring spring for these large companies. Right. So if you look at their stock price, they’re, you know, they’re bounce back really quickly from the deep last November, right. So now their price stock price is at maybe, you know, the COVID level. Right. So I think it’s not hard to imagine, they will start growing quickly again. Right. So which means hiring more employees? Doing more MAs. Right. So you know, so probably companies like, you know, like the SaaS companies without power, right. So you don’t actually need another 48 months. But you can also, you know, can start thinking about selling, right, because, you know, usually MA is happening? I think. So I think there is still a lot of optimistic in the market. Nowadays, we just need to get used to this slow ramp up period, right? So you don’t get 100,000 users every month anymore. Maybe only 100. Right? So, but over time accumulating that momentum, “momentum works”, right?
Yep. So when I was researching the book, together with a professor Chen of INSEAD, and we actually examined some of the top entrepreneurs from China for the current generation of internet companies, the founders of Bitdance, the founder of Meituan, the founder of Pinduoduo, so one thing one thing we we realized in common is that all three founders spent 70 benefunder of different other companies before they started the company. So people talk about okay, they start this company in 2012, then wow, it went like exponential. And open the door started in 2015. Two years was IPO. But the variety of people look at the seven years trying different things before figuring out something which finally works. So that that that’s something which, which probably gives, gives people some hope, right? I mean, look at these guys. I mean, they spent so many years trying to figure out how things work. And and eventually they made it work. So I also want to bring up two quotes, right? I mean, one is probably something that that everyone’s familiar with, from Jack Ma, which said to There’s difficult tomorrow is more difficult. And the day after tomorrow is beautiful. Most people die tomorrow evening. So I have talked to lots of people who were with him in early days, I think. I think there were lots of hardship that he went through. And which led to whatever Alibaba was where he handed over to his successor. And there’s another quote, I’m not sure if you guys read this book, The hard thing about hard things by Ben Horowitz. So, so he had this quote in the book. Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I asked them how they did it, mediocre CEOs point to the brief strategic moves or their intuitive business sense, or a variety of other self congratulatory explanations. So of course, as as, as we stand at the at the end of 2023. And looking forward to 2024. Maybe Maybe my last question for you guys. So how do you see opportunities on horizon and, and, of course, being leading large, large, large engineering teams in a large organization, and now being a founder, I’m sure lots of people can’t do you guys word for advice, right? Saying that, hey, I’m in a situation that you were in like, 3-4 years ago, I want to do my own business, or I want to I have this brilliant idea, should I start, and what would be your advice to people?
So my feeling is, so first of all, we have shared that our estimation is it’s going to be bad in the next 48 months, which basically means that the big pie is not growing. So any pie you can have, this is something that you grab from some others hands. So it will be tough to get existing pie, compared comparing to get something new. And which basically means that you, for example, as a founder, you you can only I believe that you can only do something that you have already been invested in, in the last 3-5 years. Some area that you are so familiar with that you can find the flows in that industry, and you can you can start working on those flows to build a new product with some new technology, I think that will only be the chance, it’s not like five years ago, you have no idea how to get some fundraising or tried. Now, it’s like if your your idea is going to be failing, you highly likely you won’t even be able to raise some large amount. And also, the demand for profitability is also going to be quite high. It’s not like you can you can raise the series ABCD before you your profit profitable. Now, it’s like you raise A and B and you you need to be profitable at that moment. So So you need to really care about your business model. It cannot be just on the some imagination and some some some uncertainty in the future. That’s my feeling.
Yeah, I think I think that’s, that’s largely right. Investors are really risk averse these days. So when it comes to fundraising, they’re being very selective, right? So they’re, they’re still us thinking big, but it’s like, you know, foundational models, right? So you probably have seen hundreds of, you know, different financial models, China these days, even though you have, you know, big mod models built by different big companies as well. So I do think, you know, people are still taking risks, they’re just taking risks in a very, in a very, in a more calculated way. Right. So or in a in a way that they are even more unfamiliar with, right, so how many races actually, can you say, you know, you know, large language model the mechanics behind it? Right. So, I think, I think I would, I would always say, starting a company or building your own business is a lifestyle choice, rather than, you know, you’re trying to earn money or you know, if you have a very concrete purpose, and if you want to earn a lot of money, maybe you know, joining a large company, right, so, you know, Google or Facebook, right, so or you know, maybe Sharpie graph right so I know this company is gonna give you a really comfortable pay, right so and then can give you stock options. And you know, it’s tough times but at times you know, there are more opportunities inside the company as well as more you know, safer for you is more you have more certainties, but if you were someone who wanted to build something, build something on your own, and you want people to use your stuff, right, so and really join it, right so starting a company or or starting a product You know, necessarily mean? Meaning you have to quit a job. Right? So, you know, if you don’t want, you don’t like this kind of like, you know, corporate life, you just want to go to Bali today and you know, rent a house, and then do things selling it to, you know, to us to UK, right. So you can also do that. So I think it’s more about a lifestyle choice, right? So what kind of life you want to leave? Right? So maybe something you build today can be large in two or three years? Who knows? Right? So nobody can predict the future. Right? So we do. You know, before this year, Metaverse and blockchain, we’re still the hottest investing topic. Right? So now apparently, nobody’s talking about MacRumors anymore, right? So blockchain has become your diary, you know, topic. Everybody’s talking about AI, you know, chatbots, you know, foundational models. Right? So who knows what’s going to come up next year? Maybe it’s something you are building today. Right? So I think, you know, the power of wandering is very, it’s very powerful, right selection is that, you know, a lot of successful founders, they spend a lot of time wandering around, you know, what they want to build, but they know, they want to build something, right? So it’s completely okay, you build something this month, you start, you don’t feel interested in it anymore, in the next month, and you try something, something else, right. So as long as you have their, you know, financial, stability, sort of like that price, or to support, you’re doing this, that’s the choice everybody is free to make, because I think the bright side here today is now you have all this AI tools Midjourney, you know, ChatGPT, and tons of other tools, you can literally start something, you know, you can only do with a 20 person or sourcing team in India, two years ago, right? So you, you, everybody who knows how to how to write code, how to do you know, basic marketing, how to design a rock product can do their own thing today. So I think the cost is super cheap. But in terms of the app size, you know, it’s really hard to say, so I would say, you know, focus on yourself, choose the life you’re living, right. So and then, you know, enjoy.
That’s very, very nice summary, and also very nice, optimistic, optimistic tone, for lots of people that that have gone through, I mean, even people in large companies, it has been tough earlier, right? I mean, they have all this competition, etc, etc. So, but, but we all know that and first things will get better and, and you never know what will happen in the future. And that unpredictability is probably something beautiful. And a second for most people that okay, whether you are in a large company, or whether you are your founder, if you’re frustrated, and if you’re lonely, probably you’re not alone, because there are there many others who are actually on this journey and and trying to figure out the same thing that you’re trying to figure out. So with that, I think, thank you very much for joining us today and for the sharing and it has been very candid and it has been very How would I describe it? And very truthful, so hope everyone would have have a good end of 2023 has great holiday towards the end of the year and 2024 It’s going to be a great year.