Hailing from Rocket Internet, our senior managers are often asked by passionate young individuals who want to work in tech startups – what are the core principles one should observe that will determine success? Again, we could not (neither do we want to) shrug off the experience we have accumulated working with Rocket Internet, although its star is slowly fading away.

It is not by accident that many early Rocket Internet executives in the Southeast Asian region have gone on to found very successful ventures such as Shopee, Lalamove, Gojek etc. There must have been something right in Rocket Internet’s culture that helped it breed successful leaders. Here are what we think made the difference:

1. KPIs and results matter the most, startups have limited runway

Many jump at the idea of being a company founder because it sounded cool, with a decent salary to boot. However, there is no free lunch in this world, metaphorically speaking. Often faced with limited funds (or runway) and little time to conjure results, this is when setting up KPIs and achieving results matter the most.

For new joiners who may not have been in a startup previously, you are on a race. Waste no time to start performing and bringing in results or you will probably be shown the door.  Be the first to set KPIs if you’re in a relatively new position. If there’s predecessor, then find out too what were the KPIs before, and seek to improve it. Produce noticeable results ASAP, and be sure to toot your horn – bosses do not know.

2. Speed, it is the only advantage when everyone’s smart

A competitive business environment breeds impatience for bosses and even investors. Everyone is expecting results or expected to produce results since yesterday. Replying emails from the phone after working hours is a social norm for start-uppers. Talking about office hours – how about going home at 8pm being considered early?

While these practices are not written on paper, it is a well understood informal code in which everyone who works in a fledgling startup understands. How else to beat competitors who are as smart as you? The answer is to work faster, and harder.

3. Being less sensitive, the world does not revolve around you

So mistakes are common, in a fail fast, learn fast environment. You will probably be told you suck, to your face, or cursed at. If you did not get that yet, count your lucky stars. In our view, many simply do not survive criticisms, or stand humiliation. Perhaps it is how this generation was brought up. After all, failing is normal, and getting told off is part and parcel of learning.

Our advise? Be less sensitive, and just shrug or laugh it off. The tough will survive and thrive. Keep your personal life in a box, when it comes to work.

4. Socializing with colleagues, building social capital is as important

Unless you are already married with kids, do not shrug off social time. It is equally as important as working your ass off. Bonds are forged, misgivings and walls torn down. After all, why do you work so hard? Is is not to enjoy the fruits of your labour? Sip your scotch, and make friends as you may never know you would need it someday down the road.

Just put it this way, we are not strangers when it comes to tapping the expertise of our network. After all, a simple word of mouth from a trusted contact goes a long way when it comes to fundraising for your own startup.


Regardless if you are just starting out, jumping into a leadership role in a startup, or investing in one, these principles are what we at Momentum Works practise for success. We often look for such traits when investing in entrepreneurs or partnering with companies, and especially when we are hiring.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].


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He has worn many hats in the past - selling advertising space, banking services, and even trading stocks. In 2013, longing for a change of scenery, he joined Rocket Internet’s (now Alibaba’s) Lazada as a online marketer in Bangkok, where he experienced first hand life in a startup. He never looked back since - landing lead roles at Rocket’s EasyTaxi (Singapore), Rocket’s MEIG (Dubai), and Bamilo (Tehran). After that, he launched (and ran) the Thai venture for one of Singapore’s biggest cross-border ecommerce. Last year, Chong put his expertise to work, helping an SGX-listed company relocate to and run operations in Thailand. Nowadays, he’s just chilling by the countryside.