One very sophisticated presentation was unfolding at a demo day that I attended in Beijing recently. The founder was so confident about his customer acquisition strategy that he spent almost 80% of his allocated time explaining it (in a very excited tone).
One of the investors on the panel just said three words: “然并卵” (Ran bing luan). The audience burst into a huge laughter. The term “然并卵” is short form for “然而并没有什么卵用”, or literally, “But it does not have any F***ing use”. The term was developed in 2015 and has gained popularity since.
Innovation that no one needs
Too many well-funded startups have launched useless services or products that no one needs. It seems that lack of market research, and simply the need to “show” that they are innovating takes precedence over innovation with substance. Take for example HonestBee who recently launched hawker food delivery in Singapore. It sounds cool being able to eat your favourite hawker dish of chicken rice or soup noodles – but is it something you are willing to pay a premium for, and can you make money out of it? The fact that people are not already doing it does not mean a market opportunity.
Another major business which failed in China – power bank rental. Ledian was a very good example. It grew fast, and had a lot of funding, but failed to make enough money to justify being in business. Growth for the sake of growth, providing a service that people can live without is definitely pointless, and the market should begin to understand that such businesses create more harm than benefit. The very fact they still get funded baffles many industry experts. It is quickly becoming a game of musical chairs, where early stage investors aim to cash out quickly.
The search for growth has spiraled out of control
As crazy as it might seem (or perhaps it is a good thing), many traditional businesses in Southeast Asia still fail to get the point – why do businesses get setup to lose money, in the name of pursuing growth. Many adhere to strict business management principles where if the business or venture does not make money, it is pointless to continue to invest.
It could be due to the crazy central banking policies of unlimited money printing where investors who manage these funds just simply do not care where they invest their money.
This is actually a very acute problem as 99% of startups out there are not investable. Investors are rewarding startups that do not really add value. For many of these startups, user acquisition and growth is driven by vouchers, discounts and massive online marketing budget. It’s very costly and unsustainable but helps to drive numbers.
No love for real businesses solving real problems
Recently we chanced upon a very innovative business, solving cross-border e-commerce pain points. This particular founder has invested his own capital, and was very driven. His team is very committed to the business and the business itself had enough traction. However he found it very hard to raise capital. Although he solved really important issues, the business was not “sexy” enough to catch investor’s attention.
That said, we don’t think that all is lost. We do foresee that the industry will see a shift in mindset. Businesses that solve real problems are definitely investable, and worth looking into. It is time we returned the capital to productive individuals that solve real problems.
Thanks for reading The Lowdown, insight and inside knowledge from the team at Momentum Works. If you’d like to get in touch with us about any issues discussed in our blog, please drop us an email at [email protected] and let us know how we can help.