At a forum earlier, the Managing Partner of a leading VC fund told me that he had not been investing in Singapore startups for a while.

“Why?” I asked, expecting answers such as Singapore market is too small or exit route is not clear. Well, he told a story instead.

The story

A few years ago (when he was still investing in Singapore startups, he was at one portfolio company discussing progress. To his shock, he discovered the reason why a simple (but vital) piece of work was held up for three months.

Naturally he asked what happened. And the founder said “but they did not reply to my email!” It turned out, the founder did not even send a chaser.

After a short wtf moment of disbelief, the investor stormed out of the office. That was the last straw that shaped his current view of Singapore startups.

All too familiar

His views might be too radical but we often see similar things happen – I mean similar excuses being used:

“oh we did not do this design on time because they didn’t send us the specification. They have already received our email – why do we need to chase them?”

“We missed this deal because the client sent the file over the weekend with a deadline by Monday.”

“We could not achieve the numbers in the target because there was a public holiday last week.”

“The team could not finish this piece of work because one person was not at work yesterday.”

Do they sound familiar?

Toxic culture

To be very honest, some of the reasons are actually valid. If you receive a proposal during the weekend while you are in a long flight, you might very well miss it.

What is dangerous (or toxic) here is the culture – the culture of laissez-faire, of ‘anything goes’, and of lack of ownership.

An internet company (startup or not) is always on the line – your position is never secure and you always need to run to stay ahead of the game (survive first and then thrive).

Any of the above excuse would cost you precious time, and accepting them would send a very wrong signal to the rest of the team who are actually working hard.

Soon good people will either leave or start to use excuses to slack as well.

You will end up having an organisation like this one

Rocket way

A large part of the core team of Momentum Works had experience with Rocket Internet. While we might talk about Rocket’s many shortcomings, there is one thing we all appreciated: no excuse culture.

If something goes wrong – be factual and understand what is the root cause. If the root cause is within your control, admit your mistake and move on; if the root cause is beyond your control, seek the relevant support and resources proactively, before anyone asks you to.

And the founder of Rocket is smart enough to detect all excuses

The same culture exists in Huawei, Alibaba and many other effective companies – and we do believe all the tech startups should take this to their heart.

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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Jianggan Li is the Founder & CEO of Momentum Works. Prior to founding Momentum Works, he co-founded Easy Taxi in Asia, and served as Managing Director of Foodpanda. The two years running Rocket Internet companies has given him a lifetime experience on supersonic implementation, and good camaraderie with entrepreneurs across the developing world. He holds a MBA from INSEAD (GMAT 770) and a degree in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University. Unfortunately he never wrote a single line of code professionally - but in his first job he was in media, travelling extensively across Asia & Europe, speaking with Ministers & (occasionally) Prime Ministers. Apart from English and his native Mandarin, he is also fluent in French and conversational in Cantonese & Spanish. He tried to learn Latin (for three years) and Sanskrit (for six months) as well. In his (scarce) free time, he reads, travels, hikes and dives. Pyongyang, Tehran & Chisinau are among the interesting cities he has been to.