One of the interesting developments in the Asian start-up scene over the last year has been the invasion of Western venture capital firms.
Someone has obviously predicted that Asian tech is the next big growth market and that has resulted in the likes of internet clone giants Rocket Internet expanding aggressively in south east Asia and big investment deals like the $60m being ploughed into Singapore website Property Guru by Deutsche Telekom.
But where is the invention I hear you cry? Where is the Asian success story?
Bizarrely, it might well be on US soil right now. As one of the start-ups from the last year has headed West to try and crack the American market.
Gushcloud takes a beautifully simple and original idea (real word of mouth social marketing done by the public and not brands or celebrities) and mates it with a playful user interface.
I loosely call it social influencer marketing (SIM) and it works on the principle of brands being able to use people active on social media to spread their message (and pay and measure) in bite sized social chunks, rather than in humungous global above the line campaigns.
This is genuinely one of my favourite local companies. I love the idea, I love the implementation and I love the fact that it is replicable on a global scale. I really think they can succeed on a much bigger stage.
Gushcloud co-founder and CEO Vincent Ha says all Asian companies should consider the move to Calfornia, and says his company wants to act as a pioneer for others out there looking to follow.
He says they’ve learned some hard lessons so far and he even gets the chance to throw in a comparison between startups and Celine Dion.
But what are the differences between the Asian ecosystem and the American one? And what does this have to do with Celine Dion and Justin Bieber? Read on to find out. And of course visit www.gushcloud.com to get a real feel for what they do.
When did you decide to make the shift to the US and why?
Vincent: Right from the beginning my co-founder and I made the decision that if we were going to do something, it had to be significant and global. Part of that motivation was that we felt that if we were to stay and build an innovative product within Singapore alone, we wouldn't last long as a company as the domestic market is very small. The other part of that is also informed by my ambition and desire for Asian startups in particular, Singapore startups to impact the world.
The United States was a natural choice for Gushcloud is in the intersection of advertising, marketing and technology. The US represents the largest markets for each of these industries. One of the goals is to succeed in the United States and Singapore simultaneously and building a good product that works in more than one country.
What has been the reaction so far. You are getting traction in your home market but the US is a totally different dynamic. Is your presence there teaching you anything interesting. Is your business model evolving at all as a result?
The short answer is yes, our business model is evolving and we've gained enough insights to formulate or pivot as a company and shifts in strategies. Part of initial feedback from brands and consumers here was that they were looking for more of everything: More traction, more meaningful ways of engagement, more addictive experiences for consumers, just more. At first we pushed on stubbornly because of our belief in our product but after a while we realize that there was a bigger opportunity in absorbing the feedback and improving our product such that it could work not only in South-East Asia but in the United States as well. We realize that we've been given a rare opportunity as a very early stage startup - to achieve product-market fit in more than two countries and we want to take full advantage of this.
In this journey, we've begun to make a habit out of achieving the impossible and it’s that inspiration that drives us to succeed in a challenging market like the US.
Do you think more Asian companies should head to the US or is the market big enough here?
I believe that if you're a technology company and if you want to be global you should be in the United States from the earliest point. The level of innovation and serendipitous happenings here is just unparalleled. For example, in a couple of networking sessions you could be connected to a whole bunch of VCs and potential client leads and that valuable network takes on a life of its own in Silicon Valley. Whether the market in Asia is big enough for a company or a competitive set of companies depends entirely on the space. There is a really good article by Jeffery Paine of Founder Institute Singapore about startups and their product markets: http://www.paine.co/startingupinsingapore1/
What do you think of the Asian start up scene in general? And what needs to be done to improve it?
I believe that we have the drive, the willpower and the ability to succeed as Asian startup entrepreneurs. What I think we need are more success stories to pave the way for our ecosystem and that duty falls on us as hungry entrepreneurs. We do not lack infrastructure. What we lack are precedences. For example, if Gushcloud raises money at a $100 million valuation with X, Y and Z metrics, it sets up some precedence for the local community. Like an investor or a startup can now look at that as a comparison point when negotiating about valuation. It’s similar to what Celine Dion and Justin Bieber did for the Canadian music industry. All of a sudden Canada became a legitimate international hit factory.
Till we build the next Pinterest or Instagram, there will always be an invisible ceiling on the risk appetites of Asian VCs as they have no reason to expect more than a $20 million valuation as the odds of success beyond that number is extremely low in Asia compared to the US.
How would you describe your business? And what is the next step? How are you going to win over the US crowd?
Gushcloud is a social media marketing platform that connects people to gushworthy content and brands in a meaningful way. This statement will become self-evident when we launch our new platform towards the end of June :) I'll hold my tongue on this till we launch our new platform and that's something we're really excited about!
Fundamentally, we believe in a few things:
We believe that the reason why people tweet, share and gush about stuff on social media is because everyone has an unspoken desire to be recognized – the need for attention. Gushcloud is that platform to fulfill that desire for recognition. Being recognized feels good.
We believe that because of the need for recognition, brands have a unique opportunity with Gushcloud, to provide recognition for each relevant expression by an individual, thereby creating good feelings towards the brand and connecting them to people in a more meaningful way.
We believe that when individuals are given recognition and brands connect with their consumers, the world will be a happier place.
I think these guiding ideas will continue to shape the Gushcloud platform and help us to be a truly significant and global company.