I’ll I ask myself if I want to invest in the company if I have the money every time I discover new companies via my social media. The discovery can come from Product Hunt’s tweets, Crunchbase, CBInsights, news articles on accelerators’ new batch, seed funding announcement and newsletter that I received, to mention a few. If the answer is yes, I try to write some of my thesis on why I believe the startups are working on something interesting in my Evernote. Over the years, I got excited about doing so as the startups that I picked received follow on funding! While follow on funding does not measure a true success, I do believe it’s one of the paths to success.
I use three broad investment criteria namely i) stage of funding, ii) sector/ industry, and iii) geographic area.
I try to focus on startups that at the early stage as possible, ideally at a pre-seed or seed stage, but I’m also open for startups at Series A. I want to be able to challenge myself in developing the ability to isolate between noises and signals and early-stage funding give me such challenge.
In terms of sector, I would like to stay within my circle of competence and that is the Fintech sector as I have a background in Finance although HR and Edutech are some other sectors that I’m personally interested in. I do believe these sectors have plenty of opportunities to get disrupted and create impacts given that most of us in the industries are still doing it in traditional ways. Besides, in terms of geography, ASEAN and the US are my focus regions. However, I try to play around with another region such as Europe.
Below is the summary of my fantasy VC portfolio and the follow-on funding they received after I selected them (if any).
Besides, I wrote investment memos for all these companies as I discovered them. Hence, you may notice that the format and style of writing changed over time. I would like to keep it as original as I can for me to keep track of my growth in this area. Hence, you may see that I started with bullet points and it evolves towards more elaborate and structured ways of thinking about startups’ potential as I learned more about investing from various angels and VCs. These lessons came from Kauffman Fellows Academy, publicly posted “broad thesis” by VC firms (USV, Khosla, A16Z, etc), 20MinsVC Podcast by Harry Stebbings (as well as other podcasts), Twitter, and other sources. It’s also important to note that I don’t have any contact or visibility on the startups’ metrics as all of the data analyzed are from the public domains only.
The investment thesis for each portfolio companies are as follows:
DahMakan, a food delivery company
- Unlike other food delivery system, they focus on the entire value chain, from food preparation until they serve the end-user.
- It can control quality, lower cost, higher margin, and it’s scalable.
- First Malaysian startup to get into YC.
- Founders, Jessica Li is the Foddpanda’s Head of Marketing, Jonathan is actually founding partner for Foodpanda in HK.
- Thesis: They can become a great last-mile delivery company, not just a food delivery company as the marketplace industry grows exponentially in the next decade. Besides, they can be the solution of cheap and affordable healthy living food company as the rise in the middle class will demand such services.
Kata.ai, a hyperlocal chatbot messaging system (formerly know as Yessboss)
- It is using natural language processing to read and understand Bahasa Indonesia language.
- Founders, Rizqi was a software engineer for Airbus.
- Thesis- As the marketplace grows, so does the customer service needs to help the customers navigate the marketplace. AI is the scalable way to best serve customers in e-commerce as numbers of transactions increase, the number of customer services employees will increase. In order to reduce costs, companies need to rely on AI chatbot instead of employees to handle customers' inquiries and complaints.
Pymetrics, AI recruiting tools that tackle discrimination hiring via games
No original thesis on Pymetrics. I tried the game developed by Pymetrics and immediately fall in love with the user experiences as well as its accuracy about my personality and ability. I figured the world needs efficient (and fun ways) of hiring that goes beyond just looking at brand names and test scores. Not all companies have the ability or capability to attract, hire and retain such talents. Besides, Frida and Julie, the co-founders have the founder-market-fit in developing such tools given their background in Cognitive science at MIT. So, it’s not a surprise that a large company like Unilever managed to hire talents beyond their normal talent pool with Pymetrics!
Ajaib (www.ajaib.co.id) — A robo-advisory for the rising middle-income Indonesian
Investment thesis: From the industry perspective, there will be an increase in demand for wealth management services. Robo-advisory will have the prime advantage to be the distribution channel for the services due to its lower cost of distribution. Besides, the majority of Indonesian are unbanked, hence, the total addressable market (TAM) is huge as currently only 1 million Indonesian have access to the wealth advisory services.
Thus, if successful, Ajaib will create a brand-new market just like Uber did by democratizing the luxurious limousine ride services for middle income to access. Ajaib has far lower investment ticket size and fees compared to the incumbents as well as the flexibility to tap into the existing fintech networks to penetrate the market. Besides, Ajaib’s approach is to educate its consumers on investing which I believe the right way to enter the market given the fact that most Indonesian do not have experience in investing.
Looking into the team, Ajaib has a founder-market fit. Anderson was a BCG consultant working with the Indonesian financial institutions where he realized his clients are setting a high-ticket size to invest. Another Ajaib’s co-founder, Yada is a Full-Bright scholar and ex-McKinsey consultant where she consulted the ASEAN government on financial inclusion. These experiences are vital for Ajaib to understand ways to educate the Indonesian consumer on investing. Last but not least, Kevin, the technical guy behind the team was a Software Engineer at Google where he worked as Google’s Assistant team. My hypothesis is that Ajaib will be able to use Kevin’s expertise in nudging the Indonesian behaviors to increase their savings and invest it through Ajaib.
However, the biggest investment risk that I foresee in investing in Ajaib is the founders’ breakup. The founders never worked with each other before and they only met in college, during their MBAs. Without meeting them, I’m not able to assess how strong the relationship between the founders.
Investment thesis: It seems like P2P in Indonesia is a crowded marketplace to be in. However, with the right focus on certain customer segments, I believe a P2P player will be able to dominate its market segment. Crowde is a P2P platform that focuses on Indonesian farmers only. Due to its laser focus on one sector, the agriculture sector, Crowde able to understand its customers better than other P2P players in the market. In contrast, the other P2P players are trying to fund projects in various sectors which in turn depleted its limited startup resources and leads to the lack of customer understanding.
For instance, instead of giving cash to the farmers, Crowde leverages its large farmer’s network to negotiate with the farming tools suppliers for lower prices on behalf of the farmers. Hence, Crowde does not only makes the farmers happy by providing lower costs tools, but also ensuring its investors a higher ROI. This showed that Crowde is able to understand the needs of its customers which results in a growing community of 24,000 investors to 10,000 farmers in 276 villages in Indonesia, thus signaling a product-market fit.
Besides, there’s a huge total addressable market (TAM) in this space. Indonesia is still an agricultural nation in which unlike the US, the majority of its farmers still consist of single farmers instead of corporations. These unbanked individual farmers have limited access to financial capital and act as a huge market for Crowde to tap into. Besides, as the nation shift towards a higher value-added industry, Indonesia still requires its agriculture sectors to feeds its population and it needs it to be more efficient to cater to its growing population to avoid food crisis. In order to do that, its farmers need access to capital to buy large machinery, a need that Crowde is in a great position to solve.
One of the biggest investment risks here is that other successful P2P players might jump into this market segment once they saw Crowde’s success and without a huge moat, Crowde might be in a capital-intensive fight for market share.
Investment thesis: Urbanhire has the potential to become the Indonesian version of Lever.co. It already showed a product-market fit as they managed to secure 3 000 clients including large companies such as Zurich, Maybank, The Body Shop, Djarum, and AIA Insurance as well as startups such as Ruangguru, Jojonomik, and Bitcoin.id.
Urbanhire is trying to solve actual problems facing companies by streamlining their recruiting process, allowing hiring managers to focus on what matters, which is their candidates. It did this by helping these companies sending job posts to free sites and paid sites at the employer’s option on a single submission, track applicants from all sources on a single dashboard, reviewing them and analyze their recruitment performance. All of these helps the companies to shorten their application process.
Besides, I believe there is a growing total addressable market as the Indonesian startup ecosystem matures and creates more companies which will result in more usage of Urbanhire. Moreover, large companies are feeling the pressure from these startups to process their job applicants faster as they battle for talents, a problem that Urbanhire can solve. Besides, I believe that Urbanhire is currently enjoying the network effect it created as it has more than 500 000 active job applicants through various partnerships with the universities, thus creating a barrier to entry for others to enter the market.
One of the investment risks that I see here is a broken business model. As David Skok of Matrix Partner used to say, “SaaS business will burn a lot of cash before it can reach profitability”. Hence, if Urbanhire has bad unit economics (LTV: CAC ratio, payback period, productivity per rep, etc), they might run out of cash before it can make a profit in sustainable ways. Right now, it’s easy to raise money as VCs are flush with cash, but who knows what will happens in the future.
Lambda School — A coding school with Income Share Agreement, ISA business model
No thesis, it just excites me to see that there is an educational institution that has “skin in the game” on their students’ success. Charlie Munger once mentioned that success is determined by the incentive behind it. The income share agreement designed by Lambda means Lambda better make sure that they have a program that can get their student hired or else they will die. If they do it successfully, the referral and network effect will kick in.
Mercury is building banking for startups.
Unlike in Europe, traditional banks are still dominating the US market. Hence, US consumers and businesses have to deal with bad UI/UX, customer services, and onboarding process as well as hidden fees, among other problems.
Mercury is set to solve all the above problems by focusing its services to startups first. Founders (both US and non-US residents!) can sign up in under 15 mins for a checking account, debit card, savings account earning 1–2%, full suite of payments, and cash flow analytics all wrapped up in a great UI. 3 reasons why Mercury is currently focusing on startup first:
- Startups don’t deal with cash generally and so they really don’t need branches
- Early-stage startups make decisions like SMBs but have large deposit bases. So the sales cycle is short but revenue per user is relatively high
- Startups need a US bank account to easily run their business even though they are not based in the US (i.e- SaaS startups). Startups also want things like APIs and fin-tech integrations, so they can build a more differentiated product for them
However, I foresee this business to easily scale to other businesses, not just tech startups.
Immad (CEO) was a serial entrepreneur with 2 exits and a part-time partner at Y Combinator while Jason (COO) was a VP of Business Development at the same company that Immad exit, HeyZap and Max Tagher (CTO) was a lead engineer at HeyZap.
Huge TAM! Currently, there are more than 3 million businesses are created annually in the United States alone and banks in the US do not evolve to serve these businesses. The market can also be expanded to other startups that are not based in the US (i.e- SaaS companies)
$6 million in seed raised in 2017 from A16Z, Naval Ravikant, Justin Kan, Roger Smith (founder, Silicon Valley Bank), Tomer London (cofounders, Gusto), Max Mullen (cofounder, Instacart), and Zach Perret (cofounder, Plaid).
1) Mercury manages to circumvent regulatory barriers- Banking regulators in the US are a nightmare since there are plenty of them and each regulator has different power (OCC, FDIC, Federal Reserve, State regulators, etc). As a result, starting a bank is costly. Instead of applying for banking licenses, Mercury partners with Evolve & Trust bank to offer its services and contract a revenue-sharing between them. This reminds me of the Uber situation as they go through regulation challenges and win!
2)” When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.” Marc Andreessen called this the Rachleff’s Law of Startup Success and it seems like Mercury has both a great team and a great market.
Prevent human errors when implementing analytics.
Developers repeatedly shipped code that broke their analytics as the implementation process was terribly error-prone and disjointed.
Avo is software that allows product managers and engineers to implement and maintain analytics without messing up the data (i.e.- misspelled event-names leading to incorrect funnels, confusion on the meaning of events for other teams, etc). They do this by providing code generated tracking snippets and a single source of truth-tracking plan. As a result, developers can ship code faster, analytics managers can build cross-platform consistently and growth PMs can test new features faster.
Stefania (CEO) and Arni (CTO) previously worked together at Quiz Up, Iceland-based hit trivia game app. Besides, Sölvi (Chief of Product) worked at Wow Air as a Software Developer before joining Stefania and Arni as co-founder of Viska, another company they co-founded together before Avo.
All companies that ship code. Avo seems to solve real pain points faced by the product manager, developers, and analytics team. A quick check with PMs and other software engineers with other portfolio companies will help to confirm this thesis.
$1.5 million in seed funding (2 rounds) from Y Combinator (first Iceland startup to enter YC), Brunnur Ventures, Investa.
1) Great understanding of the potential customer- Avo founders initially developed it to solve their own problems in their previous companies. I’m a big fan of founders that develop tools for their own used first which means they’re the first customer of the products (think Stripe, Shopify, etc.). This is vital in developing a “customer-obsessed” culture moving forward.
2)Avo has the potential to reach to a product-market fit faster than another startup- A quick check on Product Hunt shows that other engineers agreed that the problem that they’re trying to solve is a real pain point for them.
Investment thesis: Hacktiv8 has the potential to be the Indonesian version of the Lambda School that popularized the Income Share Agreement (ISA) in the States.
Problem and TAM: Indonesia is having a tech boom and the startups’ growth results from the needs of having developers fast. McKinsey report stated that 15 from 20 Indonesia tech company executives reported struggling in hiring local tech talent, while 10 of them having trouble retaining local tech talent. Hence, there is a huge Total Addressable Market, TAM here.
Product: Hacktiv8 solves these pain points by partnering with the tech startups to build the curriculum, offer the course for free through ISA, train them and get the hired to the tech startups. Unlike other coding schools, the ISA concept aligns everyone’s incentives (the school, student, and tech firms) to ensure the student success, done properly will create network effect from both employers and students referral. Given the rapid growth of the startup ecosystem, not just in Indonesia, but across ASEAN, ISA coding school is ripe for rapid growth. Not only that, enterprise and large corporations also are feeling the hiring crunch whereby tech talent prefers to work with fast-moving startups instead of the incumbents, hence the need for tech talent from them that can be solved via ISA coding school such as Hacktiv8.
Traction: This is not just a bet on the market, but also on the company. From a traction perspective, Hacktiv8 manage to secure 250 hiring partners (for both hiring and curriculum updates). Hiring partners include rocketship startups such as Tokopedia, Gojek, Bukalapak, Midtrans, Payfazz, Xendit, and KoinWorks. Recently, they also manage to secure partnerships with Shopee Indonesia. There is also a huge potential to scale up at the enterprise level whereby they already secure scholarship students from CIMB Niaga, Hana Bank, and Siloam.
Founders: Looking at the founders, Riza Fahmi and Ronald Ishak have the right background. Riza was a CTO at Citizenlab, a startup based in Brussel providing SaaS solutions to smart government. So he knows how startup developers should work and the pain points of hiring one, hence I believe he has the founder market fit criteria. Besides, Ronald Ishak has a very interesting background whereby he is a Partner at RMKB Ventures, a VC that invests in another rocketship HR tech startup, UrbanHire in Indonesia. Hence, I believe he can leverage his knowledge from UrbanHire to rapidly scale up Hacktiv8.
Risks: One of the risks that I see is that just like in the US, if the ISA model successful, there will be a lot of new entrants into the market that may dilute Hacktiv8 brands. Hence, it is important for Hacktiv8 to be laser-focus on their students’ success in order for them to fend off competition. In other words, being customer-centric towards their true customers, and that is their students.