Taiwan Tech Arena
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Taiwan Tech Arena

Interview with William Bao Bean @ MOX7 Taipei

On August 27, MOX hosted their 7th demo day showing off 10 of the most promising startups in the fields of fintech, digital identity, edtech, healthcare IoT, entertainment, and social commerce. MOX, or Mobile Only Accelerator is operated by Silicon Valley based venture capital firm SOSV and oversees US$650M in assets. SOSV is recognized as one of Silicon Valley’s most successful VCs with a net IRR of over 30%, putting it in the top 10% of VC funds in the world.

MOX entered Taiwan in 2015 and has since partnered with Taiwan Tech Arena (TTA) and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST). We sat down with MOX Managing Director William Bao Bean to learn more about MOX, the partnership with TTA, and the secret to the accelerator’s success.

How strong are the teams presenting today?

We look at MOX in terms of batches, we don’t look at the companies individually until we’ve worked with them for 6-months. The better way to answer this question is looking at historical context. MOX was the first international accelerator to launch in Taiwan and our first batch was in January 2016, our second batch didn’t occur until a year later. Each successive batch is getting better because our brand is improving, the value that we deliver is increasing. The goal at MOX is to help our apps get free user acquisition…now, our MOX apps alone have almost 80 million users for cross-promotion and we’re working with most SEA telcos as well as some major media companies and cell phone brands. Our ability to help our companies get free users in India, Southeast Asia, South Asia is much greater now and we’re able to attract companies with better traction. Just in this batch alone, we have companies doing over a million in revenue before this program…So this batch is probably the best batch we’ve had, not to the detriment of previous batches but because the program has come a long way.

China may have a bigger market, India has lots of people, Taiwan has amazing talent — — William Bao Bean

What are your expectations for this demo day?

I think the most important thing for any entrepreneur is to clearly communicate the problem they’re trying to solve, why they solve it, and why they’re the best team in the world to solve that problem. That’s all we’re looking for…the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs is they spend so much time in the problem working on the product that they just talk about the product instead of why the product exists. Most investors actually walk away from meetings without knowing what the startup really does or why it’s important. Clarity of information is really our focus in demo day.

So how does MOX train and select these teams?

We select companies that we can help. They need to solve a problem or challenge in which we have interest, they need to be the right team to solve that challenge, but we also need to be able to help them because our program is expensive. We’re a VC that charges 6% equity with our program, so how do we earn that? We solve 3 challenges for entrepreneurs, the challenges being user acquisition, mentorship from other serial entrepreneurs, and finally what you’ll see today, the process of fundraising. Most entrepreneurs are really good at solving problems, but they suck at fundraising as it’s a different skill. You’ll notice in today’s pitches that they almost follow a formula and while every company is different, the information investors need to make an investment decision is basically the same.

Can you elaborate on that?

We follow an effective format and are the #1 ranked accelerator in Asia by the research firm GUST in 3 areas. We’ve accelerated more companies than any other accelerator, we’ve invested more money into companies than any other accelerator, and the money we invested has raised more money from other people than any others in Asia. We’re the first accelerator to have a unicorn go through the program, 2015’s BitMEX, the world’s #1 cryptoexchange in the world by trading volume.

SOSV has 6 accelerators around the world, are there any markets you’re looking to expand into?

SOSV is a VC fund and our accelerators are all global, we don’t focus on a particular geography. What MOX does is invest in companies around the world and we help them enter Southeast Asia, South Asia, [and other countries]. Our focus is not in one geography but to help startups be in multiple geographies. The challenge is that unless you’re in North America or China, your home market is too small to build a real business.

Why did MOX select Taiwan as your location?

Taiwan has always had a great and vibrant tech ecosystem, but it didn’t really quite make the transition from hardware to the internet. However, there are quite a lot of well educated, super talented programmers here. There’s a shortage of actual companies but the talent is here, and that’s the reason we’re in Taiwan. Think about it as a natural resource; China may have a bigger market, India has lots of people, Taiwan has amazing talent. Dollar for dollar Taiwan programmers are the most productive in all of Asia as shown in data from a Fortune 500 company. That company actually moved their development operations to Taiwan after the internal study and we thought we would also take advantage of that. We’ve landed 10 of our startups in Taiwan, 6 of them have done hires here, and at this point, I think we have more than 100 employees for our global internet companies in Taiwan, including over 60 programmers. These are not people just doing robot work, not outsourcing type stuff. These are people actually building products being used by millions of people around the world. You may not see the next Paypal in Taiwan but the next Paypal may setup an office in Taiwan and our goal is to bring them here. When they do that, the people who work in those world-leading internet companies will pick up the skills necessary to start their own companies.

We fly mentors in from around the world so that anyone in Taiwan can attend the mixers and learn from the mentors.

How does the partnership between MOX and TTA work? How has the partnership helped sustain your program over the past 4 years?

We were the first international VC to come into Taiwan without government support. We came here because of business reason, not subsidies. Once we got here, what we’re doing actually fit quite well into the strategy of TTA. What we do is we try to bring international companies in, because you don’t become a tech hub without attracting the best of the best around the world, and that’s our job, as well as showing them the benefits of being here. We started working together last year and the support has been great. We have a wonderful office, we have rent space, and we have a bunch of connections into the local startup ecosystem. We run joint happy hours which are mixers for both networking and education. We fly mentors in from around the world to mentor our companies and also open them up to the community so that anyone in Taiwan can attend the mixers and learn from the mentors that come here.

Speaking of learning from mentors, do you have any advice on how we can energize Taiwan’s market and take our teams abroad?

When you haven’t gone swimming before, you look at the water and it’s scary. Once you jump in, it’s actually not that scary once you start swimming. Entrepreneurs might be scared to jump in the water, but once they’re in they swim really well. My advice is to jump in the water. (Interview edited for brevity and clarity.)

You have a lot of earlier stage accelerators supported by TTA who’s focus is on homegrown startups. We are a later stage accelerator focused on scale-up and cross-border market entry. Some of their later stage companies have gone through our program but we’re also pulling startups from around the world into Taiwan.