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Overall, how would you evaluate the prospects for taiwanese startups?
We are optimistic, but we are realistic in that it’s still relatively early. there is a strong developer community here, but it’s not as big as it could be. you have a highly educated workforce, so if it becomes more culturally acceptable to launch a startup, you have one of the most important ingredients right there. it feels like there is more of a talent supply than demand. taiwan also has a lot of hardware know-how. we are happy that we got here early. one of the co-founders of cubie left and she is working for us now here in taiwan. she just came on board last month. we are appreciative of what the government is doing. there are many parts of the ecosystem that need to come together for it to really catch fire though.
Why did you choose to invest in them?
Generally, we look for companies that have already launched and have some traction, usually revenue-generating customers. but not all businesses are immediately revenue generating and we understand that. but there should be pretty strong growth. there should be strong user engagement. we look for companies that have a global distribution strategy or at least regional. while the taiwanese startups we have invested in are at different stages, the one thing they all have in common is that they were international in their distribution from day one. for example, cubie messenger, which launched in march 2012 and joined 500 startups in october of that year, focused on the southeast asia market early, before other mobile messaging apps. and it grew very fast. roam and wander was primarily distributing in asia and wanted to build up its us presence. we advised them to come to our accelerator because we are a good gateway to the us. the founder, jason warren, is experienced – he previously worked in silicon valley – and the company is innovative. it produces a talking stuffed rabbit named tutu. you activate the talking function by downloading an app from Apple’s app store on your iphone and then inserting the device into the head of the rabbit. tutu won the award for best new toy at the hong kong game and toy fair in january. roam and wander also now has retail partnerships with amazon, toys “r” us, fnac [french retailer] and studio a, Apple’s reseller in taiwan.
Did local taiwanese found all of these companies?
Pic collage has taiwanese americans on the team and a long-time american resident of taiwan founded roam and wander. the other teams are local taiwanese.
Which taiwanese startups have 500 startups invested in so far?
We have invested in cubie messenger, a mobile messaging app used to create drawings and share photos and videos; roam and wander, a children’s entertainment brand; bounty hunter, a design contest platform; pop, an app prototype creator; and piccol...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What do you recommend the taiwanese government do to foster a stronger startup culture in taiwan?
They are already taking some positive measures. this year, the national development council [the cabinet’s economic planning ministry] announced a $400 million development fund to be invested in startups. it’s going to be used at the seed capital ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
How important is government support to chinese startups?
China has government support for entrepreneurship coming from the highest levels. president xi jinping says innovation is part of “the core of the chinese dream.” in may, nine chinese government departments said they would help 800,000 university ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
China’s economy has been growing much faster than taiwan’s. how is that impacting startups?
Taiwan’s economy has been fairly stable, stagnant even. you see a lot of tech businesses in taiwan that in order to grow should go into another line of business. they have been around five, ten or fifteen years. but they have no appetite for risk....This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What do you think are the most important differences between the startup environments in china and taiwan?
The ecosystems are completely different. china is a huge market and is the most active region outside of silicon valley. it has thousands of startups, 1,200 professional angel investors and hundreds of funds. the number of angel investors is still...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
During this trip to asia – korea, china, taiwan, singapore – did you find any new companies you’d like to invest in?
There’s a company in korea that we like and are looking at. it’s in the wedding services. we like weddings and babies. they’re things that people pay for.
500 startups is doing well but most of your earnings aren’t realized yet. how long will it take, and do you have any companies approaching exit?
We’ve been around two years, so we’re rookies. most of the businesses we invest in will probably mature and exit within a three to seven-year horizon from when we invest. the feedback loop on venture capital is very slow. but it may not be appare...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
You’ve visited start-ups around the world. where in the world are you most excited about investment opportunities?
Silicon valley is about half of our deal flow, the rest of the u.s. is around 25 percent, and the rest of the world is about 25 percent. in the future that might grow to about 50 percent international. I think we’re very unusual compared to other ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Taiwan is a small market, and in fact, some say it’s too small for start-ups to make it big. what do you think?
It’s challenging because it’s not a huge market. but it seems to have engineering and design talents. the one incubator I visited today, appworks, I was quite impressed, actually. it seems they have a really interesting set of companies and they’v...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What are your impressions of the start-up scene in asia, and what are the challenges these companies face in being competitive against those in silicon valley?
It’s a much different situation for beijing or singapore or taipei. but the challenges overall are creating infrastructure for startup companies, mainly around angel investment and education. usually, there’s a lack of capital availability at the ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Why did you invest in taiwanese collage-making app piccollage and messaging app cubie, and do you have any plans to increase your investments?
Most of our investments are referrals through our existing founders and mentors. we just did our first investment in cubie, $50,000, and I think we’re still completing the paperwork for that. they came over to our accelerator program that’s kicked...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What's your top pitch tip for dsw audience?
If you got traction, show me the traction. if you don't got traction, then tell me a damn good story about your customer and their problem, and how you can solve it.
Why all the hype around startups now? is it a fad or it is a part of a larger shift?
There [are] a lot of trendy and faddish behaviors, by both geeks and mainstream audience, but there's no question technology and tech-related products and services are all around us, and part of almost every human being's daily existence. it's har...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What would it take for you to fund a colorado-based business?
We have actually invested in several businesses out of colorado, and are a frequent investor in techstars boulder companies (including sendgrid). [it] doesn't take much beyond the items identified above.
What is the number-one thing you look for in a startup? how does a company cross the threshold between intriguing concept and a business worth investing in?
We focus on product experience and on customer usage metrics and revenue, and growth metrics that indicate positive trends. positive/profitable unit economics are also a great signal. and of course a talented team that can execute matters a lot. b...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What difference does denver startup week make in the grand scheme of things?
In the short term, these events provide visibility and marketing for the colorado tech community. in the long term, they can provide a platform for connections to investors and experienced entrepreneurs and mentors.
What would you say denver has that's working to support startups and what does it still need to succeed in building a lasting startup-friendly infrastructure? in other words, why build a business here and now versus going elsewhere?
Colorado's advantages are likely in categories that emphasize sports and environment, healthy lifestyle, alternative energy, and other forward-looking clean and green areas. it also has a strong base of college talent with the local universities a...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
How is denver's business landscape perceived from your vantage point? are our businesses and communities cut out to compete in the harsh national and international playing fields?
Certainly the denver metro and boulder startups scene are notable business communities that can generate and attract talent. in particular, boulder has done a great job building a strong startup community. that said, colorado has a challenging j...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
How do you think people are going to react to you?
Oh my gosh, that’s going to be a complete show i’m pretty sure. I think i’m an acquired taste, i’m sure there will be haters out there, i’m sure there will be people who enjoy what they see. we’re not going to roll any punches, what you see is wha...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Just as anthony bourdain travels around, do you guys have any plans to travel around to other tech hubs to do the show? we’d love to have you do one in seattle.
I think we’re coming up there for a visit and who knows? maybe we’ll find some companies there for the next season.
Why did you guys decide to take part in a tv show? how did this come together?
Actually this has been in the works for quite a while. we met the guys who run zpz productions, that’s the production house that works with syfy, they do the anthony bourdain show. we felt like they were really experienced with putting on a tv sho...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What about from the hardware side?
The services you see being piloted from in u.s. and other major cities will end up serving people around the world.
You learned your lessons. we don’t really think that enthusiasm about building technology products and services is oversold. we might even say that there’s a long boom ahead of us for the next 20 years or more where the rest of the planet is going to be getting access to the internet and all those devices too.
What we think is different is there’s big companies making a lot of money. there’s a lot of people online and pretty much everybody has some kind of internet capable device, and some people have more than one. we don’t really think that enthusiasm...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What is it like right now in silicon valley? that’s a question for both of you in terms of just the investment climate. obviously there’s a lot of talk about a tech bubble going on, you guys are in the trenches there. what are you seeing?
There’s a lot of concerns that there might be too much investment going on, there’s some comparisons to mostly previous financial crises in 2008 and 2001. you know of course i’m gonna have my take and this time it’s different.
Dave, one of the characteristics that you have is that you really prepare your startups for demo day. one of the things that you have them do is power moves. tell us about the power moves.
I don’t think i’m the first person to notice this. there’s actually a ted talk that has gotten a lot of attention where people raise their arms up and expand their body position and kind of do a couple of moves that boost their testosterone levels...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
I know there are hot startups down there. that would be great, that should be a goal of yours …
It’s not quite as hot an environment as silicon valley. the reason we invest globally is because we think that’s where a lot of the growth is happening around the world. we’ve made over 300 investments in places like asia, china and india, southea...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
You’re also legendary for going everywhere to find these investments. talk a little bit about why you have a global approach instead of just sticking around in silicon valley.
That’s true, we actually have a team that’s global, and our investments are too. about one third of our staff is spread across 17 or 18 countries. we’re in every continent except antarctica.
Dave, your approach is different than a lot of venture capitalists. some would call it maybe the shotgun approach. you have more than 1,000 companies in your portfolio. how is that working for you versus a more targeted approach, for more traditional vcs?
I won’t say that shotgun is the word i’d prefer to use, but we certainly do a lot of investments. that approach is working really well for us. we actually think that we’re building a little bit more mathematical way to go about venture capital inv...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
You’ve gotten lots of traction in the hardware space, and then dave comes at it from the software world. dave, for people that aren’t familiar with 500 startups, you guys are legendary for your demo days, and you in fact are pretty legendary in the startup world. tell us about 500 startups for people who aren’t familiar.
A legend in my own mind, for sure. we got started about five years ago, I guess i’ve been in the valley about 25 years. so i’m kind of an old dog. the fund got started five years ago and our accelerator got started four years ago. we’ve had probab...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
You mentioned ivee. they are essentially, in shorthand, an amazon echo competitor. they are making a talking and listening home assistant. I want to know, did they ever figure out how to get the thing to actually listen to the people who are talking to it? that was the big challenge in the show.
You guys are going to have to tune in to find out. it might have just crashed and burned.
Tell me more about the story arc, it is quite different. you’re following one startup in each of the first episodes, is that the idea? are you going to somehow circle back and tell what happens to each of these? give us a preview of what’s to come.
Each episode focuses on just one of the teams. we have six teams, three hardware, three software. it shows them coming into the programs, it will show them at demo day, and usually beyond. we’ll do follow ups on youtube and online to see where the...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
There’s so many reality tv shows out there, and especially those relate to the entrepreneurial experience. Shark Tank comes to mind first and foremost. how do you think bazillion dollar club is different or unique from those?
I think Shark Tank is targeting companies that are really trying to raise their very first dollar. a lot of them aren’t really tech focused. we’re definitely going after companies that are building real technology, either software or hardware, the...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
I’m going to put you guys on the spot. give us your 30-second pitch for bazillion dollar club. dave, do you want to take a stab at this?
My elevator pitch for the show, right? all right. bazillion dollar club follows six struggling startups trying to get their products together. we kick their ass into shape, we put them in front of a room full of 500 investors and they try and rais...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Overall, how would you evaluate the prospects for taiwanese startups?
We are optimistic, but we are realistic in that it’s still relatively early. there is a strong developer community here, but it’s not as big as it could be. you have a highly educated workforce, so if it becomes more culturally acceptable to launch a startup, you have one of the most important ingredients right there. it feels like there is more of a talent supply than demand. taiwan also has a lot of hardware know-how. we are happy that we got here early. one of the co-founders of cubie left and she is working for us now here in taiwan. she just came on board last month. we are appreciative of what the government is doing. there are many parts of the ecosystem that need to come together for it to really catch fire though.
Why did you choose to invest in them?
Generally, we look for companies that have already launched and have some traction, usually revenue-generating customers. but not all businesses are immediately revenue generating and we understand that. but there should be pretty strong growth. there should be strong user engagement. we look for companies that have a global distribution strategy or at least regional. while the taiwanese startups we have invested in are at different stages, the one thing they all have in common is that they were international in their distribution from day one. for example, cubie messenger, which launched in march 2012 and joined 500 startups in october of that year, focused on the southeast asia market early, before other mobile messaging apps. and it grew very fast. roam and wander was primarily distributing in asia and wanted to build up its us presence. we advised them to come to our accelerator because we are a good gateway to the us. the founder, jason warren, is experienced – he previously worked in silicon valley – and the company is innovative. it produces a talking stuffed rabbit named tutu. you activate the talking function by downloading an app from Apple’s app store on your iphone and then inserting the device into the head of the rabbit. tutu won the award for best new toy at the hong kong game and toy fair in january. roam and wander also now has retail partnerships with amazon, toys “r” us, fnac [french retailer] and studio a, Apple’s reseller in taiwan.
Did local taiwanese found all of these companies?
Pic collage has taiwanese americans on the team and a long-time american resident of taiwan founded roam and wander. the other teams are local taiwanese.
Which taiwanese startups have 500 startups invested in so far?
We have invested in cubie messenger, a mobile messaging app used to create drawings and share photos and videos; roam and wander, a children’s entertainment brand; bounty hunter, a design contest platform; pop, an app prototype creator; and piccol...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What do you recommend the taiwanese government do to foster a stronger startup culture in taiwan?
They are already taking some positive measures. this year, the national development council [the cabinet’s economic planning ministry] announced a $400 million development fund to be invested in startups. it’s going to be used at the seed capital ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
How important is government support to chinese startups?
China has government support for entrepreneurship coming from the highest levels. president xi jinping says innovation is part of “the core of the chinese dream.” in may, nine chinese government departments said they would help 800,000 university ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
China’s economy has been growing much faster than taiwan’s. how is that impacting startups?
Taiwan’s economy has been fairly stable, stagnant even. you see a lot of tech businesses in taiwan that in order to grow should go into another line of business. they have been around five, ten or fifteen years. but they have no appetite for risk....This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What do you think are the most important differences between the startup environments in china and taiwan?
The ecosystems are completely different. china is a huge market and is the most active region outside of silicon valley. it has thousands of startups, 1,200 professional angel investors and hundreds of funds. the number of angel investors is still...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
During this trip to asia – korea, china, taiwan, singapore – did you find any new companies you’d like to invest in?
There’s a company in korea that we like and are looking at. it’s in the wedding services. we like weddings and babies. they’re things that people pay for.
500 startups is doing well but most of your earnings aren’t realized yet. how long will it take, and do you have any companies approaching exit?
We’ve been around two years, so we’re rookies. most of the businesses we invest in will probably mature and exit within a three to seven-year horizon from when we invest. the feedback loop on venture capital is very slow. but it may not be appare...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
You’ve visited start-ups around the world. where in the world are you most excited about investment opportunities?
Silicon valley is about half of our deal flow, the rest of the u.s. is around 25 percent, and the rest of the world is about 25 percent. in the future that might grow to about 50 percent international. I think we’re very unusual compared to other ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Taiwan is a small market, and in fact, some say it’s too small for start-ups to make it big. what do you think?
It’s challenging because it’s not a huge market. but it seems to have engineering and design talents. the one incubator I visited today, appworks, I was quite impressed, actually. it seems they have a really interesting set of companies and they’v...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What are your impressions of the start-up scene in asia, and what are the challenges these companies face in being competitive against those in silicon valley?
It’s a much different situation for beijing or singapore or taipei. but the challenges overall are creating infrastructure for startup companies, mainly around angel investment and education. usually, there’s a lack of capital availability at the ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Why did you invest in taiwanese collage-making app piccollage and messaging app cubie, and do you have any plans to increase your investments?
Most of our investments are referrals through our existing founders and mentors. we just did our first investment in cubie, $50,000, and I think we’re still completing the paperwork for that. they came over to our accelerator program that’s kicked...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What's your top pitch tip for dsw audience?
If you got traction, show me the traction. if you don't got traction, then tell me a damn good story about your customer and their problem, and how you can solve it.
Why all the hype around startups now? is it a fad or it is a part of a larger shift?
There [are] a lot of trendy and faddish behaviors, by both geeks and mainstream audience, but there's no question technology and tech-related products and services are all around us, and part of almost every human being's daily existence. it's har...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What would it take for you to fund a colorado-based business?
We have actually invested in several businesses out of colorado, and are a frequent investor in techstars boulder companies (including sendgrid). [it] doesn't take much beyond the items identified above.
What is the number-one thing you look for in a startup? how does a company cross the threshold between intriguing concept and a business worth investing in?
We focus on product experience and on customer usage metrics and revenue, and growth metrics that indicate positive trends. positive/profitable unit economics are also a great signal. and of course a talented team that can execute matters a lot. b...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What difference does denver startup week make in the grand scheme of things?
In the short term, these events provide visibility and marketing for the colorado tech community. in the long term, they can provide a platform for connections to investors and experienced entrepreneurs and mentors.
What would you say denver has that's working to support startups and what does it still need to succeed in building a lasting startup-friendly infrastructure? in other words, why build a business here and now versus going elsewhere?
Colorado's advantages are likely in categories that emphasize sports and environment, healthy lifestyle, alternative energy, and other forward-looking clean and green areas. it also has a strong base of college talent with the local universities a...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
How is denver's business landscape perceived from your vantage point? are our businesses and communities cut out to compete in the harsh national and international playing fields?
Certainly the denver metro and boulder startups scene are notable business communities that can generate and attract talent. in particular, boulder has done a great job building a strong startup community. that said, colorado has a challenging j...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
How do you think people are going to react to you?
Oh my gosh, that’s going to be a complete show i’m pretty sure. I think i’m an acquired taste, i’m sure there will be haters out there, i’m sure there will be people who enjoy what they see. we’re not going to roll any punches, what you see is wha...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
Just as anthony bourdain travels around, do you guys have any plans to travel around to other tech hubs to do the show? we’d love to have you do one in seattle.
I think we’re coming up there for a visit and who knows? maybe we’ll find some companies there for the next season.
Why did you guys decide to take part in a tv show? how did this come together?
Actually this has been in the works for quite a while. we met the guys who run zpz productions, that’s the production house that works with syfy, they do the anthony bourdain show. we felt like they were really experienced with putting on a tv sho...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What about from the hardware side?
The services you see being piloted from in u.s. and other major cities will end up serving people around the world.
You learned your lessons. we don’t really think that enthusiasm about building technology products and services is oversold. we might even say that there’s a long boom ahead of us for the next 20 years or more where the rest of the planet is going to be getting access to the internet and all those devices too.
What we think is different is there’s big companies making a lot of money. there’s a lot of people online and pretty much everybody has some kind of internet capable device, and some people have more than one. we don’t really think that enthusiasm...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What is it like right now in silicon valley? that’s a question for both of you in terms of just the investment climate. obviously there’s a lot of talk about a tech bubble going on, you guys are in the trenches there. what are you seeing?
There’s a lot of concerns that there might be too much investment going on, there’s some comparisons to mostly previous financial crises in 2008 and 2001. you know of course i’m gonna have my take and this time it’s different.
Dave, one of the characteristics that you have is that you really prepare your startups for demo day. one of the things that you have them do is power moves. tell us about the power moves.
I don’t think i’m the first person to notice this. there’s actually a ted talk that has gotten a lot of attention where people raise their arms up and expand their body position and kind of do a couple of moves that boost their testosterone levels...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
I know there are hot startups down there. that would be great, that should be a goal of yours …
It’s not quite as hot an environment as silicon valley. the reason we invest globally is because we think that’s where a lot of the growth is happening around the world. we’ve made over 300 investments in places like asia, china and india, southea...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
You’re also legendary for going everywhere to find these investments. talk a little bit about why you have a global approach instead of just sticking around in silicon valley.
That’s true, we actually have a team that’s global, and our investments are too. about one third of our staff is spread across 17 or 18 countries. we’re in every continent except antarctica.
Dave, your approach is different than a lot of venture capitalists. some would call it maybe the shotgun approach. you have more than 1,000 companies in your portfolio. how is that working for you versus a more targeted approach, for more traditional vcs?
I won’t say that shotgun is the word i’d prefer to use, but we certainly do a lot of investments. that approach is working really well for us. we actually think that we’re building a little bit more mathematical way to go about venture capital inv...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
You’ve gotten lots of traction in the hardware space, and then dave comes at it from the software world. dave, for people that aren’t familiar with 500 startups, you guys are legendary for your demo days, and you in fact are pretty legendary in the startup world. tell us about 500 startups for people who aren’t familiar.
A legend in my own mind, for sure. we got started about five years ago, I guess i’ve been in the valley about 25 years. so i’m kind of an old dog. the fund got started five years ago and our accelerator got started four years ago. we’ve had probab...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
You mentioned ivee. they are essentially, in shorthand, an amazon echo competitor. they are making a talking and listening home assistant. I want to know, did they ever figure out how to get the thing to actually listen to the people who are talking to it? that was the big challenge in the show.
You guys are going to have to tune in to find out. it might have just crashed and burned.
Tell me more about the story arc, it is quite different. you’re following one startup in each of the first episodes, is that the idea? are you going to somehow circle back and tell what happens to each of these? give us a preview of what’s to come.
Each episode focuses on just one of the teams. we have six teams, three hardware, three software. it shows them coming into the programs, it will show them at demo day, and usually beyond. we’ll do follow ups on youtube and online to see where the...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
There’s so many reality tv shows out there, and especially those relate to the entrepreneurial experience. Shark Tank comes to mind first and foremost. how do you think bazillion dollar club is different or unique from those?
I think Shark Tank is targeting companies that are really trying to raise their very first dollar. a lot of them aren’t really tech focused. we’re definitely going after companies that are building real technology, either software or hardware, the...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
I’m going to put you guys on the spot. give us your 30-second pitch for bazillion dollar club. dave, do you want to take a stab at this?
My elevator pitch for the show, right? all right. bazillion dollar club follows six struggling startups trying to get their products together. we kick their ass into shape, we put them in front of a room full of 500 investors and they try and rais...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free