Meng savors wine and cheese in the new JFDI premises on the fifth floor of Block 71. Photo: Yvan
Meng Weng Wong, a serial entrepreneur, founded JFDI with Hugh Mason in 2010 with a vision of nurturing the untapped entrepreneurial talent in South-East Asia. You just have to spend 15 minutes with Meng over a glass of wine to realize how imaginative, passionate and dedicated he is about this mission. His dreams are gargantuesque in scale, but, at the same time, concrete and actionable.
After graduating from UPenn, Meng spent his early career in the United States at pobox.com, where he helped to pioneer email by building the foundations that Hotmail and Gmail are still using today. He also co-founded Karmasphere, a big-data company.
Helping to create an innovation ecosystem from scratch, like Meng is doing at JFDI, takes guts and inspiration. It’s an important task: High-tech entrepreneurship, especially in ecosystems that don’t have a legacy of successful startups and communities that inspire, teach, and support, can be difficult. Read more
This is a guest piece by Oliver Segovia. Oliver (@oliversegovia) is the CEO of AVA.ph, an e-commerce platform for premium lifestyle brands in the Philippines, and the co-author of Passion & Purpose from Harvard Business Review Press.
Sharing or retweeting something defamatory could land you in jail in the Philippines. Yes, you heard that right.
Last month, President Benigno Aquino III signed into law the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. The Act criminalizes libel over the internet, and according to a horrendously vague provision, also justifies the punishment of any person who “willfully abets or aids in the commission” of libel. It also gives the government broadly defined takedown powers to block any website. It’s quite the bitter irony – President Aquino’s father Ninoy fought for civil rights during the Marcos dictatorship of the 1970s.
The Cybercrime Act was designed to give the Philippine government more teeth in battling child pornography, identity theft, online fraud, and cyber-squatting. It allows a greater level of protection for the growing business process outsourcing industry, by allowing the Philippines to harmonize local cybercrime laws with the Budapest Convention. The Act, which aims to fight the legitimate cybercrimes listed above, did not contain libel as a punishable crime when it was first proposed in Congress.
As the bill was making its way through the lower house and the Senate (like the United States, the Philippines has a bicameral legislature), its provisions were inevitably high-jacked by malevolent interests. In the bicameral conference committee hearings, Senator Tito Sotto admitted to inserting the libel clause. To those following Philippine politics, Sotto is the controversial actor-turned-senator accused of plagiarizing American blogger Sarah Pope in a speech that sought to stop the passage of the country’s reproductive health bill, legislature deemed necessary to help manage population growth and the subsequent income inequality it brings.
Anyway, back to the Cybercrime Act. The libel provision has become a battleground between the government and Filipino internet users. What exactly constitutes as libel over the internet is never defined. The Act delegates the definition of libel to Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, which also doesn’t define libel, and merely outlines the kinds of media that can be used to commit the offense. (It was actually Article 353 that defined libel, but like any law crafted before computers were invented, what constitutes as online libel is similarly vague.) The Act also allows for an accused to be punished under both the Cybercrime Act and the Penal Code, a clear violation of the principle of double jeopardy.
But that’s actually not the scary part. Two other provisions have turned the world’s attention to the Philippines, which was ironically ranked in a Freedom House report as the 6th freest internet country in the world.
First, the vagueness of certain sections – in this case Section 19 of the Act – can be misused to give government uncontrolled power to block access to the internet.
Here’s exactly what that section says: “When a computer data is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act, the DOJ [the Department of Justice] shall issue an order to restrict or block access to such computer data.”
Without the need for a court order to block a website, an executive branch of government has become judge, jury and executioner. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how far the government can go with these powers – from blocking a dissident’s blog to asking Mark Zuckerberg to take down a Facebook page with ‘libelous’ content. Zuck will probably laugh at that request. But with a critical mass and a powerful lobby of content deemed libelous, what stops the state from blocking and Facebook and Twitter altogether? Officials have reassured the public that the government will not abuse its newfound powers. This was also said with straight face.
Second, the Act also gives the government powers to prosecute individuals who “abet and aid” the commission of online libel. That’s a euphemistic way of saying that anyone who likes, comments on, shares, retweets, and reblogs content deemed to be defamatory is also liable for libel.
The response of Filipinos has been swift and merciless. So far, 10 petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court to declare the Act unconstitutional, and thus unenforceable. Last week, Filipino Facebook users blacked out their profile photos in protest of the law. Anonymous launched a series of attacks that brought down the Central Bank website and other government portals. A Change.org petition was launched. Despite all this, President Aquino is standing by his decision to sign the Act, and has downplayed its impact on the constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech.
It’s still uncertain how the government will respond in the coming weeks, but if the new Act comes fully into force, it will have an impact on two broad areas. First, many fear the chilling effect of the state possessing extraordinary powers to punish acts that have not been clearly defined as punishable. Like many developing markets, the Philippines is home to an increasingly large and powerful base of internet users. The country boasts 34 million people using the internet, and according to the Kleiner Perkins 2012 State of the Internet Report, is one of the fastest growing internet markets in the world. The Philippines also ranks as the #8 Facebook market in the world.
What local politicians do not understand is that by regulating online speech, they are effectively destroying the very mechanisms that allow the truth to surface. This is why Wikipedia is more accurate than any printed encyclopedia. It’s the internet’s ability to facilitate free and open exchange that allows the community to self-police itself, challenge claims, and access the information needed for individuals to decide on the soundness of arguments. The net also supplies me with a steady stash of cat photos that remind me of Mr Sotto. In a country with a sordid history of politicians using the law to quell dissent, the Cybercrime Act certainly brings back memories of when Ferdinand Marcos used a sleeper provision in the old constitution to declare martial law in 1972.
Second, the Act casts a dark shadow over the blossoming startup scene. This is especially true for media and content-driven tech startups, such as Rappler.com, a social news network that has pioneered an innovative emotion-driven data layer on top of editorial content. If the site’s readers vote that the President’s decision to sign the Act and his accompanying outdated hairstyle make them feel ‘disgusted’ and ‘ashamed’, will everyone – including Rappler’s amazing founder Maria Ressa – also get sued?
Manila has also hosted three Startup Weekends since 2011 and boasts a new generation of seed funds and incubators hoping to jumpstart a local startup eco-system. The Filipino diaspora in Silicon Valley has also started establishing closer links to Filipino tech entrepreneurs, recognizing the growing domestic market and accessible local talent to help fill the engineering void in the US. The country has also recently attracted big name investments from Naspers and Rocket Internet. There’s a lot of good news coming out of the Philippine startup scene, so this Act brings another huge chunk of uncertainty in the rules of the game.
Remember SOPA? Well, Forbes.com contributor Paul Tassi called SOPA reasonable compared to the Philippine Cybercrime Act. Help make a difference in the Philippines by signing this Change.org petition.
Are apps already installed on people’s smartphones hampering them from discovering your cool new app? Animoca, as a global developer and publisher of mobile games, is particularly interested about the problem of app discovery.
According to Nielsen’s Mobile Media Report:
“63% of users discover apps by browsing or searching within app stores.”
Once an app reaches the upper range of the “Top” charts, it becomes visible to a much higher number of users and its download rate accelerates significantly, which means a presence high up in the charts is a bit like the Holy Grail of app publishing.
The real estate on a smartphone screen is limited but highly valuable to app discovery – and yet, this screen real estate is far from fully utilized. An iPhone (4S and below) displays 5 items per screen when browsing the App Store charts (4 if you’re using the new iOS6 update). The Google Play interface for Android phones typically displays 12 items per screen.
(iPads and some Android tablets may display a greater number of apps on the screen, but we are looking specifically at smartphones, where screen real estate is more restricted.)
Making things worse is the fact that apps you already own still show up in an app store. This redundancy is an obstacle to app discovery, since you’re obviously not going to download an app you already have. This clutter can be particularly problematic in the “free apps” lists. Here is a screenshot of the Google Play store on a brand new Sony Xperia U:
Notice that 7 out of the first 12 Top Free apps shown are already installed on the new phone, which means that superfluous entries occupy 58% of the highest-prized screen real estate on this Google Play chart. The situation improves on screens 2 and 3 (entries 13-36), as Google Play displays only a few apps that are already installed on the device. Keep in mind this is the situation on a brand new phone. Devices that are used regularly to download apps will contain more redundant entries.
Here’s our suggestion: For users browsing app stores, have an option for them to hide the apps already installed on the device. This could be achieved with a simple toggle for the Google Play store or the iTunes App Store.
Since we wouldn’t want to count as redundant an app which is already installed but for which there is an update, we’ll have to allow exceptions. The toggle might be designed to display apps that are already installed but that have updates available.
The toggle could have three options:
- show all apps
- hide apps already installed on device
- hide apps already installed on device except those apps for which updates are available
This system should lead to improved app discovery. It allows more apps to bubble up into the high ranges of the top charts. What we really like about this tweak is that everyone in the app economy wins. App visibility and user experience improve, leading to better discovery for a greater number of apps, increased downloads, and more revenue for publishers, developers and operators.
Here at Animoca, we believe that such a solution would be suitable for iOS and would fit especially well into the flexible and customizable Android environment.
Portions of this piece are adapted from blog posts that appeared on Animoca’s blog here and here.
About the author
Ibrahim El-Mouelhy is the director of Marketing & Corporate Communications at Outblaze Ventures (Animoca). In 1998, Ibrahim joined a few other twenty-somethings to set up Outblaze. Today, he is responsible for the development and management of the Outblaze brands worldwide and for communication with the public, media, and various government and policy-advisory bodies. An avid gamer, he also serves on various gaming and multimedia projects for Outblaze and various Outblaze companies, including Animoca and TurnOut Ventures.
Jeremy Snyder is the CEO of The Sharing Engine with a past work experience that includes 3 other startups. All three startups were eventually acquired but here he shares what he learnt from their several failed, missed opportunities. Jeremy can be found on Twitter: @sharingengine.
It’s become pretty cliche to discuss the acceptance of failure as a pre-requisite for a healthy startup ecosystem. Articles and pundits point out that failure is almost celebrated in Silicon Valley. Some famous angels and VCs won’t invest in an entrepreneur who doesn’t have a failed startup on their resume.
But it’s not the cultural aspects or checking a box that’s really crucial – it’s what you learn from the failure experience. You learn more from startup failures than from a successful startup.
Don’t get me wrong; making it is way more fun than not making it. Trust me – I’ve done both. And I use the phrase “startup failures” explicitly – not all startup failures lead to failed startups.
“I talk about the lessons learned from a startup’s failure to maximize its value, seize market opportunity, or deliver right.”
The enterprise-to-SaaS turnaround
The first startup I joined was the leading localization and translation memory software provider. I was roughly employee number 30 or 40 worldwide. The company was Microsoft’s first venture investment outside the US, and a key Microsoft partner and vendor, and this was in a time when Microsoft really dominated computing. I was there as the company doubled revenue, grew to 250 employees, and took in more than USD 15M in funding. Read more
Piyush Chaplot is currently the Vice President of Finance & Investments at Innosight Ventures and a Director at Chope. This article is an edited version of the original on his blog. You can follow him on Twitter: @PiyushChaplot.
Can you find a place on this planet where it is easier to start a venture than Singapore? Thanks to various schemes by government bodies like National Research Foundation, SPRING Singapore and other agencies, you have at least 25 different sources of seed capital (read An overview of angel investing in Singapore). You can even get enough grants to keep your company alive for the first few years. In my personal view, if you can’t raise seed money here, you do need to seriously think about your chances elsewhere.
Piyush Chaplot at an SGE talk on business models
But the real drama starts AFTER you have raised the seed money. Most people believe that half a million dollars is enough to take the company to the next level. Hard to disagree if you are a couple of graduates working on a cloud-based application or a mobile app. But not all startups fit that bill. If we want to build serious technology-based startup companies in Singapore, then we are looking at much higher monthly burn rates and/or much longer incubation periods. Read more
Recently, I did a talk at JFDI, a Y-combinator-quality incubator for South East Asia, where I shared how it is like to be an entrepreneur.
A lot of people tend to think: Being entrepreneur is about having a $1B+ home run in the first try. But it’s almost never the case. The best way to describe the life would be through an analogy of playing poker.
Why poker? Well, it is one of those few card games, where you are not playing against a bank/dealer, but rather amongst the players themselves. Winning a hand is not just a matter of having the best card, but also how you play the hand (since having the best card may not necessarily lead to a win). Read more
Grow fast, die young?
Does that have to be the mode for every fashion label, asks Carl Thompson, Co-founder of TradeGecko. Meet the former fashion label owner-turned digital entrepreneur who’s set himself a 100 day target to save small fashion labels worldwide.
Five years ago I launched Crowded Elevator, a fashion label in New Zealand. We started with a few boutique t-shirts and within a year we were wholesaling to over 50 retailers across New Zealand and Australia. It looked like the world was waiting for us. Then we died.
Wholesaling is no easy business. It takes a lot of time managing each section of the sales cycle. The administration required to manage inventory, orders, accounts, stockists, manufacturing and errors is completely overwhelming. If you don’t have the systems in place to handle such a workload the administration will kill all passion and ultimately the business, as it did for me. Read more
As someone with a creative background but interacting on a daily basis with local entrepreneurs and startups, I’ve found an interesting dialogue that often repeats itself: creatives looking to connect with entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs who have a lack of creative talent within their businesses.
Why should these communities connect more?
Here’s 5 reasons:
1. At the bottom of it, both creative professionals and entrepreneurs value idea-creation and execution. Having this common denominator guarantees a meeting of minds.
2. Entrepreneurs often have the ideas but not necessarily the ability to execute them. Creatives do what they do because they have great execution skills. What better match could be made?
3. It’s not just about creating business opportunities. It’s also about collaboration, cross-pollination, prototyping and making better products together. What’s stopping the Singaporean startup scene from growing, is the creative thinking and processes that are tacit in the day-to-day practice of creatives,
4. At the end of the day, creatives and entrepreneurs are in the same business ecosystem. It is in the enlightened self-interest of both sides to ensure that the other succeeds. With great creative contributions to businesses, businesses can take their products and services to a higher level. And when businesses do that, they’ll call on the creatives to help realize more product offerings, and the cycle continues.
5. Because we can have more fun together. Who knows what will happen when creatives, hackers and entrepreneurs get together in a meaningful and engaged way?
At Relay Room, we’ve come up with a concept help increase interaction between the creative and entrepreneur scenes:Creative Mixer.
Creative Mixer brings together creatives, hackers, entrepreneurs into a single space to redefine creativity. The first event, held on 15 Dec 2011 at Smartspace, saw a whopping 88 people attending. At each event, we invite eight speakers to enlighten us with bite-sized presentations on creativity across their diverse fields.
Because we believe in collaboration between entrepreneurs, developers and creatives in design, photography, film, architecture, animation/illustration and writing, we would love to have you join us, to create a new, synergistic community of “creative entrepreneurs”.
Creative Mixer 2.0 is happening on 28th March 2012 at Sinema Old School. Registration can be made at www.flickevents.com/creativemixer. More details at www.creativemixer.co.
About the author
Sarah Cheng-De Winne is a media & performing arts professional. She is also the Business Development Manager of creative agency Relay Room.
Professor Dr. Wong Poh Kam here provides an overview of role of Venture Capital and Angel Investors in tech-startups scene in Singapore. It has been republished here with permission. A more detailed version of this will be published in the Annual SVCA Directory 2011/12
High-technology entrepreneurship has been identified as an important driver of Singapore’s knowledge-based economy, and increased policy attention has been given to encouraging the formation and nurturing of high-tech start-ups, especially those with significant intellectual property (IP). To this end, in 2010 the National Research Foundation (NRF) engaged me, as director of the NUS Entrepreneurship Centre, to conduct a study of high-tech start-ups in Singapore. While the survey covers many aspects of the high tech start-up dynamics, including characteristics of the founders, their sources of technology and funding, growth strategies, performance and challenges, this blog highlights some salient findings on only one aspect of the survey: the performance of start-ups that have received funding from venture capitalists or angel investors versus those that did not. Read more
“Design can never be complete because design solves people’s problems, and people are constantly changing,” said Kevin Fox, a product designer of Mozilla Labs, in concluding the Rainmakers LIVE! 2011 mini-conference in Silicon Valley. Read more