Inside The Noodle Bowl

by Jon Russell

Asia Reporter for TechCrunch

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Facebook Home won’t stop the Asian mobile messaging rivals

I’ve been thinking about the Facebook Home launch this week, particularly in the context of Asia and a couple of things stick out.

1) The move is Asia-inspired. That’s to say that forking Android is something that has been done in Asia more than anywhere else.

Baidu, China’s top search engine, offers an Android ROM that, when installed, switches out Google’s services for its own. It’s available to download and is pre-loaded on some phones. Equally, KDDI in Japan already has an Android ‘launcher’, as they’re called.

2, and more importantly) Facebook Home won’t kill the messaging services in Asia that are increasingly rivaling Facebook in the continent (despite the fact that Android, which FB Home is exclusively built for, is Asia’s dominant mobile operating system).

The reason for my skepticism is that Facebook Home is little more than an amped up version of Facebook, which aims to

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Singapore’s JFDI Asia puts Southeast Asia accelerators on the map

Just quickly as I’m packing for a trip, but I had to share the newest stats from the new (one-year-old) [JFDI Asia](htt[://jfdi.asia) ‘Bootcamp’ – I’ve written a lot about them – which is now past $3 million in funding for its first batch.

Yet another of its originals – Tribhired – closed a seed round this week, and the impressive update below comes via JFDI Asia CEO Hugh Mason – I’m working on a more comprehensive piece for TNW:

Tl;dr: Seven of the 11 graduates have raised seed-stage funding, four are dead. Total investment stands at SG$3.9 million (US$3.1 million).

JFDI.Asia 2012 Startup Portfolio - status at 24 MAR 2013

Kark Mobile Education - B2C tablet game platform using collectible QR cards to make 4–12 year old children masters of a simulated world.
$15k investment by JFDI.2012 Pte Ltd closed. ACTIVE - $50k from Ideosource closed. Intends to raise further funding after full

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‘Geeks On A Plane’ is coming to Southeast Asia

This is pretty exciting news for Southeast Asia:

Our mission at 500 is to find incredible entrepreneurs wherever they are – whether they’re in Silicon Valley, New York, or Thailand. Big things are happening in Southeast Asia (SEA), and we’re proud to announce that Geeks on a Plane will make its very first trip to SEA this June!

Geeks on a Plane SEA will take place June 1st – June 15th and will be making stops in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Jakarta.

The region has the potential to grow to number hundreds of millions of Internet-crazed, mobile-first consumers, and I definitely think it is one for US investors to at least get to know more about, if not begin focusing on.

I’m looking forward to seeing the GOAP tour come to my city, Bangkok, it’s really quite hard to believe how much more vibrant the tech scene here is today. Yet there’s still plenty more development to come

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Why Series A does not exist in Southeast Asia

Bernard Leong, my friend, noted Asia tech pundit and founder of Singapore-based tech blog SGE (among other things), raises some great discussion points in response to my previous post about Southeast Asia’s biggest four startup problems.

It’s a great read, and my attention is particularly drawn to his thoughts on the infamous Series A gap. As someone who has started companies here and also been an investor, he has a very valuable perspective on things:

The so-called Series A investors is non-existent: Let’s not kid ourselves: “Series A” is non-existent here. The so-called series A in Southeast Asia is really a Series C/D investment firm pretending to be early stage. You see a few features recurring among these so-called Series A firms: a) they are run by financiers, not business operators hence all technology companies are evaluated based on profit and loss (P&L) spreadsheets, b) they

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Coworking across Asia: 7 countries, 7 months…less than US$10,000

One of the benefits to being in Asia is that it is really easy and inexpensive to travel across the region. For those with location-independent jobs and few responsibilities, that’s a great opportunity to see places, experience new culture and meet people while still earning a buck or running a company.

This excellent post on the Pitchpigeon blog estimates that a seven-month long trip across seven different countries comes in at less than US$10,000 for everything – co-working, sleeping, eating, etc.

Pulled together by Singapore-based serial entrepreneur Jon Yongfook, it includes stops in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China and Japan.

Grand Total

7 months. 7 countries. Meeting tons of new people. Having amazing new experiences. All while making progress on your startup. You will need…

…drumroll…

US$9240

This will cover all your basic expenses for a month in

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The four biggest issues for Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem

I’ve been thinking a lot about startups in Asia, and particularly in my neck of the woods Southeast Asia. While I see tremendous progress in terms of the number of young companies and quality of what they do, a number of issues still remain.

Here’s a really quick skim.

1. Risk-aversion: Starting a new company by yourself is risky, no doubt, but people in Asia are more concerned about that than those in other parts of the world. Working for a big company commands greater social status here…not to mention more money, which undoubtedly holds some back.

2. Fear of failure: Related to risk aversion, many entrepreneurs fear failure. In the US, it’s a badge of honour, a learning step, a vital curve which has helped many a later successful founder find their niche. As one VC told me this week: “learn to quit early and quit often”.

3. Lack of big firm presence: Founders invariably gain

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Social commerce in Southeast Asia

Writing about news from young Thai e-commerce startup Shopspot got me thinking about e-commerce, and in particular ‘social commerce’, in Southeast Asia.

It’s pretty basic but fascinating stuff.

For a range of reasons, which vary by country but loosely include a lack of access to payment gateways and unique social cultures, consumer-to-consumer marketplaces like eBay haven’t taken off in the region. But e-tailers – small business owners who sell via Etsy-like Web-based ‘shop fronts’ – have long been successful and the seeds have blown over into social.

In Thailand, for one example, women can buy dresses or other items via Facebook.

The actual process is clunky and crude, but it shows that social networks and mobile are platforms for engagement, and that people here have a real desire to buy online.

Most commerce is personal, that’s to say that merchants run regular Facebook accounts

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US investors showing greater interest in Southeast Asia

This week a few things chimed together to point towards increased interest in Southeast Asia’s startup space from the US. There are no new deals or big news items yet, but promising signs nonetheless.

Largely Singapore-based Smitty (aka ex Yahoo Asia exec Michael Smith) wrote an interesting post, noting that “random, but important people, keep dropping in on Singapore to check out the scene and judge if it makes sense for them to be here in some way.”

He goes on to add that he is seeing “the inflow of people looking into the sing tech scene grow”. That’s echoed by Bernard Leong, who says that he’s having one or two meetings per week with folks outside of the region who are keen to better understand it.

Some overseas VCs have long held an interest but my recent conversation with Darius Cheung – who is launching Billpin, and had his first startup bought by McAfee – suggested the level

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Coffee shop etiquette in Asia

Ian Borders, an American entrepreneur based in Northern Thailand, writes a cracking post reminding the ever-growing numbers of travelling entrepreneurs – also sometimes horribly referred to as ‘digital nomads’ – and others that Asia’s boutique coffee shops aren’t to be abused.

Ian, who runs MergePay – I’m a fan – is in a good position to know. He lives in Pai, which is one of Thailand’s hippest places and attracts a lot of travelers, and, as well as running a number of startups, he’s busy building a cool new hackerspace in the area.

Essentially Ian says that he’s noticing cheapskates are increasingly working from small coffee houses and treating them like Starbucks.

Here’s a key part of his post, follow the link in the title or here to read it in full.

Lately I have been noticing a very disturbing trend. Without regard, you waltz into the coffee shop as if you own the place, claim

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The life-changing potential of the Internet in Southeast Asia

Earlier this month I wrote about why I believe Southeast Asia is the world’s most exciting place for tech, although it came about almost by accident.

When I sat down to write my annual look at startups to watch out for in Asia, I ended up flipping the switch and actually looking at Southeast Asia itself instead. As someone who has lived here since 2008 – Bangkok in Thailand is my adopted city – I’m perhaps biased, but the potential good that tech can do in this region is vast, however sometimes those of us living here forget that things are so different.

PC ownership is low in the region and it’s well documented that smartphones are becoming the primary Internet access point for emerging markets. Sure, they’re smaller than a PC and can’t multitask well, but they provide access to Facebook, YouTube, sites that allow learning, e-commerce, banking, etc etc, which, if you’ve barely (or

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