Disruptive Asian entrepreneur: Cracking the Silicon Valley code

A panel discussion titled ‘Disruptive Asian entrepreneur: Cracking the Silicon Valley code’ was organized on Day 2 of beLAUNCH 2013, the biggest startup and technology conference in South Korea. The panel discussion was designed as a forum for successful Asian American entrepreneurs to share their insights and experience from starting and growing their company in Silicon Valley.

The moderator of the session was Jay Eum, Co-CEO of Translink Capital and the panellists were Saeju Jeong, CEO of Noom, Christine Tsai, Partner of 500Startups, Soujanya Bhumkar, CEO of CoolIris and Chang Kim, CEO of Tapas Media

Three of the panellists – Saeju, Soujanya and Chang, have started companies in Silicon Valley and New York, and Christine is a partner is a leading  global early stage investor 500 startups.

Below are excerpts from the panel discussion.

What is the big deal about Silicon Valley?

Saeju: I had no idea about Silicon Valley even after we received the funding. When I travelled there for the next round, I felt like Silicon Valley was A-Z one stop shop - I could meet investors, media, business partners, simply everybody!

Soujanya: Silicon Valley is more like a state of mind, the risk of trying of what we believe in is much less than cost of not trying it at all and feeling even more stupid after somebody else pursues it.

Christine:  Just like actors want to go to Hollywood, all the entrepreneurs want to go to Silicon Valley, the ecosystem is so developed, you can get access to the right people, and to capital. I don’t say that there are no successful players in the other markets, depends what your goals are.

Chang: the most striking thing was the density of the founders, or the people who are involved in the startup ecosystem.

What are the criteria to come to Silicon Valley?

Soujanya: You need to focus on the talent acquisition if you haven’t launched your product yet. We were 8 full time and 14 interns from University, not for cost reasons, but they brought some awesome ideas and student energy.

Second, capital: investors are very open in Silicon Valley, be shameless, you are going to get your meeting, and if you have your product they will email you instead of you emailing them.

What are some of the best practices according to you?
When you see all the startup pitches what are the parts appealing to you? ( Addressed to Christine )

Christine: We expect that entrepreneur has a product not just a business plan. What stands out is the team and the passion, clear plan for clear product and clear customer. Lot of it goes back to founders; some of the good ones are hackers building a product, for them building a team and raising capital are difficult. Those who can do the latter stand out.

Chang: Growing a thick skin and being shameless while fundraising is important. Being Korean everybody is afraid to lose their face, but this is not important. Your English and appearance are not that important, your product is more important.

Jay: Most of the investors can sense in 10 min if the product is engaging enough,  instead of just a presentation, show the product, stats and show your impact

Saeju: Believe in yourself, in your team and your product and enjoy it every single day and you will create an amazing vibe, it can create a aura about you and everybody will be interested in you.

What do you spend most of your time on? (Question from the audience)

Chang: Sometimes i have time only for product, sometimes only meetings

Saujanyaa: Balancing between today and tomorrow, you need to find out by yourself

Saeju: It is about priorities

- Andrea Bajnokova and Vallabh Rao

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