Echelon 2014

This is my second time to echelon, a Asian tech startup event. But this time round, I brought my wife and Livia along. It was also Livia’s first time on the plane. I must say the trip with Livia to Singapore wasn’t as bad as I would imagine. She did cry once and pooped twice but it was something we could manage.

We stayed in Goodwood Park Hotel – a 5 star hotel. We got it at a discounted rate. In the old days, I would stay in some dingy, inconvenient or far away hotel to save cost. But with Livia around, we made sure we stay at a good hotel. Goodwood Park was excellent. Room was big and service was good. It was about RM600 night. We opted out from breakfast which cost SGD30. I had breakfast at Far East Plaza, which is just next door, for SGD4.

The event was held at Max Atria, Expo Drive. It quite far away for Singaporean standard. It’s an hour by train if I come from Orchard. Taxi ride was about 20 minutes.

This year’s echelon is much more interesting. They spoke about mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the startup world and advertising in tech businesses. The key thing I picked up from the M&A talk is that one should get to know people early. Many big boys get to know the startups early and see them grow. When the startup is seen to have potential, the big boys can quickly and easily engage the startup for acquisition purposes.

The speaker for the advertising in tech business aptly set out tech business models:- ecommerce, search (eg Google), social media (Facebook,  Twitter), eservices (eg Spotify), content publisher (eg CNN), content aggregator and gaming. All these models can be monetised with advertisements.

Although I am not in the tech business, I find it very useful to attend such event. I have many tech related clients and it is very useful for me to understand their business especially their tech jargon and business models. I also get to educate clients on the latest updates and even educating clients who want to venture into the tech industry.

Startup booths

This year I do not have the company of Melissa (who is no longer in Perkpool) but Chong Yee, my patent attorney friend from Singapore. Together we went around the booths to hear startups pitch their business. This year they have startups from Kazakhstan. I find these startups most interesting:-

Phonebooth – app that allows you to make free phone call to local businesses. Phonebooth will gather business phone numbers and list them on their App. Business owners may claim the number and place information and advertisements there. For example, a restaurant may place their menu.

Honey Alarm – funny pitch from the founder. You can customise the alarm clock App to wake you up using recordings of their “sweet young thing” (SYT). The new version will allow users to purchase the newly listed SYTs. There may also be a new version to put your own recording such as your children or girlfriend.

Worldjumper – a self learning translator. They will install a database which will learn your company’s patterns and behavior in translation.

Ipselex – a software that simplifies patent searches for startups and businesses. Key in a product description and it will plow through patent specifications to see whether there are any similar products. Invented by a patent attorney, the software has semantic functions ie to have variation of term for each search term.

Piroq – this is the first company I see commercialises Raspberry Pi. It is installed in a vehicle to track, for example, road conditions, location of vehicles.

Typeform – A website which allows you to beautify your surveys, registration forms and other forms. Basicallly, a beautified version of SurveyMonkey.

The French Celler – Users can get specially selected French wine by one of France’s best sommelier. Buy wine online

At the end of the first day, all 10 most promising startups from a few countries from the Asia region pitched to win the most promising startup. I find these startups most interesting:-

Candy – complete “missions” (micro-tasks) like downloading App to get free mobile calls or airtime.

Publishizer – a pre-order ebook website. Author can post their ebook to get backers

Hoverr – in-image advertisements – images are highly engaging to visitors. Most visitors ignore anything that looks like an advertiser – advertisement on top of images.

Ambiclimate – device and App to regulate air condition temperature. Currently supports 7 brands of aircon.

Viscovery – B2B visual based search – can be used to snap product and search it using Viscovery to purchase product – enable user to search their product quickly

TaamKru – app for children to learn. Parents can compare results with other children based on, age, geography etc. In app purchase for more content. Winner of the echelon most promising startup.

iChef – Taipei – highly customisable POS App for restaurants – you can vary and customise each items on the menu eg more noodles, less spicy or more soup.

There was a session on the Malaysian startup scene moderated by Gabey Goh of Digital News Asia. Here Cheryl’s screensaver took over the screen. When the floor was open for questions, someone asked about corruption in Malaysia.

I managed to catch up with some of two of my university mates namely Chuo Ming and Mitciao. The former has just joined another law firm whereas the latter is expecting a baby soon!

Good to see friends progressing in life.

Echelon 2013 @ Singapore

I think I’m addicted to attending startup conferences. It’s certainly more enjoyable than the international intellectual property conferences that I attended. I guess it because the crowd in startup conferences are young and there are loads of interesting business ideas. Some of these ideas are applicable to the legal industry. 

In June, I made a trip to Singapore to attend Echelon, an Asia focused tech startup conference. I went with Mellissa of Perkpool again.

Porcelain Hotel

It was only a one-night trip and I stayed at Porcelain Hotel, Chinatown. It’s about SGD150 for a small single room. Just enough for a toilet and a bed. There was no space for a chair!

Echelon had one sponsoring company by the name Uber that provides private executive transport. Uber gave a SGD50 credit to all Echelon participants. All you need to do is to book a ride using their App. The App is able to calculate the distance and estimated fees for you too. Once you book the car, they will send you a text to confirm.

Mellissa redeemed hers and she got a Mercedes to pick her up. Apparently, Uber also has Bentley cars!

However, I couldn’t redeem mine as the Uber Android App doesn’t support Malaysian mobile numbers -_-

Networking 101 – Go to each booth, ask them what their Apps do and exchange namecards.

The conference also utilised Pigeonhole Live for their Q&A sessions. All delegates can participate in the session by using their Internet browser to visit and use the event password to ask questions and vote for the questions you want the panelists to answer. The questions are posted on the screens.

I find that the 2-days conference is not as interesting as the Startup Asia Conference 2013. I couldn’t connect with many of the speakers and panelists but I must say that the ecommerce panelists were the most interesting. The panelists shared how they promoted their eCommerce side. In Japan, they find that television commercials are effective. In other countries,  billboards were used. In Philippines, they rely on popular Facebook pages to promote for them. I wonder if there are already companies managing advertisements for popular Facebook pages like how Nuffnang manages advertisements for blogs. Sounds like a great idea but I know that Facebook strictly controls advertisements by people other than Facebook.

“Looking for funding” seems to be the buzzword around the startup arena. Initially I was wondering why do they need funding if they could have used their own money to expand or run the business. Some told me that they need funds to scale faster. However, one said, “Why use your own money when you can use others”.

Interesting startups

Waygo – Winner of Echelon 2013’s Most Promising Startup. This is an App which recognises Chinese text on menu and signboards. For example, if a food menu is all Chinese,  you can place your smart phone on the menu and get it translated real time. Unfortunately,  not available on Android yet.


Tutu – a marriage between toys and an App. The App, made especially for children, comes with a soft toy like cover. The App creates a virtual playmate for the child. The child can feed the toy or even brush the toy’s teeth using specially made devices (in a form of a milk carton, carrot and tooth brush).

MyLegalWhiz – I spent some time chatting with the co-founder of the App. It’s a Philippines based subscription based legal information service provider. MyLegalWhiz allows lawyers, academias and students to do legal research. MyLegalWhiz is interested to expand to other countries hence I gave them some information about the Malaysian legal industry. I also showed them the FCL&Co Unreported Case Law Search.

Stamp’s patent pending device

Stamp – This Thailand based retail loyalty App is different from the rest. It has a patent pending device that authenticates transactions. Retail outlets will rent the stamp from Stamp and use the stamp to “stamp” on virtual loyalty cards. It also can be used for other transactions such as to authenticate banking transactions. 

Spaceout – This Aussie website allows people with extra car park spaces to list and rent it out to other people. Doubt it will work in Malaysia as we lack traffic offence enforcement. You can park anywhere in Malaysia and get away with it. I did a little bit research on this Spaceout and it seems that they also list other spaces such as office and storage places.

Duet – As many of you know, many Filipinos can sing and love to sing. Duet allows you to pair up with your friends anywhere in the world to sing a song together using your phone! The lyrics will be on the phone and you can use a headphone to listen to the music while you sing the lyrics.

Startup and Legal Services

One thing I learn from the startup scene is the term “marketplace”. Apps are sold in a virtual market (eg Google Play, Apple Appstore) and even within some Apps itself, there are also marketplaces (eg mobile chat App, Line, which sell virtual stickers to be used on the chat). These marketplaces serve as a goto point for users to seek new services and experience. Owners of marketplaces generally get a cut for each sale.

If I use the same concept in the legal services industry, a law firm is equivalent to a marketplace. The lawyers are the apps. Hence, to attract clients and maximize revenue, law firm owners may consider building a law firm with good lawyers with specific skills and the latter will then take a cut from each deal made by the latter.

In the current traditional set up of law firms, equity partners (generally the senior partners) will take most of the profit and distribute them according to the performance of the junior partners. This arrangement is beneficial to equity partners but may create a level of dissatisfaction amongst the junior partners. Junior partners normally complain that they don’t get enough for the time they put in hence resulting in junior partners leaving for greener pastures (eg setting up their own firm). With the “marketplace” model based on “a cut from each deal” (+ administrative costs eg HR, accounting, library etc), a law firm may retain their best talents. One may argue that the equity partners will lose revenue substantially. But this is the price one pays to lessen the risk of disruption, loss of talents and clients, and re-training new lawyers. This also allows junior partners to work harder as they know that substantial profits will be theirs and they know what they will get end of the day. ‘

I have not thought of the specific details. Perhaps, the equity partners of a marketplace concept law firm can take 20% off each department’s net profit (after deducting department cost e.g. staff, space rental and fixed utility costs like electricity). The 20% will be taken by the equity partner as their revenue and be used to deduct administrative costs. With a fixed budget, equity partners will have to think of ways to lower administrative cost instead of playing golf every day.

In the meantime, the equity partners can work out individual arrangement for specific briefs. Also, if the client is a client of the firm, the arrangement will be different when a brief originate is referred from the equity partners.

Non-performing partners, of course, will be shown the door or given alternative arrangements.

Startup Asia Conference 2013, Singapore

I was invited by a Singaporean law firm to give a talk about the Malaysia data protection laws to their clients on 5 April 2013. Coincidentally, the Startup Asia Conference 2013 falls a day before my talk thus I signed up for it. Melissa of PerkPool also signed up for it.

This time round, I stayed at Value Hotel Thomson, Balestier Road, Novena. It’s a decent hotel except that my room has no windows.

Restaurant next to the hotel. Anal Fin anyone?

The event was attended by over 700 tech startups and investors coming from many parts of South East Asia, and even Taiwan, China and Japan. I was amazed with the amount of expats in the Singaporean startup scene. Many of them have planted themselves in Singapore to start their business.

The 2-day conference had 100 over start up booths (mostly with very small booth – just enough to put a laptop). The booths were always packed with people. Melissa and I went to almost each booth to ask them what they do and exchanged name cards with them. Approaching people at the booths seems like an effective way to network for me. It’s easier to talk to some strangers standing by the side minding their own business.

Stefan Jung of Rocket Internet. Rocket Internet is an international online venture with more than 100 over market leading companies in 40 over countries. They own Zalora in Malaysia.

Of all the startups exhibiting at the booths and/or presenting at the event, these are my favourites:-

Kwix – a Singapore startup with an app that allows you to order your food via your mobile phone while you are in a restaurant. The kitchen will be notified of your order. No need for waiters! – a Singapore startup with a portal that finds and books meeting and party venues in Singapore .
LoveBytes – An app that allows a couple to share things and document the relationship eg how many days together!
Shiroubu -a Japanese startup to connect travellers and tour guides. Anyone can be a tour guide!
Social Happen – a Thai startup with an app that gets users to do certain tasks when they are at a merchant’s premises. If the user completes the task and clicks on a button on the App, the user will be rewarded a gift from a vending machine.
PiktoChart – Malaysia startup with an app that helps people to build infographics fast and pretty. They got a really cute name card!

Lots of Buttons – A Hong Kong e-commerce that sells craft buttons at 50% of retail price. They have 25,000 buttons for sale! – Founded by Sense Luo, is a China start-up dating website for gays. It’s interesting to note that 30million Chinese are homosexual. That’s like the whole of Malaysia!

One interesting feature of Xunta is that it allows gays to exchange name cards. The name card has a unique code for each user. With the code, the recipient can locate the other person on Xunta.

According to Sense Luo, 60, 000 gays have signed up with Xunta without promotion. The 7 person team’s target revenue is USD700,000 per year. Sense says 6 people in their team are gays.

The event had excellent speakers from the regions I mentioned just now. Some are successful startup owners and some work for well known brands such as AirBnB and Twitter. Here are some points I picked up throughout the talk:-

PropertyGuru co-founder, Steve Melhuish is a British who travelled around Asia for 6 months before settling in Singapore.

He found that there was a void in the property industry in Singapore when he came to Singapore. With this void, he created PropertyGuru with some friends. But PropertyGuru had 3 competitors within few months of operation. The founders did not draw any salary for the 1st and 2nd year. Hardest challenge initially was to get property agents to advertise on the Internet. Property agents were using traditional media for a long time.

Today they have 24, 000 property agents. Revenue for the year 2012 is not published but Steve revealed its 10 over million. They have expanded to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

However, Steve said he regretted expanding 2 other countries too fast as it stretched their resources. Before that, they had only 1 country to manage but now they need to focus on four.

Steve advised that entrepreneurs to build depth in home country first before expanding to other countries. He revealed that PropertyGuru’s next target is Hong Kong and they are starting IPO this year.

Lastly, Steve also advised entrepreneurs that if they believe in something, just do it! Take risk, believe in yourself and be passionate.


One of my favourite tech companies, AirBnB has set up an office in Singapore early last year. It is valued at USD1+ Billion now. AirBnB is social website that connects people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.

AirBnB relies on word of mouth to promote. They had 3 million bookings in 2012 and have loads of hosts in Bali, Koh Samui and Phuket listed on AirBnB.

Sometime in 2011, a AirBnB host’s home got thrashed by a user in 2011. With this incident, AirBnB introduced safety measures to verify users.

Notwithstanding the horror story, AirBnB brought fortunes to many people. A Cambodian AirBnB host charges USD16 per night and he uses that money to fund 5 of his brothers’ education.

We also managed to pick up many interesting facts about specific markets. In Vietnam, there are 91 million people. 95% of 15 – 24 years old are connected to the Internet. They have cash on delivery culture in Vietnam. E-commerce operators have to deliver products to customers before they pay.

In South Korea, you should launch an Android App 1st instead of iOS because the former leads in South Korea. Also, in Korea, you can send offline gifts using bar codes. Recipients can redeem gift at merchant’s outlet eg coffee.

Barrier to entry is pretty low in Singapore. It’s easy to set up and do business. However, it is difficult to do so in places like Indonesia and India.

You can get more tweets by checking out the #startupAsia hashtag or read TechinAsia.

Kee Lock Chua‘s analogy on taichi and copycats was a great eye opener. He said one can copy a taichi move but it is nothing unless one execute the correct breathing. Same like businesses. One can copy your business model but it is no use unless he or she understand how it actually works.

I had to leave early on the 2nd day because I had to give a talk organised by the Singaporean law firm. It’s actually my second time with them. The last round we had 60 over people but this time round we had 200 over people! Singapore has just passed their own data protection laws thus many people are interested in this topic. I’m glad that I got the opportunity to speak to their clients on the Malaysian perspective. 

It looks like this year is going to be a journey on data protection and startup related matters. Hope it turns out well!