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.