3 Key Insights from GGV Capital Managing Partner, Mr Foo Jixun
Recently, I had an exclusive opportunity to meet up with Mr Foo Jixun, Managing Partner of GGV Capital, a global venture capital firm, to receive his 金玉良言 (words of advice) and gain invaluable insights and advice on entrepreneurship, trends, and life.
This opportunity was given to me and some of my peers from the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme, by NUS Enterprise. All of us are proud recipients of various awards administered by NOC for students embarking on NOC China, such as the Young Technopreneur Award (YTA) where Mr Foo is the generous donor. YTA was established to inspire entrepreneurial-minded tech-students to participate in NOC programme in China, to immerse themselves in China, learn about the culture and get a “feel” of the market. Apart from the monetary benefits, I am thankful for opportunities like this — to be up close and personal with industry experts and learn from their own growth stories and advice.
While I was doing my research before this meeting, I came across this podcast (really worth a listen/read!) about Mr Foo and his journey after graduating from NUS. A short summary if you don’t already know the man: Since his R&D engineering days at Hewlett-Packard, Mr Foo had thoughts about the future of how the Asian economy will transform itself and the need for Singapore to foster innovation and provide indigenous value. Today, Mr Foo is recognized by Forbes China as one of the “Best Venture Capitalists” every year since 2006, and has since then spearheaded many of GGV Capital’s investments in giants that we are familiar with today: Grab, Didi, HelloBike (哈罗单车).
1. As a VC, to Entrepreneurs
Mr Foo shared a case on Chinese entrepreneur Yang Lei, who is the current CEO of Hellobike, a bike-sharing app (GGV being one of the earliest’s backer). Yang has failed twice in his previous ventures in valet and parking services. However, it was exactly his failures that gave him the operational ‘know-hows’, allowing him to bring Hellobike to on par with other players such as Ofo and Mobike. The key takeaway of the story is that failure is going to be a big part of life that is rewarding. Failure is okay. And it should be embraced because it accumulates experiences that will help carry one further in the future.
On going out to the world
“When going into a start-up, it is important to not build the idea with just yourself and your group of friends.” Mr Foo shared, after listening to some of our sharing on current startups and potential ideas. Test your ideas with different people because with Singapore’s size, the reference and context that we get may not be representative of the actual market and the region. Hence, there is a strong need to go out there and feel the world. “Find the fine line between being tenacious about the idea versus being honest with yourself that certain ideas just don’t work. There is no perfect formula but only trial-and-error. Let the market be your judge.”
2. As a VC, about future Trends
“Trends are so much more important than what things are today. It is more valuable to observe a trend of change in a particular city or behaviour. VC and entrepreneurship are about identifying and understanding these changes.”
After experiencing years of investing, Mr Foo emphasised the importance of having foresight on rising trends. When I asked about his views and predictions for trends in China and the SEA region for the next couple of years: He sees robots (for warehousing, for taxis etc.), AI (for ed-tech etc.), and cloud services (for enterprise migration) on the rise in China for the next 5 to 10 years, commenting that the next phase of internet transformation will be machine to machine.
For SEA, he foresees more replication of what is being done in China (e.g. Grab trying to be a super app; following the footsteps of Meituan, Didi, Hellobike) and more localisation due to the fragmented nature of the region. Mobile payment will also be huge in the rising markets such as Indonesia and Vietnam.
3. As a 过来人, to the New Generation
Having been there done that, Mr Foo provided many practical advices for the younger generation to manoeuvre in this fast-paced world.
The best thing you can do with your time is to invest your time in the right trajectory. Pick the right trajectory and you will be repaid.
How do we know that we are in the right trajectory? Mr Foo had already prepared another piece of advice as I silently asked myself that question.
“Join a start-up or a tech company because they will create and provide a unique experience. They will give you a different lens as to what the world can look like. Being in a company that opens up your vision is very important. Startups are the ones, day in day out, thinking about what’s next. Join a forward looking company.”
He is a strong believer that we should go out and travel the world to gain unique experiences, especially when we are still young. It is different hearing and experiencing if for ourselves, especially the many nuances and subtlety. This was especially true for China’s case. For friends who did not experience interning and living in Shanghai, it was difficult to explain to them and for them to relate to the fullness of my experience and growth on the NOC programme. “I also encourage people to write and share stuff about your own experiences so as to give people some perspectives.” Mr Foo brought up the network effect of sharing (what I am doing now with this article).
One mantra that Mr Foo imparted us with is to feel insecure (was really quite surprised at hearing this); that things can still be better — this mentality is how he continues to learn and stays at the top of the game.
I am really thankful to be given the opportunity from NUS Enterprise to interact and learn so much from this visit and a big thank you to Mr Foo Jixun for his time, advices, and unwavering support.