East Asia’s unicorn builders: different strategies in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan

Unicorns are increasingly running the streets of East Asia. In fact, policymakers in Singapore and Hong Kong wave the flag of their first unicorns with pride and Taiwan is on track to have its own unicorn. I am not talking the mythical animals adorning children’s storybooks. In the world of start-ups and venture capital, since 2013 a “unicorn” is understood to be a privately-owned (technology) start-up that achieves valuations in excess of $1 billion. A unicorn is also a validation that a start-up ecosystem is succeeding, and a key performance indicator used by governments.

From myth to reality: unicorns in Singapore, Hong Kong and (soon) Taiwan

Singapore has unicorns inhabiting its island, with Garena, Lazada, and Razer all comfortably achieving $1 billion valuations. But the ever-active and promoting Singaporean state isn’t stopping there. On Monday, October 2nd, the Singaporean parliament approved the “variable capital companies” (VCC) bill in an effort to further project the Lion City’s position as leading destination for asset management firms, particularly venture capital funds, to domicile and operate. In explaining the power of the new VCC structure, the Bill will provide a mechanism for overseas funds to be constituted as Singaporean. The Business Times asserts that one of the benefits to Singapore is that it “enhances Singapore’s position as a full-service international fund management centre”. This is a time-tested strategy in the Lion City.

GoGoVan, a logistics company, excited Hong Kong start-up enthusiasts in September 2017 as it achieved unicorn status. Finally, Hong Kong – and its government – had something to show for the rising support of start-ups and innovation (and within two years of the promotion of the Innovation & Technology Commission to Bureau level status).

For Taiwan, in May 2018 an electric scooter company called “Gogoro” was being picked as the likely candidate. This unicorn excitement came as the Taiwanese government announced in early 2018 that it promised to incubate its first unicorn by 2020 (Japan made a similar promise, through its J-Start-up program which launched in June 2018, that it would help build 20 unicorns by 2023).

These unabashed efforts to build unicorns is not a new phenomenon. In The Venture Capital State: The Silicon Valley Model in East Asia, I detail how each country purposefully, but differently than one another, helped catapult its local VC market to world-class size and operations. They don’t copy the real or imagined Silicon Valley model either. Even the “core elements” of the American legal and tax environment within which Silicon Valley VC emerged were not deployed in each case. Here’s a visual of the unique “yellow brick roads to Oz” – or, policies implemented with the aim of building a local VC market akin to Silicon Valley:

SILICON VALLEY

Why variation amidst convergence?

Though each country had the same aim – of building a local VC market that could support the growth of its local unicorn population – they all took different paths. The phenomenon reminds me of the Seinfeld-inspired play “I love you, you’re perfect, now change”. Each country’s policymakers fell in love with the idea of building Silicon Valley-like venture capital markets. This, they concluded, was part of the recipe for creating innovative firms, as well as ensuring vibrant financial markets. But after falling in love with the model, they changed it.

The Venture Capital State systematically explores why and how this change occurred as it has in these East Asian nations. And crucially, it explains that this adaption has been essential to success in East Asia, as elsewhere. It’s not about copying Silicon Valley in order to build local unicorns. It’s about local competitive advantage and approaches that reflect distinct environments.


 

About the author of this blog post: Robyn Klingler-Vidra is a lecturer in Political Economy at King’s College London, and the author of The Venture Capital State: The Silicon Valley Model in East Asia

East Asia’s unicorn builders: different strategies in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan

Can Books Save Our Oceans?

Ocean plastic has been bothering me. It’s been bothering lots of people, obviously, because it’s a really bad thing.

I saw that the new Real Madrid alternative kit is made completely from ocean plastic, and it made me think about ways in which books could be made so that they have less impact on the environment.

Could book covers, for example, be made from ocean plastic rather than cardboard? Is anyone producing ink that uses this kind of waste? How could we produce printed books more sustainably? Can we drift away from traditional manufacturing methods, showing our commitment to environmental stewardship? These aren’t questions to which I have answers, but they do all intrigue me.

josh-withers-534821-unsplash
Photo by Unsplash

Sustainable, environmentally friendly books exist, of course; they’re called ebooks! But that’s not what I’m thinking about. Making print books friendlier to our planet seems like a smart thing to do. Recycled paper is great, but even with that there are concerns about the footprint it leaves. Coming up with a way to make more bits of the book itself from materials that are killing our planet on a daily basis could create a business (and jobs) for people and would make the things we all love that much lovelier.

3D printers can use ocean plastic to make the “ink” they need to create things. In fact, could covers be produced by 3D printers? How cheap and effective is that? There’s printing ink made from car exhaust! Yes, that’s a thing. Could we use that? Hemp used to be the primary source material for making paper. Is that an option we could return to? Is it any better than other paper? Can that ocean plastic be made thin enough that it could be used as a paper replacement?

The marketing and branding return on such an investment is obvious: we’re making books that help clean up our oceans! And I think we’d gain some sales even though, at least to start with, we’d have to increase the price on such books because I’m guessing it would cost more to create plastic covers than it does to create cardboard ones. Would we also gain authors who just have to be published by the most Earth-loving UP on the planet? But that isn’t the main reason to contemplate this kind of sea change (sorry) in the manufacturing of books. If we can help take plastic out of the ocean, that would make everything we do better. And, because we’re talking about books here—a thing that book lovers just hate to part with—, it’s not like we’re going to replace the ocean plastic we remove with the plastic from the books when someone is done reading them!

Lots of questions, few answers here. I’m just pondering what might be possible and in the meantime, putting in place these fifteen ways to reduce my plastic consumption.


 

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director of Cornell University Press. He is struggling with the idea that he wrote a blog inspired by Real Madrid. Gooner for Life.

Can Books Save Our Oceans?

Hot Take from #PWYW

Last week, the marketing team chatted about the forthcoming Pay What You Want sale. Last-minute logistics were discussed. I threw out the idea that maybe only three or four of us would be sufficient to handle the email offers on PWYW day. My team pushed back and said it would be best to start with everyone on board and see what happened. I listened. And now I pat myself on the back.

Still a little bit hesitant about our PWYW experiment, we used a mini movie, blog posts, emails, social media, word-of-mouth, and our website, to promote the campaign. We cross-promoted, we coordinated. Ahead of the big day, more than 24,000 emails went out with an open rate of 33%. Our first tweet hit 15,000 impressions. Our first blog blew past 2,500 reads. Before Tuesday, I already considered PWYW day a success. Now, I consider it simply amazing. The outreach, the branding, the goodwill, the communication, the media attention, and the buzz have been beyond my expectations; the number of offers made exceeded anything I could have foreseen.

mkt team PWYW
CUP Marketing team minus Marketing Designer Elizabeth Kim (from left to right): David Mitchell (Exhibits/Awards Coorinator), Nathan Gemignani (Metadata & Special Sales Rep.), Cheryl Quimba (Publicity Manager), Adriana Ferreira (Social Media Coordinator), Martyn Beeny (Marketing Director), Carmen Torrado (Marketing Assistant), and Jonathan Hall (Digital Marketing Manager)

Two days after the sale, I’m just floored by the response on the day. My team were right. We needed every marketing hand available, plus the boss. Nine of us spent twelve hours on May 15th, and another nine hours the next day responding to all the amazing people who made their PWYW offers. I don’t yet have the specifics, but I want to get my initial thoughts down on “paper,” in the immediate aftermath of what I believe was a truly innovative and pioneering marketing campaign in our little university press world.

Anecdotally, 1,500 people made offers to us. In 10 hours. They WANTED our books.

I can’t wait to dig into the metrics, to analyze the data from the day, to draw conclusions about what we do and how we do it. I’ll write in more depth about the sale and what we learned in due time, but for now, just know that I am proud of my team, proud of the books we sold far and wide, and so incredibly grateful to all those who thought highly enough of PWYW and our books to take a chance and make us an offer.

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About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director at Cornell University Press. He had a dream for PWYW; his team made it a reality.

Hot Take from #PWYW