A decade since their last move to Singapore, where they created the popular Asian TV and movie streaming platform Viki, Koreans Changseong Ho and Jiwon Moon are back again in the Lion City to launch a new investment vehicle, TheVentures Singapore (TVSG).
The new venture builder fund, initially financed by the South Korean husband-and-wife team, will focus on scaling 100 high-growth startups in Southeast Asia. “We chose Singapore because we consider it as our second home, as we started growing Viki in the country in 2010,” Moon told CompassList by email.
She added that Singapore, and Southeast Asia as a whole, has developed a thriving startup ecosystem that attracts talent from multiple countries. “With great government policy and support programs, Singapore is an inviting destination for talented engineers and developers from adjacent countries to nurture their career growth in Singapore.”
After expanding Viki in Asia with a third co-founder, Razmig Hovaghimian, Moon and Ho exited Viki and Singapore in 2011. Two years later, Viki was acquired by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten for $200m. Moon and Ho embarked on other ventures in Seoul and established investment firm TheVentures in 2014 that grew to become one of South Korea’s leading early-stage VCs.
The couple is now based in Singapore to personally manage the new investment team. TVSG will be run independently from TheVentures, funded by "our own capital” at the current stage, Moon said.
Unlike the broad-based investment model used by TheVentures, TVSG will focus on sectors in which the team already has expertise. “We have a special interest in the areas of community, sustainable lifestyle, foodtech, healthcare and beauty,” Moon said.
TVSG would also act as bridge to help South Korean portfolio startups to set up base in Singapore to explore market opportunities in Southeast Asia. “It is becoming universal for startups to run a decentralized team. We are going to help many startups establish their headquarters in Singapore while running multiple decentralized locations dispersed around the world,” the company said. According to Moon, several of their portfolio companies have already moved their headquarters to Singapore. She declined to name them.
"CTO as a service"
On TVSG’s investment and venture-building approach, Moon said the company would run two tracks to develop their deal pipeline. A “general track” will involve deal sourcing with partners in Southeast Asia and South Korea, using insights developed from investments made by TheVentures. “Business models which were successful in Korea may be successfully replicated in other parts of the world, if the right local team executes in the right way,” she said.
The other track is through “Impact Collective,” a cohort-based accelerator program run together with community partners in Asia. The impact-focused accelerator will involve community-driven evaluations and due diligence processes on the vetted startups. The assessments will enable TVSG to make informed decisions on the selection of potential portfolio companies.
In addition, TVSG plans to introduce the Community Alliance Network (CAN) that Moon and Ho co-founded in Korea. CAN is a SaaS-style venture studio that gives non-technical founders access to a platform for product and community development. According to Moon, the “CTO-as-a-service” platform has been tested with more than 10 initial clients.
“CAN is a SaaS for entrepreneurs who want to build their online/mobile community platform without an in-house developer team, specialized for entrepreneurs who pursue ’community commerce.’ It’s like integrating Shopify, Facebook Groups and Discord in your own app.”
CAN is currently only open to startups selected for CANnovate accelerator program run by TheVentures. The program will also be launched in Singapore by the first half of 2022. TVSG will provide consulting services, monetization advice and general mentoring, on top of peer-learning activities involving cohort members and alumni.
Backed over 100 startups
After exiting Viki in Singapore, Moon and Ho focused on developing TheVentures into a major early-stage investor in South Korea. There were only a handful of institutional angel and seed-stage investors back in 2013 in Korea and Southeast Asia. In addition, Moon said, there were only a few companies with a global presence and startup exits were rare. “We had a lot of opportunities to share our experiences,” she said.
Today, the couple’s Korean VC has landed 15 exits and invested in more than 100 startups, including K-wedding planner Wedding Book (exiting at 20x valuation multiple) and AI-powered edtech Riiid (at 800x valuation multiple).
Since 2019, TheVentures has also expanded its investment activities into Southeast Asia and South Asia. Currently, more than 50% of the company’s portfolio startups are based in those two regions.
“The majority of the [Southeast Asian] startups that we invested in are pursuing business models that have proven to be successful in Korea,” Moon said. “We believe that for each vertical where a unicorn startup appears in Korea, the same opportunity exists in each [Southeast Asian] country.”
TheVentures has already helped various Korean companies to enter new markets in Southeast Asia, such as the Wedding Book’s joint venture with a Vietnamese conglomerate to promote Korean-inspired wedding services. Besides K-weddings, “all-in-one wedding” department stores will also be set up with a wedding hall, photo studio and gift shops, said Moon.
“For the past few years, we have witnessed the change in the global economic dynamic driving Southeast Asia to become one of the most promising economic growth engines in the world. In the next two decades, we think that Southeast Asia will be the region which will be the fastest-growing economy in the world,” she added.