Khailee Ng – ‘The world is fundamentally fucked up’

When it’s 500 Startups managing partner Khailee Ng who’s speaking on stage, you know you’re in for a treat. So today at the Tech in Asia Jakarta 2015, we didn’t expect any less.

“The world is fundamentally really fucked up,” he stated, not mincing his words before a packed hall.

Khailee explained what he meant. “Everywhere we go, everywhere we travel, we come across people who are smart, driven, capable… but the amount of capital that’s available to them, the amount of knowledge and the network that exists at their disposal are nowhere near what we see in Silicon Valley.”

That’s the world that 500 Startups is trying to change, he said, with its focus on startups in oft-overlooked nations.

“If there’s a kid in Medan right now who has the chops to build a company that can change something, we want to give [that kid] money… and the knowledge to spend that money well,” he continued.

500 Startups has invested in 1,200 startups in 50 countries in the past five years, he said, making it the world’s most active seed-stage investor.

Now it’s particularly keen on Southeast Asia, where it has invested around US$10 million so far and expects to have about a hundred deals signed by the end of this year.

See: 500 Startups in Southeast Asia by the numbers

More love for startups

In investing, Khailee said they’ve always stood by the motto: “move fast and break things.” Well, looking at the rate its portfolio has grown, 500 Startups sure seems to be in a hurry.

The fund is known for investing at shotgun speed and people just can’t keep up with what it’s doing. Sometimes, even Khailee himself.

He recalled how, at a recent event, he bumped into a founder who talked passionately about his company. “I told him that sounds like Kudo. He looked at me and said, ‘Khailee, I am Kudo. You invested in me two months ago.’”

Having met the founder only once, Khailee had totally forgotten him. “Sometimes, I invest so quickly in so many companies, it’s true that not all companies have the same amount of love. In fact, the companies that have the most amount of love were the ones that called me on the phone, WhatsApped me, or reached out to me. Those that didn’t reach out to me, I didn’t reach out to them. But that’s not an excuse.”

Hence his new motto: “move fast and fix things.”

“I’m gonna fix that. I will upgrade everything that I’ve done with my team to the next level,” he said.


A fair shot

First among the upgrades that 500 Startups will put in place is a system to better look after those under its wing.

“Founders not reaching out to me is not an excuse. I’ll set up a concierge to reach out to my startups once a month, to ask them: ‘what can I do for you today? Do you want to get connections? Do you want to hire somebody specific?’ We’ll try to find answers for them.”

Another initiative is an online application for its seed funding “that actually works” and gives everyone a fair chance at persuading 500 Startups to back them. Khailee admitted that the connection process right now is all about “who you know.”

“We want everyone to get a shot,” he added.

A further new scheme is access to corporate partnerships. “A lot of corporations want to work with startups.”

He cited a telco in Malaysia that helps a startup by sending an SMS blast to its entire subscriber base about the startup’s coupon offers.

“My vision for a seed VC firm in 2016 is designed based on the user experience of a founder – how does a founder feel pre-deal? What does he need to make the deal? What does he do after the deal? When is he gonna start spending money? How does he approach the next deal? We’ll fix the Kudo problem.”

Ref: Tech in Asia

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