Investing in the vision of Southeast Asia, the early-stage venture capital firm is leaving no stone unturned in the internet and mobile startup sector in Asia. Golden Gate Ventures’ Michael Lints tell us why.
“With Asian culture, you don’t tend to build a business straight out of school. You get a good job first, build a career, start a family. Then you become an entrepreneur. But this is changing, and growth is accelerating.”
Michael Lints cuts a lithe figure. His strides over in a gentlemanly gait, removes his cult backpack and buttons up his suit jacket. With a polite smile, acknowledging nod and just the right amount of eye contact, Michael descends onto the two seater sofa. For the next 20 minutes, we dip into an intellectual exchange in minimalist fashion, like the futuristic gallery space at the ArtScience Museum where our interview took place.
Doyenne: What brings you to Asia?
Michael: I moved to Singapore from the Netherlands. In 2013, I finished a course at Harvard. A friend invited me over to check out the local start-up ecosystem as an entrepreneur and investor. That was when I was introduced to Golden Gate Ventures. Since then, I have never left the country.
D: But Amsterdam is much more creative than Singapore.
M: (chuckles) Back in 2013, when you look at the growing startup ecosystem, Asia is more exciting than the Netherlands and Europe. Although you find more liberal spirits and design creativity in the Netherlands, entrepreneurship and technology is flourishing in Asia, especially Singapore.
D: I noticed that GGV invests in a lot of startups dealing with mobile payment systems. Is this the next big thing in Asia?
M: It has been happening for a while now. It is surfacing even more in the last 12 to 18 months. Besides payments, we also invest in e-commerce led businesses, e-marketplaces, logistics, everything in the mobile internet space. Payments is a very strong, growing vertical. It is about mobile banking and smartphone access in Asia.
D: Don’t you see this taking place in Europe?
M: No, it is fully saturated. We are already spoilt for solutions. We have seen a few places in Asia actually leapfrogging developed European cities in terms of mobile payments usage.
D: Let’s be honest. Southeast Asian startups do better when they are funded by foreign investors, like GGV.
M: I would not necessarily say foreign investors. Investors play a very important role. It matters where they come from, only if they can add value. This is the most important thing. At GGV, we basically leverage on our higher education and Silicon Valley experiences.
D: What do you think makes Asians entrepreneurial now, as opposed to 10 years ago?
M: I think we have seen a few successes from the US, and these spark others to want to build their own as well. But it has been a long and difficult journey. We did not see these successes consistently over the years. Asian cultures are such that, you don’t start building a business straight out of school. You get a good job first, build a career, start a family. Then you become an entrepreneur. But we see this changing in Asia, so growth is accelerating.
“Here in Singapore, I’ve met more female founders than in any other markets. A lot more women are present. I’ve seen them as CEOs, co-founders, investors and event organisers. There is definitely more female power joining the ecosystem.”
D: Let’s move on to gender issues. We see very few women succeeding in tech startups. Why?
M: When you look at the investor base, a lot has been male-dominated. But here in Singapore, I’ve met more female founders than in any other markets. A lot more women are present. I’ve seen them as CEOs, co-founders, investors and event organisers. There is definitely more female power joining the ecosystem.
D: Awesome! On that note, do female founders think too small to grab big money from VCs?
M: Well, look at our portfolio. We have quite a few aggressive female CEOs! As an example, Anna Gong of Perx is in the loyalty and fintech business. She is aggressively expanding the business. When I talk to her, I don’t necessarily see her as a female, but a great founder who is passionate about building her business.
D: Then what needs to change, so we see more females stepping up?
M: We should encourage more female entrepreneurship by helping them start their own companies. Hosting more hackathons, going to more universities to address related issues, providing more opportunities. It needs to be talked about more often. Greater support is also needed from other founders and VCs.
D: What was your earliest ambition in life?
M: I wanted to be a basketball player. I’ve always been a big sports fan. But coming from the Netherlands, it was not easy to get to the US and play basketball, which was better than becoming an engineer. Now, I cycle more than I play basketball!
D: What drives you to achieve success?
M: For me, it is about others’ success. I am 41. I’ve been working for over 20 years now. I get super excited by other people having success, and I play a small part in that journey. I just have to find new ways to evolve myself and help others. Leading a cushy life is just not my thing. It is about giving others the experience, sharing knowledge and helping them become better.
D: So the hype about the millennial generation - the young and restless, getting bored easily. Does it apply to everyone, or is it our mindset that fascinates the world today?
M: We talk about this alot. I don’t think it is the generation. It is the mindset, pushing yourself and others. What you have in your brain. Feeling good and having fun. You never know what will happen next.