Sustainability and transitions were the highlights of the conversation amongst investors and businesses at the technology conference Echelon 2022 this year. Taking place between 27 to 28 October, the physical event brought together decision makers across the start-up, investor, corporate and business sectors to share their thoughts about their industry.
We had the opportunity to sit in for the event and learn how investors such as venture capitals were seeking to grow their invested portfolio, as well as companies looking to transition their models from the current internet infrastructure known as Web2, to the next phase of the internet commonly known as Web3. Here’s the conversations that transpired at the event.
EnjinStarter Echelon Roundtable
The Web3 focus for Echelon 2022 kicked off with a roundtable discussion between industry leaders looking to adopt Web3 tools and processes as part of their business strategy, with Prakash Somosundram from Enjinstarter and Thaddeus Jit from e27 facilitating the discussion.
The participants present at the table were Riaz Mehta, Founder & CEO of Imagine Group; Paolo Danese, Founder and CEO, Storya; and Shabbir Goolamabbas, Founder and CTIO of Cloud Innovates. Participating in the discussion were members of the Enjinstarter team Rishi R. Randhawa and Saniah Aljunied, who are the Head of Web3 Innovation and Senior Web3 Innovation Manager respectively.
As founders, what does the migration to Web3 mean for their users or customers?
What does the migration to Web3 mean for a company’s user base or audience? For Paolo, incorporating Web3 tools can enable his writing community to do much more with their projects, and his team has launched non-fungible token (NFT) passes for creators on the Storya app. At the same time, he seeks to move the community towards Web3 efficiently without alienating those unfamiliar with the technology.
As Web3 natives at Enjinstarter, both Rishi and Prakash foresee the education industry benefiting the most from adopting Web3 initiatives such as virtual reality and the metaverse. The former sees tools such as virtual reality headsets being the closest experience to a true metaverse at the moment with interactive activities to make learning effective, while the latter envision curriculums being an NFT asset which can then be adapted for specific educational needs.
How does Web3 complement the Web2 community?
Viewing the question through the lens of content creators, Rishi quotes smart contracts as a natural complement when it comes to paying them for their effort and product. Creatives like musicians and writers tend to experience long waiting times before receiving payments, and smart contracts accelerates that process by triggering payments via smart contracts when conditions are met.
What was the personal Web3 journey like for each participant?
With each participant of the roundtable hailing from different industries and walks of life, it’s no surprise that their personal journey differed greatly. What was surprising, however, was that they arrived at the same hurdle in their journey — How could they implement Web3 processes for their clients or industry?
As a film producer who’s been in the industry for decades, Riaz is well-acquainted with the flow of movie productions. The initial process of coming up with movie scripts to funding and producing them for the big screen takes an inordinate amount of time, with scriptwriters often getting the short end of the stick. With blockchain technology, he envisions a new Web3 movie licensing model where creators could own the movie media and license them out to distributors. The challenge is in bringing that new model to fruition while creating a community that is interested in the project, as well as bringing older movie viewers into the community as well.
On the other hand, Shabbir is an expert on creating solutions for supply chains and he sees Web3 bringing enhanced security and efficiency for these industries. While he has proposed blockchain implementations for his clients to integrate these benefits, his clients are leery of adopting a technology they are not familiar with.
The roundtable discussion concluded with the idea of education being key to onboarding brands into the Web3 space. Rishi points to the fact that blockchain and Web3 terminologies are not yet relevant to the average person, and the Enjinstarter team is currently focused on launching projects that target retail users instead of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Educating retail users would lead to greater understanding and adoption from the populace, and with it easier onboarding of SME businesses as they pander to the retail masses.
While the path to onboarding Web2 companies to Web3 is a long process, it’s easy to forget we are still near the starting point for Web3 adoption. To illustrate the point, Thaddeus quips that even at a tech conference like Echelon 2022, only 10% of the industry leaders present owns a wallet for NFTs. But Web3 natives can be the bridge that hastens adoption by continuing to educate and espousing its utility.
Panel: Understanding the trends, opportunities, and differences in Web3 investing compared to Web2
Are the opportunities afforded to VCs in Web3 investing different from a standard tech start-up? It seems the answer is both yes and no in the panel featuring Eddie Thai, General Partner of Ascend Vietnam Ventures; Alan Ang, Investment Director of DAOL Ventures; Kelly Choo, Founding Partner of True Global Ventures, and moderator Enjinstarter CEO Prakash Somosundram.
From an investment perspective, Web3 projects and cryptocurrency protocols usually reserve a percentage of the total token cap for investors such as VCs in return for capital. To Eddie, his team continues to focus on equity allocation but the added layer of token assets democratises the funding process and allow these projects to raise liquidity faster, to which Kelly concurs and adds that long-term token investing is important to show vested interest in the project. On the other hand, Alan highlights that his firm is first and foremost focused on principal investing and token allocations are not seen as a priority.
But the non-monetary support that VCs provide for Web3 companies takes the same path as standard tech start-ups. While Eddie emphasises on the need to assist and create a company process for the start-up to operate smoothly, Alan takes a step further by helping to seek out markets and helping them to scale or appointing C-level executives as advisors for the team. This mirrors Kelly’s experience with helping the well-known Animoca Brands to structure their programmes and kickstarting its growth when it was founded.
Panel: How Web2 Founders can leverage Web3 technologies and business models and embrace the New Internet
With Web3 touted as the next step in the internet’s evolution, there’s no shortage of Web2 companies looking to get a head start in being part of the future. To understand how VCs can play a part in helping these companies make the leap, Managing Director of Redefy, Rachel De Foe, moderated the panel members of Rishi Randhawa, Head of Web3 Innovation at Enjinstarter; Xander van der Heijden, CEO of geolocation company UNL, Shaun Heng, Head of Spartan Labs; and Looi Qin En, Principal of Saison Capital, to get their insights on the topic.
Kicking off the panel with misconceptions about Web3 and the intermediate stage of Web2.5, Qin En took the question first by highlighting the common misconception that Web2 strategies will work out in the same way when applied to the Web3 space. Shaun voiced his agreement, quipping that there are a variety of ways to slice and dice strategies with Web3 companies. Being involved with Enjinstarter’s launchpad projects, Rishi had his fair share of users equating Web3 to NFT assets only. But the road to Web2.5 and Web3 subsequently is a natural evolution in his opinion, and it is a way to update the current community playbook as well.
How should tech infrastructure evolve to suit Web2.5 or Web3, and should Web2 be abandoned? While the panelists don’t agree that the current internet infrastructure needs to be tossed aside, Xander does point out that companies must ask themselves the important question of how Web3 can augment their product before leaping in headfirst. The participants also do not discount the need for a tech lift when companies move into Web3, but all of them agree that more community building and mass adoption takes precedence currently, and the infrastructure will evolve once more developers and services enter the space.
And how does one hire the right Web3 expert for the job? You don’t, according to Qin En, as there are no fundamental experts since the Web3 space is still new. Instead, companies should focus on individuals who are relentlessly resourceful and curious.
Panel: Corporates and Web3: How are corporates and big brands jumping on the Web3 bandwagon
With the CEO of e27 Mohan Belani moderating the corporate panel with Jonas Thurig, Head of F10 Asia; and Yvonne Siow, Head of OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation; the audience was listening with ears wide open to learn what big brands that support the current state of internet technology has to say about a nascent technology like Web3.
The panel starts off by exploring the idea of decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) as compared to current companies with centralised structures. Yvonne notes that while current structures mean decisions are usually made by a select few such as a board of directors, a Web3 group such as DAOs are more grassroot in nature which could re-distribute power more equally and allow smaller finance donors or contributors to have a say in the company.
Being corporate giants, are there any considerations that these thought leaders would need to consider before steering the company towards a Web3 direction? For Jonas, risk and compliance are key factors to consider along with a pool of available talent to draw from. Adoption would naturally follow with more clearer regulations from government bodies, and any corporate team needs to put a goal strategy in place before jumping into Web3.
Yvonne takes a different angle by considering the issue from a brand equity perspective and highlights the need for a good public relations strategy in tandem with any concurring Web3 efforts. She ends with a pragmatic nod to the fact that younger audiences are embracing the idea of Web3 while using their purchasing power to support their values, and big brands can’t afford to be left in the dust if they want to survive the transition.
Panel: Alternatives to fund raising from VCs — The growth of syndicates, venture debt and marketplaces
Is the relationship between venture capitals and start-ups purely monetary? The answer is clearly no from participants of the panel with Danyaal Shah, Group Head of Partnerships at Alta; Martin Tang, Co-founder of Genesis Alternative; and Milan Reinartz, co-founder of Ascend Angels, along with the session moderator Vanessa Ho, co-founder of NUS Alumni Ventures.
With regards to fundraising alternatives, Milan felt venture capitals could provide valuable advice by bringing in the right people to advise the founders. For example, they could bring in cybersecurity experts to support the security infrastructure of start-up companies. To him, it’s often not just about investing money, but understanding what the company is trying to achieve and adding value where possible. Sometimes VCs could play the middleman and link start-ups to a suitable VC as well.
Milan does caution against rushing into investment rounds since it takes a good chunk of the founders’ time which could be spent on building the company instead. This is a point echoed by Danyaal where he quips that founders should never raise capital for the sake of doing so. Moreover, he emphasises that founders need to be realistic on valuations when it comes to funding rounds as well.
On the other hand, Martin states that founders need to realise the importance of venture debt, which are loan to start-ups that provides liquidity to a business for a short term. They need to know if capital is essential for propelling their company’s growth, and the team should not jump into funding rounds for the sake of it. Instead venture firms can work with founders to create a working structure that makes sense for them.
And what is the one question that founders should ask themselves? For Danyaal, it’s about their company’s vision and endgame, while Martin encourages them to focus on the pain point they are trying to solve with their start-up.
Panel: How can start-ups scale sustainably and enter new markets through corporate partnerships
In this panel of nurturing start-ups with sustainable corporate partnerships, e27’s Head of Business Development Justin Chin moderated the session which consisted of Aaron Ang, Head of Midmarket Southeast Asia for SAP; Raunak Mehta, co-founder of Igloo; Shamir Rahim, founder of Versafleet; and Ng Junkai, co-founder of Janio Asia.
With corporate partnerships being a viable way to scale small companies, how can founding teams prepare themselves for such partnerships? Touching on his own experience as a founder, Mehta highlights that start-ups need to tailor their approach when partnering with corporates from different sectors, and they must be clear on their stand. To do so, they must know what they are offering, how it is placed, and the path to achieving the goal. More importantly, smaller companies need to learn to say no when the situation calls for it.
On the flip side, Junkai’s approach was to double down on the fundamentals and focus on quality service as the key to success. His company walks the talk by cutting over 500 clients they have worked with and putting in their effort on providing quality service to their remaining clients. This allows his team to contribute more effectively, rather than trying to do everything at once.
As the lead for one of the most popular enterprise solutions, Aaron shares a different perspective. He emphasises that start-ups should start with the value proposition. He opines that start-ups have a creative edge that adds value to pure hardware, but they must themselves understand if they are a tech consumer or tech partner. Tech consumers should look at allocating raised funds to adopt tech and scale the business, while tech partners should consider how their platform provides value to corporates.
As a parting advice for start-up founders, Junkai reiterates that fundamentals are important, while Aaron adds that the team should never stop innovating. Shamir states that partnering with corporates is key in addition to a good product, while Mehta advises founders to always source for talents at a premium.