In a freewheeling chat with e27, the serial entrepreneur and DIY hobbyist makes it clear that innovations and product should be a company’s top priority; not raising funding
Editor’s Note: Here’s a story from our archives we feel is relevant even today and deserves your attention.
Bruce Bateman, AKA ‘The Walking Wearable,’ is a DIY hobbyist who has been working on and off in the IoT scene for 15 years.
Bateman is a startup veteran. He lives in Taiwan and has been part of the startup community in Kuala Lumpur, India and China and, as he puts it, “did 20 years of penance in the Silicon Valley.”
e27 sits down with Bateman for a conversation about government, culture and strategy in the world of startups.
Here are the edited excerpts:
In your opinion, what is the general overview of the IoT scene here in Asia?
Well, now that wearables are actually happening, there is a plus and a minus in Asia. We make everything, but we don’t design anything.
How can Asia change that?
The problem in Asia is we focus on revenue.
If you go to the Silicon Valley, they look at ideas. [The Silicon Valley] believes that if we execute an idea, the revenue will come. In Asia, we look at the revenue and then say what is the product?
That is a mentality that has to change. The Silicon Valley says, ‘I see the opportunity and I invest in R&D.’
Samsung invests some, but nothing compared to the Silicon Valley.
Asian corporations will look at incremental changes to a product and coming out with an entirely new product is rare.
Can you elaborate a bit on the point about corporations?
Innovation has nothing to do with money. It has to do with culture.
For example, say I work at a chicken farm and I develop a product that can double production. Will my manager be excited that I can double production? Because what happens if it fails? Something that dramatic would create changes in process and procedures. So instead, the manager is going to say, ‘I don’t want to make changes that dramatic.’ [The developer] then gives the company a 10 per cent increase, even though [he/she] knows if the idea is fully implemented [the company] will double production.
In a startup, we care about our products and our company. In corporate life, I care about my job and my career. This is why there is an aversion [to risk-taking].
Google gives everybody an 80/20 rule. You have 20 per cent of your time to do whatever you want, and the other 80 goes to the company. And everybody wants to be Google, but if you told a Malaysian bank this [80/20] rule they would not go for it.
You are familiar with Taiwan. Do you think the country wants to turn into an innovation hub?
Taiwan has to turn into an innovation hub.
Because the manufacturing is not sustainable in the major Asian hub?
This is a myth, and it is perpetrated within the country. Taiwan is not a manufacturing hub anymore. So what? Japan is not a manufacturing country anymore. The US is not a manufacturing country anymore. So you have to move to innovation.
If you look at Taiwan, there are so many smart people there, the government has to wake up. And they are trying to wake up but they are in an election era right now so it is very difficult.
[The government] is trying to build this innovation stadium, but if you look at government-backed innovation entities, they are a formula for non-working.
To push back on that theory, Singapore has heavy government funding and Hong Kong has nothing. Why is Singapore a tech hub and Hong Kong is not?
Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, they say, “Oh the government is behind it? It must be good.” This is not true. Why? Because politics does not lend itself to allow for money to go out to creative people.
Even in the US, who gets the money? Startups? No. Military? Yes. I’ve been there, I had a US$7 million budget for a [military project]. If I want to build a startup to help educate young people? No. They’ll give me US$500.
Do you think people are right to be bullish on the Asian ecosystem?
I think the ecosystem is here. But the first thing we need to do is educate the parents.
We have to change that mindset and say, “It is OK [to fail].” In Asia, we don’t dare tell our friends, or go to our high school reunion and say, “Yeah I just lost US$20 million dollars in my last startup.” [People here] hide.
So it’s getting them to bounce back, get that entrepreneurial spirit [going]. Because you will fail, guaranteed.
Do you have any specific ecosystems that are exciting at the moment?
I am excited about Taiwan because I think the private sector will get into it. I’m 50/50 on Malaysia. I was high on Thailand, but now it’s more like 60/40.
I don’t think Hong Kong has risks to take, because who governs them? Where is the money?
Singapore? I think it is good, but the problem is the entrepreneurs. Kids. They aren’t going to Singapore. If you live in Poland then you might say, “Singapore sounds cool and it’s nice weather.” But I know four-five startups in Singapore and they all went to the US.
Why do you think this is so about Singapore?
So it comes down to raising money and getting the product out there. Can you raise money in Asia? Some. There is a lot of money out of China.
But, [companies] eventually have to go to where there is true innovation. So if [it] goes to San Francisco, that whole community is there. The problem there is it is too much. Can you do Silicon Valley Russia? Silicon Valley China? No. Because it is the culture.
In Silicon Valley, we share talent. We tell our talent to go meet so-and-so. In Asia, we protect our talent. Once you get the openness, then you get the innovation.
What are the consumers interested in regarding IoT?
Health bands are number one in China.
*He went on to show me a Japanese ring that controls tablets, a flexible solar panel and a moldable lithium battery*
What are some of the IoT-specific challenges to watch out for?
If I see one more pet-related app, I’m going to kill somebody. If you’re going to make something, do something that helps the world.
But, you asked me a question that is really irritating to me. The question that should be asked was, what do you think of incubators and accelerators?
Well, I wasn’t going to ask you that but go for it. What do you think of incubators and accelerators?
The worst problem is they teach you the wrong thing.
How to raise money. And in their KPIs, they tell you, ‘this company raised US$2 million.’
Companies get taught how to do a PowerPoint presentation, how to raise money, how to talk to VCs. But how to actually make the product? Well everyone says, ‘once you make the US$2 million you can ask somebody.’ Eh. US$2 million can go real fast.
Another example, I’ve worked on nine startups. One time we did one in Singapore (called Pace which was, at the time, 2wire), it was the residential gateway for Singtel. We had millions of dollars in investments and we built a team of up to 500 people to do this kind of stuff. But today [it is trendy] to say, “if you build an app with two guys you can make a million dollars.” So everybody just does that.
Even companies that have an idea, is it an idea they would personally spend money on?
Also Read: In Photos: Echelon Malaysia 2015
And with that, forgetting he was wearing the Japanese Smart ring, a misguided wave of his hand triggered his tablet to play some 80s groove, signalling to the both of us that the conversation had come to an end.
The post From Archives: We make everything, but we don’t design anything in Asia: Bruce Bateman appeared first on e27.
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