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Q&A: Is Singapore Southeast Asia’s answer to Silicon Valley?

Ozi Amanat adjusts his sleeves as he poses for the camera, interjecting quick-witted humour in between shots to lighten the mood on set. This was during a photo shoot at The Great Room’s latest outpost in Ngee Ann City, imagined by Singapore-based designer Michael Fiebrich. The swanky space complements someone like Ozi perfectly, who was one of the first few members of the co-working space. In fact, even before its inception.

Ozi is a high-profile stockholder backed by many prominent Asian billionaires. Since graduating from Harvard back in 2003, he has been building meaningful relationships within the startup ecosystem in the US. He then gained recognition after investing in an allocation of Alibaba shares for wealthy Asian families, and has since founded K2 VC, leading a team to invest in multiple global tech brands and overseeing over $183 million of capital.

Perhaps choosing to call Singapore home after living and working in the US comes naturally for the venture capitalist, as the lion city is often dubbed as Southeast Asia’s answer to Silicon Valley — especially with the rapid growth of the city’s tech sector, the presence of great investment opportunities, and ample government support. We pick his brains to discuss major game changers in the industry, the future of Singapore as a tech start-up capital, and what he predicts will be the next big tech company to enter the Singapore market.

Your investments include Paytm, Spotify, Uber, Alibaba, Palantir, Magic Leap and Coinbase. What made you invest in each one of them?

K2’s focus is on consumer software internet applications that seek to simplify our way of life, as well as increase our productivity, efficiency and health. Our goal is to have a portfolio of companies that make sense from both a consumer and enterprise perspective.

What are the factors that affect your decision to invest in a company?  

Technology innovation, leadership, market breadth and a compelling narrative from the founding team are some of the leading factors. A company’s ethos and mission are important as well because it has to be something we believe in.

When tech companies like Uber, Spotify or Netflix first entered the Singapore market, they were game changers in their own right. Why do you think this is so?

First, one has to understand that the natural state of the venture capital ecosystem is disruption at scale. These tech titans were already major, established companies before they entered the Singapore market. However, their velocity of growth has surpassed their home markets, so it was only natural for them to enter and revolutionise new markets like Singapore.

What are your thoughts on Uber’s exit from Southeast Asia? Do you think it was the right move?

It was a good move. It allows Uber to shore up its balance sheet for a future public offering while retaining an equity stake in Grab. I think in the long run, the markets will view the deal as a win-win for both Uber and Grab.

What do you predict will be the next big US company to enter the Singapore market?

I think we will soon see the e-scooter revolution take flight here, which will help to increase work efficiency and ease of lifestyle. We can also expect to see autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence programs and a focus on health tech in the future here.

As someone who has spent time in both Silicon Valley and Singapore, what are the similarities between both countries?

There is a vibrant ecosystem focused on technologic advancement in both places. These ecosystems encourage and nourish opportunities. While Silicon Valley has a longer tech history, Singapore is rapidly advancing with the government’s support and emerging venture capital leadership — which will help to increase the nation’s velocity of tech growth.

What can Singapore learn from Silicon Valley, vice versa?

Not to fear failure, but to embrace it. It’s only when you get knocked down that you learn how to get back up. To do this repeatedly is to be resilient; and if you are resilient and technologically disruptive it goes a long way in the venture world. As Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Gandhi reflected resilience in his saying: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.

What do you think is Singapore’s future as a tech start-up capital?

Singapore has all the ingredients to be the premier start-up capital for the region. While India, China and Indonesia will be the addressable markets, Singapore will be the epicentre of idea formation, capital, transparency and governance.

How will this change Singapore as we know it? 

Singapore is already highly advanced in its infrastructure, strategic planning, rule of law, and its embodiment of technology that keeps it ahead of most countries. But this next level of tech growth will propel Singapore far into the future.

How long have you been a member of The Great Room?

I’ve considered myself a member since the first time I met Jaelle Ang (The Great Room’s co-founder) and her team while the project was still on the drawing board. This place is the beginning of a vibrant startup ecosystem and I believe that one day, Jaelle and many of the members here will sow the seeds of great new companies in the region.

What do you like about The Great Room?

The founders, staff and members create a warm and welcoming ecosystem. I admire the attention to detail and the environment that feels like a home away from home — the space encourages business productivity while allowing a place of quiet repose.

How does working in The Great Room make what you do easier?

It’s convenient and everything you need is within reach. The space is well-designed with all the right amenities like a barista, phone booths and meeting rooms, so it is easy to stay focused on the important things.

Run us through your daily routine at on a weekday?

I’m a late riser, so my day starts at 9:30 am. I have a personal trainer at 10:00 am and get into the office by 11:00 am. Coffee on my desk, the workday starts from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm with volumes of emails, calls, and meetings. I aim for dinner at 6:30 pm so I can put my kids to bed at 7:00 pm. From 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm, I catch up on news and Netflix and finish the night with some more calls and e-mails until midnight in Singapore, just as the sun rises in Silicon Valley.

Q&A: Is Singapore Southeast Asia’s answer to Silicon Valley?

Dewi Nurjuwita

Senior Writer

Dewi Nurjuwita is a travel and design writer who can be found exploring the streets of foreign cities with passport in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

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