I always thought of myself as a warrior who came from Singapore's lower to middle type of family background. My grandparents came here to Singapore, of course from China. I lived in the farm for the several first years of my life. Grew up playing with chickens, feed them. I think a lot about myself as someone who came from a very humble background. Singapore went through a very nice, strong mess meritocrally and I am a huge product of that. Enjoyed a good ride. Worked very hard in school, fought all the way through different schools. I went to NUS. Entrepreneurship program. One day my friend said, "Oh, you'd be good at UPenn, it's an ivy league school." I'm like, "What's ivy league?" Those were the days that Google just started. They were the upstart, and I was using Google trying to figure out what's ivy league. - Yiping Goh
Yiping Goh is a Partner at Quest Ventures, a top venture capital fund in Asia. Prior to this, Yiping was Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of MatahariMall.com, the largest omnichannel fashion ecommerce site in Indonesia backed by the Lippo Group. Lippo Group also acquired All Deals Asia, the Southeast Asia ecommerce aggregator and group-buying platform co-founded by Yiping.
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Jeremy Au (00:00):
Hey, Yiping. Welcome to Brave.
Yiping Goh (00:02):Hey, Jeremy. Thanks for having me. It's a very nice good afternoon, actually.
Jeremy Au (00:07):
It's a beautiful afternoon and we're here recording a podcast. Anyway, Yiping I'm really excited to share about your journey because you're someone who grew up in South East Asia, have been entrepreneurial multiple times, and then you also rose to become a VC a Quest Ventures, and so I'm so excited to not only share your story but also hear your advice for the world out there.
Yiping Goh (00:31):Sounds good. I have lots to share. I hope the audience also enjoyed this part of my journey. Close to 40
years of my life now.
Jeremy Au (00:45):Yeah, so Yiping, could share a little bit about who you are?
Yiping Goh (00:48):
Yeah, well this question, who I am. I guess essentially who I am, I always thought of myself as a warrior who probably comes from Singapore's slightly lower to middle type of family background. My grandparents came here to Singapore, of course from China. They set up a farm in Lim Chu Kang. I lived in the farm for the several first years of my life. Grew up playing with chickens, feed them, pigs and grew vegetables. I think a lot about myself as someone who came from a very humble background. Singapore went through a very nice, strong mess meritocrally. Led a part of society, and I am a huge product of that. Enjoyed a good ride. Worked very hard in school, fought all the way through different schools. Never really popular schools until I went to NUS. Entrepreneurship program. One day my friend said, "Oh, you'd be good at UPenn, it's an ivy league school." I'm like, "What's ivy league?" Those were the days that Google just started. They were the upstart, and I was using Google trying to figure out what's ivy league.
Yiping Goh (02:30):
Then I realized. Oh, wow, okay. Supposed to be some elite school. I never really knew the elite part of society until probably in the recent years. I guess I fought through being in multiple jobs all the way since I was eight years old. Multiple jobs from bicycle factory to... At those times where there were still really low end factory work in Singapore. I was employed as a child laborer, which I was happy at that time, because it gave me so much experience. All the way to really doing jobs at Singtel sales, so several years of my junior college years. Then when I graduated from the entrepreneurship program, I started a few companies. Then now I'm a VC with Quest Ventures. And very much through Quest Ventures I was able to put all my entrepreneurship experiences into work with portfolio companies. Quest Ventures is fun, it's very interesting. The fun one that I was part time in, I was venture partner there. We invested in some of the largest household names. Carousell, Carro, 99.co, Style Theory, ShopBack, Assegei.
Yiping Goh (04:03): .
Then to most recently, I'm a partner of Fund II, and some of the notable investments we have done are early wage company, GajiGesa, Yummy Corp, club kitchen, one of the leading ones in Indonesia, and Moovaz, international relocation rewardination for remote working employee rewards. I think I've come across a broad spectrum of society, working with many different folks. Basically I guess I'm being defined by my ability to be resilient each step of the way through several failures in startups, to finally making a few successful ones. Then joining the VC journey.
Jeremy Au (04:56):Yeah. Tell us more about those startups that you built, both the failures and the successes. How did you
even get started?
Yiping Goh (05:05):
That's a very pivotal part of my life. I talked about me being part of NUS's entrepreneurship program, and that sent me to a one year program where I was interning in tech companies. That was 2003. I went with a huge goal to come back to Singapore to start something. I was very focused. I wanted to just start anything to just get on a tech journey. The first company I set up was with my tech co-founder at that time. It's called World Indigo. We were super early. We were building the roaming gateway for planes and ferries. That's what SAI and the multiple airlines have today, that you can roam right now. But at that time it was pretty rare. The scene was way too early. It was pre iPhone days. We were doing actually quite well in terms of signing up partners. I'm not sure if you remember at that time, we still have Value Air, which is now JetStar. We have quite a number of pipeline contracts, airline folks were very keen to sign up this service. We were using satellite as a backbone. But the scene was just way too early.
Yiping Goh (06:30):
Mobile phones still had a ban to be used on airplanes. After one and a half years of doing that when I was still in year four in university, I just decided that I have to be realistic. I'm going to graduate soon, and while there's so much positivity going, I can't go against FAA non-usage of mobile phones on the plane. I decided that, "Hey, I should go get a job." Still with that job somehow have the flexibility to continue running World Indigo as a side hustle, and figure out if it's going to work out or not. That was the first one. That was at a time when we won, I think, the sixth Singapore startup business plan competition, organized by NUS. We were the champions then. There were probably less than 10 VCs, but of which I approached all 10, or even 20 of them, and they indicated early stage. But it's definitely not early stage at all. I learned the hard way that it was pre-startup ecosystem. I was pretty much alone, lest talking about being a female founder. But I was pretty much alone doing this tech thing.
Yiping Goh (08:03):
Raising funds at a time where there was almost no funds. But we were super thankful to have witnessed and participated in some of the very early governmental programs. At that time maritime port authority MPA, they have a few hundred K type developmental grants, and they awarded to us. But if you go there, the company shouldn't have take the money because there was the ban, and ferries' shipping industry was a much smaller market size for us back then. I was thankful for that. That was the first startup that taught me so many hard lessons about running hardware businesses combining with software. That's the first one. Then I went on to do two to three more.
Jeremy Au (08:58): Why did you want to keep going? You learn the painful lesson in the first one but you still kept going. What happened there? Just too excited or? What happened there?
Yiping Goh (09:11):
Yeah, I think that's a very good question. I think I'm someone who just don't easily give up. There is something about what I have in my belly, there is that fire. There is a specific DNA. When I was super young, when I was eight years old, my parents had a very small roasted meat food stall. They sell tashu roasted meat, chicken, ducks, and they took me and my younger brother, both of us very young, too the industrial sites to try to cook these chickens, ducks, et cetera. Roasting too. I saw the business in the first few years. It did so well. It's a small business. But it did really well that... Because my mum is adopted, and she always felt that everything she would give, she would give to the kids. When we were doing really well, she fed us crazy business every other day. I saw that business doing really well, to the point where a few years later, there was a lot of competition. Other food stalls selling the same things, and it was beginning to look hard to compete.
Yiping Goh (10:46):
I saw the business become from very successful to one day it's facing so much threats. I was being sent as a spy to go check out some of these stalls. How are they doing, what are they doing differently? I realized that as I grew up, I am not so concerned about failing. I realized that failing is not so scary. It is momentary. I saw how my parents, they went on from maybe having some early business failure. Health is not so great because F&B is so tough. But they survived, and they went on to do other things. It is the resilience that I reflected upon all throughout my years of life. When I first my maybe first startup lack of success, I just feel that one startup shouldn't define me. I'm learning, right? Prior to that I had no idea what's a tech company.
Yiping Goh (11:55):
Prior to that all I know is roasted meat food stall, buy sell things in school, selling them lemonade. I thought that from where I came from, it was a huge leap, and all I should do and could do is to do better in the next one, and not to just raise the white flag and bye so quickly. There is that kind of resilience strict in me. That's why I call myself a warrior sometimes. Someone called me a cockroach, which doesn't sound very nice. But that's pretty much how probably I would describe myself if I had to. I just refuse to give up.
Jeremy Au (12:47):
What's interesting, of course, as a warrior is that you started out as a first time founder, so you're a very new warrior. Then you went through multiple battles as the different places. How would you say that you grew and matured as a warrior over time?
Yiping Goh (13:05):
Yeah, wow. That's a good question because I always think that as humans who's rapidly learning, and trying to reflect and not repeat the same mistakes, I feel like I have definitely matured a lot over years. In my younger years, I'm definitely someone that is a lot more ignorant, as with most first time founders. The world is really truly my oyster. I have very little reverence of status quo or whatever that is. That's good. It makes me really hungry, and I just go for things without over thinking. I think those are very good traits that have assisted me to be as bold, as courageous as I had. Over time, I think after a few lessons from other businesses, and just learning from folks that I think are better than myself in so many different ways, I began to perhaps be more mature in thinking through certain business decisions. Work with others also better. Not just work with others better but really enjoying being more publicly and privately vulnerable to just learn from anyone that I think there is something to learn from.
Yiping Goh (14:43):
Maybe also in a way, saying things with a little bit more measured-ness. Not just throwing things out there, and just try to look confident as you first started out. I think over time there is that level of maturity. More professionalism in looking at things. Being more analytical. But I think besides that, I think the most important point is still not losing that fire in the belly, I think, the moment you get one success. I had a small one through All Deals Asia, my third company. I realized that I still currently have that fire in the belly. Although I'm a VC today, 10 years down the road I could come back with another company. I feel like I haven't lost that yet, and working with entrepreneurs still keeps feeding that fire.
Jeremy Au (15:50):I'm another founder who's also now a VC, so I definitely understand about the fire. I've got to ask you since you've got a few years on me, does being a VC scratch the founder itch enough?
Yiping Goh (16:01):
Wow, it scratches it differently. The nice thing, and I just have to say that, VC doesn't scratch it as it's a wound. I definitely think as a fellow founder, Jeremy, I'm sure that you would agree with me that being an entrepreneur is the real thing. That kind of pain and that kind of loneliness in the journey, even if you have con-founders, even if you have the best buddies all in startups, it's not the same. You're still pretty much trying to survive. The moment after you survive, you're still always constantly thinking of, don't die, how to expand, "I can raise more money now, especially in this day and age so how do I be more ambitious?" There's a lot of sentiments that are a lot more raw. Then as VCs, how we scratch that is to provide different perspectives, to if we have been operators before. Which both of us had. There is that layer of maybe war time advice that could be super useful. Even if it doesn't totally help solve any of the critical startup problems, I think that the empathy... Just being able to be side by side or just behind the entrepreneur.
Yiping Goh (17:30):
I think that speaks volumes, and I think that it is scratching it very differently. But at this stage of my life, I actually pretty much, I must say, enjoy VC journey so much. I would say that after realizing that I enjoyed it so much, how come I didn't start earlier. One of the biggest reasons that I'm so excited about VC is really just being able to work with so many talented founders, learning from so many ideas that maybe we once as entrepreneurs may not have thought of before. I think many of these entrepreneurs that we have invested in, or have not been able to invest in, they have taught me a lot. As much as we can give them, I think they are also giving us a lot. I must say, working with founders inspires me. I have a few models of different entrepreneurs in my mind that if I restart again, what would happen if I put on this guy's hat, or this girl's hat?
Yiping Goh (18:43):I'm accumulating. I'm like an AI who is also learning different styles of entrepreneurs. I hope that entrepreneurs are appreciating our perspective as much as actually we are appreciating theirs.
Jeremy Au (18:59):
Yeah, and that's an interesting dynamic, because we've both sides of the table. Both founders looking for venture capital, and now venture capital looking at founders. You just mentioned something interesting as well. Whether we're listening to advice versus us giving advice to them and the knowledge they may not be listening/we may be wrong/this conversation is highly irrelevant. What is it like to have those conversations where you have this dual hat as a former founder and as a VC talking to another founder?
Yiping Goh (19:32):
I feel like we are having this conversation maybe because we are both very open minded and willing to be vulnerable too. Before I became a VC, I was fundraising. I was like you, on the other end. I wanted to be part of a good VC, good brand VC, founder friendly VC because I just couldn't stand how so many VCs back then especially, when there were so little, that their answer or their advice is pretty definitive. It's as if they have all the answers in the world. I think the approach that I try to take in my own style is to share as much as possible, but no one person's experience is the same. If I feel like the specific domain or industry or the skill set is directly very relevant to what I know and have experienced. I am super duper generous in sharing. But if for certain areas where I think that someone else could be in a better position to give that advice, I would be glad really make the intro. I admit that I don't fully know exactly what can help solve that exact problem that you guys have.
Yiping Goh (20:58):
But my role here is to facilitate too. I don't want to be the be all end all. We're in this journey together, we want to try to figure out together. Sometimes my advice would be the advice that you can follow, but sometimes you need to follow your gut. Take in all this various advice and figure out what works best. In the end I want to say that we don't run the business, we need to let the folks who run the business figure it out and decide for themselves. They then can learn what's the cause and consequence. They will learn fast. Founders are super resourceful and capable, and we have a huge trust in founders.
Jeremy Au (21:50):
There's an awkward dynamic, which is what I've realized is that when I was one of the founders obviously I was thinking about it as a very honestly adversarial dynamic. I'm pitching you so my job is to convince you that my idea is great, my projections are great, et cetera. Now that I'm on the other side I'm like, "Whoa, I'm talking to 200 founders and I'm picking one of them to move forward." I can see that you're good, or maybe I see that it's not so good. But really it's also really a relative dynamic where you're like, "Are you the best one or two out of the 200?" It's a weird dynamic to have that role reversal or seeing it from the other point of view. What do you think about that?
Yiping Goh (22:44):
Yeah, I must admit, in my first two years as venture partner at Quest, I have had some difficulty or challenge just trying to say so many no's. That's the truth. You want to be respectful because each body really spent time. We are not looking for just, "Hey, founder, you're really good. I really like you so much." So many other things on the checklist have to be fulfilled. The business model, the timing, what's the traction like, who's your team? What about your background? There's that whole list. I would say that how I really overcame that over years is to just really trying to be authentic, and be very down to earth, and basically respectful of the time we spend together with each of the companies. And just ensuring that while we cannot fully articulate or even share exactly why we say no, because there's just so many other companies we're looking at.
Yiping Goh (23:58):
But it's really just to be respectful of the time, and give some maybe even short explanation of why this is not working out. Or it just doesn't fit into our fund's TCs, or something like that. I think with just being logical, rational and respectful through the whole process. It made me feel that if the founders understand, although I don't think that everyone would accept, but at least having an understanding that we have tried our best and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. As compared to also maybe some of the treatment I felt, or some of my startup friends felt in the very early days. And even sometimes today, that founders feel that there's a lot of transactional relationship going on. I try and my fellow partners try to help entrepreneurs feel that this more like you said, nurturing a relationship rather than it's just a piece of transaction. If we don't come across that way, most of the time I think we are fine. We don't find that it is a huge dilemma.
Yiping Goh (25:27):I think I myself have finally managed to cross that. That's why I enjoy VC so much better right now. Probably less dilemma as when I first set out from a founder, to put on that hat of a VC.
Jeremy Au (25:45):
Yeah, totally get it. It's interesting, do you still feel like there's all these jokes founders make about VCs. All the rejection emails are all the same, they sound a bit generic. Making fun of that. Have you seen those memes and things like that?
Yiping Goh (26:04):
Yeah, yeah. In the Valley especially, I think. I think south east Asia it's plain ignored or I think especially the analyst they're quite nice to say something, to even spend time having a nice wrap up call. I see these memes. I definitely laugh internally to myself. But I feel like even south east Asia has matured a lot. Even the way we want to handle, or have been trying to handle rejections have been a lot better than when we all first started. While there is that level of maybe general answer, because it really didn't fit a certain criteria. It is very hard sometimes to articulate exactly what. Once in a while you have a way to just say that, "Actually, it is because of this." And we try to be truthful. We tell the startups. But sometimes going into that also launches a whole series of, "Oh, yeah but you don't know we have this and that." There is that fine balance. But I do think that now we have a lot more good role models of what is good practice, and what is not so great practice.
Jeremy Au (27:32):
In terms of good practice and bad practice, and you also talk about maturation of the south east Asia venture capital scene, which there was not much when you first were a founder. Now you're part of the VC scene. You're not only representing of course Singapore, but also like you talked about, as a female VC as well. What do you wish people understood, because they have the wrong misconception about Singapore and south east Asia venture capital? What are myths or misconceptions that you encounter?
Yiping Goh (28:12):
I think that generally right now south east Asia is definitely on the rising trend. There's definitely way more awareness than when we all first started out. Some of the myths that remain is that there's still not enough serious exeats. I do think that all these emerging startup scenes, they also naturally have their own maturity stage. We're now beginning to see the first serious waves of specs and proper IPOs, and also proper MNAs that is pretty sizable. I think that exeat question will address itself in the next few years, as we reach that level of maturity. As a population of few hundred million, it is real. The consumer demand is real, the B2B demand is real. It's just a matter of time thing. That myth is going to disappear in itself. And I'm speaking for an LP investor of a VC fund perspective. It's like, "Okay, I would like to invest in your fund but what are some of the exeats in your portfolio?"
Yiping Goh (29:34):
I think that myth will go away in the next few years, as a matter of fact. I think second thing is that we maybe in terms of experience in the startup founders, we have the A-team that can take certain companies to a huge number of regions very quickly, can be also scaled to the western world. I think maybe the first question, the way I would look at it is that I think for the first time, we have a huge critical mass of more than tens of companies, if not hundreds, that are scaling regionally very fast and very well. Especially if they are coming out of Singapore, it's pretty much somehow in the last 10 years. The very early VC scene has been educating startups that, "Hey, we cannot just invest in a Singapore based company." You've got to be in at least two to three other countries. Take Indonesia, for example. For the first time I think we have so many references of successful founders who are able to scale.
Yiping Goh (30:54):
This multi country, if not the big country, approach. Like Indonesia alone or Vietnam alone. I think that is also maturing in that sense. There's way more knowledge out there. There's also way more networking. There's just founders sharing with each other. Pretty generously how they do it. There's a lot of founders' network going on in every country that fellow founders can learn from. I was a very early founding member of ACE forum, where the early angels, they started this forum. Supported by ACE in the very early days, To bring a group of founders, eight to 10 of us together to share all the war stories and the early stories on a monthly basis. The community grew bigger and bigger, so there's a lot of give back and knowledge sharing.
Yiping Goh (32:03):
I think that's also showing maturity. Can we address even western markets, et cetera. I see many new upstarts, especially in the B2B segments, they're beginning to do that. I think SES is still early days in south east Asia. But timing wise, it looks like it's of the right timing. US versus Europe, it's doing really well. Then China is picking up domestically also. Then now it's the turn for south east Asia to also prove that out. We're seeing rise of more and more interesting SES companies that are selling globally. Maybe not yet to the level of Estonia, Finland< Sweden. But we're beginning to see also the rise of that. I'm pretty bullish there, too.
Jeremy Au (32:59):Amazing. Starting to turn to the last chapter here. Could you tell us about a time that you have been
Yiping Goh (33:08):
Wow. I probably remember many times of being brave. It's very personal. It's really overcoming fear of failures. I started three companies myself. I think two with co-founders, but the co-founders are really far away so it feels like I was a solo founder pretty much. The first two did not turn out that well. It was all around 2003. The second was 2008. Then the third one that enjoyed a bit more success coincided with the ecosystem's very early significant start. Around 2010, 2014. Really I think when I share with so many people how I persevered through two lack of successes initially, and why I just continue to do the third company, it looks I would do the next company too because I'm always itching to do something. Then the question is why did I continue. Why don't I just go get a job and go enjoy maybe a higher flying corporate career?
Yiping Goh (34:32):
Truth is that in between, while I get struggling to make the startups work, I have always been working. Most people don't know I was in the shipping containers industry. I was managing director that time in a British firm. Traveling around the world, working with shipping lines, selling containers and on-loading cargo, et cetera. Also one of the rare women in container depots, which is usually quite dirty. And always looking at those jobs, potentially I'll do my best there. Always stay on for a good three, four years, and then saving up the money and see, "Hey, what's the next startup I want to do?" In my mind I'm always wanting to come back to the startup world. And also just refusing to give up. There were some times where... The first company I was partially funded by my professor in university. Knowing that the first one didn't succeed, he came back again to fund my second startup.
Jeremy Au (35:48): Wow.
Yiping Goh (35:51):
I'm like, "Whoa." Then the second startup, he doesn't even know, or care to know what business is that. He's like, "Okay, you're starting something. I'm going to fund you." I guess I'm just grateful that maybe people see there's something behind the resilience, that, "She's going to try to make something work." I've always taken very personally if something doesn't work. I'll try to make the next one work, so I could pay off everyone kind of thing, when I started out. I think I started out through startups despite my initial lack of success, and that came definitely with a lot of nights and days of depression. At that time we don't even talk about it. But now I think we are a little bit more open. I think I went through definitely long days and nights and weeks and years of just feeling very alone, definitely depressed. But always out drinking with a bunch of buddies. Sharing just that chip on our shoulders and just soldiering on.
Yiping Goh (37:07):
I think that those are days of being really brave, and just taking it in. That failure is not a finality, it's really just part of the journey and you are really as good as the last startup you do. Most don't remember even your early days. People only remember success mostly. I think I fought through a lot of that. Mental blocks and just fighting, persevering through, and keeping that optimist in myself. Just being open. And don't get so jaded. I think that first time ignorance is still very important in doing startups.
Jeremy Au (38:03):It's the like the best way to encourage entrepreneurship is to increase first time ignorance.
Yiping Goh (38:08):Yeah, I think probably that's why jobs still say that. At that time, still staying hungry, still staying foolish. I think there is a certain truth that I myself went through and totally agree with. I don't want to appear too smart, like a smart alec, and stop being foolish, because I think a level of naivety is still very important in doing startups.
Jeremy Au (38:37):
I think it's so true, which is that I think that naivety... I think if you're truly rational about the odds and the probabilities, and how many people have tried it before, and will try, and the sector. I think there's a lot of reasons to not do it. Some optimism and unawareness with those odds really helps you roll the odds, and sometimes it works. But if you never roll, you never find out.
Yiping Goh (39:08):
Yeah, so I think maybe in summary, what is that one thing that I have been brave about is knowing what you know. You still choose to be pure and innocent in your pursuit of things. Just to be passionate, go against all naysayers and start again. To restart.
Jeremy Au (39:30):
Amazing. Yiping, just wrapping things up here, I'd love to paraphrase the three big themes I got from you. The first of course, is, thank you so much for sharing about what it's like to grow up from low middle class in Singapore, and how you discovered entrepreneurship by luck and by Google, and figuring out what you wanted to do, which was to be a founder. And all the various experiences. The second thing was thank you for sharing the actually reality of what it's like, of being a serial founder. Both the failures and the successes. I think what's really interesting is not just you talking about the stories, but also, I think, your reflections on how you've matured as a warrior from each battle. Also, how you think about being a warrior today, which is different from how you were in the past. Lastly, thank you so much for sharing quite a bit about what's it like to be a founder who's now a VC, because I think you answered in two ways.
Jeremy Au (40:37):
One was where you directly answered it by saying what are the differences now as a VC, and how is it like to work with founders today, and see yourself in those shoes, and the advice you give them. But also, I think, in the way of this entire podcast. I think you've also been nicely explaining the duality of being a founder before, a serial female founder, but also as a VC now looking back on it, and your reflections on it. Thank you so much, Yiping.
Yiping Goh (41:12):Thank you, thank you. It's been great fun talking to you, Jeremy.