Entrepreneur & Angel Investor, TNF Ventures
Experience: More than 30 years
Earliest Tech Experience: Electronics Project in Technical College in Hong Kong in 1977
First Love for Tech: Apple II Clone “Coconut” with 64kb of RAM in 1981
Always Game to: Dream big, talk ideas and challenge the status quo
Are investment decisions of venture capitalists driven purely by the measure of monetary returns or are there other factors at play? In this issue, The IT Society chats with Eddie Chau, Entrepreneur & Angel Investor at TNF Ventures, to understand his motivation for investing in companies as well as things he will look out for when making his investment decisions.
Q: Question, EC : Eddie Chau
AS AN ENTREPRENEUR
Q: How did you end up as an entrepreneur?
EC: I started out pretty much the same way like most people – working for a company – until the idea for e-Cop came about. At the age of 39, I was comfortable. I had garnered solid experience in the corporate sector; held a senior executive position in a reputable multinational company; and earned a pretty decent salary. I could continue with what I was doing but I told myself if I don’t do it now, I would probably never get down to doing it. So I gave up my job and started e-Cop with my co-founders. That marked the beginning of my journey as an entrepreneur back in year 2000.
Q: What are some attributes that define you as entrepreneur?
EC: Running your own business and being your own boss is nothing like a walk in the park. You are where the buck stops. Compared to working in a company where you can always refer to someone higher up for direction or assistance, you will have to solve every problem in your business. For example, till today, I can still vividly remember having to sign my personal cheque for $50,000 to tide over a cash flow crunch in January 2001. Fortunately, I have a high tolerance for pressure and a sound ability to handle anxiety. These qualities have been instrumental to my development as an entrepreneur.
Q: Has the entrepreneurship landscape changed over the years?
EC: Definitely. During the time when I started e-Cop (in 2000), the dotcom bubble had just burst, and banks as well as people were generally skeptical about startups. It was to the point that we even had challenges trying to find staff. The odds were stacked against us. In contrast, the market today is receptive and welcoming towards startups. It is easy to get funding support and resources. The Singapore government has been especially encouraging in rendering both monetary and infrastructural support.
AS AN INVESTOR
Q: What changes do you hope to see in the local entrepreneurship landscape?
EC: Without a doubt, the industry will continue to grow and mature. In tandem with this development, the government and investors will become more selective in providing support to startups. It means that while good ideas will get support, the rest will either be weeded out or strengthened to deliver real value. The impact to this is, startup founders will become savvier and better attuned to the viability of their ideas. These are positive developments which are set to make the industry more robust.
Q: What do you look for when deciding to invest in a startup?
EC: First and foremost, the quality of the idea. It must be able to solve a real problem and have the potential to scale up. Almost as important as the idea is the co-founding team – are they talking sense; do they have good chemistry with one another in the professional sense – because at the end of the day, they are the ones who will grow the business and hold the fort during a crisis. Extending this chemistry beyond, we keep a lookout for open communication between the co-founding team and the operational people; at the same time, we also ask ourselves how we can come in to value-add. From experience, when everyone has sights aligned on the final goal and knows their respective roles, the business tends to do better.
AS A PERSON
Q: What is your motivation for investing in startups?
EC: I am a naturally curious person. Since young, I always have many ideas about the future and imagine various possibilities. And in some cases, I will be so intrigued by the ideas that I will delve deeper to try and materialise them. For instance, at one stage in the 80s I thought it would be great to augment handwritten greeting cards with personalised voice messages. With that, I started searching for a chip that can be used to make the mechanism during my free time. Although I did not commercialise the idea in the end, my explorer spirit lives on. I am fired up whenever I come across good ideas.