The reality of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has thrust the world into the digital age. By necessity, almost overnight, companies and governments have had to adapt, as technologies and innovations like digital payment platforms, online banking, telehealth, remote conferencing, and many more transform every aspect of daily life.
Leading the way in many of these fields are the startups that saw the opportunities that digital technologies provide and have spent years preparing themselves for this exact future. And now that that future is here, what next?
The World Fintech Festival gathered respected leaders in these areas to look beyond the current business landscape of the Philippines and Southeast Asia, in an attempt to scope out the most notable fields to watch out for.
Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, has been a hotspot for investments for years before the pandemic, an emerging market that is rife with potential.
Matthew Kolling, head of venture investments at the Aboitiz Group, pointed out that the country’s young, educated, English-speaking workforce, along with its burgeoning startup community, already attracts much interest from investors abroad.
“There’s a lot of wind at our backs, and it is very promising for the Philippines,” he said during the conference.
But this also means that differentiating oneself from the competition is much more important for startups than ever before. Mr. Kolling added that it is significantly more important for entrepreneurs today to have a future-oriented vision.
“When you’re investing, you’re not investing in today. You’re investing in five years from now or 10 years from now,” he said. “I want to see founders who are excited to change lives and the world, but who’s also got the evidence to back it up. They’ve got a roadmap, the right to be there in the conversation, be confident, coachable, be good at what they do. I’d like to hear more from people who think boldly.”
Ron Hose, CEO of coins.ph, mentioned that beyond profitability, more investors are looking for startups that have the leadership team and the values to make an impact.
“Most importantly, what differentiates successful companies consistently is going to be the people that are running the company. The values and motivations, skills and expertise they bring to the table,” he said.
Leadership matters in the new world of investments
Leadership matters more than ever. Joan Yao, vice-president of Kickstart Ventures, Inc., noted that the new world of investments puts much more emphasis on the kinds of leaders that can quickly adapt and change with the world.
“2020 has been an exceptional year, subjecting companies, founders, and teams to extreme pressure. Whether it’s because of hypergrowth, particularly if you are in the digital space, or the opposite if you are in spaces like travel or offline retail. It revealed a lot about founders and what they were made of,” she said.
“The most responsive and mature founders have been able to be honest with themselves at the start of this pandemic.”
Kickstart Ventures was chosen by Ayala Corporation, one of the biggest conglomerates in the country, to manage a $150 million venture capital fund to support startups pursuing innovations along with key technology areas in data and analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, fintech, automation, real estate, retail, transport, energy, water, health and wellness, and food.
As sole manager of ACTIVE Fund, Kickstart is responsible for seeking companies that offer innovative, scalable, sustainable solutions for the seamless integration of digital and traditional channels such as On-Demand Services, IoT, FinTech, Blockchain, E-Commerce, and Omni-Channel as well as the automation and augmentation applications for Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotics, Big Data and Analytics, and Cloud Computing.
In all of these various fields of innovation, Ms. Yao added, good leadership with a workable vision of the future will differentiate the winners from the losers.
“I think 2020 has been a year that has only accelerated the future. A lot of these things, digital payments, remote work, e-commerce, digital health, you could see them coming. 2020 has brought things that were a bit further away closer to us now in the present,” she said.
“For us at Kickstart, and the Ayala Group, we’re excited about these things. Digital will be what will pervade every aspect of our lives and there will be multiple winners in this space across multiple sectors.”