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Starting Iterative

Hsu Ken Ooi
Hsu Ken Ooi
4 min read

Brian, Hsu Han, and I are starting a YC-style accelerator called Iterative, focused exclusively on Southeast Asia. The first batch starts on 1 June 2020. If you’re working on something, you should apply.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Invest $150K Upon Admission – Iterative will invest USD $150K upon admission.
  2. Work Together for 3 Months – Startups will move to Singapore for 3 months to work with us intensively on their idea (growth, product, pitch, etc.).
  3. Demo Day in Singapore and San Francisco – At the end of the 3 months, we’ll host a Demo Day with investors in Singapore and San Francisco.

Our goal is to actively guide founders to achieve their startups next major milestone, which is typically a raising their first or second round of funding. We’ve found that founders in Southeast Asia struggle with this today, not due to a lack of capital or hustle, but because of limited exposure to experienced operators. There are simply not enough experienced operators in the ecosystem yet, and those who are experienced are often too busy working on their own startups.

We’d like to close that gap. As founders, we’ve built startups from scratch; Decide (acquired by eBay), Weave (YCS14), Divvy Homes (recently raised $43M Series B from GIC). Whether it’s figuring out your growth framework, what to prioritize, pricing strategy, fundraising or any of the other hundreds of things founders have to think about, we would like help.

Why Southeast Asia?

We believe there’s an incredible potential in Southeast Asia. The Financial Times has a great article titled “The Asian century is set to begin” with this quote:

The world’s imminent entry to an Asian age is coming not just because of its two largest economies, but also thanks to growth among smaller and midsize countries.

It also has this graphic that illustrates how much each country is expected to grow in the next few years.

A few highlights from that graph:

  1. Indonesia – Indonesia’s economy is already larger than Mexico, France and the UK.
  2. Vietnam – Vietnam’s economy will overtake 17 countries by 2023 including Belgium and Switzerland.
  3. Singapore – Singapore’s economy will overtake 11 countries by 2023 including Belgium, Ireland and Chile.

To continue its development, Southeast Asia needs smart, gritty, courageous founders to solve its most important problems. These founders are out there but need the right support to succeed. We want to provide that.

Does Southeast Asia Need Another Accelerator?

No, it needs a different type of accelerator.

1. Experienced Operators

Being a founder is really hard. Largely because it’s so different than other jobs. At most jobs, (1) the company is unlikely to die soon, (2) the business model works, you’re just responsible for growing a part of it and (3) you typically have a lot of support and direction from teammates, managers, etc.

None of those things are true as a founder. Unless you’ve been a founder, it’s unlikely you’ve developed the relevant skills or mental frameworks to deal with the challenges faced by founders. The process of becoming a better founder is more apprenticeship than university degree. You only really improve by having a support system, a mentor and doing it.

Seattle 2008 – The basement we worked in for 2 years while starting

We’ve started from 0, multiple times. We’ve worked out of the proverbial and literal basement. We’ve been told by investors that our idea was too small, too big or just dumb. We’ve gone from thinking we would be the next Facebook to wondering what we were doing with our lives. We’ve been you.

2. Aligned Incentives

Unlike other programs in the region, we will invest our full amount (USD $150K) in every startup and at the start of the program, not the end. We believe it’s important to align incentives from the beginning. Both as a show of confidence in the founders and their startup and a commitment that we will be helpful from that moment onwards whether good or bad.

3. Learn from Your Batchmates

Early stage startups face the same types of problems (not growing fast enough, can’t raising funding, not sure what to prioritize, etc.). The solution to these problems are almost always specific to the startup but often it’s helpful to be around startups facing similar problems and hear how they are solving them.

That’s why we have weekly group office hours where each of the startups will share their goals, challenges, progress, plans and priorities with the rest of the batch. There’s an additional element of accountability that comes from wanting to report good news to the batch.

Since we invest our full amount, in every startup, at the start of the program, our batch sizes are limited. That incentivizes us (by design) to only admit the highest quality founders and startups that we can find. In turn, that means you will not only be learning from our partners but also your batchmates who are the highest quality founders we could find.

4. Support System

It’s worth repeating, being a founder is really hard. You will constantly feel like an imposter (after 12 years, I still do). At times, you will need to convince your investors, team members and potential hires about a vision that you have doubts about. Your relationships, inside and outside the startup, will suffer. You will also, occasionally, feel like you’re onto the next big thing.

It’s emotionally and physically exhausting. Startups have a funny way of chasing the good with the bad and the bad.. often with more bad.

That’s why we believe founders need a support system. A place where they can be open about their challenges, candid about their fears and celebrate their wins. It’s at these times where we can add the most value. Since we invest upfront, we hope our founders will feel safe enough to come to us when things are at their worst.

5. Mentor and Alumni Network

Arguably the most valuable part of YC is access to the mentor and alumni network. To be able to ask hundreds of current and past founders about hiring, growth strategies, etc. is incredibly powerful.

We want to build a similar type of network for Southeast Asia. We’re seeding that network with our own professional networks built over 12 years of doing startups in Seattle, San Francisco and Singapore. We’ll also be building private internal tools (similar to YC’s BookFace) for mentor and alumni network to discuss, share and be generally helpful to each other.

Building something? You should apply.

If you want to know more about the program (structure, process, etc), I recommend going here.

If you’re working on something, I highly recommend you apply here. If you’re unsure whether you’re at the right stage, I recommend you apply.

Hsu Ken Ooi