During our trip to Singapore last month, I had the great opportunity to sit down with two guys leading the startup charge in that beautiful city-state. In the morning, I had a great chat over tea with James Chan, Investment Manager at Neotony Labs – and later in the afternoon, my wife, our friend, and I were gracioulsy hosted by Jitsiong Koh, Founder of Optimatic, at their Garag3 startup incubator.
Both guys are actively involved in what is quickly becoming one of the hot startup scenes in Asia. Singapore is nestled south of Malaysia in Southeast Asia, about a 3.5 hour flight due mostly south from Hong Kong. The city is very beautiful, extremely safe, and you’ll never have to worry about wearing a jacket (a huge plus for an avid shorts fan like me).
I was extremely impressed with the efforts these guys and their colleagues are making, in coordination with the Singapore government, to promote startups and innovation locally. It’s really a far cry from the US, which at this point seems to be partially succeeding in spite of itself. Want to do business in California? Good luck!
Singapore seems destined for startup success if it continues to embrace its current business friendly attitudes. There are two things historically that appear to be the magic formula for economic success.
First and foremost is a stable currency. Unlike here in the us, where the Federal Reserve has literally created trillions of dollars out of thin air, Singapore has actually allowed its currency to strengthen in an effort to fend off inflation. A stable currency is critical to economic success – as investment legend (and Singapore resident) Jim Rogers if fond of saying, no country has ever devalued its way to economic prosperity over the long term.
The second half of the economic success equation is a business friendly environment in which to operate. This was the secret to the United States’ economic success for the first 100+ years of its existence – relatively unfettered, good old fashioned laissez faire capitalism.
Asia has some great recent examples of countries going from rags to riches. Japan was in shambles after the war, but by the 1980’s the world was marveling at the Japanese Economic Miracle. Hong Kong was also a backwater post-WWII, but has risen into the ranks of the richest countries in the world. And Singapore has done the same thing, rising from a third-world nation in the 1960’s, to one of the richest per capita today.
How’d Singapore do it? By being friendly to business and encouraging economic growth and development.
The less than graceful decline of the US has made me more than a bit nervous. I don’t like how our government has managed the economy over the last twenty years – by printing money, running up debt, and not being friendly to business. Twice today, while driving to/from work, I actually heard a potential US government default discussed on NPR!
Many people here in the US are making contingency plans, in case things get bad. If you’re a startup person, my advice would be simple: buy yourself a one-way ticket to Singapore!
Alright, enough doom and gloom – this post should actually be more encouraging than not. It’s a very GOOD thing that us Americans have sane, beautiful countries like Singapore available to us, willing to bring in our huddled masses. Contrary to the beliefs of many in the US, especially those ingrained in Silicon Valley’s highly insular tech culture, there actually IS tech and startup life beyond California’s golden coast. Singapore is hopping, and should be a major hub of startup action for years to come.
To stay up to date on the latest startup news in Singapore and Asia, I’d highly recommend adding their excellent e27 tech blog to your daily reading list.
(Big thanks again to James and Jitsiong, you guys rock!)
More reading from our trip to Southeast Asia: