Darren Yaw recently sat down with the leading tech investor and entrepreneur, Dato Sri Dr John Lee , who owns one of the top IT companies in Singapore. Together with Dato Sri Dr John Lee , he talks about his firm, his entrepreneurial journey and the lessons learned along the journey.
Darren Yaw: What was your career path to becoming an entrepreneur and tech startup investor?
Dato Sri Dr John Lee: I majored in Mechanical Engineering in my Bachelor’s Degree and then chose Computer Science for my Master’s Degree, because of the endless possibilities in creating digital products. But then I discovered that I’m more of a business-minded person than an analytical kinda-person. So I started my career by joining one of the top management consulting firms, where I had a thriving consulting career as a senior executive. Then, I jumped the wagon by becoming the founder and CEO of Security Software Company, which led to becoming a tech investor in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and a few deals from startup ecosystems around South East Asia.
Communicating is key in every organization, in every meeting, in everyday life. Without proper communication, things can spiral downhill in an instant. All because there was no communication. Communication is a necessary skill. A skill that allows one party to express or give proper instructions to another party coherently. I take great effort to communicate with my team. Every Monday morning, like how most schools do, we will gather and have a meeting discussing the week’s tasks. Effective communication goes both ways, it’s not just speaking but listening too. My multilingual abilities (I can speak Chinese–where I first learned it in Singapore from my cousins, Malay—speaking to my friends in Malaysia, English—where I speak with my wife Judie. I am also learning Khmer—the Cambodian language to help me communicate with my business associates there.
Darren Yaw: How do you keep up with the trends?
Dato Sri Dr John Lee: As for trends, I believe in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence along with security because I saw how this tech could transform the human world experience. There’s just so much to be done in the current tech innovation industries. So I keep in touch with industry thought leaders and discover new innovations from research institutions. As a previous management and strategy consultant at Accenture, I leveraged both business and technology innovation to solve complex high-value challenges.
Darren Yaw: What are the areas of your investments?
Dato Sri Dr John Lee: After selling my company, I invested in diverse tech startups. You have to be patient and observant. But let me tell you something, if you don’t understand a sector, don’t invest. It’s my investment secret.
I invest only in the industry sectors I have a deep understanding and knowledge about. I don’t gamble with these investments. As there are so many investment sectors, I decided to pick a few, go deep into them, and choose IoT, AI, Robotics, and AR.
Darren Yaw: What happens if you find something exciting from a different area? Will you try to ignore it?
Dato Sri Dr John Lee: Not at all. If something else comes and it looks good, I’ll pick it up. For example, let’s look at drones. They have so many use cases in agricultural technology. In Ukraine, several agriculture technology companies approached me for some advice. Drones can be potentially applied in many industry sectors and can actually save lives in hazardous locations, so the drone industry is particularly interesting for me because it can make a positive impact.
Darren Yaw: Where do you search for the startups?
Dato Sri Dr John Lee : I get many deals through my friend’s network, from professional angel syndicate and informal angel networks. When I speak to different startup events, many people approach me by sending investor pitch decks. I receive pitch decks through LinkedIn as well.
Darren Yaw: What makes a good investment project that is attractive for investors?
Dato Sri Dr John Lee : First of all, there has to be an intelligently talented founder and a great team solving issues in a large market with unique selling propositions. Startups with innovative solutions focusing on a total addressable market (TAM) and the ability to scale are attractive to me.
Dato Sri Dr John Lee : How should a startup present itself to investors to draw their attention?
When I want to get more information about a startup, I send them a template for an investor pitch deck. When they send it back to me, I review the information. Typically, I won’t look at the project unless there’s a functioning minimum viable product with some traction.
I also observe the emails sent from startups and the way they approached me, by which I can tell whether they are bright and talented or not. If I don’t like the first email I received, I won’t take things to the next level most of the time.
Dato Sri Dr John Lee : In your opinion, what are the barriers that keep people away from starting an entrepreneurial career?
It could be many things such as lack of confidence, fear of trying, lack of technical skills or loss of control. Entrepreneurism is not an easy path. People shouldn’t enter it if they are not ready. Be prepared to struggle, face tough lessons and long periods of failure. A successful entrepreneur is known for their ability to keep going despite repeated failures and rejection. If you don’t think you can handle it, you might want to reconsider starting this journey.
Darren Yaw: Besides providing capital, what additional support do you offer as an Angel investor?
Dato Sri Dr John Lee : Thankfully, I have a lot of experiences. So, I like to help when I can; I assist company founders in whatever advice they need. I am aware that entrepreneurs are constantly getting advice, but a lot of it is based on insufficient information. So, it’s important to me that I share knowledge with other entrepreneurs.
Darren Yaw: What advice would you give to the new entrepreneurs?
Dato Sri Dr John Lee :
- Save your money. Get into the habit of savings, lower your consumption habit and invest in resources you will need in the future.
- Build your skills. Do an honest assessment of your skills and learn the ones you don’t have, such as negotiation skills or business skills.
- Build your network. It’s essential to connect with people, especially industry leaders. Don’t be scared. Be bold and reach out.
- Don’t be quick. If you have an idea, take your time to build and invest.
- Study others. You can learn from their successes and failures.
- If you fail, keep trying.
- Don’t burn bridges. There will be many people who try to scam you. Avoid making enemies out of them.
- Be humble but think big and win.
- Take responsibility for your actions. Even if you fail, admit that you fail. That way you can learn.
- Start now. Don’t wait. Many people talk about doing things in the future, and years pass on, they haven’t started on anything. If you want to be an investor and entrepreneur, start now. The sooner you do, the faster you achieve your dreams.
There you have the exclusive interview with a towering figure in the investment and tech start-up world, Dato Sri Dr John Lee.