Welcome to my online abode. This is where I pen my thoughts, perspectives and opinions from my corner in Southeast Asia. As a tech entrepreneur, investor, photographer, father, husband and son, I wear many hats and meet all sorts of cool folks as I trapeze across Singapore, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh and (occasionally) the 北上广 (Beijing-Shanghai-Guangzhou) regions of China.
James is CEO and co-founder of Ion Electric and Chairman and founder of Silicon Straits. He is 100% CEO, 70% COO, 50% CIO, 50% CFO, 33% CTO and 33% CMO. He loves all things nature and tech and has been mired in hardware and software since he was 12 years old. An alumni of Raffles Institution, Raffles Junior College, James has been trained as an Electrical & Computer engineer with a specialisation in Digital Signal Processing with a second major in Engineering & Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon, and a Masters in Management Science & Engineering at Stanford.Accurate as of Jan 2020
I was born in Singapore to a lower-middle class family with a working father and a stay-at-home mother. I’m the eldest of two siblings, was decent in my academics and awkward in sports. After 2 and a half years of mandatory military service, I received the Economic Development Board’s Singapore Inc. government scholarship to study abroad, and returned to work in public service for what would have been 6 years. I subsequently quit service with 2 years 8 months left on my scholarship bond to start Neoteny Labs (early-stage venture fund) with Joichi Ito.
Neoteny Labs is the general partner of Neoteny Startup 1 Limited Partnership, a US$5M seed venture fund that invests US$50k to US$500k first-money into consumer internet, mobile, hardware and consumer electronics opportunities. Neoteny Labs Singapore was also one of seven initial incubators that partnered with the National Research Foundation under its Technology Incubation Scheme to incubate and nurture startups prior to venture funding.
Noteworthy portfolio companies include Viki (acq. by Rakuten), SeatMe (acq. by NYSE:YELP), Lanyrd (acq. by Eventbrite), Catch (acq. by Apple), Socialwire (acq. by Rakuten), Path (acq. by Daum Kakao), Animoca (listed ASX:AB1), HelloSign (acq. by Dropbox), littleBits (acq. by Sphero) and Formlabs.Accurate as of Dec 2019
After our active investment period from 2010 to 2012, I chose to stay in Southeast Asia and took over Neoteny Labs Singapore, renaming it to Silicon Straits in Apr 2013. The company was by-and-large a boutique investment holdings with 2 operating subsidiaries, Silicon Straits Foundry (design, software) and SmoothOps (company secretary, accounting, tax, admin ops).
Silicon Straits is an innovation tribe in Southeast Asia that makes early-stage investments and works with entrepreneurs and enterprises to build products and companies. At its peak, the group had 100+ people with operations across Singapore, Vietnam and Myanmar. Its portfolio included subsidiaries such as Silicon Straits Foundry (dormant), SmoothOps (divested) and Silicon Jungles, as well as investments such as Burpple, Neoteny 3, HipVan, Caarly (acq. by Carousell), Ztore (divested), Carro, Parcel Perform, One Eight Technologies, PolicyPal (divested), Udu, Pixel Labs (undisclosed acq.) and SurePark.Accurate as of Dec 2019
I exited from our 90-strong wholly Ho Chi Minh-based design and software foundry operations to a regional unicorn in Jan 2017. I sold part of my controlling stake in SmoothOps back to my partners in 2015 and fully divested from my stake in 2019. Together with my CTO partner Sam Hon, we started Silicon Jungles in Mar 2017, the new software foundry subsidiary of Silicon Straits. We’ve stayed as a small team of 12 full stack software engineers ever since.
Silicon Jungles is a leading product design and software development foundry that works with entrepreneurs, startups and companies to design and launch innovative digital products and solutions. We practise pairing and work off the RoR, Elixir/Phoenix, Electron, React/ReactNative, Kubernetes/Docker/Terraform.Accurate as of Dec 2019
At this point in my life, I’ve come to realise that I am more inclined towards being an impatient hustler than a diversified venture portfolio investor-manager. In 2016, I wanted to learn more about the fintech industry and bridge the China outbound meta into Southeast Asia, which led me to joining forces with Wecash (n.k.a. Abakus Group) to jumpstart our zero-to-one entry into Southeast Asia, starting with Indonesia. In addition to being Wecash’s regional CEO, I made a personal investment into our Indonesia business in early-2017 and sold my stake back to Wecash over a year later in 2018 when I joined management at group level.
Founded in Nov 2013, Wecash aims to transform the consumer finance experience for the world. It is the first private Chinese company to build a “lending robot” that helps funding sources to evaluate consumer credit worthiness, detect and prevent fraud, underwrite loans and reduce NPL by up to 70%. Headquartered in Beijing, Wecash has more than 1,500 employees across its offices in China, United States, Brazil, Singapore, Indonesia, India and Vietnam. Since founding, the company has raised more than US$230 million from investors and acquired more than 160 million users.Accurate as of Nov 2019
I left Wecash in Nov 2019 after an eventful 3 years of building and scaling out a regional full-stack team that spanned the cities of Singapore, Beijing, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh and even New Delhi at one point. I’d been on the fence about leaving to start something new that was truly my own company and had been noodling on a new project within Silicon Straits. Everything reached tipping point as the stars aligned, and I ended up founding Ion Electric shortly after.
Ion Electric is Southeast Asia’s leading 2-wheeler mobility technology startup that designs and builds a price-to-performance superior all-electric alternative to gasoline motorcycles in the 125-155cc segment. Ion Electric is on a mission to transform how we move and for cleaner air, by disinter-mediating and capturing dominant value of 2-wheeler ownership by individuals and fleets – from factory to customer to aftersales – through its next-gen all-electric mobility platform.Accurate as of Dec 2019
In my spare time, I enjoy computer games, photography, food and fatherhood, and volunteer at The Birthday Collective, a not-for-profit “brain-heart-hand” trust of Singapore.