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Singapore Startups Kick Ass Overseas, Gets Ignored At Home As Usual

CTO Navin Kumar mans the SocialWok booth at TechCrunch50 Conference 2009.

CTO Navin Kumar mans the SocialWok booth at TechCrunch50 Conference 2009.

Last week, Singapore’s startup scene witnessed an amazing success streak:

iTwin became the first-ever Singapore startup on 14 September to demo at TechCrunch50 Conference 2009, the massive showcase of the latest cutting-edge technology startups in San Francisco.

– Likewise, another Singapore startup Socialwok emerged as a Demopit winner at the same conference the very next day. (You can find out more about SocialWok at our interview with CEO Yong Ming Guang here.)

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009 - A showcase of technology startups.

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009 - A showcase of technology startups.

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009 was hugely covered by the US and international press, such as CNET, Forbes, Wired, BusinessWeek, Fortune, The Huffington Post, Reuters, Fast Company and Bloomberg TV.

The Singapore press? Nary a whimper. As usual, Singapore startups get no love from the local media.

Mohan Belani, director of consumer web and mobile community e27, recently bemoaned the lack of exposure for Singapore startups – one of the points I brought up when I highlighted the lack of a support ecosystem for our local startups.

If things don’t change, our startups will start to wither on the stalk here despite the acclaim they get overseas. And they’ll start leaving by the droves, despite whatever carrots the local government agencies dangle in their faces.

C’mon folks – it’s ridiculous that we put aside $25 million Entrepreneurial Talent Development Fund (ETDF) to look for and seed new startups, yet cannot give any love to those who ARE ALREADY IN THE GAME.

PS: The same evening iTwin demo-ed at TC50 2009, Singapore-based Pechora Technologies with their award-winning web-cam solution HomeCamera, bagged the Innovation Award at the Broadband World Forum 2009. They were the only winner from South-east Asia.

Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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  • financialjerk

    yeah.. singaporeans are really talented. 😀 but most tech startups in other countries are also ignored. not just singapore. only startups from the US receives a lot of praises. 😀

  • Daniel

    Hi Bjorn,

    Thanks for weighing in.

    Regarding a “user uprising”, consider these 2 points:

    1. iTwin has not been commercialized. SocialWok targets small-to-medium enterprise user base. HomeCamera may be commercial, but it targets a niche audience. Not much chance of a popular user uprising, is there?

    2. You cannot help the startups gain users if nobody knows about them, and it is difficult to let people know about them without employing the mainstream media. A startup may do it without the mainstream media, but would they scale faster than their burn rate?

    Simply said – a startup cannot change the world, if the world doesn’t know they exist.

    And if the mainstream media think I’m picking a fight – they’d better grow thicker skin! =)

  • bjorn

    i agree with both gerald tan and james chan.

    it is every entrepreneur’s dream to seek acknowledgement and validation of their hard work and determination agst all odds. some face more odds than others, hence it is all the more satisfying when one gets some form of victory, no matter how big or small the victory is.

    but entrepreneurs hv to avoid sinking into the self-delusion bubble. one’s personal victory is not necessarily shared by others. publicity is good-to-have, but the “who cares” question is equally as impt in PR as in product feature devt. why bother about what others people think, as what PR is, when entrepreneurs shld care abt their users first and foremost?

    in all this talk abt the 3 startups, i have not seen any user uprising about why their startups is not featured. not enough users or users dun care? that is the real crisis. not mainstream media in SG not picking it up. dun get me wrong, the SG startup community should care and comment on this, but lets move on and stop picking a fight with mainstream media and help the startups gain users instead if one is up to it.

  • motochan

    @Daniel more thoughts from me, not necessarily from an investor’s angle.

    The best form of motivation for any entrepreneur is to hear a big thank you from your users, and to be recognized by his peers for his achievements. Having mainstream media cover one’s achievements is a good-to-have, but I’m not sure that’s going to be what’s keeping them entrepreneurs up at night.

    Excessively celebrating any form of success would also lower the bar for future, more significant successes (yet to come) by them or other start-ups from our ecosystem. Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. Besides, I’d much rather keep those shots and make them count, rather then expend it here and now.

    What’s worthy of our mainstream media would probably be a main win at TC50 (i.e. best of 50). In the meantime, good job guys, and keep doing your best at changing the world.

    • Daniel


      I’m not talking about excessive celebration (which I agree can be detrimental); but at least some form of recognition which can spur them to greater things.

      Perhaps the problem is that the local mainstream press may not even be clued in even if they are interested.

  • Gerald Tan

    If the mainstream press tried to cover everything that happened, we’d be spending hours sifting through news everyday. They keep up with current affairs, and is inherently not meant to inform about the every little buzz that happens in the startup scene. This is secondary news that concerns a much smaller proportion of their readership. If a company’s innovation is only keeping pace with what the mainstream media reports, then that company is probably doing something wrong. Google has been around since 1998. Most people only started using it MUCH later. Facebook officially launched in 2004. Most of us didn’t have an account until 2007 (Singapore undergraduates could register since 2006). Not everyone, much less the media, are early-adopters.

    And I doubt that many would argue that despite the attention they have been getting, most people are still not convinced about Twitter. It is still very much a Silicon Valley thing.

    You can do your part to provide coverage, but we shouldn’t blame the local press or others for not doing so. They are not obligated to do so. If they were failing their readers in that respect, then their readers should move elsewhere, and let them be the author of their own demise.

    I personally would much rather hear about the companies that truly succeeded and crossed the chasm than to hear about the dozens of startups that are launched everyday.

  • Daniel


    If you are looking through the eyes of an investor, yes you’re right and entrepreneurs shouldn’t aspire towards media attention as opposed to driving value. But remember, it’s not a sliding scale.

    My point is that there are startups in Singapore who can provide business value, and as a country who purportedly is encouraging entrepreneurship, we should celebrate any form of success to, as you said, ‘serve as a firm pat on the team’s backs, to drive them to scale greater heights’.

    For these successes may not come as often as we’d like.

  • Daniel


    That’s the sad truth.

  • Daniel


    If the mainstream press should be interested in this scene only if it is popular, huge and successful, then its not exactly news is it? Oh wait… maybe you’re right – since only now are the local press interested in 3-year old Twitter.

    But I agree with you that the press do not owe startups any coverage. You’re also right to say that startups should focus on providing true value instead of clamoring for attention.

    Which is why folks like us have to do it on their behalf.

  • motochan

    I totally agree with Gerald.

    I might be wrong, but I do not think iTwin is the first Singapore start-up to demo at TC50. FusionGarage had demoed as well, and there might have been 1 or 2 others before that.

    TC50 is a great event, but being a DemoPit winner certainly isn’t something that any prospective user or investor would care about when they are evaluating the product/service. It’s important for entrepreneurs to be focusing on the right milestones, no matter how difficult things may seem. After all, in a desert, even a drop of water in the distance could be a mirage for a stream.

    The sort of entrepreneurs I’d like to work with, are those who would not be spending the time bemoaning the lack of love by his homeland, but instead be continually focused on his product and users. A small win does not maketh a start-up. It should instead serve as a firm pat on the team’s backs, to drive them to scale greater heights.

  • Brian Benenhaley

    You are not alone, if you are not a Boston backed or Silicon Valley startup, you are not going to get the same exposure. Even if you are the next Google, they just don’t show the same interest.

  • Gerald Tan

    To be blunt – this is nonsense. Grow up already. No one owes these companies any media coverage just because they had won the approval of TechCrunch 50 attendants.

    Most, if not all of the people/media/blogosphere that are complaining are just as guilty of not providing attention to iTwin and SocialWok. Why wasn’t there more coverage from these people BEFORE TechCrunch 50? If we thought it was so good then everyone complaining should be covering it already. We wouldn’t have to wait for TechCrunch 50 to validate both products before talking about it.

    It was mentioned that CNET, Forbes, etc, wrote about TechCrunch 50. What I’d like to know is how many of them actually wrote about iTwin or SocialWok. And don’t be mistaken – I like both technologies. I just wonder how many people complaining about the lack of coverage in the local media are actually using SocialWok NOW. And don’t forget there were countless other products/presentations/launches too. Just because it’s Singaporean doesn’t make it special.

    Many major publications around the world don’t cover TechCrunch 50 too, and why should they? I think TechCrunch 50 is a cool event, but don’t go expecting that the rest of the world should care when it is of no concern or interest to them. Believe it or not, not everyone is in the ‘IT’ or ‘entrepreneurial’ scene. Give them a reason (a REAL reason, not just because of TechCrunch 50) to provide coverage, and they will. When people can see a service/product that is truly of use to them, it will naturally get the coverage it deserves.

    This sort of coverage in any media, local or international, is a privilege, not a god-given right. Real entrepreneurs know better than to moan and groan about such things.

    If there are better opportunities elsewhere, then they should indeed leave and head for greener pastures. Great entrepreneurs rely primarily on their own determination and ingenuity. Blaming it on circumstances is just a convenient excuse, which is too commonplace among local ‘entrepreneurs’.

    I believe both iTwin and SocialWok will do well, and I hope they don’t waste time concerning themselves with such trivial matters. Less talk and more action.

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  • Anshul

    I think this is a big problem that startups face in Singapore even though we have something like EDTF. Probably all the startups based in singapore should form a group and help each other and create awareness about startups in general. I know e27 is great but we could definitely do more with such organizations. We are facing this now and its tough.

  • Bernard Leong

    Totally agreed. We also covered them in SGE in the hope that the mainstream press might get some clue:

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