Helping Startup Founders Succeed in Asia: Elisa Chiu (Anchor Taiwan)

Helping Startup Founders Succeed in Asia: Elisa Chiu (Anchor Taiwan)

Note: this podcast was produced for the Professional Development Forum (PDF) an organisation that helps diverse young professionals reach their full potential in their careers. To find out more about PDF and their events in Sydney, please visit their website and follow them on social media. 

Elisa Chiu (Anchor Taiwan): About this Podcast Episode

Listen to this episode if you want to find out more about Taiwan’s startup ecosystem or if you simply want to hear about Elisa’s unique journey.  We talk about: 
  • Elisa’s story about building a career in high finance, then giving it all up to pursue her passion.
  • The cultural & gender barriers she faced and other struggles along the way.
  • Advice for young professionals in building their careers.
  • Overview of the Taiwan startup scene (VC players + accelerators).
  • Reasons to consider Taiwan as a place to build or grow your startup.

From Taiwan for the World

Originally from Taiwan, Elisa moved to Canada for her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Economics. She had an opportunity to work as a junior trader which kicked off her career in high finance, eventually working in Hong Kong as a portfolio manager specialising in convertible bond trades and strategies.

Ultimately not feeling fulfilled with her career path, she pursued her passion of photojournalism, visiting over 70 countries. Life eventually took her to Silicon Valley where she caught the startup bug and decided to move back to Taiwan to grow the small but emerging startup ecosystem and use her global connections to bring Taiwan to the world.

About Anchor Taiwan

Established in 2017, Anchor Taiwan is an Entrepreneurial Residency, Tech Community & Investor Network designed to tackle your soft landing in Asia through Taiwan. In 2019, Elisa launched Anchor Venture Partners, an early stage cross-border investment platform to combine her passion for startups and her expertise in capital markets. To find out more, please visit: https://www.anchortaiwan.com/about/

Taiwan Startup Ecosystem

Although Taiwan is more famous for its bubble tea, there is a small but thriving startup ecosystem not too dissimilar to Australia’s.

However, unlike Australia, Taiwan’s small geographical size and strong history of tech and hardware manufacturing (e.g. HTC, ASUS, ACER) make it an attractive place for tech companies to establish operations in the region.  Google, AWS, IBM & Microsoft have all expanded to the region, attracted by the high standard of living, low cost of operations and abundance of tech talent.   

Recently minted Taiwanese unicorns Gogoro (electric scooters) and Appier (AI marketing software) are a result of the island’s strengths and support networks. Major startup institutions like Techstars, Alibaba & SOSV (MOX) all have a presence along with a few dominant local and government organisations. 

If you’re just getting started, you’ll be hard pressed to miss AppWorks (Taiwan’s largest accelerator and VC).  With $US170 million funds under management, investments include companies like ShopBack (e-commerce cashback), Carousell (classifieds marketplace), Dapper Labs (crypto/blockchain), Lalamove (logistics) and KKday (e-commerce travel platform).

Episode Quotes

On being a minority and advice for young professionals

  • As a female minority it is more challenging for me to break into their groups, their circles.
  • For example, it’s very common for all of the guys, either in the trading world or even early stage investing, all of them go out to play basketball or have drinks together, and then deals just get done.
  • Because of the journey, I think that’s the reason that these days, I am involved with a lot of women focused initiatives
  • Identify mentors and champions around you that will give you advice and resources to really advance your career.
  • How do I cultivate support systems and community around me to enable other opportunities that are suitable and comfortable for other women like me?
  • Try to put yourself in an environment where your existing belief systems will get challenged. Don’t be afraid of being uncomfortable. It can be very painful, but know it’s ok to go through a lot of uncertainty, it’s ok to feel lost sad and to now know what to do. All of those challenges will shape you to be a better person. Those are crucial elements for you to form your independent thinking which is very important as it’s something that AI and Robots can’t easily replace.

On Pursuing Her Passion

  • I lived in a bubble. A lot of my friends around me lived very comfortable lives. But for me, I gradually I became less and less happy. I couldn’t find an obvious reason or purpose for my life. So I questioned myself…is this what I want for the rest of my life?
  • How come I’m still sitting on the trading floor everyday feeling unfulfilled and unhappy, while the only thing stopping me to make the change is myself. At some point, I just couldn’t take it anymore. The unhappiness and sadness and frustration of that was so huge that I knew that I had to do something.
  • It took me some time to pull the trigger to be able to walk away from my comfortable life and threw myself into the unknown. I went to follow a wartime photojournalist and from there I went to a lot of different places to start building my own portfolio. I went into a lot of remote communities to try to tell stories through my images.
  • The whole world, including my parents and everyone around me, they were like: Hey, don’t be silly. You have this great job and good title and incredible package and just suck it up. Keep doing what you’re doing and you can live this comfortable life, get married, etc.
  • I started getting into impact investing, and in some places, US$100 could be the that kick off capital for a woman in super remote village to start her own business to bring food to the table and change the life of her family…I went back to Hong Kong and had dinner with my friend in Lan Kwai Fong…easily 1 person can spend that very same $100 on a meal.
  • You’re getting into this super uncharted area, especially being someone who basically grew up in Asia with this very traditional social values and expectations. So you need to basically have enough courage and confidence to walk against the wave to create your own destiny.

On Taiwan as a Destination for Business & Entrepreneurship

  • One fact that people don’t realise is that Taiwan has the biggest engineering sites for Google across Asia. There’s a reason for that. Why is Google coming here with all this great talent?
  • In terms of quality, affordability, loyalty of Taiwanese talents. And they’re not alone…Microsoft, IBM, AWS etc. are also coming here for great talent.
  • Not a lot of places can you find talent that have both software and hardware integration skills. Taiwan has decades and decades of experience. If you look at Singapore or HK, they don’t have the same historical framework.
  • When it comes to partnerships, Taiwan has a lot of traditional industries that could potentially be your partners when it comes to manufacturing, but also be your clients and utilise the solutions that you’ve built. A lot of these clients also can be your investors as well. I really think that this is a goldmine that a lot of people don’t realise.

COVID-19’s Impact & Trends

  • I’ve definitely started seeing an impact when it comes to deals falling apart…however the government is doing an incredible job, coming up with a special investment scheme to help startups with their operational capital through this difficult time.
  • With your existing operations, are there areas where you can further cut costs, are their unnecessary perks that can be eliminated? Do you have the most efficient use of capital when it comes to your team, office space etc.
  • In general, investors will take longer to make investment decisions. Start your fund raising earlier before you run out of money.
  • Sectors that are hot at the moment, remote working, telehealth, digital, delivery, etc, they will be in high demand for a while. However, I believe in long term macros investment theses. It’s not our style to chase after this just because they’re in demand now.
  • When it comes to education, healthcare, food & services, we need to consider how to do these through digital…we need a better way to feed the planet, make more things more efficient, etc.

On Overseas Born Taiwanese coming back to Taiwan

  • 離開是為了更美好的回歸– you leave in order to return as a better version of yourself.
  • It’s part of our mission to connect them with their roots. There’s a lot of successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs coming back to Taiwan. For example Steve Chen (the co-founder of YouTube) and Patrick Wong (co-founder of Rotten Tomatoes). We’re seeing a lot of Taiwanese Americans spend more and more time here on this island. I’m excited about the knowledge, the networks and different perspectives which they can bring to the local ecosystem.

Timestamps

1:00 – Introduction
2:35 – Journey from Taiwan to Canada. Navigating a new environment and cultural barriers. 
6:10 – Working as a junior trader.
6:40 – Was this your passion? Why did you go down the finance path?
10:45 – Navigating cultural and gender barriers in a male dominant environment.
13:20 – Importance of finding a mentor and support systems. Turning bad situations into an advantage and bring value to others.
17:30 – Are there gender barriers in Taiwan?
18:50 – Working at a Hedge Fund, living in a bubble, resigning from a comfortable life, throwing yourself into the unknown.
22:45 – The motivation for living a different life. Overcoming fears and perceived limitations. Pursuing your passion, finding fulfilment, why you should give things a try.
30:20 – Experiencing Silicon Valley, getting into innovation + technology, impact investing and the startup world, moving back to Taiwan to setup Anchor Taiwan.
36:15 – Reasons for setting up Anchor Taiwan.
38:00 – The beginning of Anchor Taiwan.
40:10 – Tackling challenges and the unknowns. The difficulty of marketing Taiwan. 
43:50 – Thoughts around leaving and returning to Taiwan. Gaining perspective.
45:30 – What is Anchor Taiwan + Anchor Venture Partners?
50:40 – Overview of Taiwan market – VCs + Accelerators (AppWorks, Cherubic VenturesCornerstone Ventures).
55:35 – Government initiatives for foreign startups.
57:20 – Corporate Venture  Capital in Taiwan.
59:20 – Why should I go to Taiwan over Singapore or HK? What sort of startups should go to Taiwan?
1:01:30 – Google expansion into Taiwan.
1:05:00 – Impacts of Coronavirus on the startup space in Taiwan. Initiatives to help startups.
1:08:00 – How can startups navigate this tough period?
1:10:00 – Investment trends and opportunities in this period?
1:14:25 – Would you have done anything differently? Career advice for young professionals?
1:17:45  Overseas born Taiwanese coming to Taiwan. E.g. the co-founders of YouTube and Rotten Tomatoes.
1:19:05 – Thoughts on young Taiwanese + how Taiwan can stay competitive.
1:21:40 – Last words + how to contact Elisa.