Category: Lean Startup

Accelerators in Singapore at a glance

Accelerators in Singapore at a glance

This article originally appeared on

The number of accelerators in Singapore is growing and will continue to grow as industries like Fintech and Cybersecurity heat up. Overwhelmed? Not sure which accelerator in Singapore is the most suitable to aid your startup’s journey?

Depending on your objective, here’s a cheat sheet to help you compare the big boys in this jungle:

1. If you like the newest kids on the block – Rockstart and Muru-D

Name of accelerator: Rockstart
Country of origin: The Netherlands
Duration of program: 150 days or roughly five months
Area(s) of focus:  Web and mobile, smart energy, and digital health
Investment/Equity stake: Information not available
X-Factor: The global outreach of the Program (program runs simultaneously in Amsterdam and Singapore), the fact that many of the alumni companies are funded by prominent VCs (Greylock Partner, Balderton Capital, Notion Capital, Shamrock Ventures etc) after the program and that Chi Tran, former CTO for OgilvyOne, heads the Rockstart Southeast Asia program.

Even though Rockstart just launched in Singapore in May 2015, it is no stranger to the startup scene. Dubbed as the largest accelerator in The Netherlands, Rockstart has selected 10 ‘Globally focused’ startups to take part in the first run of its accelerator program, which will last for 150 days. It’s interesting to note that while participants attend the program mainly in Singapore but they also get the opportunity to visit San Francisco (2 weeks) & New York (2 weeks) during the program. Successful companies include 3Dhubs, Wercker, Top-Docs.

Name of accelerator: Muru-D
Country of origin: Australia
Duration of program:  180 days or Six months
Area(s) of focus:  Web and mobile, smart energy, and digital health
Investment/Equity stake: US$30,300/ 6% equity
X-Factor: Muru-D is an accelerator backed by Australia’s largest telecommunications carrier, Telstra.

Muru-D recently graduated 9 startups in their first batch in Singapore in August 2015. In Australia, where the program originates, the nine startups from the first run attracted more than US$2.4 m in follow-on funding. Impressively, all of the startups have paying customers or paid trials at the end of the six-month program.

Participating startups receive US$30,300 in seed funding each, workspace in Muru-D’s Singapore premises, and access to mentors, coaches, and investors.

2.  The most all rounded accelerator 

Name of accelerator: Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI)
Country of origin: Singapore
Duration of program: 100 days or around three and a half months
Area(s) of focus:  Scalable, repeatable, profitable businesses based in Asia for Asia
Investment/Equity stake: S$50,000/ 8.888% equity
X-Factor: The frog mascot (just kidding…) JFDI.Asia’s co-founders Meng and Hugh Mason are both entrepreneurs who have immense experience and connections to help startups succeed.

Google search “accelerator Singapore” and one of first results you will see is JFDI. JDFI claims to be the first accelerator in Southeast Asia — since 2010 JFDI has accelerated 69 startups from around the world and turned a $1 m initial investment into a $60m+ portfolio. JFDI evolved from Techstars‘ model of startup acceleration, adapting it for Asia. Most would say that this is the most all-rounded accelerator in Singapore, as we have seen several noteworthy alumni companies across multiple industries and nationalities. Personally, I have met quite a few Koreans and Norwegians at some of its Demo days.

3. If your niche is in Mediatech…

Name of accelerator: SPH Plug and Play accelerator
Country of origin: Singapore
Duration of program: 70 days or two and a half months
Area(s) of focus:  advertising, e-commerce, marketplaces, mobile, news and content distribution to public relations
Investment/Equity stake: S$30,000/ 6% equity
X-Factor: The accelerator program is run by SPH, Singapore Press Holdings, one of the largest SGX-listed media companies in Singapore.

Eight Internet start-ups (click here for more information) were recently chosen from 280 applications from around the world in the inaugural intake of the accelerator program. The firms, which are in the fields of content and content curation, learning, employment, lifestyle and data analytics, come from Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

4. If your niche is in Fintech…

Name of accelerator: AspirAsia
Country of origin: Russia (Moscow)
Duration of program: 30-180 days or one to six months
Area(s) of focus:  Fintech
Investment/Equity stake: between US$50,000 and US$500,000/ 5 to 15% equity stake
X-Factor: The accelerator program is funded by its parent company, Life.SREDA, which has recently raised $100 m for its second fund.

The accelerator just launched in May 2015 and has since selected the first batch of 8 startups. Leading the program in Asia is Huawei’s senior executive, Victor Chow.

Name of accelerator: Startupbootcamp Fintech
Country of origin: London
Duration of program: 13-week or three months
Area(s) of focus:  Fintech
Investment/Equity stake: €15,000/ 8% equity
X-Factor: The high power mentors who personally mentor each team, with profiles ranging from MD of DBS to senior members from Intesa SanPaolo and PwC. They also have support from Infocomm Investments, Jungle Ventures, PixVine and Route66 Venture which provided funding and business mentoring.

Startupbootcamp FinTech takes startups through a 13-week, mentorship driven, program that connects them to banks, investors and subject experts. The most recent run has seen 11 graduates and the demo day was held at Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, supported by big guns like Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and DBS, one of the largest local banks.

5. If you are building a Social Enterprise

Name of accelerator: Unframed
Country of origin: Singapore
Duration of program: 180 days or five months
Area(s) of focus: Social impact
Investment/Equity stake: S$10,000/ up to 10% equity
X-Factor: Besides the cash, founder Larry Tchiou promises that each team will receive close mentoring from a team with “unique expertise, experience, and network at the crossroads of tech startups, social entrepreneurship, non-profit.”

Unframed, a social impact startup incubator, this afternoon launched a five-month program called Enabling Change. Each startup will receive S$10,000 (US$7,500) in seed funding and provides Unframed with a maximum of 10 percent for those at the concept stage – to be exercised within the first two years.


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From zero to Hero in 12 months, How ShopBack does it

This post originally appears on Techinasia

The first phase of a start-up often involves finding ways of to get the early adopters on-board and generating feedback to iterate the idea. You may have seen many of those blogs that discuss customer acquisition strategies in theory but these are usually difficult to be replicated without understanding the context. To really nail product development, follow the journey of a “Hero”, someone who has been there and done that – like Shanru Lai, Head of Marketing at ShopBack. In this interview, she shares some affordable yet effective marketing strategies that worked for them.

Why ShopBack?

The founders of ShopBack, Henry Chan and Joel Leong were first-time entrepreneurs but they have managed to build a large customer base within a year from launch. Started in August 2014, ShopBack has powered more than 100,000 customer transactions at popular eCommerce portals both in Singapore and abroad within less than 10 months. ShopBack offers online shoppers up to 30% cash back when they shop online at any of the 300 Asian and North American brands. Shopping categories range from fashion to F&B, travel and electronics, and the team has brought on board well known retailers like ZALORA, ASOS and Groupon.

And running a start-up often means making the best of the little you have. According to Shanru, even though ShopBack is in a slightly more advantageous position as they have raised over US$500,000 in seed funding last year, they are always mindful of how they can optimise marketing spend to give the company its longest runway.

Firstly, identify your market segment

Crafting successful marketing campaigns begins with an end in mind. ShopBack identifies their target market as anyone who shops online in South East Asia and typically between the age of 18 to 45 years old. Shanru shared that this helped them to focus on the choice of marketing channels — those that their target market frequently engages with – Facebook, instagram and blogs. She insists there is no one-size-fits-all social platform: some customers are inactive on Facebook but are heavy SnapChat users so ShopBack needs mix its media. These behaviors, however, always depend on the market and location of your users.

Paid marketing for new user acquisition

While paid marketing has worked very well for eCommerce companies, it all boils down to one simple strategy – deliver real value to customers. To attract new customers, ShopBack relies on Facebook ads, engagement on other social media and blogs.

The first step is to create a daily budget for Facebook ads, which is in line with their monthly targets. Optimising the images, content, and the time of posts is an ongoing task. Shanru scrutinizes the analytics data regularly to identify trends or confirm certain hypothesis, for example, the most effective timing to put up the Facebook post to maximise engagement. The most popular content among ShopBack’s users tends to include price promotions, especially when discounts can be stacked with cash back. The key is also to find out the 80/20 when it comes to selecting which brand partners’ sale promotions to promote. Knowing the top online brands that bring about the highest conversions or has the highest web traffic enable ShopBack to prioritise the brands to focus the majority of marketing dollar on them.

For new start-ups with no history of data to fall back on, Shanru shared that they can start by observing the content and timing of the Facebook posts on major competitors’ pages and then adapt their strategy accordingly.

Following Acquisition with Retention

The work does not end after the new customers are acquired as they still need to be persuaded to make a transaction or be actively engaged to make repeat transactions. Shanru’s strategy for retention:  email marketing. To achieve high click rates, ShopBack crafts relevant content alongside persuasive copy and fine tuned design. Through the email analytics she has done, Shanru realises that it is often effective to entice new customers or those who have not made a recent transaction by sending exclusive bonuses on their next purchase.

In addition, Shanru shares that their blog has played a pivotal role in bringing in more traffic to their site and creating conversions to first sales. They would share good promotions from their brand partners on the blog and this has also enabled them to package more value into the marketing campaigns they run for the partners. Again, this is a way of delivering real value to their customers. For new start-ups, one concern could be how to maintain a blog team sustainably. ShopBack does it in the beginning by working with freelancers and having a central person to manage and edit the posts.

From time to time, Shanrun has also found it effective to engage fans in a fun and different way. Once a month, they run contests on Facebook and on their blog, in the form of lucky draws or giveaways of a particular brand’s vouchers or products, to engage users.

Get a marketing expert onboard

It sounds like a no-brainer but it is an area that is often overlooked. As a founder, unless you have prior marketing experience, it is essential to have someone experienced in marketing onboard if you are running an eCommerce business. It is possible for someone to learn on the job but it works much more efficient to have someone who’s already in the know, given the limited runway.

Shanru shared that she was already running marketing campaigns back in ZALORA and therefore ensuring that marketing efforts deliver the business objectives is no stranger to her.

Hoping that it gets viral in the end

While getting the word out through their marketing efforts has been effective in general, Shanru maintained that the holy grail is still word of mouth marketing, via their referral program. But it will take some time for the business to get to that stage, as the number of customers need to reach a certain level before an exponential increase can happen. Having said that, referral programs should be there from day 1 and it is worth setting up a simple yet reliable referral system to enable your local customers to share about your site. Every quarter, in addition to the social media campaigns, Shanru would run a special bonus referral campaign so that customers would be more incentivized to share actively during those particular months.


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The 3-Step Stress Test before you start your business

The 3-Step Stress Test before you start your business

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1. Who are your target customers*?

– Describe their characteristics, behaviors, professions, country of residence and finally age, gender.

2. Validate your assumptions
– WHAT is the pain that your customers* face now? How do they currently cope with this pain? Are there a combination of tools available now that the customers can use to partially solve the problem?
– WHY would the customers want to pay for your service? What are the assumptions you have made and how have you been testing them?
– WHO are in your management team? Do their background help your team achieve your business targets? What is the gap? How are you planning to address the gap?
– WHO do you know that can help you to get your customers? How many can they bring in?
– HOW similar are the behavioral traits of the customers* you identified to those that you assume in your business model?
– WHERE would your business get your customers? What’s the conversion rate and is it realistic given the limited marketing budget?
– WHEN would you get your first 100,000 transactions? Is it one year later? How much would you need? Given the budget that you have now, is it realistic?

3. Making money

-This overall market size is >$10 billion – Is this market too broad?
This overall market size is <$1 billion – Is this market too small?


*Customers are paying parties for your business

**Consumers are users who may not necessarily pay