Episode 18: Startups in Taiwan! Opportunities or not?

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Elisa Chiu is an entrepreneur & investor who operates at the intersection of tech innovation, cross-border collaboration and Asian market immersion. She works with top entrepreneurs, professionals and creatives from Y Combinator, 500 Startups, Warner Bros., UBS, Uber, Intel, Deutsche Telekom and such for growth, market entry and investment in Asia through Anchor Taiwan's 30-day residency program. This award-winning platform is backed by impeccable network, providing exclusive access, resources, and insights for Asia soft-landing. As a part of Anchor Taiwan’s expansion, in 2019 she started Anchor Venture Partners, a cross-border funding network to invest into companies softlanding in Taiwan.

Elisa is a mentor for Founder Institute, a premier pre-seed startup accelerator from Silicon Valley with 200 chapters around the world. She is also a highly sought-after moderator and speaker for tech conferences with recent appearances at Stanford University, Infinity Ventures Summit, APEC O2O Summit, Asia Blockchain Summit, and Global Harbor Cities Forum. Elisa was awarded 40 Under 40 by Girls in Tech in 2018.

Elisa sailed from Wall Street with a decade of experience at top tier investment banks and hedge funds, trading and overseeing over $1 billion assets in Pan Pacific Asia. A purpose-driven capitalist, she dedicates her resources and expertise in finance to world-positive endeavors. She frequently works with accelerator programs, venture philanthropy funds (e.g. entrepreneur-investor connection at SOW Asia), and other mission-driven projects (e.g. Selection Committee for Clinton Global Initiative to empower women in tech).

Elisa is a global citizen (70+ countries), a published documentary photographer and a community builder through art, culture and impact investing.

(Shawn Flynn) Welcome to Silicon Valley Successes. Today we have Elisa Chiu an investor turned entrepreneur who operates at the intersection of tech innovation, cross border collaboration and Asian market emerging. She works with top entrepreneurs, professionals, and creatives from Y Combinator, 500 startups, Warner Brothers, UBS, Deutsche Telekom, Uber, Intel, and such for growth market entry and investments in Asia through the Anchor Taiwan Residency Program.  Elisa, first question is why Taiwan?


(Elisa Chiu) I think it's one of the best kept secrets in Asia. There's a lot of reasons for entrepreneurs and also investors to look into Taiwan. Number one is, there are a lot of amazingly talented engineers, product designers, etc., basically at much more affordable rates compared with those in Silicon Valley. Also, there are a lot of amazing traditional industries that are eager to work with startup founders with technology. And, it's an amazing base for entrepreneurs to develop their product and services.


(Shawn Flynn) You mentioned so much right there. You said it's a little bit more cost effective than Silicon Valley for hiring engineers. Is that because Silicon Valley is so expensive? Now, are you comparing that to maybe other places in the US? Is it even cheaper than, say, Minnesota or North Carolina or New York? Are we comparing it to more places, such as Eastern European like Ukraine and Russia? What's the comparison?


(Elisa Chiu) I think price is, of course, one of the considerations. I would say, compared with Eastern Europe and maybe Southeast Asia, I think Taiwan is definitely very, very competitive. However, I will say other than prices, actual considerations for entrepreneurs is that Taiwan is pretty unique in the sense that because of the heritage of it as a hardware developer we have a lot of talents who are able to do things that talents elsewhere cannot do, especially when it comes to hardware, software integration,


(Shawn Flynn) Tell me about Anchor Taiwan.  What do you guys do?


(Elisa Chiu) We do many things, but in particular, we identify and attract top entrepreneurs and tech professionals from around the world. And once we admit them into our program, we find out what they're looking for and we facilitate their Asia market entry. So specifically, we curate and design a one-month soft landing program, factoring in different activities, company visits, events, and trade shows to really facilitate their soft landing in Asia.


(Shawn Flynn) So you're saying soft landing Asia? Do you mean soft landing in Taiwan? Or can they really access a lot of countries in Asia through your program?


(Elisa Chiu) We see Taiwan as the great soft-landing pad for the rest of Asia. For one, there have been amazing channels in between Taiwan and China. Basically, a lot of Taiwanese companies and business people have a lot of existing channels that startup founders can actually leverage on when it comes to access into China. And increasingly, there's actually more and more connections in between Taiwan and Southeast Asia as well. So, I will say, Taiwan while not a huge market, is still an island of 23 million people. So, it's meaningful enough for you to pilot your product or services before you actually enter much bigger markets. And you can really leverage on a lot of existing channels instead of going into the ocean without knowing how to navigate.


(Shawn Flynn) Now regarding these channels, if I'm a startup from Silicon Valley, and I have discovered that my product niche really serves the Asian market, and I want to go to Taiwan and use your product or your service to land there, how open are these people to talking to me and opening up their resources, their channels for  my company? How long does it take to build a real relationship with their people?


(Elisa Chiu) It depends on timing.  Taiwanese people are known to be super friendly and welcoming to Western businesses. There are actually a lot of articles and research statistics around this. And you will know that once you get there, I think, as a lot of people have told me, that talent sells itself.  When it comes to IP production, that's a lot better over there as well. We have brought different groups of people over six times and our experiences have been that the entrepreneurs and tech professionals in our program have been very well received. And particularly because, through us as trusted partners for a lot of different local companies, their governments corporate and so it's easier for people we bring there to really get welcomed into the local communities.


(Shawn Flynn) So you've done six groups already.  And that's been over how many years? In two years?  What have been some amazing moments or highlights of these six visits.


(Elisa Chiu) Already, we have got entrepreneurs from YC, 500 startups, we have also got tech executives from some of the top tech companies in the world. I think the best moments where when they first landed in Taiwan, some of them the first time ever to Asia. So, seeing them from being a little bit nervous, not really knowing how to start and how the people and communities would receive them to, by the end of the program some of them actually feeling Taiwan was like their second home.  So, I think the best moments for a founder, being able to utilize our resources and our connections to facilitate them into the local communities. This is really a win-win for both those communities and for our members going over to Asia.


(Shawn Flynn) Tell me about your one-month program.  How many meetings? How many classes?  What’s the structure of it?


(Elisa Chiu) Each cohort is designed a little bit differently based on the people in that cohort. We tend to have a couple of specific focuses in each cohort. For example, if in this cohort we have people who more are in AR VR, then we tend to have more company visits and meetings around that, and events around that. Each cohort is designed a little bit differently. And we have a few broad categories in terms of the curriculum for the one month. We always start our program with the program orientation which includes cultural orientation in terms of how to conduct businesses in places with other cultural and historical backgrounds.


(Shawn Flynn) How important is cultural and diversity training?


(Elisa Chiu) Our awareness program is really crucial. I believe that it's important, no matter where you are, no matter where you go, especially when you are conducting international businesses in Asia particularly. We actually act as that cultural translator. We basically educate our members in terms of what they should be aware of such as when we go to the actual business meetings, how do you hand over your business cards, little things like this.  You hand over your business card using both hands, but these are probably even more superficial, but these are small things that are still important. A lot of the time we go deeper than that, to basically share our experiences. And also, before we go into the meetings with our understanding where certain partners will share, we let our members know they might say this, but don't take this in the wrong way because this is the reason that they say things like this. So, because for me, I have a team who are very international and we have backgrounds both in Taiwan, and also, we were educated overseas. So, we're able to be that translator who can really facilitate that introduction.


(Shawn Flynn) So how important is it to have that translator who knows the language and the culture when you have these meetings?


(Elisa Chiu) It's really crucial. I'll give you a quick example. In Asia, and this is increasingly in many parts of the world, governments are actually getting more and more involved with startup founders.  But, a lot of time the government people, agencies, might have good intentions to do certain things but then there are styles that might be very different from the startup founders. I remember, I brought in this very outstanding entrepreneur to meet with government officials and because the government officials are eager to fulfill their KPIs right away, they're like: “hey, so that side is MOU pretty much like before, I love the MOU” (memorandum of understanding). This kind of thing is not necessarily a bad thing. We just need to let the entrepreneurs know this is probably going to be what happens but, this person is indeed someone who has a lot of resources, who can open a lot of doors for you. So, this is the process that are common unusually in Asia. There's a lot of this kind of communications where we have the two events and at the same time, we have to tell the government agencies and representatives that we work with that I understand you have your KPIs, however we should probably have some warm intros before we go into business.


(Shawn Flynn) For people who have no idea about Asian culture, talk a little about the MOUs because I've been to many signings in my day.


(Elisa Chiu) “MOU, pronounced M-o-u” in English) is basically a struggle, like that very first documentation, to start a relationship. It's not unique to Asia. But I think in Asia that very often gets built into especially government related KPIs and success metrics. A lot of the time, they care a lot in terms of the number of MOUs, the size, and whether one that's the right KPI, is up to debate. But I think the key is not to disregard that 100%, but to understand where that comes from. And, to still find a common ground for different parties to work together.


(Shawn Flynn) I know the government's plays a huge part in pretty much everything that goes on in a lot of the countries outside of the US, even in the US, but I'd say more in many other countries. What type of resources are there that the government might provide for startups in Taiwan that people here might not know about?


(Elisa Chiu) The Taiwanese government is very friendly, especially when it comes to foreign startups. There are subsidies both at the local city level and at the central levels for the startup itself, also for R&D, and even for Angel Early Stage investments. If you are an investor looking to invest into startups they are lending in Taiwan, or in local towns in startups. And in addition to this, they know that we must innovate, to stay competitive. So, they're also working on changing a lot of regulations to make it a lot easier for entrepreneurs to get their visa to Taiwan.


(Shawn Flynn) You mentioned Angel funding. Are you talking about matching funding? Does the government have their own venture arm that will make investments themselves?


(Elisa Chiu) Yes, a bit of both. We have our national development consoles with a fund. So, we do have the equivalent of like the national sovereign funds that sometimes LPs for some other venture funds in the world have. At the same time, now we are at the third phrase of a national development console special projects to encourage early stage investments. So now they do grants and matching. And now it's basically more of a co-investment scheme. So, if you're an early stage investor, both individual and institutional, if you're interested in investing into Taiwanese startups or international startups, looking to soft land in Taiwan, or international startups looking to engage with a team for R&D or engineering in Taiwan, there's a good chance for you to benefit from the current situation.


(Shawn Flynn) It seems like there's quite a lot of options for a startup here to get some funding in Taiwan.


(Elisa Chiu) There is. I would say that in Taiwan there's no shortage of money. We're still at the early stage of encouraging more old money to be more open- minded into early stage investments. And that's also why the government's trying to really encourage the more traditional LPs to look into this area.


(Shawn Flynn) So instead of investing in a factory, invest in this AI or blockchain or something new?  How about companies from Taiwan coming to Silicon Valley? Do you help with that? And if so, what are some of the resources that are here for them that they might not have in Taiwan, and vice versa?


(Elisa Chiu) We help, however that's not our current focus. We do have a lot of connections here with the local communities, both with the VCs and the accelerators, and that's why I actually get this kind of request quite a lot. So, I do facilitate, especially when the accelerators or VCs, are bringing their portfolios to Silicon Valley. A lot of time when it's relevant I try to connect them with the VCs here that might be interested in investing into some of the companies that are coming over. However, the current focus for us fat Anchor is really from Silicon Valley outbound to Asia.


(Shawn Flynn) Then for these companies that go into Asia, how can they ramp up quickly, what are some tips and tricks for landing in a new market and accelerating from day one?


(Elisa Chiu) That's actually why Taiwan is a great place because since it's not a huge market a lot of times it's a lot easier for entrepreneurs to be seen. There's just 23 million people and if you have a decent product or service it's very easy for you to send out to win a competition. One of the Anchor people, a woman, has gotten into a different program because, especially if you come from the United States you tend to be better at presenting yourselves, storytelling and all that. So, a lot of time, we see that the western founders can get noticed a lot more easily. In terms of PR, in terms of marketing, a lot of time it's just a big win already from the very beginning. And of course, over there, I think finding the right partners is also very important. Once you have that exposure, resources and investments tend to come to you.


(Shawn Flynn) How do you go about finding the right partner? I know Anchor Taiwan's an amazing resource. But if you weren't there, how would one go about finding the right partner or if you are there, how?


(Elisa Chiu) It's really a lot about people. So that's also why for us, I feel like we're really in the people's business, both in terms of identifying the right entrepreneurs to be in our program, but also in terms of identifying the right partners in Taiwan to work with. So, we have spent a lot of time and energy to vet the partners that we work with.  We actually work with them to find out what are their values, their standards, and all that kind of thing, this is so that when we present them to our members, it will hopefully save them time, energy and money for their soft landing. If not with us, you have to put yourself out there, go to events when you first get there, meet people for coffee, etc.  You need to invest the time and energy to build that relationships, either through us or by yourself.


(Shawn Flynn) How do you vet the people to know that they are serious, that they want to either partner with a startup or invest with them or do something with them?


(Elisa Chiu) You mean our local partners in Taiwan? I care a lot about curating the right parties to meet with each other. So, a lot of time, even if they want to meet the people from my program for exposure, or a PR reason, if there's no actual relevancy, I don't make that happen. I will actively discourage that because if there's is no relevancy, I don't want our entrepreneurs to waste their time. So, number one, I curate the meetings so when I bring them together, usually there is a very good reason for the local corporates or governments or our local partners to meet with the particular entrepreneurs that want them.  The entrepreneurs want to meet with them either because they're in the same sector with the technology and there are decent possibilities for them to really work together or for the local corporates to invest into the startup.


(Shawn Flynn) Tell me more about the advice you would give to that early stage company when they want to go into a new market. What they should be thinking about?


(Elisa Chiu) I always tell our members during our orientation the One thing that's important when you go to a new market is be a giver first. I always tell our members, no matter how successful you are in Silicon Valley, you were entering a new community, you're entering a new place. So, think about what you can give to the community, this can be totally not financially related. This can be you have expertise about the Silicon Valley ecosystem that might be valuable for the local entrepreneurs. So that's also why a lot of time we host events to integrate our members with a local community.  This gives our members an opportunity to share their expertise where the local young leaders and entrepreneurs live.


(Shawn Flynn) Do you see that there's a difference maybe in skill sets, or the like, between the local people in Taiwan and the people who come from Silicon Valley, or at this point in time, is everybody pretty much on the same level playing field?


(Elisa Chiu) I think there is more difference in terms of mentality, probably not so much in terms of the skill sets. There are super skillful people, entrepreneurs in Taiwan, and across Asia. However, even though this is changing, I still see that, generally speaking, the Silicon Valley type of entrepreneurs tend to dream big. In Taiwan, a lot of founders and tech professionals, even though they have amazing technical skills, they tend to be more practical, humbler, which is a good thing to a certain extent. But at the same time, it also means that when it comes to building something that's totally changing the world, I think they are still more conservative.


(Shawn Flynn) So, in the big picture, it's more like an island view versus a global view.


(Elisa Chiu) You can probably say that, even though I will say for Islanders, I think being adventurous is also in our DNA. And, we've been seeing it when it comes to building the startup, the software tech kind of companies. I think, increasingly we're seeing that more and more founders who are educated overseas are coming and bringing back this more Western liberal sort of mentality. I think that will be beneficial when combined with that local, very solid tech capacity. But I do still see founders being relatively more conservative.


(Shawn Flynn) Let's recap everything that we've talked about.  We've talked about you've having six different cohorts (groups)over the last couple years, going from here to Taiwan and when they go to Taiwan, they get introductions to corporations, governments, and the local entrepreneur ecosystem. Some of the entrepreneurs that come from Silicon Valley might be a little bit more vocal or more comfortable presenting themselves and we'll get some attention there.  Since there are only 20 plus million people it's easy to really connect with these people that have had years and years’ experience in Asia connected to all those countries there and it's a great resource if you want to enter the Asian market.

(Shawn Flynn) What am I missing that you think people out there should really know about Anchor Taiwan and what you do and how you help these companies?


(Elisa Chiu) One thing we're very excited about, and also one of our key new initiatives is that in addition to the existing platform and practice of Anchor Taiwan, we're also looking into an early stage funding vehicle. Now we've started seeing companies or individuals through Anchor Taiwan really came back to Taiwan and make subsequent investments or partnerships, which we're very happy about. So, we want to be part of that successful journey financially as well.


(Shawn Flynn) Tell me about your background a little bit more.


(Elisa Chiu) I used to be a hedge fund trader and investor looking at pan Asia for convertible bonds strategy. It's like later stage investment. But now, I'm actually a lot more excited about working with early stage entrepreneurs, and really helping them facilitate their Asia access through /to Taiwan. So, we're looking to identify, unite individuals or institutions that share the same passion for cross border innovation and to help these entrepreneurs succeed internationally.


(Shawn Flynn) Why did you switch from that old life to this new life? What gave you that spark of enthusiasm? 


(Elisa Chiu) That's a long story. But to make it short, I was actually in a more traditional finance high headphone life for many, many years in Hong Kong. In 2013 I quit my job and decided that even though I suddenly had a very successful career, I wanted to get closer to the real world. I wanted the feeling of traveling around the world, really learning about the world and also myself. And really, it was through living in a bubble, a very comfortable bubble that I realized I was really looking to get more in touch with the real world. So, it was through traveling around the world and a lot of exploration that I came to the conclusion that entrepreneurship and cross border mission driven type of endeavors is what I wanted for the rest of my life. And that's how I made that transition to basically having a base here in Silicon Valley while starting my own venture.


(Shawn Flynn) Elisa, what is the best way to contact you and type of client you like to work with?


(Elisa Chiu) Feel free to check out our website  retirement.com and for me personally   elisa@anchortaiwan.com     In addition to that, we're also pretty active on our social media, Facebook and Instagram and you will find a lot of recaps about events that we run and also exciting news that you might want to know about in Asia and in Taiwan.  We are looking for founders, for tech entrepreneurs who are eager to learn about Asia when it comes to the industry X's, when it comes to how to best enter that market. And of course, also people who are interested in being part of this journey to help them succeed.


(Shawn Flynn) One last question. Do you have any piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, a new startup founder? What would it be?


(Elisa Chiu) Be a giver and be focused on what you're doing, believe in what you do, and just go for it.