The latest edition of China-based SOSV’s 8×8 Speaker Series featured eight mentors from the startup ecosystem. They provided insights on entrepreneurship, while SOSV unveiled the latest Chinaccelerator 20 cohort. Taking place in Shanghai, Taipei, and online, the event was a gathering where experienced figures of the business world told eight-minute stories that have never been shared before.
Here are the highlights from the latest 8×8 Speaker Series.
Wayne Huang, the co-founder and CEO of XREX Inc. likened entrepreneurship to an extreme sport:
“You must do it for the climb itself. You must love the climb. That’s why, like all the mountaineers, right after you summit, you go to your next climb, because the goal is not to summit. The goal is to prove yourself, to prove your skills, to prove that you can do it . . . And you are so confident that you have all the skills to be that surviving 1% of the VC’s portfolio. You know that you’re doing extreme sports.”
Jessica Gleeson, the CEO of BrighterBeauty, invoked her time at Starbucks, where young team members saved millions of dollars for the company by proposing and implementing small changes, to unpack the intersection of innovation and culture:
“Each one of us actually worked exactly within our sphere of influence and responsibility. But we would walk over right to the edge, reach out, and ask for help from the adjacent person. By coming together with a strong sense of purpose, we were able to roll out this initiative [LIBS—liquid, ice, blend, serve—to streamline beverage production]. It’s really driven by Starbucks building in us a culture of innovation and a culture of ownership.”
Wei Hopeman, the co-founder and managing partner of Arbor Ventures, discussed the relationship between entrepreneurs and investors. She covered the need for founders to be open and honest with investors so that investors can figure out the best way to help businesses blossom:
“You have to be really smart about figuring out how to help me help you. Think about why you took money from these investors—and the answer better not be well, they gave me money, or, they gave me the highest valuation. Hopefully, your answer includes well, I value their sector expertise, I value their strategic network, I think they have really interesting global insights. So you have to be really smart about leveraging and making your investors part of your extended team.”
Sharmin Ali, the founder and CEO of Instoried, covered her journey from working on Wall Street to establishing her company. She talked about the loneliness of being a founder and the importance of building the right team:
“I was suffering a huge personal loss when I started this company. I know as a matter of fact that this may not be mentioned, but founders are lonely people. We need to channel that negative energy in the right direction . . . The only thing that will actually prevail in your company is your team. You need to have the best team possible—the best leadership team at the grassroot level—people who can connect with you and your vision . . . The team is everything. You should never invest in anything else but your team.”
Arun Verma, the regional general manager of a startup in stealth mode, unpacked three important lessons that he learned from his time at well-established companies. He touched upon his experience at AirAsia to explain the concept of ownership:
“Your organization is best served if all of your staff feel like they’re a part of the mission and there’s a clean line of them coming up with something, implementing it, and then seeing its impact.”
While Verma was at Shopify, he realized the importance of focusing on a segment:
“Find the segment to focus on, find the customer to focus on. That can take a problem that seems super complicated and demystify it to make it a lot easier.”
Verma also worked for Blackberry, where it became clear that the product is at the core of the entire operation:
“As you start to scale your business, it’s important to keep the idea that it’s everybody’s job to make the product better. That means sales teams and support teams—things that you wouldn’t normally think of as a product job. But if you start to think of it like that, then you get a lot of focus on producing something that is really awesome for your customers.”
Alicia Tung, the COO of Great Place to Work, had a simple message—it’s always about people:
“If you are building a business and you want to make it bigger, lasting, substantial, and sustainable, then this is for you: if you are a business owner, then you take control of everything. The ability to empathize is very important, because when you show that you understand, people will voluntarily engage. Create a culture that welcomes critiques and reflection. Facilitate actions—facilitation is much more complicated than training, or leadership, or communication. It takes a lot of maturity and experience to do it well. It is now critical when you want to create an agile team. And remember why we are here at all times—the purpose of why we are here.”
John Keh, the CEO of Impakt, covered what he framed as the most generic advice and explained why it works:
“Find a problem worth solving. Startups are hard. It’s a grind. Find a problem that you feel passionate about . . . so you can grind through.”
“Listen to your users. This means not just talking to your users, but really picking up insights.”
“Optimize for speed. As a startup, you’re small. Your only advantage is speed . . . You are able to be nimble, to test your product, make sure it works, and then keep scaling from there.”
Kapil Kane, the director of innovation at Intel China, explored the ways Zen wisdom—generosity, ethics, patience, effort, concentration, wisdom—can be applied to product design. He condensed this philosophy into an important thought:
“As you’re thinking about designing all these products for your startups or companies, know that the team is what you’re building and may be your biggest achievement in your entire career.”
Presenting from multiple locations, the eight speakers were able to share ideas and experiences from many years of operating in their respective spaces, and offered participants a glimpse of what it’s like to create new things in many different contexts.
Chinacceleraor 20 cohort
These startups have been selected for the Chinaccelerator 20 cohort:
- Asset Direct is a lending platform for underbanked and unbanked individuals in Asia.
- Atato enables conventional banks and financial institutions to create, manage, and secure crypto assets.
- DXwand uses AI to parse and interpret conversations with customers that take place in Arabic and English.
- EkkBaz is a B2B marketplace that connects consumer brands with small-scale retailers in Bangladesh.
- Ensuro leverages blockchain technology to lower costs and improve the availability and payout of parametric insurance policies.
- MarketForce digitizes small retailers across the African continent and provides delivery, financing, and other services.
- PricePally is an agriculture platform that connects food suppliers with African communities to make bulk purchases at lower shared prices.
- Xtingles is a marketplace where creators of ASMR sounds can produce, share, and monetize their audio clips as NFTs.
- Zebra Labs enables celebrities to launch, manage, and monetize their digital avatars across media formats like VR and video games.
- Zeemo is an automatic video subtitling service driven by AI.