Monday, September 29, 2003

20/20 Investing

Having been in the funds business for a number of years, James Chen decided to roll the dice on starting his own venture. The hedge fund business is not new and yet there is still room for new entrants. We had a chance to catch up with James to see how his shop fared in the recent past, facing some difficult markets in Asia.

Q: What is Vision Investment?
A: Vision Investment Management is an independent fund of hedge fund manager
in Hong Kong with about US$350 million assets under management with 15
professionals. The company was founded in June 2000.

Q: Would you say you are successful so far?
A: A difficult questions to answer...we opened shop 3 years ago and
experienced the worst investment markets in recent history. We started with
US$0 seed capital, survived the last 3 years, never lost money in any given
year, and has grown to becoming one of the largest INDEPENDENT fund of funds
in Asia. So, much more work is ahead of us.

Q: What do you think the climate is, for starting businesses like Vision?
Good, bad, ugly? And why?
A: You probably shouldn't wait for the "climate" to be right or the stars to
be aligned before starting any biz. That's just my personal opinion. We
couldn't have chosen a worst time to start Vision but somehow we managed.

Q: What are your plans going forward for the business?
4. One of our plans is to diversify our client base. Currently all our
clients are Asian. Hopefully we can get more US/European institutional
investors in the near future.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Food for Thought from Tokyo

Dominic Penaloza has had a colorful background in banking, private equity, and in startup-land. It looks like he's finally found his home. The hardcore entrepreneur braved nights on the mattress in the office to grow his baby to become a healthy, profitable business in the dotcom world (of all places). Not for the faint of heart. I recently caught up with him and twisted his busy arm to get an exclusive interview to see what HungryForWords is hungry for these days. Looks like a bit of venture money would warm the stomach just fine, thanks. VC's take note. Don't wait till businesses have no need of your money before you offer your hard-raised institutional cash...by then Dominique might be public on the TSE.

1-tell us about your most recent venture?
HungryForWords.com is my 3.5 year-old dotcom venture, and we're now expanding to offer online friend-finder services. For years, we've witnessed the deep relationship between language learning and socializing in Japan and Greater China. It's a very powerful force and we're now catering to it with our launch of WorldFriends, which is a unique multi-lingual friend-finder service that will match people using their language exchange preferences and travel desires, as well as their friendship or romantic preferences. A big part of our growth strategy is to provide this unique platform and member base to third-party websites. This will enable our partners to access a new revenue source (since Online Personals are by far the biggest category of legitimate paid contents on the web) in an area where they could never succeed on their own. What's interesting is that in our case, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

2-would you say you are successful so far? Why?
HungryForWords is now Japan's #1 daily publication for English learners in terms of reach, with 280,000 unique subscribers. We've been profitable for quite some time, so I guess I'd say we're successful so far. But, 280,000 is not even 2% of the total number of people who are studying English in Japan so there is still a lot of work ahead for us. We've learned a great deal about how to grow without using much capital, and we're trying to bring that to bear in our business expansion.

As for the success of our friend-finder network it's far too early to say, but we've got two signed deals and several more in deep discussion. Hopefully, as soon as the first network partners are up and running, it will become much easier to get the rest on board.

3-what do you think the climate is, for starting businesses like HFW? Good, bad, ugly? And why?
From my perspective, the funding climate has been cold for about three years. It's hard to generalize, since there should always be room for great ideas and great managers regardless of the climate. In general, if you consider that the venture leader's paramount job is to raise money, then the climate has been frigid for years.

4-what are your plans going forward for the business?
Given my comments about the climate above, for the medium term our plan is to continue to grow using internal resources. We've got a ton of work to do ... see www.meta4-group.com for more info.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Voyages' voyage to Hong Kong
Just came back from the contract signing ceremony where I represented Voyages Television, signing with Hong Kong Broadband's cable television service. That makes it two: Voyages will be carried on NOW Broadband TV and HK Broadband TV. Voyages Television HK will bring its 24 hour travel shopping channel to Hong Kong audiences. The whole arena of direct response television is just coming alive in Asia. Home shopping networks have proven their worth in great markets like Korea and Taiwan. This should be a fertile space for smart new businesses.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Hotting Up
Talking to a lot of folks in the market place and there is an unmistakable smell in the air of greed and deals. Buyers, who have been on the prowl, are now seen hunting in broad daylight. Sectors receiving the most attention are still the value propositions: low p/e's, restructuring opportunity, tiny market cap's. Obviously people are still trying to keep a lid on it but the M&A activity will come to light soon enough. Looks like a very active fourth quarter; stay tuned.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Not so new Media Business in China - an exclusive interview with Robby Yung

Robby cut his entrepreneurial teeth back in the early days of cable television and wireless telecommunications in southern China, after having served a stint with U.S. based Metromedia. I've lost track of the number of startups he has been involved with. Hearing he's been on the move recently in the PRC I dropped in to see what's up.

JC: Tell us about your most recent venture.
RY: Well, a little over a year ago, some friends (ed: heard the 'friends' is actually a big name media type) and I started talking about the media business in China, something that I had been very close to over the years, both in businesses that I started as well as some family businesses. One thing led to another, and now we have a burgeoning start-up that is working to consolidate ad-supported media assets on the mainland called Redgate Media.

JC: Would you say you are successful so far? Why?
RY: As an entrepreneur, I would definitely say I am successful. I think that failure is a big step towards success as an entrepreneur, and many of us had it too easy in the late nineties. I am happy to say, though, that I have learned a lot from those experiences, and I can really feel it paying off as I go through the motions again, fundraising, making acquisitions, writing business plans....

JC: What do you think the climate is, for starting businesses like Redgate?
RY: I think that the climate is always good for people with good ideas and enough drive to get them done. I was talking to someone the other day about the stock market, and they said something very sound, they said, "I would always rather gamble on the risk of the market reception (to an IPO) at any given time than to have to pay a known financial cost." I know that timing is important, but I am finding that timing seems to emerge out of good ideas, because good ideas have their time. Many people came to me in 1998 with brilliant technology-related ideas, and it was not because there was an IPO market for them here in Asia, it was because those ideas were based on the 'net, and the time was right (from an infrastructure point of view).

JC: What are your plans going forward for the business?
RY: Hmmm, this is one of the trade secrets ;-) I guess what I can tell you is that we are very focused on value, on profitability, on all those fundamentals that got whitewashed a few years back. We are looking for interesting profitable media companies to acquire in China, and I guess it's as simple as that.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Looks like it'll be a fiiiiiiine weekend in HK. Have a good one, wherever you are!
Japan - Land of the Rising Hopes
Heard through the grapevine that Dom Penaloza, founder of Hungryforwords, is on to some very cool new extension to his core business. Hoping to get his interview here soon...exclusively on Asianewbiz! Stay tuned, happy readers. You all are soooo lucky.
Was just up in Beijing this past week, and things are booming there. Besides the huge contingent of ex-IANDI'ers there, new companies seem to be sprouting up every day. The media business is undergoing a huge wave of consolidation, with state-owned companies losing their support (forced subscriptions), and the foreign companies are hungrily waiting for quality assets. Not sure what it's like in Shanghai, haven't been there in a while, but I hear that it's equally frothy....
Mongolian Entrepreneurship!
Caught on camera by Newsweek: Lee Cashell, formerly of Jafco, talking about building businesses in Mongolia. In true pioneer fashion this man is going to open up the wild wild west of China...all except slinging guns. As reported, there are at least two businesses underway: a huge upscale resort and the first real estate agency. More on this as info comes through.
So, are we going to get lots of good gossip here, or are all those people still on xxxxxx?
Welcome to Asia New Business, the blog about all the joys, pains, excitement, and plain old work involved in starting and running and making/losing money on new businesses. We'll do our best to keep you current on the latest new business news and happenings. Enjoy the show.