Thanks to all of our community members who joined us yesterday for an AMA with our new Kambria Advisor, Ro Charlz of Vickers Venture Partners. In addition to being a venture capitalist, Ro is a Formula Car driver, which probably makes him our “coolest” Advisor yet. Here is a recap of our conversation; for clarity, the original text has been lightly edited for grammar and spelling.
If you could not catch the AMA live, please post your question in our main Telegram channel. The team will get back to you quickly.
Which sector in your opinion is the easiest to scale? The most difficult? Why?
I think “easy” is probably not the right word as there are so many factors at play. For us, we more so focus on B2B strategies and/or deep tech, as it allows us more to get embedded with the customers, learn the problem, the solution the start-up is proposing, and understand the potential around the product (i.e. figure out early in if the unit economics appear to make sense). We are less specialized on trying to predict the next social driven trend, rather we’re more focus on key architectural layers for the direction we see the world going. Then we invest in the underlying tech supporting those areas.
Some examples would be our investment in JJE, who have gone on to become one of China’s largest manufacturers and exporters of electric motors to the EV industry. We made this investment many years ago due to a thesis we had around the macro shift we’ll see towards EV’s…BUT we didn’t want to take the manufacturer risk of an auto brand (i.e. a Tesla, Nio, Faraday, etc)…Instead, we chose to get exposure to the sector via a platform technology that all players in the space may use as a supplier (B2B).
Can you tell us about your venture capital firm Vickers Venture Partners? What is your investment thesis?
Sure thing! We are a top-performing venture capital firm with seven offices globally. We manage 5 funds and are one of the most prominent VC tech investors in Asia (current NAV circa USD$3bn). Our firm has consistently been ranked as one of the world’s top-performing venture capital firms and the Vickers’ team have been involved in some of the world’s largest tech unicorn start-ups, which includes near USD$100bn of value creation.
We tend to focus more on tech we can measure. For us, the perfect venture investment is where we can measure the tech and assess its magnitudes better than what currently exists, measure the defensibility around that tech (IP, etc) and measure the market and their willingness to adopt such tech. If we can answer those questions well and it’s attractive, then it’s a dream investment…
But that also means we’ll miss some things. We are likely not the guys who’ll find the next Facebook or Twitter. For example, if Twitter came to us in the early days and said, “We’re going to build an app where users can post 140 characters,” we probably wouldn’t have noticed the need for such a thing. Hence we don’t like to punt. But other VC’s do that and are very good at that. Each to their own.
[Moderator] You can learn more about Vickers Venture Partners’s impressive track of records here: http://www.vickersventure.com/performance/. “Vickers is ranked 6th in the world across all funds, and is the most highly awarded Asian VC.”
What attracted you most to Kambria and in what way do you assist the team?
I had the chance to meet Dr. Thuc Vu via his previous start-up and was always very impressed. Not only does he conceptualize, but he also executes and gets sh*t done. I like that! Hence I’ve enjoyed following him and his team. In terms of how I’m assisting, well that is an ever-evolving work in progress but I’m assisting to open doors in Asia to stakeholders who may add-value to the Kambria ecosystem.
What is it like to drive a formula car?
Haha, it really is the most natural form of a car. So light and such a high power to weight ratio so you have so much feeling. You actually drive a race car not with your hands or eyes alone, but with your butt by feeling what the car is doing through the seat. You feel every little thing the car is doing and adjust your inputs in a predictive manner rather than reactive (as that would be too late). So if you enter a corner 1 mile faster and brake .3m later, the weight transfer you’ll feel and the car’s behavior will be different. Hence, it’s all about feeling once you’re behind the wheel.
[Moderator] Ro was a professional race car driver that participated in top-level international competition and championships winning several times. That’s super impressive!
How is motorsports like start-ups?
Although very different of course, there are parallels to draw on. Motorsport is a mix of science and competition. Actually, 90% of what we do at the race track is scouring through telemetry and data with our engineers to find improvements. So it’s quite quantitative, but at the end of the day, there’s also a large element of gut feeling involving. Add to that the ultra-competitive environment and the cutthroat nature and the two worlds have a somewhat similar feel.
What are the top qualities you look for in a startup in general, and in a blockchain project in particular?
As any investor will tell you, the hardline fact in early-stage investing is really about the team. Sounds cliche but that is just how it is. Every start-up, no matter how good their tech alone or product is, will face huge obstacles on their journey. They’ll all run into brick walls. But its what they do when they get to that brick wall that makes the difference. A great team will hopefully figure out whether they climb over, tunnel under, or blow through this brick wall, rather than just ramming into it to death.
What other projects are you working with and what’s your sentiment about the state of blockchain right now?
We are very bullish on blockchain as we see it as a key fundamental architectural layer the future-world will be built on. We are moving toward a more automated and more integrated society, an age where big data and microtransactions will need to be automatically facilitated. The world as we know it has been built in a siloed manner, but that is changing and blockchain will help facilitate the shift. Much like the internet as an architectural layer has changed how the world operates, blockchain can also be an integral piece of architecture that we build upon.
What benefit will blockchain bring to AI and robotics? And what role will play Kambria?
I think one of the major benefits is that Kambria is connecting minds, talent, and resources and creating an ecosystem that is in line with the macro direction the world is going (gig-eco based, etc). AI and robotics clearly have a huge part to play in the world and the platform connecting and managing tech development in this area can be very powerful.
What are the top lessons you have learned through your investing experience that you would like to share with any startup entrepreneur?
I’m always learning, but the one thing stands out time and time again — surround yourself with the best possible people/team. Know your strengths, but more importantly, know your weaknesses, as then you can get the right people around you to fill those gaps. But as good people are the most important aspect, finding these people may be easier said than done.
What kind of technologies do you think would be important in the future?
I think all the much talked about areas are valid. Areas like AI, blockchain, robotics are all so important as they translate across all industries. If you look at the implications AI has around drug discovery in the biotech space, it’s truly incredible. So we are going to see some massive advances. BUT it’s important to remember these things can take time and often V1.0 of that technology is limited in capability.
For example, years ago in the ’90s when I was at school we had a weekly IT class where we were all allowed on the internet. But the internet we had access to was a very different internet to what we have access to today in terms of experience. And things like blockchain will also need to go through those developments. So sometimes people expect things too quickly. But this is an evolving game and we have to be prepared to take time for some of this tech to mature.
What are the top three trends in blockchain that have captured your attention?
At Vickers, although we are bullish and invest in blockchain, we probably are not as close to it as some of our peers who purely focus on it because we are more active in other areas. For us, we are seeing all the major traditional players accept and adopt the tech, and they are investing into R&D in the space (for example, in Singapore, all the major banks, the regulators, etc, are exploring how they’ll make use of blockchain). So we like the enterprise solutions space using blockchain, but for MANY of these types of solutions, they don’t need someones ICO tokens to execute in order to receive the value/ benefits from using blockchain. They can create solutions amongst themselves and are doing so (but I agree for other areas, the tokenized model makes great sense). So for me, I think the biggest trend noticed has been how traditional players are now fully onboard with blockchain.
In Asia, in what markets are venture capital investors most active? Both in the traditional VC investing space that startups need to give up equity, and now in the ICO and crypto space?
China is still dominating the landscape in Asia for good reason. But we are seeing more and more happening in S.E Asia as well. Many feel the next decade or two will be the era of S.E Asia. We have a big population and strong demographics — young populations, growing middle classes, etc. Singapore is the natural hub for start-up tackling S.E Asia as it’s a very mature, sophisticated business environment and this is where the capital is. So many businesses are trying to solve problems in Indonesia or even India and are headquartered here since this is also where the capital is based to a large degree.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs, especially as we get into the new year?
Where to start, haha! (By the way, I also need advice and by no means know any more than the next person.) I guess my advice would be to realize what you’re getting yourself into and the amount of hard work and dedication it takes. Creating a start-up has become the “cool” thing to do, but success is generally never easy. There are A LOT of smart people in the world working hard 24/7 to solve the same problems. So if you want to fight in that battle be prepared for the realities of it. Also, be relentless but agile and smart at the same time. You just need to hustle and find ways to push things forward.
Robotics + AI are great, but have you thought about a massive cyber attack? Should we only depend on technology?
Sure, that’s an interesting thought but either way, the world isn’t going back. There are a lot of questions regarding the implications of AI, but actually, the human race is going down this path regardless. So I guess we really need to figure out how we fit together. I agree with you but don’t have an answer at this stage other than it’s just part of the human story. We’ve invented this so we need to find a way to exist with it long-term. More of a longer conversation piece and fun to debate.
A huge thanks again to Ro and to our community members for participating in our AMA. If you’d like to ask your questions live next time, join our Telegram channel. See you there!
ABOUT Ro Charlz
Ro Charlz is a technology evangelist and serves as an investment professional with Vickers Venture Partners, one of the world’s leading tech-focused venture capital firms whose team has been involved with several prominent unicorn start-ups. Ro covers a wide-span of sectors including blockchain, robotics, AI, IoT, mobility, automotive tech, automation, cybersecurity, e-commerce, and general consumer tech. Ro has previous experience in the energy sector and serves as an active angel investor and advisor to several start-ups. He comes from a background in professional motorsports as a consultant to the automotive industry with a focus on tech development for over 10 years, consulting to several of the world’s largest automotive makers.
For more info about Vickers Venture Partners, please visit:
Kambria is an open innovation blockchain project that enables and incentivizes collaboration in R&D, manufacturing, and commercialization of advanced technology. We are developing our own public chain with protocols uniquely designed to address the current waste and inefficiencies in today’s innovation model. Kambria will allow for many verticals, including Biotech, Space, and Autonomous Vehicles, to be developed and thrive in the ecosystem. We are focusing first on the AI and Robotics vertical with the backing of our well-established robotics company, OhmniLabs. Through existing partnerships with top universities and large international corporations, as well as access to talented developers, we aim to build an ecosystem that can bring the next wave of frontier technology to provide value to billions of people around the world.
The Kambria Team
KAT is sold to be used on the Kambria platform.
Also published on Medium.