Southeast Asia has a new billionaire, and he wants to invest in unconventional startups who can help him reimagine city living.
Taizo Son, who made his money through hit game Puzzle and Dragons, is moving to Singapore from Japan partly because of frustrations with his home country’s government regulations and education system, which he thinks are unfriendly to innovation.
While Son is still plotting his next moves, here are the broad strokes: he hopes to work with all entities in Southeast Asia – startups, corporations, and governments – to bring radical ideas to life.
He’s looking to back early-stage startups through an accelerator that could start in the region as early as this year (exact details are still being worked out).
One thing Son’s sure about: he won’t look at their business plans. He tells Tech in Asia over the phone: “I’m not interested in feasible business plans but amazing ideas and out-of-the-box thinking that’ll impact the world. If you show me your business plan, I’d say: throw it away!”
Son, whose brother is the billionaire founder of Japanese internet company SoftBank, thinks startups that chase profitability and stability from day one tend to have limited visions. And besides, business projections are often meaningless for early-stage startups.
Passionate founders wanted
Instead, Son scrutinizes two things: Does the startup have amazing technology? Are the founders truly passionate about their idea? This will help them endure tough times, he believes.
He gauges passion by asking a series of questions: What’s your background? Why did you start this company? Why do you think this is your calling? And how will you communicate your vision to others?
Although traditional business minds might balk at his approach, it’s actually common for investors – especially from Silicon Valley – who fund embryonic startups with seemingly oddball ideas. Sure, these startups will often flunk, but they’re also the ones with the best chance of breaking new ground.
Son will focus on companies from the seed to series A stages. But beyond these broad descriptions, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what technologies he will support. That’s because Son aims to modernize every aspect of people’s lives.
“The way you work. The way you live. Education. Healthcare. Everything. Even how you eat,” he says.
Son envisions building a futuristic city, designed from scratch with modern technologies in mind, where robots will deliver packages via tunnels, where roads are reduced, and everyone travels on personal mobility devices.
The result will be a safer and greener living space with less road traffic. Parents won’t worry that their children will be knocked down by cars.
Sky’s the limit
City developers have already approached Son to collaborate on his ideas. He hopes to create testbeds in Southeast Asia where startups can pilot their technologies.
While the billionaire, with a reported net worth of at least US$1.2 billion, plans to invest US$100 million from his own pocket in the region, he emphasizes that the number is a moving target, dependent on whether he can find enough crazy ideas.
Through his investment firm Mistletoe, he has backed startups like Fove, which is making an eye-tracking virtual reality headset, and Fomm, a startup creating electric vehicles that can traverse both land and water. He’s also funded Astroscale, a startup bent on removing space debris surrounding the Earth.
Son has only just begun setting up his Singapore office, but he’s already coming across promising ideas from places like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
He also wants to bring startups from abroad into the neighborhood. “I’d like to bring their excellence to Southeast Asia,” he says.
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