Having co-founded 500 Startups (later rebranded to 500 Global) in 2010, Christine Tsai (CT), CEO and founding partner of the company started out with a very different strategy from other venture capital firms in the Silicon Valley which were predominantly focused on the US market. She built a diversified portfolio in different industries and invests in founders across geographies and ethnic backgrounds and in emerging countries.
500 Global has backed over 6,000 founders, represented more than 2,500 companies, and operated in 77 countries. It has raised 33 unicorns and 120 companies valued at over $100 million.
In a previous event, she said the next unicorn might not come out of Silicon Valley. It is obvious today, that unicorns can emerge from anywhere in the world. "There is no difference in gender, no restriction in founder's age, and some of them may come from Taiwan. Bias is the challenge that any investor needs to overcome."
Tsai will attend the upcoming Asia Venturing webinar, co-hosted by Anchor Taiwan and DIGITIMES on the topic of "How global unicorns leverage Asia from zero to exit". The event will be hosted at 08:00-09:30 am Taipei time on October 19th. In this pre-event interview, she answered DIGITIMES' questions with the following written answers:
Q: Since you co-founded 500 Startups, there have been more than 30 unicorns born out of your portfolio. What are the reasons that made 500 Startups (rebranded to 500 Global) so successful?
CT: From the very beginning, our investment strategy revolved around building a diversified portfolio by making multiple seed investments across sectors and investing in founders across geographies and in emerging markets. For example, we invested in East Asia in 2011 and in Southeast Asia in 2014. Of the 33 companies in our portfolio that are valued at more than $1 billion, nearly 40% are based outside of the U.S.
Q: You have just raised your largest fund ever. With $140 million at hand, any new opportunities in Asia that you think are worth developing in the next 5 years?
CT: We've been investing in Asian startups through our global flagship funds, and over the past year have made several investments in Taiwan. Some of the sectors that we focus on include:
Fintech/Blockchain: The sector is maturing, with some startups expanding globally. Digital health: Because of its robust healthcare system, we believe Taiwan can serve as a hub for health tech startups. Deep tech: There's a history of innovation in hardware R&D and manufacturing, which can facilitate the development of companies that integrate hardware and software. B2B SaaS companies in cybersecurity and AI are also ready to seek opportunities outside of Taiwan.
We also invest through our Southeast Asia funds, where the team is looking broadly at five themes:
Sustainable cities create opportunities in areas such as electric mobility, energy efficiency, and waste management. Rural digitization uplifts the rest of the region and seizes rural technology opportunities. Fintech-for-all focuses on ushering in a new era of financial inclusion and returns. All-commerce ecosystem links the e-commerce experience to the offline experience of purchasing. Human and machine productivity build more resilient economies. Healthcare with a focus on self-care and technology to help us take care of ourselves and each other holistically.
Q: Are there any advice you would give to startups or entrepreneurs on how to leverage Asia for their growth?
CT: When building their company, we encourage founders to think regionally and even globally in terms of market reach. We have several accelerator programs in the region, including Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan, where part of the curriculum is devoted to market expansion.
Christine Tsai is CEO and founding partner of 500 Global. Since the firm's inception in 2010, she has led the growth of 500 to over $1.8B in AUM, 2,500+ portfolio companies, and a vibrant community of founders spanning more than 78 countries around the world. The 500 Global portfolio includes companies like Talkdesk, Canva, Grab, Bukalapak, Lucidchart, Intercom, Gitlab, Credit Karma (acq'd by Intuit), Twilio (TWLO), TheRealReal (REAL), and SendGrid (SEND).
Christine has spent her entire professional career building and investing in Silicon Valley. From 2003 to 2010, Christine held product marketing and operating roles at Google, including monetization and developer products such as Google AdSense, Google Analytics, YouTube APIs and syndication, and Google Developer Platform Tools.
(Editor's note: Asia Venturing is a series of monthly roundtables with roadmaps to the future focusing on the hype v.s. the reality of Asia's supply chain-boosted innovation ecosystem, jointly powered by DIGITIMES and Anchor Taiwan. We bring together leading industry luminaries, corporate strategists, experienced investors, and entrepreneurs to expand your network and redefine the possibilities of cross-border opportunities. The replay of the latest session can be seen on DIGITIMES or Anchor Taiwan)