Bernard Moon, co-founder & partner at SparkLabs Global Ventures: his story and his point of view about startups and market
Hi! Today we introduce Bernard Moon, Co-founder & Partner at SparkLabs Global Ventures. He is also one of the Fintech and IoT experts that will speak at BLAST. Let’s get to know him better through this interview in which he talks about himself, his venture, startups and the Fintech state of the art in Europe. Meet him at BLAST 2017!
You are one of the Blast speakers, so what would you like our attendees to know about you, first of all? Who is Bernard Moon?
I grew up in Chicago and have spent most of my 22 working years as a technology entrepreneur with stints in finance. I was at an investment bank and family office, which I enjoyed, but my passion was in taking an idea from concept on a napkin to creating a new company and product. In 2012, I got together with John Lee and Jimmy Kim to launch SparkLabs, where we set out to be the Y Combinator of Asia. Now we have 65 graduates that had an average raise of US$400,000 prior to entering our program with a 76% follow-on rate, which is how many of them get funded after completing our program. With these and other metrics, we are now considered the leading accelerator in Asia.
With this momentum, we launched SparkLabs Global Ventures at the end of 2013 with two well-respected investors and operators outside of our team, Frank Meehan and Net Jacobsson. Frank was with Horizons and led such investments as Siri and DeepMind, and Net was Facebook’s first Director for international expansion and for mobile.
You are co-founder and partner of SparkLabs Global Ventures, a successful new seed-stage investment fund that have invested in 60 companies across the globe since December 2013. Could you tell me more about some achievements that you consider more successful?
Beyond our investments, I’m really proud of our team. From our associates to our partners, we have a great group of people who love helping entrepreneurs and want to make an impact in each startup ecosystem that we touch upon. Though it’s only 3 years from our founding, I believe we have built a growing reputation for being trustworthy and passionate about helping our entrepreneurs.
Of course I am really proud of our investments and companies. From Petnet, which recently raised their Series A from Petco and other investors, to Lifesum from Stockholm to Memebox, which came out of our accelerator’s 1st batch and we invested from SparkLabs Global.
What about the next SparkLabs goals?
We just started working on our second seed fund and growing our separate but affiliated network of accelerators in Asia. We just launched a new IoT & Smart City accelerator in Songdo, Korea, which is a $35 billion smart city built from the ground up. We are the exclusive partner on new technologies that can be plugged into this amazing city of the future. Unlike our 1st program in Seoul, this is a global program and not primarily for Korean startups. Only 4 out of the 14 companies were from Korea. The rest are from the U.S., Europe, and South Asia.
We are in the midst of launching SparkLabs Beijing and just started the ground work for a global fintech accelerator in Hong Kong.
SparkLabs is also based on the co-founders partnership and frequently this kind of relationship is compared to a love story. Is there a sort of “secret” to find the right co-founder? You have any tips for this choice?
Well, finding the right skills to match with your own is easier than finding a match in personalities. It’s the same as when I was cofounder of my four startups, and what I found to critical in other startups that trust is essential. So when we were working on this idea for a new, global seed-stage fund, John, Jimmy, Jay and I met with Frank and Net and got to know each other over the course of five months before forming SparkLabs Global Ventures. It was like a dating period to build up trust and see if we can really work well together.
I’m guessing that at least a quarter of startups fail due to a breakdown in trust and chemistry, so it’s the same in launching a new venture capital fund. We need to establish and build it up. Trust, real trust, doesn’t come in a box. It takes time, commitment and many situations and conversations to build it up, and this is what we went through during the first couple years.
Which are the “must have” of a startup to be taken into account by your team? Is there something that brings out a startup rather than another one, almost “at first glance”?
It really depends on the vertical, but there are some basics. We strongly prefer at least two cofounders for various reasons that are well documented, and made only one exception out of 60 investments. Beyond the standard, team, market size and product hurdles, seed funds look at early exit potential more than traditional Series A funds since if a startup only raises a seed round and is acquired for $100M that is a good exit versus if they raised $5M or more with a similar exit. As for first glance, I really don’t see startups from this lens, but if there was anything, it would be any tangible signs that the founders are hustlers.
People who are very passionate about their company and aggressively resourceful. Not rude or aggressive in any negative manner, but just willing to run through walls to get things done.
In your opinion, which are the features of a successful pitch?
Conveying the founders’ story on why their product or service is going to change the world. Informing us how it will change an industry and make an impact. So I think the pitch as to be passionate but practical because I’m a person that is pretty neutral during such discussions. I’m listening for the passion, but rarely moved by it so I’m waiting for the next set of information, which is how a team is going to execute or how they have executed so far.
As for innovation in Fintech, what should Europe do not to lose out to US and China?
It will be combination of having the right set of regulatory frameworks that are flexible and allow for innovation along with a strong startup ecosystem that can create fintech companies to disrupt or enhance existing companies. For example, when I look at South Korea, it’s probably 10 years ahead of the U.S. in terms of consumer behavior and adoption of mobile finance and banking technologies, but the regulatory environment is ten years behind. A company such as Venmo, in the U.S., could never have launched in Korea because you need a paid in capital amount of $1M and special government license to conduct mobile transfers. Korea has the talent, pools of seed capital, a large segment of early adopters in new technologies, but is hampered by its regulatory bodies.
Which are the Europe points of strength in the fintech industry?
There are countries, such as the UK, who have been forward thinking in creating a regulatory sandboxes to encourage innovation within the financial sector. There is a great talent based of current and future entrepreneurs in cities such London, which is working towards being a fintech capital of the world. Stockholm, while being a small city, has the highest number of unicorns per capita with a good startup ecosystem, and other cities such as Berlin and Paris.
You are one of the speakers of Blast 2017, what convinced you to join this adventure?
It was very cool to learn about Blast and I wanted to learn more about the startup and innovation ecosystem here in Italy. As the 8th largest economy in the world, it is difficult to ignore and the potential for startup disruptive and change is exciting. Industries that have had a bumpy road, such as banking and manufacturing, might be ripe for new entrants to change the landscape as long as the regulatory environment isn’t too restrictive. I hope to meet some great startups and entrepreneurs while I’m here.
Photo credit: Freepik – Created by Jannoon028
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