The Straits Times QA with Mr. Li

06 October 2014
  • 1. Dr Li is one of a very small handful of successful businessmen who are investing in digital start-ups (Innovative startups in Tech). Even Warren Buffet does not do this. I want to understand why Dr Li is investing in digital start-ups? What is his ultimate aim, i.e. make money, support innovation etc?
  • The world of technology and disruptive models is truly mesmerizing. Though no one can be certain where technology will lead us, its “prescient value” is invaluable to present day operations.
  • 2. Does this type of investment create new businesses for him or create an impact for his current businesses?
  • In a perfect world, we should be able to achieve both. In 2013, I read a paper “Organizational Ambidexterity: Past, Present and Future” by Charles A. O’Reilly III and Michael L. Tushman, and was quite inspired by it.

    I often meet very passionate, young founders – they are gutsy and dare see a future that is quite different from the past. We need to learn how to be flexible to “capture” and leverage their energy and find a way to infuse it into our mature operations and markets.

  • 3. Digital startups have business models quite different from traditional businesses. How does Dr Li reconcile with this especially the risk?
  • We are now in a data driven, talent-centric economy. “Disrupt” has become a movement and through technologies, new MOs ( modus operandi )—— a combination of “profit” and “purpose” —— seems all the more realisable. So the first thing I gathered through my exchanges with young founders is to let go of my presumptions and stereotypes and enjoy the awesomeness of their propositions.

    I personally shoulder the venture risk and will inject both the capital and profits into the foundation only after the investment has “de- risked”.

  • 4. What areas are Dr Li’s investments in? Why select these areas? How many companies have he invested in?
  • I am not involved in the daily operations. We have a small team and a small portfolio. They only actively support 50 companies at any given time.
  • 5. What have been the top 5 most successful start-ups Dr Li has invested in? What were some of the deals that he had an opportunity to invest in but didn’t?
  • To me, everything is interesting.
  • 6. What are the top two things Dr Li looks for in his selection of prospective companies to invest in?
  • Impact
  • 7. How long has Dr Li been investing in digital start-ups? Has he invested in other types of start-ups like restaurants, wine cellars etc.
  • We focus more on companies that are technology and disrupt centric.
  • 8. Can there be an Asian silicon valley? Which part of Asia would that be? Why does he think an Asian silicon valley will/will not succeed?
  • I don’t think anyone has a ready answer to that question because it is simply impossible to predict the future.

    Many governments claim to be mobilising resources behind technological and innovative initiatives but such efforts often get bogged down by bureaucracy and fail even to galvanize its own to embrace innovation.

    I love this quote attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” I think this is really the crux of the matter. How do you inspire society to yearn for the sea? When you achieve this, a “Silicon Valley” can appear anywhere.

  • 9. What are the major problems in the world that he would like to see solved?
  • At my age, unfortunately … only too many.
  • 10. Can we expect more collaborations with NUS in near future? This is the first time that Techcracker is held outside of Hong Kong/ China. What does he hope to achieve? Can we expect more collaborations with NUS in near future?
  • Our Foundation has close ties with Singapore. I am very happy to be collaborating with NUS on this event. We are constantly reviewing many projects, and when the time is right, and when the right project comes along, of course, there will be more collaborations to come.