The first day of RISE with over 14,000 attendees made up of startups, entrepreneurs, unicorn founders, VCs, journos and tech influencers was an overwhelming information and networking overload, to say the least. I listened to pitches by seed-stage companies, stayed transfixed at the talks on CentreStage and MoneyConf and met several enthusiastic founders and corporates eager to forge connections within the APAC entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The relentless pace of technological innovation in artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and automation, as well as the very human elements of storytelling and customer experience, were all on the menu.
Below, I have curated some of the highlights from Day 1.
John Collison, co-founder of Stripe speaks to Melissa Guzy of Arbor Ventures
Future of Payments with Stripe Co-founder John Collison
Founded by Irish brothers Patrick and John Collison in 2010, the payment platform of choice of many tech startups, Stripe is currently valued at over $9 billion, making the two brothers self-made billionaires in their 20s.
John spoke of Stripe’s vision to help increase the GDP of the internet and their recent partnerships with Chinese tech giants WeChat and AliPay that will enable Chinese mobile and internet users to make and accept payments on the platform. John stressed on the need for an understanding of the local market in which they were going into and how they have had to reimagine the product to meet the needs of local businesses.
With 4 billion users connected to the internet and the smartphone boom worldwide, smart payment methods such as Stripe have grown rapidly in recent years. However, more traditional debit and credit cards are still very much the norm, making the payments space quite heterogenous. While John believes that there has been a gradual move towards unifying different payment pathways, the multiplicity will remain for some time to come.
With 2 billion people in Asia and 70% of the Chinese citizens online, there were a large number of mobile-enabled tech companies that were still waiting to happen in the near future. This presents a tremendous opportunity for companies like Stripe to ride the boom in Asia.
From left: Vitaly Ponomarev (WayRay), Zhifei Li (Mobvoi) and Nan-Hie In (China Daily)
Artificial Intelligence and the future of transportation
AI entrepreneurs in the automotive space Zhifei Li of Mobvoi and Vitaly Ponomarev of WayRay contemplated the future of transport in which artificial intelligence and self-driving cars will dramatically change the concept of driving as we know it now. With self-driving cars taking us from Point A to B with no human interference, the car will become a space for people to do catch up on stuff between home and work, creating more time and opportunity.
Cars will be used as an on-demand service via platforms such as Uber, and new revenue models will emerge around shared ownership and leasing of automobiles.
While there will be short-term job losses for drivers, there will be millions of new jobs created for the building and maintenance of infrastructure needed to support self-driving cars.
Given a choice, neither Zhifei or Vitaly would like to be driven around by humans because the error rate and fatalities were simply very high! They believe that AI-enabled cars will be much safer with cars tapping into vast pools of big data to preemptively make decisions and avoid potential emergencies.
Zhifei also believes that if self-driving cars will face the litmus test on Chinese roads and if they survived in China, they can survive anywhere else. China’s traffic-clogged roads will benefit from predictive rerouting of autonomous cars and provide all manner of use cases for these cars to be rolled out everywhere else.
From left: Yoni Assia (eToro), Soul Htite (Dianrong), Bobby Lee (BTCC) and Jenny Chan (Campaign Asia Pacific)
Regtech, Blockchain, and Bitcoin
Hong Kong being the hub of China’s finance industry, innovation in the financial services, insurance, and regulatory sectors through the use of blockchain, Bitcoin, smart contracts and artificial intelligence was discussed at length at the MoneyConf stage.
FiscalNote founder Tim Hwang and Ayasdi co-founder highlighted some of the challenges in the regtech sector in which regulatory bodies and large organisations were still trying to understand the best way to use technologies such as AI to tackle risk modelling, money laundering, and regulatory reporting. Setting up sandboxes such as the 12-month licensing exemption from ASIC in Australia was one of the effective measures highlighted that would help the development of regtech and the broader fintech industry.
Bobby Lee, CEO of BTCC, the world’s second-largest bitcoin exchange emphasized how cryptocurrencies had emerged in China and elsewhere as a viable asset class with over $50 billion in valuation, providing investors with choice beyond stocks, real estate, and cash. As the valuation of currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum rapidly go up creating a bullish market, and new cryptocurrency projects seek public funding through ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings), Bobby welcomed the move by the central banks to create best practices and regulations to protect the interests of investors in the industry.
Hike founder Kavin Mittal (left) being interviewed by Jacky Wong of Wall Street Journal (right)
Integrated social messaging on Hike
Kavin Mittal of Indian messaging platform Hike shared his insights on how the company had grown to a user base of over 120 million and become the sixth largest messaging service with $1 billion in valuation.
India, with relatively low internet penetration, 2G and 3G infrastructure, a social culture around family, friends and festivals presented a unique set of conditions around which Hike had to create an integrated user experience.
Kavin observed that apps, in general, have a high uninstall rate and this is particularly the case for India. Thus Hike had to bring together a number of services and create a seamless and smart user experience that engaged the user at the right time and in the right context. Thus in addition to messaging, Hike also supported sending money to family during festivals, booking movie tickets, splitting bills after a meal and paying for items such as fuel and medical bills.
Gary Vaynerchuk addressing the RISE CentreStage
Current trends in Media with Gary Vaynerchuk
My personal favourite, the ubiquitous and intense Gary Vaynerchuk of New York-based social media company Vayner Media provided the very last keynote of the day, focussing on the art of telling a story through multiple social media platforms to reach diverse cohorts of audiences.
With the impending rise of AI and automation, creativity and storytelling have become the fundamental tools for differentiation of one’s unique human story in a world of increasing competition and change. Gary also focussed on the upside of our time, describing 2017 as the “the best time in history to be an entrepreneur.”
The tremendous hype around entrepreneurship was partly caused by the internet which has opened up opportunities that no one could have imagined in the past. The option to connect with audiences across the planet and transact has never been easier and simpler.
According to Gary everyone looking to stay relevant in the internet age should look at themselves as a media company and create the right content in the right context. Instead of focussing on perfecting the art of content creation, focussing on the speed of distribution to the right people holds a greater premium.
Gary left his audience with predictions on opportunity areas in social networks that allow advertising opportunities, voice content and micro-influencers as big business start to understand their true worth and begin investing into these spaces.