Venture capitalist Vinnie Lauria makes no bones about why he relocated from San Francisco to Singapore seven years ago. Like his grandparents who moved to the US from Italy, he sensed potential for growth here. “There are few places in the world that readily welcome people from outside,” he says, and in that sense, Singapore reminded him of home. He knew where he wanted to be and what he could contribute.
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A product of Silicon Valley, having birthed two start-ups and evaluated countless others through curating technology firms for professional gatherings, Lauria brought the spirit of the Valley with him when he arrived. That spirit is a few things, he says. One is the notion that you can tackle any problem, another is developing trust very quickly – whether it’s with investors or partners. “In Silicon Valley, those bonds are formed very quickly and bad actors are spit out,” says Lauria.
The 37-year-old was quick to act on his idea. As soon as he got his bearings, he and two others co-founded Golden Gate Ventures (GGV), an early stage venture capital firm that specialises in Internet and mobile start-ups in Asia. Today, with US$60 million (S$79 million) in funds, GGV has stakes in headlining names such as Carousell, Redmart, Codapay and 99.co, among its more than 30 investments across 10 countries.
Lauria is a familiar name in start-up circles, having made a splash in the ecosystem in 2012 when he and his wife Kristine organised Failcon. The event, which saw entrepreneurs including those from Silicon Valley speak about mistakes made and lessons learnt, addressed what he felt was a low appetite for risk here. People tend to value career stability. “Failure feels like a taboo here,” he says. “In Silicon Valley, it is a badge of honour. To learn how to walk, you have to fall down and get back up.”
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In fact, when GGV invests, it’s the character of the team it’s making the first bet on. “Can they navigate the ship through uncharted, stormy waters?” asks Lauria. Next is the product or service being offered – is its market entry too early or too late; strength of competitors; market and trend fit.
“I’ve raised money twice for two different companies,” says Lauria. “I’ve gone through the ups and downs. I know what the stress feels like; the sleepless nights. It allows me to ask certain types of questions. ‘What keeps you up at night?’, ‘What are some of the things that stress you?’”
His experience has made him more empathetic with entrepreneurs and he regularly shares his expertise in talks and mentorship programmes here. The outreach is not without its rewards. It was through helping Quek Siu Rui and Marcus Tan via NUS Enterprise that GGV decided to park money with Carousell.
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Lauria recalls the early days, when he first saw the e-commerce platform’s Google Analytics. “It almost looked like a heartbeat,” he says, referring to the cycles of spikes and drops. “That meant they were very good at getting new users, but they had a retention problem. I worked with them on retention techniques: e-mail notifications, updates that should happen within the app to make it more sticky, so people will return on a weekly basis.”
“I KNOW WHAT THE STRESS FEELS LIKE; THE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS.”
The father of two dubs himself a community builder. Last September, he and Kristine hosted the fifth WalkaboutSG that spotlights technology and entrepreneurship. The event invites the curious or aspiring to pop by any of 117 businesses in Singapore to talk to the founders and gain behind-the-scenes insights. It attracted more than 1,400 participants, compared to 350 attendees and 30 companies in its 2012 debut.
Lauria also organises hackathons, where computer programmers come together for a day or two to collaborate on a software; and dinners where entrepreneurs from different countries are invited to join, even if they are not part of GGV’s portfolio. Says Lauria of these 20-to-60 guest events that have been held in Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok: “Our view is: Don’t always focus on just helping those in our portfolio. If we can help entrepreneurs, even those we have not invested in, it will come back to us 10 times.” It’s about relationships built and word of mouth reputation, and these cannot be copied, no matter the amount of information shared.
GIFT TO FOUR-YEAR-OLD SON
He gave children’s book Elon Musk: This Book is about Rockets, while his wife Kristine gave She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. She says: “I try to make Rocco a feminist, and Vinnie tries to make him a rocket man.”
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TECHNOLOGY IN HIS LIFE
“I turn off almost all the notifications on my phone. That way, you control when something is going to happen, not somebody else.”
“I travel a lot. Only by understanding things on the ground were we able to make investments in start-ups like payment collection firm Codapay. If people in Indonesia want to buy a $2 game credit, they can do that by deducting pre-paid minutes on their phone.”