Future (Un)Bound

Bold visions, big ideas and brilliant lessons from an extraordinary two days at InnovFest unBound.

tech talk

Author: DBS BusinessClass, Administrator of DBS

“Singapore is part of the digital silk road,” declared Minister Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Guest of Honour at InnovFest unBound, in a formidable address marking the opening of the electrifying two-day conference. “We want the world to see Singapore as the place to come and prototype their new ideas.”

Chaired by Lily Chan, CEO of NUS Enterprise and Yossi Vardi, the esteemed Israeli investor and tech entrepreneur, the two-day conference that was InnovFest unBound reverberated with bold visions, big ideas and brilliant lessons – and thronged with 1400 attendees from all over the world.

“People are at the heart of our Smart Nation Vision,” Dr. Balakrishnan –the Minister currently tasked with driving the city-state’s tech-innovation onward march –added. “It’s about pre-positioning ourselves and planting seeds now, so that we can harvest in ten, twenty or thirty years to come.”

Dr. Balakrishnan then regaled the audience with dramatic imagery of Singapore’s tumultuous early years and reminded them of the country’s origins as a start-up nation. “We are not supposed to be here,” he asserted. “We are not supposed to be an independent, sovereign nation. What you see here over the last 50 years is an exercise of desperate imagination. We had to be innovative not because it was sexy to do so. We had to it for survival.”

In all probability, Matthew Driver was inclined to agree. “Only the paranoid survive,” he said, adding that “you’ve got to find ways to reinvent yourself.” The dynamic President of MasterCard, Southeast Asia, went on to argue that in the future, consumers will be overwhelmed by a barrage of choices and products must simplify things for them. His conclusion? “You’ve got to be really focused on customers and find ways to fulfil needs – and everything else will sort itself out in the background.”

“If you’re not creating value for consumers, then the innovation you’re creating is wasted,” echoed Pratapa Bernard, Group Head of Innovation at Vodafone.

“It’s a connected world,” quipped Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of the Infocomm Development Authority, in an insightful panel discussion centred on Singapore as the gateway to Asia. ‘Don’t see foreign start-ups as competition as the world’s your market,” he advised. “The aim is not to avoid foreign competition, because that’s how systems are made stronger. Our goal is for Singapore to be a node on a global network.”

Aviram Jenik, CEO of Beyond Security concurred, adding that “you have to start global. Give up your domestic market – it’s a trap.”

Therefore, how does one ensure that a company or start-up becomes and stays innovative? The answer came from Neal Cross, Chief Innovation Officer of DBS Bank, who admitted that “you’ve got to pick the right CEO,” while developing a culture of experimentation and ‘future-casting.’ He believes that for companies to be innovative and successful they should emulate four different type of businesses: act like an e-commerce company; think like a start-up; behave like a tech company –while still delivering securely at scale like a bank.

“There’s no such thing as status-quo,” Steve Leonard reminded. “We’re either moving forward or going backwards.” He extolled the virtues of having bigger ideas and thinking bigger thoughts, placing more value on equity and of “Recalibration” – the fact that it’s completely fine to pick yourself up and keep on trying, even after repeated failures.

“Every market has to play to its strengths,” Leonard went on to say. “Singapore is in the centre of the ASEAN region and we are the experienced leaders. We need to be more assertive and believe that risk-taking is all right.”

“When you look at Asia, you see a lot of aspiration,” mused Troy Malone, General Manager Asia-Pacific of Evernote. “People are concerned about upward-mobility. It’s about ‘Product + You = Kick-ass You.’ People aren’t buying your product for its little features, they’re buying it to create better versions of themselves,” he asserted, adding that “Singapore’s a great Petri Dish for product-makers to discover their users in.”

To entrepreneurs, Dr. Balakrishnan had this to say: “The world’s not short of money to invest. It’s short of smart money,” while reminding start-ups that “it’s not just about your idea but rather, how can you translate your idea into an actionable plan?”

“Deal with somebody you trust. Someone whom you know is going to look after you,” cautioned Neal Cross, when dispensing advice to start-ups who are looking to enter into dealing with corporations. “Always look at the people, structure your pitch and be aware of your price.”

Shailesh Naik, CEO of Matchmove Pay, concluded with the fine observation that “the next Steve Jobs is somewhere in Asia. And there’s probably not one of him or her but ten.”

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