I still remember the day Natalie, Ching and Jun walked into our office in Singapore and told me about AppWorks, and to be candid, I couldn’t quite believe what I was told. I mean, a founder-focused accelerator with founder-led effort? I have to admit, I wondered how much of it was for show. Sent in an application anyway, because no harm trying, and I remember being stuck on the application page for a long time because it’s lengthy and detailed — which is a good thing. Then I did the interview and I mucked it up so bad, I was sure I wouldn’t get in.
Then I did.
I procrastinated on flying to Taipei because frankly, I hate travelling. Once I did, and met the AppWorks teams, I was blown away. First of all, the AppWorks team themselves are spectacular. These are not your typical corporate VCs who are running accelerators like it’s a chore — they are highly accomplished themselves and believe in the purpose/mission behind the accelerator. “By founders, for founders” is not just a slogan, they actually mean it, and it shows in everything they do, from engaging the founders in 1:1 sessions and offering up partner office hours. With 30 startups in my batch alone, it’s no mean feat. It’s one thing to make something your mission, and another to create a culture in which that same mission permeates the organization at all levels. That’s true influence, and that alone is an example for every influence-based business to model.
Then we come to the teams themselves. My goodness, are they impressive.
We have multiple founders who have made anything between 1-5 exits. We have founders who actively run more than 3 companies. We have founders who were in leadership positions within Silicon Valley’s finest startups. Majority of the founders I’ve met are not just incredible achievers, with all the qualities that make them one, including being ambitious, driven and hungry — more importantly, they’re givers more than takers, and vastly knowledgeable and principled to boot. I mean, I’ve made some friends in AppWorks that I know I will keep in contact with for life, and I can’t say the same about most business events, meetups or communities.
The first big event AppWorks had for us was Mentor Day, a very memorable event for me because I struggle with doing public pitches, and I talk too much for my own good so 3 minute pitches are a real challenge. I was editing slides 30 seconds before I went on stage (please don’t learn from me) but I did it. It wasn’t so much of a breakthrough as a reminder that yes, I can do it, something that I needed because I’d been mindlessly executing for 6-9 months by that point. Through Mentor Day, I got to meet some incredible, experienced mentors that gave me their time of day to coach, to teach and to open doors for me in Taiwan. That, more than anything, is a testament to AppWorks’ community and convictions.
The second one, which was just 2 weeks ago, was Demo Day. This time, I made a 10-day trip to Taipei, partially because I knew I would miss it bitterly when I came back to Singapore and no longer had a reason to be there in 2 week intervals, and also because I didn’t count dates properly before buying tickets! In any case, this time I had much more time to explore Taipei and also attended Innovex, which was eye-opening for me. I highly recommend attending a good tech event in Taipei if you have an opportunity to! Part of being in Taiwan for me was to explore how a different market with completely different advantages than Singapore’s (vis a vis Hong Kong, which is also largely software-heavy). Taiwan is extremely strong in hardware, data science and technologies such as blockchain. They also have an agricultural stronghold so I had lots of insights talking to the agritech, biotech and medtech startups in Taipei.
Closer to Demo Day, all the teams began getting increasingly antsy. Rehearsals were packed till 12 noon daily, and the coworking space we share became very lively, something I relished being a part of. We all ate together, rehearsed together and ranted to each other when the going got tough. At this point I also spent some time reexamining my previous aversion to communities and the inherent politics, the things some of these communities did purely for-show and the issue of takers overrunning the group — I found myself wanting to create more communities like this one.
Demo Day came and true enough, it was a pinnacle event. Bittersweet, but we took our last photo as a batch that day. In front of an audience of nearly 1,300 each founder held his/her own, no matter how inexperienced, fresh, young. After each pitch, I found myself thinking that AppWorks had made some really good bets — they always bet on the founders, less so the business idea itself, and if that was the metric, I would think they’ve succeeded for the most part. Thank you AppWorks for all the doors opened, friends made and insights gleaned — an even bigger thank you to AW18 for the excellence, friendships and glorious food that was brought to the table. 😛