Baptism by Fire

Taiwan Entrepreneurs Launch Singapore Startups

2019 / June

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Bruce Humes

In recent years, tech giants like Google and Facebook have established a presence in Singapore, in some cases designating it as their Asian operational headquarters, effectively transforming the city state into a global stage for startups in Asia.


Located near Singapore’s Toa Payoh MRT station is Vault Dragon, a Singapore-based electronic medical records (EMR) firm with a market value of NT$300 million. Founder ­Tseng ­Ching Tse was born in Taiwan and left to study in Singapore when he was 11 years old.

Clawing his way up from the valley floor

It’s hard to imagine that Vault Dragon is the third startup of ­Tseng, who is still only 32 years old. He launched the previous two when a freshman and then a junior at university. Although they both failed eventually, these experiences convinced him that his firm must be the “sole supplier of a new product or service, or a unique adaptation of an existing one.”

In 2013, he and a fellow classmate of Indian descent sensed the business opportunities available in the emerging “valet storage” market. With ­Tseng hand­ling operations and marketing while his friend took responsiblity for the technology, the pair partnered to form Vault Dragon. It specialized in mini-storage, providing clients with sturdy, waterproof boxes to pack their belongings. Vault Dragon would then pick up the boxes and place them in a secure warehouse. During the startup phase, when the firm’s service offering was not yet well defined, it still managed to attract NT$30 million in its first round of financing.

Of course, high levels of financing bring with them strong pressure to achieve growth. During the first year of operations, ­Tseng personally relocated to Hong Kong to open up the market. Little did he expect that within two weeks, a newly formed competitor there would clone Vault Dragon’s service and engage in a price war with the Singaporean firm.

After half a year of heated combat, ­Tseng returned to Singa­pore with his tail between his legs, only to be faced with a new dilemma: during his absence, his partner had emptied their venture’s bank account. A legal tussle ensued, and eventually ­Tseng managed to regain control of the company’s funds. However, since his former partner had locked the warehousing system source code, the firm effectively had no product to sell for six months. Customers were lost, employees resigned, and ultimately only ­Tseng and an intern were left to hold the fort.    

Immortalized as business school case study

A startup fails for three basic reasons, says ­Tseng: if its funds run out, if its product doesn’t fit the market, or if the partners fall out. Given that he simultaneously encountered two of these three negative factors, many people, including some of the firm’s investors, advised him to throw in the towel. “But we still had some clients, and some of our shareholders still believed in me.” ­Tseng was unwilling to disappoint them.

Tseng’s Hong Kong experience taught ­him that he should not rely on capital strength alone as a source of competitive advantage. To ensure sustainable operations, specialized technology or industrial knowhow should be employed to raise the bar for competitors, and the target industry must be one that is resilient to market cycles. Tseng took stock of his firm’s existing resources and knowhow, and contemplated how to apply the “mini-warehouse” concept to address unmet needs in the digital era by providing customers with integrated record management and digitization services.

With limited resources and background knowledge in the healthcare sector, and no track record in that field, ­Tseng cold-called one clinic after another, only to meet with repeated rejections. After six months, however, he located two doctors willing to give him a try, and over a period of almost two years he established Vault Dragon as a leading digital health solution provider. From storing and scanning paper-based patient records, to creating digital medical records and even functioning as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, Vault Dragon offers a suite of cost-effective record management and data analytics solutions to healthcare institutions.   

Today, many of Singapore’s healthcare groups are Vault Dragon customers, and the firm has since expanded to Shang­hai. Between 2013 and 2018, turnover skyrocketed from NT$800,000 to NT$30 million. ­Tseng’s entrepreneurial journey has even become a case study in the curriculum of the National University of Singapore Business School.

Creating a platform for Taiwanese talent

On numerous occasions, ­Tseng has been invited to return to Taiwan and work with startups here. Based on these contacts, he observes: “They are not resourceful enough!” If they limit themselves to targeting the Taiwan market, they will have little chance of attracting international venture capital. ASEAN, Taiwan and Hong Kong are all part of the same investment ecosystem, notes ­Tseng, but thanks to widespread use of English, tax incentives and robust rule of law, many venture capital firms have chosen Singa­pore as their base, so startup visibility is more evident there than elsewhere. If Taiwanese startups can establish a presence in Singa­pore, or participate more in the local startup scene and thereby go beyond their “comfort zone,” they will be more likely to attract attention.    

Another startup, CloudMile, is an example of a firm that has actively chosen to extend its reach beyond ­Taiwan.

Founded in 2017, CloudMile mainly provides cloud management application services, and utilizes AI technology and big data analytics to help clients with business forecasting and industrial upgrading.

Spencer Liu, CloudMile founder and CEO and formerly a manager of an international business firm’s technical team, was deeply impressed by the abbreviated “formula” once used by foreign management—1, 3, 7, 10—to rank the pay packages of engineers by ­nationality. If an Indian engineer was paid $1, a Taiwanese one would get $3, while second-tier European and Americans would be rewarded with $7 and top-tier Westerners with $10. But Liu believes that Taiwanese engineers are second to none, and he hopes to create a marketplace that will help them find their rightful place in the world at large.

CloudMile set up its Hong Kong operations team, which won more than a dozen new customers in one three-month period, and began preparations for setting up an outpost in Singapore—all within 2018.

Singapore foothold

Winning a place in the EMBA program at the National University of Singa­pore is the first step Liu has taken to gain a foothold in the city, his goal being to amass critical connections and resources. The Singa­pore government encourages startups to expand overseas, and provided the firm maintains its operational headquarters in Singa­pore, the government will subsidize each new overseas outpost to the tune of S$100,000 (NT$2.3 million). Liu estimates that this is the amount needed during the initial period, when a new team is being established. His firm’s headquarters will gradually relocate to Singa­pore in the future, he says frankly, while Taiwan will serve as the R&D center. Singa­pore is a highly competitive market. One’s warriors must be trained in the most challenging environment, he says, in order to ensure survival in other national marketplaces. 

Startups: Rules of the game

Vault Dragon plans to expand its footprint to include Thailand and Brunei in 2019, and is aiming for an annual turnover of NT$60 million, twice its current NT$30 million. “But for an investor, even doubling revenue every year is still too slow,” says Tseng with a smile. He notes that for venture capital firms, out of every ten investments, seven will fail, two will break even, and only one may exhibit growth worth 100 times the original investment. Thus, everyone is keen to hunt down that rare “unicorn” with such explosive potential.

To those who are keen to be an entrepreneur, Tseng Ching Tse’s advice is to start now. Typically, seven of ten new firms will fail in their first year, and 99% will not last beyond five years. In entre­preneur­ship, failure is the norm, so why not set your sights on the future, and experiment as much as possible by launching big projects that aim at large markets?

Spencer Liu says that if he set his sights firmly on the Taiwan market, and reduced spending outside Taiwan, CloudMile could quickly be floated on Taiwan’s over-the-counter securities market. But he prefers the global battle­field. “After all, isn’t entrepreneurship all about doing something you’ve never done before?”

Startups succeed when they discover real-world problems and solve them with innovative solutions. Founders should focus on creating sustainable competitive advantages, and be fearless when entering the fray. Do so, and whether in Taiwan or Singapore, the world can be your oyster!

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繁體 日本語



文‧陳群芳 圖‧林格立


位於新加坡大巴窯地鐵站附近,一棟不起眼的廠辦裡,有間市值台幣3億的新加坡醫療資料庫公司「Vault Dragon」。創辦人是台灣出生、11歲就到新加坡求學的曾淨澤。


皮膚黝黑、笑容靦腆,穿著印有公司Logo的紅T恤和牛仔褲,很難想像今年才32歲的曾淨澤,Vault Dragon卻已是他第3次創業。前兩次創業分別在曾淨澤大一和大三,一找到好點子就與友人籌資創業,雖然最後都宣告失敗,但前兩次的經驗,讓曾淨澤相信要做「人無我有、人有我轉」的項目。

2013年他與一位印度裔的朋友嗅到物流倉儲的商機,學商的曾淨澤負責業務,朋友負責產品設計,兩人合夥創立Vault Dragon。公司主打迷你倉儲,提供箱子讓客戶將物品打包,然後到府收送至倉庫儲存的服務。新創對沒有資本的年輕人來說,最大的魅力就是只要有好點子就有機會。即使還處於剛萌芽、沒有具體產品的新創起始階段,Vault Dragon第一輪就融資約新台幣3千萬。





香港失利讓曾淨澤學到不能以資金作為產品門檻,比誰資金雄厚、撐得久,結果不是兩敗俱傷就是資本小被資本大的併購。所以要用特殊技術或產業知識來墊高門檻,而且要找一個不和市場景氣連動的產業,才能長遠經營。曾淨澤盤點公司現有資源與know how,力求轉型,希望為營運找到突破口。他以迷你倉儲的概念發想,搭上數位化的時代需求,提供客戶倉儲、掃描、建檔、應用的服務,並以需要長期保留資料的會計師、律師、醫師作為業務開發對象。

沒有背景、沒有資源,默默無名的曾淨澤,逐一拜訪醫療院所、會計師和律師事務所,不斷被拒;半年後,終於有兩位醫生願意嘗試。就這樣一步步,經過了近兩年的轉型與摸索,Vault Dragon逐漸在數位醫療站穩腳步。從倉儲和掃描紙本病歷、建立電子醫療紀錄,到進一步建置企業資源規劃系統(Enterprise Resource Planning, ERP),提供醫療院所更有效的醫療資料管理與分析。

如今許多新加坡的醫療集團都是Vault Dragon的客戶,事業更拓展至中國上海;公司營業額從2013年的台幣80萬,至2018年成長到3,000萬。曾淨澤的創業歷程還成為新加坡國立大學商學院的教材,時常應邀分享他的創業故事。










雖然萬里雲在新加坡的營運才剛起步,但已與一間新加坡跨境物流公司合作。貨品進口時原本只能以人工進行國際商品統一分類代碼(HS code)的分類;萬里雲則透過每項貨物進口報關單裡的商品描述,以演算法建置應用程式介面(API),運用科技技術辨識貨物的國際分類代碼,大幅提升企業效率。


Vault Dragon今年計劃將腳步拓展到泰國、汶萊,營業額目標從3千萬台幣預估成長到6千萬台幣,曾淨澤笑說:「兩倍對投資人來講還是太慢,因為新創是玩大的“go big or go home”。」對創投公司而言,一次投資十家新創,7家會失敗、2間不賺不賠,只有1間能成長至少百倍,所以大家都想找到具有爆發力能讓公司成長千倍,甚至百萬倍的獨角獸。





シンガポールで鍛えられる スタートアップ企業

文・陳群芳 写真・林格立 翻訳・山口 雪菜


シンガポールのMRTトアパヨ駅の近くに、市場価値3億台湾ドルの医療情報システム(EMR)ファームVault Dragonがある。創設者は台湾で生まれ、11歳からシンガポールの学校に通ってきた曾浄沢だ。


会社のロゴをプリントした赤いTシャツを着て照れたように笑う曾浄沢は、32歳には見えないが、Vault Dragonは彼にとって3回目の起業だという。前の2社は大学1年と3年の時、アイディアが浮かんだらすぐに友人と資金を集めて起業した。失敗に終わったが、その失敗から「人のやっていないこと、人と違うこと」をやることが重要だと考えるようになった。

2013年、彼はインド系の友人とともに、箱単位で顧客の品物を保管する倉庫会社Vault Dragonを始めた。曾浄沢が営業、友人が商品設計を担当するということで、まだ始めたばかりの段階で最初に3000万台湾ドルの融資を受けた。







今ではシンガポールの医療グループの多くがVault Dragonの顧客となり、事業は上海でも展開している。会社の売上は2013年の80万台湾ドルから2018年には3000万まで伸び、曾浄沢の起業プロセスはシンガポール国立大学MBAコースの教材としても取り上げられている。










Vault Dragonは今年、タイとブルネイに進出する計画で、売上目標は3000万台湾ドルから6000万まで増えた。曾浄沢は「2倍の成長でも投資家にとってはスローすぎます。スタートアップは大きな賭けで、go big or go homeと言われるのですから」という。ベンチャーキャピタルとしては、一度に10社に投資して、そのうち7社は失敗、2社は収支とんとん、1社が100倍以上に成長すれば良いという考えなので、誰もが爆発力のあるスタートアップを必死に探しているのである。




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