3 Startup Lessons From Singapore’s Socialwok: The Ming Yong Interview Continues

9 Feb 2011 in Interviews

Welcome back to the 3rd segment of my interview with Ming Yong, Founder and CEO of Socialwok; the collaborative social feed built on Google apps.

Thousands of users. Praised by Robert Scoble. Winner of TechCrunch50′s Demopit Award. A growing track record of working with Google. A global presence achieved from being started in Singapore, having offices in Connecticut, and servicing customers in Europe. And a very diverse team of three co-founders: one from Singapore, one from India, and one from the U.S.

Without question, there is quite a lot to be learned from Socialwok‘s high flying journey as a startup with an international footprint. In this segment, Ming Yong shared a few of the challenges they’ve experienced and revealed some lessons they’ve learned along the way.


1. What to do? Focus on marketing Socialwok or improving and shipping product?

In a small team, the specific efforts you choose to focus your time on are crucial in the growth of your startup. Ming says the challenge of choosing between putting more time into growing your brand versus shipping product depends largely on the stage of the startup.

At first, Socialwok focused on building something people would care about. All the marketing and press in the world will not help if your product does not deliver on its promises. To be successful, Ming says you need to have a decent product combined with terrific marketing. On the other hand, even a terrific product will struggle to succeed if it is combined with merely decent marketing.


2. The Internet does not negate where your startup is physically located.

When chatting with Ming, I was curious if physical location mattered less now in the startup world since the Internet has made it so easy to communicate with anyone in the blink of an eye. Socialwok is based in Singapore, but serves customers primarily in North America and Europe. Ming says that the Internet certainly makes it possible to be just about anywhere and still succeed, but warns against being 100% physically separated from your market.

For example, a crucial milestone in Socialwok’s journey was when they met with Robert Scoble in-person and impressed him with their demo. They would love to get covered again by Scoble, but the problem is that he prefers face-to-face interactions…and Scoble is far, far away in California. The solution Ming and his team are building is a 2 country model with certain aspects of the business in America and others in Singapore.


3. Pick up the team and move to Silicon Valley? Not so fast….

Despite the many benefits and seemingly natural fit for Socialwok in the world’s technology epicenter of Silicon Valley, moving a company to America is a very difficult thing to do. As any foreign entrepreneur will tell you, the U.S. immigration process is highly complicated and visas are very tough to get.

Thus, Socialwok’s co-founders are forced to carry out their virtual meetings with U.S. clients and partners late at night and often into the early mornings to be available during the American working day. Their workday revolves around the clock. Luckily, the Singapore government is very helpful with startups and provides a great environment for building a business. As Ming says, it is a first world country with “basically 2nd and a half world prices”. As an added bonus, the web connectivity is superb.

NOTE: If you want more, check out “The Future of Singapore“, a post I wrote about where Singapore is headed.



I need to once again thank Johanna Mortreux for helping me with the video! She was really fun to work with and very helpful. Also, have to thank Ming for his awesomeness and for doing the interview with me.

Where would you most want to start a startup?