Meet Startup @TW

Building Global Level Startups in Taiwan: A Talk with MOX's William Bao Bean


On Aug. 27, MOX (Mobile-Only Accelerator), a Taipei-based accelerator operated by the Silicon Valley-headquartered VC firm SOSV, has graduated its seventh batch.

Coming from different countries, including Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, and Thailand, the ten teams shared with us on the demo day how they address customer pain points and acquire new users.

On the same day, Business Next also had an opportunity to talk with William Bao Bean, Managing Director of MOX and General Partner of SOSV, about how the accelerator "takes off" as its startup teams grow and what makes Taiwan an excellent base for companies expanding in Asia.

Changes in Taiwan: more mentorship and funding

"We are a bit different from most VCs in that we are global," he said. Based in Taipei, MOX invests in companies across the globe to help them expand into Asia and countries where people's only Internet experience is on their mobile phone.

MOX's Batch 7

This accelerator is also bringing Taiwanese startups into global spotlight by providing mentorship and financial resources.

William said before starting to work for MOX, he had started to invest in Internet & software companies in Taiwan in around 2008, when most entrepreneurs were hardware oriented and resources were largely invested in the hardware sector.

Software entrepreneurs back then had to leave for the US or China to seek funding and unfortunately, have never come back. "So the best of the best isn't actually here," he added.

This causes a lack of mentorship in Taiwan. Talented developers from the second and third generations had no one to guide them in building their business.

Noticing this problem, MOX brings in mentors from all around the world, and as more and more funds from VCs and international companies like Facebook and Google flow into Taiwan, it "does the same on the startup's side," William said.

He believes more and more software deals are done here in the recent years because of the high-quality products built here, and Taiwan, where "the most productive programming talent" gathers, is no longer a "secret" to the world. In fact, a number of startups in MOX's portfolio have set up their tech office in Taipei.

In comparison with programmers in many Southeast and South Asian countries, those in Taiwan also tend to pay more attention to product designs and users. "They care about building something that will change the world," William explained, "and there's not much competition to hire them here."

Besides talent, Taiwan also enjoys a well-developed infrastructure and a rather relaxing environment for startups, he added.

MOX, scaling up like a startup

Due to a high survival rate (84%), SOSV is investing more in MOX, from $600 thousand to $4-5M per year. The number of startups mentored in a batch also increases, from six to ten.

MOX has invested in many successful companies, including English pronunciation app ELSA, which raised $7M series A round in February from Google’s AI fund Gradient Ventures — the first Asian startup invested by this fund.

It has also backed Taiwanese startups like BigGo, a price compare and cash back platform with over 9.5 million unique local users per month and now expanding to Thailand and Japan.

Meanwhile, learning from mistakes, MOX's program has gone through some fundamental changes over the course of these years.

William said the accelerator used to bring startups to Taiwan for two months at a time. Now, startups come to MOX whenever they any need help with, for example, expanding into a new market. The program, in fact, "goes on forever."

Recently added to the program, the growth-hacking team work side by side with startups, which is more efficient and effective than a formal training.

"We are (software) entrepreneurs investing in entrepreneurs," William said. In SOSV, everyone has a history of launching startups, and he hopes more and more entrepreneurs will join this ecosystem.

Bryan Chou

Bryan Chou is a Taiwan-based and born journalist who writes about innovation and entrepreneurship for Business Next and Meet. Over the past five years, he has written for a student press, translated numerous magazine pieces, and worked as an intern in two startups. He believes what shapes him into who he is today is not only these experiences but the people he has interacted with and the stories he has learned from them.

He has a BA in Foreign languages and literatures from NTU. After graduation, he spent a year in Prague, traveling extensively around Europe to learn about the history and culture of the region from local people. Currently based in Taipei, he hopes to present the best of Taiwan to the world.