VVSEAI Event | From First $1 M in Funding to First $1 M in MRR with Joseph Phua, Puiyan Leung and Clement Parazon (Singapore)

Celia Cheang | 19 Dec 2023

From First $1 M in Funding to First $1 M in MRR event Group Photo

By Celia Cheang

In our recent event “From First $1 M in Funding to First $1 M in MRR”, we had the pleasure of having Joseph Phua, cofounder and Chairman of 17LIVE to share about his experience as a founder. 17LIVE had recently been listed on The Singapore Exchange after its business combination with Vertex Technology Acquisition Corporation (VTAC), which is Singapore’s first SPAC, Vertex Technology Acquisition Corporation (VTAC). Intrigued? Tune in to the Youtube Shorts on Youtube.

In my previous internship, prior to Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia & India (VVSEAI), I was with the Singapore Exchange (SGX). There, I had the privilege of gaining an exclusive behind-the-scenes perspective on companies making the leap into big leagues by listing on the Stock Exchange Market. It's a compelling reminder that every formidable, large-scale company we see today was once a humble startup.

I've always been curious about how a startup transforms into a success story. Lucky for me, I recently had the opportunity to hear firsthand from Joseph Phua, the CEO and Cofounder of 17LIVE, a company that just landed on SGX. At the VVSEAI event, "From First $1 M in Funding to First $1 M in MRR," Joseph, dressed in his humble black tee and jeans, shared the highs and lows of his startup journey. As I listened intently to Joseph’s sharing, I can’t help but feel inspired by his sharing of not only his successes with his journey with VVSEAI, but also mistakes in an open and unreserved way.

Joseph’s Rollercoaster Ride as a founder: 3 mistakes he made and cautions entrepreneurs about

Joseph Phua's founder journey was far from a walk in the park. During the panel talk, he highlighted three memorable mistakes that left a deep impression in him: overexpansion, overhiring, and being too laser-focused on fundraising.

Joseph shared the mistake of overexpansion that he made in the early days - spreading the company too thin across multiple markets at once. He emphasised the importance of rooting yourself in one market before going for another unproven market. This is akin to a chef trying to prepare challenging recipes without perfecting fundamental skills like deboning the fish! The efforts will be futile; Without setting up a strong ‘foundation’, the chef will find himself in a difficult position as he tries to expand his offering'.

He also shared he was too impatient to build the business and achieve the milestones and thus, hired too quickly. It’s ironic because the aim was to more quickly build a business and hiring and firing too quickly creates the exact opposite effect of creating a high churn rate, making it even harder to build the business. Again, the word of caution is to build a strong culture as a foundation so that one can attract the right ‘tribe’.

Since the first funding round in 2014, he found himself in a fundraising loop every eight or nine months for almost five consecutive years—a fundraising marathon! He also advised founders to use their funds carefully and more efficiently, ultimately to make the most out of their funds before rushing to fundraise again. Understandably so, with greater amounts of funding comes greater sets of investor expectations, even if not explicitly stated. It means also having to carve out time and energy to create reports and be accountable to each investor.

Having the right investor onboard is key

As he looked back at the past 9 years of building 17LIVE, Joseph gave heartfelt thanks to VVSEAI, for being the first investor and partner to stick with him through the thick and thin. Despite tempting offers from other investors waving bigger cheques and offers, Joseph stuck with VVSEAI because he saw them as more than just investors—they were like almost partners, helping 17LIVE scale to greater heights.

Getting to Product Market Fit

“Once you hit Product Market Fit (PMF), you know it, you feel it – because you’re like flying”

In addition to mistakes, Joseph stressed the importance of nailing product-market fit (PMF) before going all out. According to him, when you hit PMF, you'll know it—it's like catching that perfect wave.

But Joseph wasn't all "go big or go home." He threw in a reality check, reminding everyone that when you're sprinting for success, you should have your investors running alongside you. As your startup goes from baby steps to full-on sprint mode, you may somehow burn through cash faster than a wildfire. That's when you need to fundraise further rounds and it helps greatly if your current investors lend a hand.

In 17LIVE’s case, he shared that they had been through a crazy growth phase—from $200,000 monthly revenue at the start of a year to a staggering $20 million by year-end. Oh, and burning through $30 million in the last quarter. He also highlighted how VVSEAI was able to journey along with him with their arms of growth funds. This truly emphasised the importance of picking the right investor especially if they are able to provide their resources or open doors regardless of the stage of funding.

Joseph's gratitude to VVSEAI for being more than just investors, almost partners. They bring experience and support to guide the 'head chef'—the founder—through the challenges of scaling. Just as in a bustling kitchen during rush hour, additional team members may be deployed to support the dinner service—echoing the need for more resources during growth phases.

Even with success knocking on your startup's door, Joseph stressed that investors aren't just money bags; they're partners in the startup hustle. Founders, in your strive from the first $1m in funding to first $1m in MRR, it doesn’t have to be a lonely journey, leverage your partners, network, resources for a smoother ride.

You may be interested to read

The startup journey with Vertex Ventures SEA and India by cofounder and chairman of 17LIVE, Joseph Phua - "Why Vertex isn't just an investor - Vertex is family"

*VVSEAI Event | From First $1 M in Funding to First $1 M in MRR with Joseph Phua, Puiyan Leung and Clement Parazon (Singapore) - **Medium *

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