Raising money has become more challenging now given the current uncertain climate in global financial markets, said Suresh Shankar, founder and director of Singapore-based data analytics start-up Crayon Data, in an interview with The Business Times.
But at the same time, he said, there is an excess of money everywhere and everyone is looking for good investment opportunities.
"For start-ups seeking to raise venture capital funds, they should remember that the basics have not changed. Venture capitalists (VCs) are looking for exactly the same things they have always been looking for: a business that will have an impact on the industry and generate high returns for everyone."
Said the man whose data analytics start-up raised $1.75 million in excess in its second round of fund-raising in early September: "VCs want the business to succeed and break into the big time. While they like steady returns, they really want the 'big winners' - the ones that will give them a ten-times return. That's how they make their money."
According to him, one of the first things VCs look out for is the growth potential of the space the start-up is operating in.
"Crayon Data, for instance, is operating in an exciting space as big data is one of the hottest areas of interest in the world right now," he said. "There is ever more vast amounts of data available and flying around at terrific speeds. But what has not yet been established is how all this data gets used. We therefore need to harness this data and make it valuable for businesses and consumers."
Mr Shankar added that a start-up should aim to keep its business proposition simple, relevant and relatable.
"A simple idea that is easy to understand lets clients and investors know what you're selling and makes it easier for them to decide if they want to support your business," he said.
The start-up's offering - be it a product, technology or service - should effectively back up its business proposition.
Of Crayon Data's offering, Mr Shankar said: "Instead of the traditional time-consuming do-it- yourself model (that other firms use), Crayon Data uses a 'SimplerChoices' engine which is more effective and efficient."
He added: "Having a great idea is one thing but you also need to show that you can execute. For me, the key element in deciding if an idea can become a successful business is to look at the team behind that idea."
A passionate, knowledgeable and experienced team makes it credible to VCs, said the man with 28 years of work experience and has been described as "an evangelist of big data and analytics".
He founded customer analytics consulting firm RedPill Solutions in 2000 and later sold it to IBM, where it became the latter's global analytics services arm. He left IBM in 2012 to start Crayon Data in Singapore.
"Singaporeans, like many Asians, are a little on the shy side about self-promotion. We tend to focus on doing great work but when it comes to promoting ourselves, we are a bit more reserved," Mr Shankar observed. "The Americans and Europeans by contrast are more direct and less shy about promoting their own causes. Hence they get noticed more than the Asians."
He added that Singaporeans' "kiasu" mentality applies to local VCs too, who are less likely than their American and European counterparts to back start-ups with no proven track record.
"They are more keen to go for the 'sure bet' and this has become more so in the current economic climate," Mr Shankar said.
But he says this can be good for start-ups because going through a tough process of scrutiny makes them more credible, and the more tests and challenges they overcome, the more likely they are to succeed.
"Singapore is also genuinely trying to be a start-up nation now. There is a new-found 'mindset flexibility' on the part of the government and private players that seeks to start by understanding the entrepreneur's challenges; that are not strait-jacketing the support or investment with rigid criteria; and that are based on the view that start-up strategies are inherently unknowable," he said.
Mr Shankar noted a significant increase in funding and incubatory support in Singapore now as compared to a decade ago too, and praised the country for being a safe and secure place that is plugged into the international grid, and having world-class legal and intellectual property rights systems - factors he said are critical to VCs.
"To sum up, it is not enough to just have a great idea, you need to also get right your basics of building the business brick by brick, where you demonstrate value first," he said. "Do not worry too much about exit strategies and short-term results, and instead build the right business for the long-term. When you do these two things, counter-intuitively, you achieve both short-term success and long-term attractiveness for exit."
Said the entrepreneur who is also a serious cricketer: "It is in some ways now up to the current generation of start-ups to prove that we can make it big from here, and that we don't need to sit in the West or in large Asian markets like India or China to succeed.
"It is also up to the second-generation entrepreneurs and start-ups - like me and Crayon Data - to create a culture where start-ups can not only succeed but scale massively."