Chris Yeo is a leader with rich experience in building world-class teams and companies. Chris is a result-oriented and effective influencer who has mentored quite a few startups. He has diverse experience in technology, eCommerce, payments, travel, and SaaS.
Chris is currently the head of Grab Ventures (GV) whose mandate is to develop the next generation tech leaders in South East Asia through venture building and venture investments. For Venture Building, internal startups that Chris has launched include GrabFresh (online groceries), GrabWheels (eScooter/ PMD sharing) and GrabKitchen (Cloud Kitchen). For Venture Investments, GV focuses on Series A+ strategic investments. This also includes Grab Ventures Velocity, a scale-up program for post-seed stage startups.
Chris Yeo was also a senior director, and head of APAC strategy at AIMIA. He was responsible for strategic initiatives, partnerships, M&A, new business model innovation and loyalty thought leadership for a global loyalty SaaS player. He was also the head of APAC strategy at PayPal and was responsible for market entry, growth, strategic investments/ partnerships and developing new use cases to improve the merchant value proposition and consumer velocity. He also worked at BCG as a project leader and led multiple projects across SEA, Middle East, and Australia for clients in telco and travel industries. Prior to Grab, Aimia, PayPal, and BCG, Chris started his career with Singapore Airlines, leading the development of SIA’s eCommerce business.
Chris holds an MBA degree from the prestigious Kellogg School of Management. Outside of work, Chris is passionate about social entrepreneurship, especially the transformative role of tech, having done pro-bono work with organizations such as Grameen and the Singapore Children’s Society. Chris is blissfully married with 5 children, including 1 set of triplet boys, and thus spends his “free time” as an unpaid Grab driver for the kids.
Read on to know more about Chris and his views on the startup ecosystem, securing investment, his valuable guidance to be successful, and much more.
What background and domain expertise do you have? What makes you turn into an investor?
Chris Yeo: I have quite an unusual path to my current role. I started out at Singapore Airlines, then moved into strategy consulting with The Boston Consulting Group for some time. After that, I transitioned to strategic leadership roles in 2 tech companies. In these roles, my scope also covered investments, JVs and M&As. When I joined Grab, I also joined in a strategy role, before heading up Grab Ventures, which was formed only about 1 year ago. Thus transitioning from strategy to investments came quite naturally.
As an investor, what kind of startups have you invested in? How did you find those startups to invest in?
Chris Yeo: Grab Ventures is Grab’s venture building and venture investments arm. On the investments front, we are a strategic investor. Thus our investment thesis focuses on startups where we believe there will be significant value to unlock by bringing these startups into Grab’s ecosystem: by leveraging GrabPlatform and contributing to Grab’s position as the super app of South East Asia. We focus on startups that are either: (1) adjacent or along the value chain for our core businesses of Transport, Food Delivery, Logistics, Financial Services; or (2) horizontal enabling technologies that we can use across all our businesses. We build our pipeline through the many inbound opportunities that we receive but also targeted outbound searches on sectors/ companies that we are interested in.
What would be the core factors that you decide “Not” to invest in certain companies?
Chris Yeo: Factors that lead us to NOT invest in certain startups, include, but are not limited to:
- Synergy: Lack of strategic fit that would create a unique advantage for both sides
- Monetization: No clear path to improved unit economics/ profitability
- Growth potential: Limited scale-ability in terms of operating/ business model or market size
- Team: Poor fit with Grab’s culture, especially the startup founder(s)
What would be the KPI that you usually check about the startups’ growth? It may diverse in each industry like LTV, CAC, MoM, etc. but would be helpful to understand more about your additional investment factors.
Chris Yeo: Agree that the KPI for measuring startup growth varies significantly by startup type and vertical. In general, MAU or GMV are useful indicators of topline growth. These we would look at on a monthly basis. Other important metrics would be revenue (for monetization), CAC (for acquisition efficiency) and overall unit economics (for operating model efficiency).
What is the investment range and In a typical year, how many startups do you invest in? And S.Korea headquartered startups have a chance to get investment from you or should be headquartered in certain countries?
Chris Yeo: We don’t have a fixed investment size, but we focus on Series B+ companies. Our target is 3-4 investments per year, as we are very focused on strategic investments only. Yes, we are open to investing in startups headquartered in S Korea that either has an existing market presence in Southeast Asia or has serious intent to enter Southeast Asia in the next 6 months
Can you list one company that you have passed (rejected) investment before but think you should have invested in that company. If there is any, why do you think you have missed that investment opportunity?
Chris Yeo: NA
What are the main factors that startups fail as per your experience after getting investment and how can they prevent mistakes in advance from your personal perspective?
Chris Yeo: 3 things:
- Scalability (i.e. a good view of how are they going to scale beyond early revenue and users vs our “product will go viral” approach).
- Execution (closely linked to 1., the ability to replicate an operations playbook across several cities, faster and more efficient than competitors)
- Focus: burning too fast by trying to do too many things at the same time vs focusing on 1-2 key success factors that matter
What’s your advice to entrepreneurs who have a chance to meet investors like you? What are the top 3 questions that you always ask the founders?
Chris Yeo: My advice is very simple: be authentic. We are investing in the founder(s) as much as the business itself. Thus once we find a great founder who is both capability and authentic – someone whom we can trust, then we would be more willing to invest in the founder, whether it is with the current startup or even future startups.
- Why did you start this business?
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- What have you learned so far?
What’s your general thought about the term “Global” and What are the important factors (criteria) for Korean startups to consider for international expansion?
Chris Yeo: Being “Global” is a mindset. It does not necessarily mean you need to have operations across all major countries.
3 things to note:
- Build a scalable operational playbook: an approach that the founders believe relies on the core advantage that helped the startup succeed in the local market and that also scales across different markets
- Select the right strategic partners: strategic partners are invaluable to help startups grow in new markets. Finding one that is right for you can significantly increase chances of success in the new market
As you know, our company name is “beSUCCESS”, what’s your definition of the term “success” as an investor or as an individual human being?
Chris Yeo: As a strategic corporate investor, success for us is creating significant value both for Grab as well as the startup that we invested in/ work with.
As a human being and employee of Grab, success means making the most of this humbling opportunity to outserve the 640 million customers in this diverse region. From our passengers to drivers, to food merchants, to payments merchants and Kudo agent partners. Grab is really a company where the belief is #TechForGood.
What are the one or two things that you would do differently if you could go back to 10 years ago?
Chris Yeo: Join Grab earlier!
When you have a chance to come to Korea next time, what kind of Korean entrepreneurs and startups you want to meet?
Chris Yeo: We are keen to meet many different founders. In particular, would be very keen to meet startup founders (1) ) that are using technology in a unique way to empower micro and small businesses (2) that are in the sectors related to Grab’s businesses in Transport, Food/ Groceries Delivery, Logistics, Payments/ Financial Services and also interesting horizontal enabling technologies like computer vision, AI/ ML, etc.
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