Telum Talks To… Kristie Neo, Editor (Southeast Asia), DealStreetAsia

Telum Talks To… Kristie Neo, Editor (Southeast Asia), DealStreetAsia

Congratulations on your fifth working anniversary at DealStreetAsia! Can you please share what your role entails as Editor (Southeast Asia)?
I report on all things venture capital (VC) / startup fundraising, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and deal-related activities in Southeast Asia. I also work closely with our local reporting teams on leads, sourcing, verifying, and identifying top trends and developments we're observing in the space. It's a highly dynamic role.

What are the most memorable stories you have covered to date?
Our latest story on Tiger Global-backed Spenmo is probably the most recent. However, the one that continues to stand out the most is still Revolution Precrafted. It was a Filipino company started by a flamboyant character, Robbie Antonio, who was positioning it as the first unicorn out of the Philippines. Antonio, meanwhile, had done countless TV and media spots across CNBC, Bloomberg, and several international media outlets on his achievements, which we found to be completely fake. Our investigative story eventually led to a probe by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in the Philippines in 2020. The last I've heard of Robbie Antonio is that he's still traveling the world and visiting art fairs in New York.
Are there specific regional nuances that impact the VC ecosystem in Southeast Asia compared to other regions?
This comes up all the time - Southeast Asia is a highly fragmented and diverse market. It is not homogenous in any way historically, culturally, or linguistically. Southeast Asia may be 600 million people on paper, but the reality of execution for founders is something else altogether if the bigger goal is to build a regional business. This obviously has massive implications for VCs because of the kind of returns they are selling to their investors.

What are the key trends and developments you've observed in the Southeast Asian VC scene recently?
We are in a stage where VCs are seriously re-evaluating the true total addressable market (TAM) of their markets. I had written about this in the Indonesia context following a visit to Jakarta recently. Many are hitting a major inflection point, realising that the market conditions have completely reversed and are caught holding the bag of what are essentially lost investments that may never be recovered. At the same time, many VCs will have to figure out a way to return cash in a market which is no longer deploying the way it used to. For all the optimism espoused by VCs to the media (even today!), I personally think this is a very tough time.

What do you see the VC landscape to be like in a couple of years?
I think the biggest positive change I've seen since starting VC coverage here is the level of frank and critical conversations that investors are starting to have with media like us. A part of this could be a function of my own personal growth with the VC industry (DealStreetAsia's too). But I do see that PE and VC fund managers are beginning to value the role that journalists like myself and my DSA colleagues play in the VC ecosystem. While we will always remain committed to giving investors / founders a hard time (hard questions only!), we are no longer seen as adversaries. We all come out sharper, stronger and healthier out of it. In this sense, I do see us as an ecosystem builder.

How can PRs work with you regarding story pitches and media invites?
I think PRs in Southeast Asia need to think beyond press release pushing. Building a relationship with the press always helps, and I think that also comes with having authentic conversations about your clients, their objectives and vice versa. Coffee works, just don't shoot WhatsApp messages out of nowhere, please!

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