Kuo-Yi Lim describes his perfect day as sitting in Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21 of Fenway Park, under 80-degree weather, with a hot dog and a cold beer. The seat, colored red, marks the longest home run ever hit at Fenway, by Ted Williams, on June 9, 1946. The ball traveled 502 feet from home plate.
Similarly, Lim is hoping to connect on long-distance home runs of his own as an early-stage tech investor, hitting it big with startups that travel far. But hopefully he won’t have to endure 86 years and the Curse of the Bambino to celebrate an exit.
Lim is co-founder and managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, a Singapore-based early-stage firm that invests throughout Southeast Asia. He launched the firm five years ago with Managing Partner Peng T. Ong when the firm closed an inaugural fund with about $80 million in commitments.
The two are seasoned operators and entrepreneurs. Ong was co-founder of the online dating site now known as Match.com, formerly Electric Classifieds. He also served as CEO of Interwoven, which went public and was then acquired for $775 million 10 years ago. Most recently, Ong was a venture partner at the China-focused firm GSR Ventures.
Lim was previously at Encentuate (acquired by IBM) and Reputation Technologies (acquired by Security Sources), before co-founding SportsHook, a sports-focused SaaS platform. Prior to Monk’s Hill Ventures, he was CEO of Infocomm Investments, a Singapore government-operated venture fund.
Lim says he spends much of his time helping people get to know and appreciate the story of Southeast Asia. “It takes time to build up investments and create a strong startup ecosystem,” he said during a call from Singapore. “But there’s definitely something going on over here.”
As Lim and Ong know, the Southeast Asian market is hot. Total VC investment in Southeast Asia tech companies hit $3.4 billion in the first half of the year, up more than 300 percent from the same period a year ago, according to data from Refinitiv. Of that, Chinese venture firms poured in $667 million, up from $148 million in the same period in 2018.
It didn’t happen overnight. Lim noted a surge in activity that has come in waves over the years. He initially saw early-stage investment activity spurred on by government agencies, such as Infocomm. As the local companies grew, larger investors, such as Warburg Pincus, General Atlantic, KKR and Carlyle came in. Warburg earlier this year announced a $4.25 billion fund dedicated to China and Southeast Asia.
The strategics have also followed suit. Chinese tech giants Tencent and Alibaba have invested heavily in the region in the past few years, helping spur new unicorns, such as e-commerce company Tokopedia and ride-hailing group Go-Jek, both located in Indonesia.
Other firms are also stepping up their activity in the region, with U.S. and China-focused GGV Capital opening its first Singapore office earlier this year.
The firms focusing on Southeast Asia are seeing not only more growth and unicorns, but exits, such as Singapore-based e-commerce company Sea Limited, which went public on the Nasdaq in 2017. “As we see more quality companies raise funding and the resulting exits, we’re going to see more investor attention in Southeast Asia,” Lim said.
Eddy Chan, co-founder and partner of Intudo Ventures, which focuses exclusively on startups in Indonesia, called the co-founders of MHV “thoughtful people, pioneers in the Southeast Asian VC ecosystem.” Chan added: “Their background as entrepreneurs makes them stand out in the market.”
Lim and Ong are fundraising again for a second fund and a separate fund to make follow-on investments in portfolio companies. The size of that fund is not disclosed. The firm declined to comment on fundraising activities, but a regulatory filing indicates that Monk’s Hill Ventures, which in April appointed two new partners to the firm, is seeking up to $150 million for its second main fund. A source said the filing amount is the fund’s hard cap.
Temasek is an anchor LP in both main funds and other investors include a mix of U.S. and international endowments, foundations, family offices and corporates, such as Cisco.
The firm invests in post-seed stage tech startups that will take advantage of the fast growing Southeast Asian markets. Primarily, its markets include Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia. A recent portfolio company it backed was Singapore-based Glints, which operates a recruitment and career development program in Southeast Asia. It has raised $6.8 million in an oversubscribed Series B round led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and which also included new investor Hong Kong-based MindWorks Ventures and existing backers Fresco Capital and Wavemaker Partners. Glints said it will use the funding to expand into Hong Kong and Vietnam.
Other portfolio companies include Singapore-based SaaS cybersecurity provider Horangi; Taiwan-based KKDay, which developed a travel e-commerce platform; Singapore-based Saleswhale, which provides an AI sales platform; and GoQuo, a Malaysian e-commerce solutions provider for the airline industry.
Monk’s Hill Ventures also looks to invest in companies currently in the United States and that have ambitions for growth in Southeast Asia. This includes San Francisco-based ELSA, which is developing an AI-powered English pronunciation assistant. The company is piloting its language assistance software in Vietnam, but is next eyeing the Indonesian and Japanese markets.
Co-founded by CEO Vu Van more than two years ago, ELSA has raised about $12 million, including a $3.2 million pre-Series A round led by Monk’s Hill Ventures.
Van said she has lived in the United States since 2009 and received an MBA from Stanford University. She said she knew Lim and Ong and wanted to work with them when the company was in early development.
“I wanted an investor who’s established in Southeast Asia and knows the market there,” Van said. “That would be the founders of Monk’s Hill Ventures.”
Monk’s Hill Ventures
- Current fund: Monk’s Hill Ventures Fund I
- Fund size: $80 million
- LPs: Temasak is the anchor LP in the debut fund and Fund II currently being raised.
- Key partners: Peng T. Ong and Kuo-Yi Lim
- Offices: Jakarta, Singapore and Vietnam
- 5 questions LPs often ask Kuo-Yi Lim: Located here https://bit.ly/2YSZtT4
- Contact: email@example.com
- Focus: Post-seed companies in Southeast Asia