For some in Silicon Valley, Asia remains an alluring black box. A promising world with pockets of hyper growth, obscured by a tangled web of unfamiliar languages, customs, regulations and native ecosystems. Although the walls are coming down fast, the road to Asia's markets remains an intimidating one for many.
Enter Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups (a recently launched $30M super angel fund) and Geeks On A Plane, a program that takes tech entrepreneurs and investors to emerging markets. In its own small way, Geeks On A Plane is attempting to bridge that gap between the Valley and the rest of the world. Earlier this year, roughly 55 “Geeks” traveled to several key hot spots in Asia, including Shanghai, Singapore, Seoul and Beijing, to connect with the region's top entrepreneurs, to mingle with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and to sample local tech conferences like Shanghai World Expo and CHINICT.
“Asia is easily a third, possibly close to half of the world's population, I think there's a lot of innovation and a lot of growth that is happening in China, India, and Southeast Asia,” McClure says. “Some of the internet models that we've seen are starting to be transferred over there, and actually a lot of the internet business models are being copied over here…There's actually an explosion of social networks happening in all those countries.”
Although McClure doesn't consider himself an expert in doing business in Asia, through his trips and his new relationships, he says he now has a better understanding of the internal dynamics of Asia's disparate markets and is acutely aware of common Western misconceptions. In particular, he says it was very eye opening to learn how advanced China actually is and how many have underestimated the region's technological and economic progress.
“Well I think people tend to look at China as being a pretty big opportunity but they also tend to think about China as being a little bit behind and I think that's just really the wrong impression. China has actually got more internet users than the US, they certainly have more mobile devices than the US…You know the top 10% of the Chinese population probably has more average spending power than the average US citizen…and they're buying a lot of cars, they're buying a lot of houses, they're buying a lot of consumer products online.”
While not everyone can join a Geeks On A Plane Tour, Dave McClure is sharing a collection of mini-documentaries from his latest trip with TechCrunch TV. The videos were shot and produced by Ben Henretig, founder of Micro-Documentaries, a new startup that creates highly polished, short (hence micro) videos for clients. The first of four episodes is on their trip to Shanghai (second video from the top). You can also watch McClure's interview with TechCrunch TV, where he discusses his new fund and expounds on his trip to Asia (first video).