As promised, my guest on Ask a VC this week is James Chan of Neoteny Labs, an early stage investment firm with operations in Singapore. Chan isn’t some banker-fied expat, he’s a “son of Singapore’s soil” as he phrases it. He was educated in the system, served his two years in the army and got a scholarship to study in the US, part at Carnegie Mellon University and part at Stanford.
That scholarship came with a hefty price: He had to come back and work for the Singapore government for six years or pay hundreds of thousands of Singaporean dollars to get out of it. Yeesh, those are some strings, Pinnochio. The government offered to subsidize my trip to Singapore, but TechCrunch or my personal (depleted) savings account pays for 95% of my travel– the exception being when I’m paid to speak at a conference. In this case, TechCrunch picked up the tab, and hearing Chan’s story I was relieved. Even Arrington’s lock-in with AOL isn’t that long.
Chan didn’t wind up serving all of it, thanks to Joi Ito who met Chan and decided he had to have him for Neoteny Labs’ man-on-the-ground and helped negotiate an out in the contract with a deferred payment plan. But Chan’s experience in the government gave him an appreciation for the strengths and weaknesses of Singapore’s astoundingly practical and far-reaching government machine.
Chan uses that unique mash-up of East-West experiences to answer reader questions about investing in Southeast Asia– and where to find the best chili crab in Singapore. Next week, our interview with one of Indonesia’s only early stage fund, East Ventures.