A trillion-dollar thesis and our third Mailbag issue!

Kevin McSpadden

In this mailbag, we try to tackle Amazon’s trillion-dollar valuation, Adventure Time (we don’t), and random tech startup thought exercises

On Tuesday in the US, Amazon briefly became a trillion-dollar company by market capitalisation before returning to the land of the billion-dollar peasants. Most people anticipate that the company will, at some point, pass that hurdle for good.

Inflation aside, it is a remarkable signpost about the role technology plays.

The reason why Amazon’s trillion-dollar moment is different from Apple’s is because it feels as if the former is just scratching the surface.

In the US — the home market of both companies  — Apple is everywhere, while Amazon is not. Whether it is honking at the person who missed the light while texting, or building an entire business off Apple-toting hipster café dwellers, 2018 feels like peak for Apple. (Although, how many times has that been written before?)

For Amazon, it looks more like the first break of an impending tidal wave. I am from rural America, and while Amazon is nice because it saves a lot of time driving, most deliveries still take about one week to arrive, and for third-party merchants it’s usually closer to two.

In the country, fresh produce is pointless because customers run the risk of freezer-burn, and drones are more likely to get vandalized than utilised. Amazon Prime Video is still behind Netflix, and Kindles break easily in an outdoors-first lifestyle.

But these are all problems that should improve over time. Amazon’s infrastructure in rural America will improve and so will be their service.

Amazon optimists would argue the company will follow the same fate in East Asia, where, yes, it is technically launched in Singapore, but its effect on day-to-day life is nil.

Let’s say Amazon becomes a hit in Asia. Then we can talk about that overly-enthusiastic US$2 trillion market cap talk. But that is far from guaranteed and if their strategy in India is any indication, we won’t be able to judge for at least five years.

Even without East Asia, Amazon will continue to grow.

Amazon’s foray into end-to-end logistics, pharmaceuticals, offline retail and drone delivery are all in their infancy and as they develop, the company’s profits will begin to match their stock price (which, as the New York Times pointed out, they do not).

This entire argument ignores the fact that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is completely dominant — so much so that Alibaba has scrapped its attempt at American expansion.

Once AWS enters the picture, the potential of Amazon becomes truly awe-inspiring and I begin to wonder whether we should be more excited or terrified.


First of all, I am stunned. Way too many excellent (and cringeworthy) questions to answer in one issue so I will save the ones I skip for the next issue. Awesome stuff. 

What should an early-stage startup founder do with US$1,000?

So this is a thinly-veiled reference to our e27 Academy programme that will be launched in Q4, but let’s take a stab at it.

Take this advice, as if it were coming from the world’s worst founder, because if I start tomorrow that’s what I would be (but, then I would learn, stomp the competition and be the next Bezos before my 40th birthday).

I would take US$800 and invest in mobile product design. Ideally, I have a co-founder who knows what she is doing so I don’t have to pay her, but can put the full US$800 into the necessary design products we need.

Then I would spend US$200 on Google ads and work like hell to hack Facebook/LinkedIn/etc. for free. Then I would pray because, at that point, that would be about the only thing left to do.

Also Read: O2O platform Fave raises US$20M in Series B round

Also, most credit limits start at about US$5,000. Just saying….

Are there any startups out there that you were convinced would flop but didn’t?

Uber would have gotten me fired if I were a VC. I thought there was no way people would get into a stranger’s car simply because their phone told them they would be safe.

I was clearly wrong.

In Asian cities, it’s harder for me to predict flops because I come from a different background so I may think something is amazing, but it’s not that interesting to the locals. Or the opposite.

I don’t particularly understand apps that allow people to book their spot in a restaurant queue, but I also had no neighbours. So when I ate out, it was a special occasion which either meant fancy-dining or a sports bar.

Those apps are successful so I just chalk it up to a culture gap.

Who’s your favorite Adventure Time character, and why?

Never watched Adventure Time. Sue me.

What’s your opinion about Singapore’s startup scene today as compared to a couple of years ago?

This question is interesting. I am not entirely sure if my reaction to Singapore’s tech ecosystem has anything to do with the city itself, or if I am just more experienced, slightly more jaded and a bit more discerning.

Personally, I think the big shift is the age bracket that is entering startups. No longer are companies being created by bright-eyed fresh grads. More and more it seems to be 40-somethings who are financially stable enough to quit their jobs and start a company.

The benefit is that most of these people know the basics of how to run a company. If they were an athletic prospect, a scout would probably say they “have a high floor”, which means they may not be incredible, but we can feel fairly confident they won’t be truly terrible.

Besides that, I think Singapore is a leader in promoting women equality in the tech space. I have run across some incidents around the region that would stir outrage in Singapore and were widely ignored at the moment.

There is always more work to be done, but Singapore has an extremely active women-led community that keep pushing for awareness of inequalities in the industry. So that is heartening.

What do you think of the cybersecurity startup scene in Singapore?

It’s my blindspot! Sorry  . When I first arrived in Singapore I caught the tale-end of the e-commerce hype. Then I rode the fintech wave and now I am just getting off the blockchain hype-train. That means I was forced to do accelerated learning on e-commerce, fintech and blockchain.


Unfortunately, cybersecurity had to be sacrificed for the sake of my sanity. I actually avoid the topic because I don’t feel confident talking about it.

2019 goal perhaps?

Do you think it is ethical to post an anonymous op-ed

This is clearly a reference to the Trump-insider op-ed published by the New York Times overnight.

I am torn.

For context, I have subscribed to the New York Times for five years and I firmly believe it is the best journalism has to offer.

That is why I think the author is extremely high in the administration and he/she must have delivered it in person so the paper could verify it was indeed written by that person.

Also Read: Temasek joins hands with StarHub to form cybersecurity venture

That being said, no, I don’t think it is a particularly good look. I understand the need to remain anonymous to pass forward important news and the recent jailing of Reality Winner is a good example of the risks some of these people are taking.

But, this is an excoriation, and one that was made with care and effort. I think if someone is going to put their boss on blast, then they need to stand by their words.

If anybody, in any job, wrote this about their boss in the local newspaper, they would be fired immediately and it’s part of the consequence of publishing. Either put your name in the op-ed and get fired, or leave it be.

Is defensive architecture necessary in Singapore (especially those that target the homeless people)?

No. I find defensive architecture to be obnoxious. It doesn’t actually solve a problem, it just moves it somewhere else.

Making a bench less comfortable for a homeless person doesn’t make the person less homeless.

I think I will leave it here so I don’t rant for 800 words.

What makes a good pizza?

Let’s end on a high-note. Fun fact about me, I am a pizza snob. Chicago-style pizza is just an abomination and New York-style is tasty, but it is so greasy that the calorie-guilt gets in the way of any enjoyment.

Get this Pizza Hut or Pezzo garbage out of here. The crust needs to be thin, slightly burnt and when it reaches the ‘handle’ start to flirt with becoming a cracker.

After that, I am easy. Not a huge fan of pesto sauce but I will try anything in the food department.

Finally, it should be mentioned that Hawaiian pizza is superior and all other flavours are simply battling for the second place.

Copyright : jahcottontail

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