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Appworks Founder Reveals Why They’re Moving Into AI And Blockchain

Jamie Lin founded the Taipei-based accelerator AppWorks in 2009. Having began coding and building his own computers at the age of 10, he co-founded his first ecommerce startup, Hotcool, in 1999 and went on to co-found Intumit, Social Sauce, and Muse Games.

Lin received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from National Taiwan University and MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. He blogs on Mr Jamie.

What did you do before setting up AppWorks?

The dotcom boom hit Taiwan when I was in college. I started one of the country’s first ecommerce websites with a friend in my varsity basketball team, but then the dotcom bubble burst in 2000 and everything went south. We pivoted into a SaaS company—our knowledge management software was a hit and we started selling really well.

But in 2004, SARS hit, so everything came to a halt. I decided to pursue an MBA in New York University (NYU). During that time, I was actually one of Facebook’s first 8,000 users; my class basically grew up with Facebook.

Two of my MBA friends became interested in creating a travel social network and they recruited me. We raised US$2 million but soon realized that it didn’t work because people only travelled two times a year; they didn’t need a social network for it.

In 2008, my CEO decided to pivot into a game production house. But I wasn’t a huge fan of games back then, and US companies were still struggling with the financial crisis. I also just had my son and wanted him to grow up Taiwanese.

I thought that iPhone and Android’s launch will make hardware a commodity and software more valuable, and that’s why I decided to come back and start AppWorks.

How did you get started in the blockchain space?

I started paying attention to bitcoin back in 2013/2014. As I started looking into the decentralized nature of its design and limited supply, I realized that it’s probably going to be the “digital gold.” I also felt that its design has the ability to make money supply more decentralized. I am especially bullish on the micropayment use cases.

I started writing blog posts and promoted that Taiwan should try to position itself as a cryptocurrency hub even back in 2014. And yes, I also bought a bunch of bitcoins!

Recently, AppWorks started an accelerator program for blockchain and AI startups. What do you hope to achieve?

We started with the popularity of iPhone and Android—hence the name AppWorks. But with the decline of smartphones, we can continue to be a general accelerator or we can tell founders to look at blockchain and AI: the two new paradigms that would create new opportunities. If we do this, then we might be able to spark the region to move forward and jump to the next curve.

Internally, we had a lot of debate. Some of us fear that we might not have as many applicants. Some debate that if AI blockchain startups want to join us, they would have joined us anyway.

But we feel that that’s something we can do to better serve this region, so we decided to take the risk. Even though we may lose applications, at least we can tell this region that it is time to go forward.

What are some entrepreneurial lessons that help you succeed in your current role?

When you’re a pure financial player, sometimes you feel that you can solve problems just by throwing money. But when you are or have been a founder, you realize that 99 percent of startups’ problems cannot be solved that easily with money. So, you pay more attention to building up your repertoire and having the relevant tools to help them solve the problem.

At AppWorks, we have founder communities where founders can speak to various experts that can help tackle specific problems (e.g. PR, design, recruiting).

How do you equip your people to support blockchain and AI startups?

We have internal classes and online workshops. We even gave our co-workers Ethereum so they can play with different crypto exchanges. On top of that, we also recruited a bunch of AI/blockchain founders to be our mentors.

It’s a continuous process. We’re still taking classes on blockchain up to today. We’re also continuously recruiting mentors. This industry is moving so fast, you just have to continuously get up to speed.

What needs to be done to ensure mainstream adoption of blockchain projects?

We need to have more young and smart founders and developers to participate in the development of public chains and blockchain applications.

I think the equivalent of a browser in smartphones, which would enable mainstream adoption, is not here yet. At this point, what we can do is get more young people to experience blockchain, so we can harness the platform when the time comes.

If you look at Silicon Valley, the community jumped onto iPhone and Android and developed apps on top of it because they have accumulated capabilities and experience. Ten years on, Silicon Valley still dominates the world’s mobile experiences.

In terms of growing the talent pool, what are your thoughts on helping existing internet founders to pivot and start a blockchain company?

I think we need to inspire today’s internet founders to pivot and look into blockchain opportunities. We also need to make sure they’re informed that mobile internet is saturated.

Even though right now it’s still early days, there are still things you can do to build viable, sustainable profitable blockchain businesses. There are already people making money from building companies in this industry.

What’s your daily success routine?

I wake up every day at 5 am, and I immediately start reading news until 8 am. Tech in Asia is obviously one of the sources I check.

I usually hit the gym two to three times a week, spending one and a half hours each time: run for 30 minutes or 5 km and lift weights for an hour. I feel that doing a startup is like a long run. You need to build up your body and your stamina for the long haul.

Who is your mentor(s)?

I have a lot of mentors. I learn a lot from Elon Musk to Marc Andreessen to Peter Thiel, even though they don’t know me! I watch a lot of their YouTube videos every time I hit the gym.

In the real world, I think both of my partners are really kind. They have more experience than me in the VC world, so I learn a lot from them.

I was also very lucky to have Steven Chang, the founder of CID Group, as my mentor. He helped me review investments in my first three years as a VC. He also became a co-LP in my first fund.

What are some values you live by?

I’m very keen on championing the term “Greater Southeast Asia” as I feel that Taiwan should work together with Southeast Asia. Hopefully, I can help one more founder see the value of recognizing Taiwan and Southeast Asia as one market.

Another thing is, a business can only be sustainable in the long run if the value it creates for society is much, much bigger than the value it extracts. Look at Google: the value it provides to the world is worth probably trillions, or even hundreds of trillions of dollars. But Google only extracts US$100 billion to US$200 billion of revenue every year.

Founders should try to maximize the value they create for the world. That should be the model.

Lastly, I’d like to see founders helping younger founders. Founders are a special breed of animals. If they help each other, we will have this endless positive cycle that would help the region thrive more quickly. 

BouliBrand is a boutique marketing + entrepreneurship + communications + branding movement focused on creating vibrant, purposeful and revenue-generating media experiences on a partner-by-partner basis. With strategic partnerships in New York, Toronto, Athens, Los Angeles, New Delhi and Shanghai, we work directly with savvy, driven and optimistic clients wanting to produce fresh platforms of communication and target nouveau markets internationally with their startup businesses and services. BouliBrand is propelled by Georgios (George) Stroumboulis (Γιώργος Στρουμπούλης) - an internationally seasoned marketing professional with tangible business experiences across multiple industries and diverse cultures. To learn more about BouliBrand, Georgios and the stimulating team spearheading the BouliBrand movement forward, get in contact at www.BouliBrand.com, www.Facebook.com/BouliBrand, www.Twitter.com/Stroumboulis (@stroumboulis), www.Instagram.com/Stroumboulis (@stroumboulis), www.LinkedIn.com/in/Stroumboulis, www.YouTube.com/Stroumboulis or www.Pinterest.com/BouliBrand. BouliBrand shares progressive industry information related to the marketing, branding, entrepreneurship, investment, networking, financing, start-up, public relations, internet, web, creative and business movement. We gather select articles, blogs, news, posts, press releases, announcements, interviews, commentary, videos, clips and anything we feel might be worth reviewing for our visitors, followers, clients and partners.

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