How Our #GAMentors Establish Opportunities For German Startups

An Interview with Pedro, Co-Founder of Build38, and Yih Cheng Yak, #GAMentor

Pedro Hernandez, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Build38, successfully graduated from German Accelerator’s Southeast Asia program in June this year. Build38 is the innovative provider of the next generation AI-based app protection and management platform. They recently secured €3 million in its Pre-Series-A funding round with two new investors, Caixa Capital Risc and eCAPITAL Entrepreneurial Partners. Guiding the company is German Accelerator lead mentor Yih Cheng Yak, Director, Business Solution of ADA, a business development and marketing technology expert who believes that technology is an enabler and customer experience is key to business growth. We spoke to Pedro and Yih Cheng (also affectionately known as YC) and learned the perspectives of working together from both a mentor and a mentee.

Pedro, you have been based in Singapore since 2014, and you co-founded Build38 in 2018. Did you establish the company with your sights on Southeast Asia from day one?

Pedro: Yes, definitely! The founder team of Build38 was global from the beginning – the “3” in our company’s name refers to the three locations where we set up shop: Munich, our HQ, Barcelona, our Development and Operations center, and Singapore. I had a good feeling about the potential for Build38 in Singapore, as I was already based here, taking care of a Business Development team in the region. Soon after the company’s founding, we realized that it was critical to have a razor-sharp Go-to-Market strategy to avoid being lost in the diversity, hence the decision to join German Accelerator’s Southeast Asia program.

What was it like to work with the mentors during the German Accelerator program?

Pedro: Working with the mentors was a special part of the program, which I feel worked best for me. Having access to such a broad network of mentors helped us get interesting connections that provided us with warm leads and valuable opportunities that we wouldn’t have been able to make independently.

How would you describe the relationship with your lead mentor at German Accelerator?

Pedro: Our lead mentor has been a critical part of our success in the program. We chose YC because he brought a background that we, as the founder team, were lacking. The team only consisted of engineers or talents with some technical knowledge. We needed someone to help us bring our message and pitch one level up and see if it still made sense. YC has been of great help because from day one, he put all his efforts into understanding and helping us in achieving that, together with the other mentors.

Pedro, Build38 is a Privacy & Security firm but your lead mentor is from the marketing space. Is there a reason for that choice, and how did this benefit you?

Pedro: It has been valuable to hear and understand his insights and ideas even though he is from a different background. YC challenged us continuously to explain and show the value of everything we did, which made us get over the “aha!” moments. We realized that we could transmit the same message more efficiently and effectively if we used simpler terms and were aware of the usual mental models.

YC, let’s hear from you now. How was the experience of working with Pedro and his company Build38 for you?

Yih Cheng: It was really good since Pedro was very committed as we worked towards the various SMART goals that we set out to achieve. Having joined some of their internal meetings, I would say that the cohesiveness and candid factor were the most valuable as they charted their way forward.

From your perspective, YC, what do you think about the potential of Build38 for the Southeast Asian market?

Yih Cheng: The Asia-Pacific market has the highest app revenue in 2020 and has doubled in the last five years. Mobile app security is a growing concern for brands to ensure a trusted customer experience, and there is excellent potential for Build38 to grow here.

You were still the lead mentor for Build38 as part of their extension of the German Accelerator program. Was there anything that you did differently as opposed to the first few months of the program?

Yih Cheng: The pandemic disrupted our go-to-market plan, but we see the market opening up and businesses resuming conversations, so that is a good sign. We also refined the pitch and product, which we will be testing in this extension phase with German Accelerator, so wish us luck!

Looking back, why did you decide to be a startup mentor for German Accelerator?

Yih Cheng: I benefited from veteran business advisors in my early years and always wanted to give back. German Accelerator gave me that chance to help startups shape their future and it was also a different way for me to grow. I am one of the youngest mentors and have learned a lot from the veteran mentor network in our mentoring sessions, many of whom I would never have met as we are actually competitors in the industry.

YC, is there also something you have learned from Pedro, your mentee?

Yih Cheng: In the startup world, it is extremely easy to get caught up in a mad rush to get things done, which then results in burn out. Pedro balances that with the right pace and focus. Delivering the task at hand is then done with utmost quality. That is something that I admire and have learned to appreciate.

From your perspective, what do you expect from startups that book a mentoring slot with you? Is there any special preparation you would recommend?

Yih Cheng: If it is an expert mentor session, you are likely to discuss a specific topic. Come prepared or send your questions ahead of time to make full use of the discussion session. For lead mentoring sessions, do your homework and be ready to discuss the items that are a work in progress.

What are your top three tips for any startup to get the most out of a mentoring session?

Yih Cheng: The mentoring sessions are most productive if:

  1. The mentor understands the key proposition of the startup quickly.
  2. The focus of the session is on specific problems that we can work to solve together.
  3. The mentor is informed of the possible connections we can help make to accelerate your growth in advance.

What is the hardest part when mentoring a startup in your view?

Yih Cheng: The mentor is like a personal fitness trainer where equal commitment is required from both parties. So, the hardest part is when a mentee is unable to dedicate time to the workshops and 1:1 sessions due to their overwhelming roles or busy schedules.

In a nutshell, is there one thing you recommend to any startup that wants to scale and make it in Southeast Asia?

Yih Cheng: Trusted relationships are key when scaling in this dynamic region. It usually comes via a good referral network and notable Southeast Asian clients. For a startup, this would mean building your network quickly in the Southeast Asian ecosystem, investing in the first wave of flagship clients, and having a good amount of digital brand presence.

Pedro, let’s get back to hearing your thoughts. At German Accelerator, you have worked with other expert mentors too. How did they support you?

Pedro: We counted on the help of many mentors throughout our five-months in the program. I have to highlight the relationship with Chris Aw and Adam Radicic especially, based on their cyber background and having been in a similar situation as us in the past. The relationship with them and the rest of the expert mentors was slightly different from YC, as we were going back to them with specific questions and proposals to get feedback or ideas.

Let’s talk a little bit about the learnings. What are your three main takeaways from what your mentors taught you?

Pedro:

  1. Invest in developing the emotional part of your messaging in order to make it more appealing as a proposition.
  2. Develop a proposition that avoids being perceived as a “vitamin” and become a “painkiller” instead, as that would create the urge to act.
  3. Asia, and particularly, Southeast Asia, is heavily reliant on relationships.

What would you recommend to future program participants before they start working with their mentors?

Pedro: In times like this, it’s easy to take the popular advice to protect cash reserves for survival rather than think about your business’s long-term future. My view is that you should also be exploring new opportunities and preparing yourself for a post-coronavirus world. For that, you’ll need the close guidance of experts and mentors, and the German Accelerator’s program has done that for us!

Have you made any major changes to your product or business model for the Southeast Asia market due to your participation in the program?

Pedro: We were significantly relying on trade shows for lead generation and business development activities in the past. That came to a standstill when we started the program. Thanks to YC and other expert mentors’ support, we managed to set up several activities to generate leads through digital marketing. I believe getting the mentors’ insights and support helped us transition faster than doing it independently.

What has surprised you the most, or is there anything you wouldn’t have expected before joining the German Accelerator program?

Pedro: The switch to the Virtual Program was a little bit of a setback at the beginning. Being together with the other startups in the cool and dynamic space in the German Accelerator office in Singapore was fantastic. However, when we got used to it, we had much more interaction with our team members. It was more efficient and convenient to participate in the virtual sessions as we no longer needed to commute to a physical space. It also meant that those based in Germany could participate in the same conditions as Singapore participants. Hence, I would say that it had its positive effects and minor adverse effects, but overall, fulfilling!

Finally, what have been your goals for the program, and did you achieve them?

Pedro: Adding the digital marketing strategy was one of the goals to be achieved. We were happy with what we achieved in the program, and the main reason for an extension was to further shape our GTM for the region and validate it. During the program, the height of the crisis was taking place. Many of the prospects and partners we were talking to slowed down their decision making. Now that the worst of the crisis MAY be behind us, we believe that it is a good time to resume the validation of the GTM.

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