Thursday 05 October, 2023

3 CEOs, 2 months, 1 company: chaos at live commerce enabler Upmesh

We look at the CEO carousel at Singaporean live commerce startup Upmesh and an India-based spacetech firm’s US$10 million series A1 round.

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Hello reader,

It’s only been about nine months since I became managing editor of Tech in Asia Studios, so I’m relatively new to the role – I think I’m doing all right, and I certainly owe a lot so far to great guidance from those above me and great grit and creativity from those under me. Y’all the real MVPs.

I think this is the case for most people, really. No person is an island, and everyone can credit at least a little bit of their success to the people around them.

Having that mindset and humility is key to sustainable growth and success, so reading about the leadership drama at Singapore-based live commerce startup Upmesh had me shaking my damn head.

Read on to see what went down.

Today we look at:

The game of CEO musical chairs at Upmesh The US$10 million series A1 funding round of a spacetech firm Other newsy highlights such as Samsung’s VC arm investing in a sleeptech startup and Alibaba’s Zhang stepping down as CEO Premium summary A tale of overreaching and overly large egos

Image credit: Timmy Loen

Have you ever tried to do too much, too soon, and then see it all blow up in your face? It’s definitely happened to me before, which is why I make sure to never stretch myself too thin now. Better to be slow and good rather than rushed and messy.

Upmesh’s troubles appear to have started when it got a bit too ambitious with its expansion plans. Nothing particularly wrong with that, but when things started to fall apart, they really fell apart.

The first domino: Original CEO Wong Zi Yang left his post in April, months after the company conducted layoffs in December 2022. He admitted that he had prioritized growth over monetization, and took responsibility for the job cuts. The second domino: Co-founder Shaun Teow took over, but it didn’t take long before he himself stepped down after staff complained about his behavior. Incidents included calling a meeting to discuss the layoffs “Red wedding,” referring to a notorious episode from the HBO series Game of Thrones; sending messages declaring himself “fucking smart” and “demonstrably, to a scientific level, intelligent;” and allegations of throwing an employee’s laptop against the wall and making crude, vulgar comments during meetings. An interim domino: For now, Tan Kim Hock is taking over as Upmesh’s interim CEO. He’s a senior investment associate at Monk’s Hill, which is an investor in the startup.

Read more: 3 CEOs in 2 months: leadership crisis at live commerce enabler Upmesh

Startup spotlight Have you ever played Asteroids?

Image credit: Timmy Loen

While there are more than enough problems to solve on earth, there are startups doing work for that great patch of inky blackness above us. Digantara, whose tech helps to detect space debris that can damage spacecraft and satellites, has secured US$10 million in a series A1 round.

Investor list: Among those who pumped in the cash were Peak XV Partners, Kalaari Capital, Global Brain Corporation, and Campus Fund. This is Peak’s first investment announcement since changing its name from Sequoia Capital India and Southeast Asia. Prior funding: This development follows the US$2.5 million that the spactech firm received in its seed round in 2021. Where the money is going: Digantara will “invest heavily” in its tech infrastructure and improve its Space-MAP (Mission Assurance Platform) solution, which is envisioned to be “as powerful and sophisticated as Google Maps” in the context of space situational awareness.

See also: Recession Run: Sequoia’s $850m plan during a downturn

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Take the first step into the future today by signing up for an open beta account on MindOS on Mindverse’s website.

Quick bytes

1️⃣ Would you pay almost US$500 for better sleep? Consumer sleeptech startup Earable Neuroscience has secured an undisclosed sum of bridge funding from Samsung’s venture capital arm. The firm previously closed a US$6.8 million pre-series A round which was co-led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

Its flagship product is the Frenz Brainband, which tracks and stimulates brain activity to improve the user’s sleep, focus, and relaxation. It costs US$490.

2️⃣ Alibaba’s CEO steps down, writes a long letter about it Daniel Zhang officially announced his decision to step down as CEO and group chairman of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba effective September 10.

He wrote a memo to staff about the change and why it was made. Spoiler alert: He wants to focus exclusively on leading a spinoff unit, the Cloud Intelligence Group.

3️⃣ Laying down the law The Monetary Authority of Singapore has released a whitepaper on purpose-bound money (PBM), a protocol that will set a standard for use of digital money including central bank digital currencies, tokenized bank deposits, and stablecoins.

PBM allows senders to specify conditions when making transfers in digital money, such as how long the money is considered valid and on which platforms it can be used on.

4️⃣ Singapore backs US tech GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, is reportedly increasing its investments in US-based VC funds and tech firms, the Financial Times reported. The move reflects GIC’s confidence in the long-term resilience of the US tech sector despite recent setbacks.

The firm has assets of over US$700 billion and is looking to “increase exposure” to US-focused funds, according to the report.

5️⃣ We’re still talking semiconductors Spending is way up in the semiconductor industry, with the US, the European Union, Japan, and India committing more than US$100 billion in subsidies to attract chipmakers like Intel, TSMC, and Micron Technology.

This is all in a bid to cut the dependency on overseas suppliers for these critical components.

6️⃣ Money for payments Singapore-based Dtcpay has raised US$16.5 million in a pre-Series A funding round led by Kwee Liong Tek, the chairman of Pontiac Land Group.

The digital payments platform plans to use the funds to boost product development, improve operations and infrastructure capabilities, and to expand its global presence.


Winston Zhang

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