Interview Investor

A Chat with Hideki Fujita of Segnel Ventures

“I spend a lot of my time with my founders,” said Hideki Fujita, Founder of Segnel, when discussing his role as a venture capitalist.

Originally from Japan, Hideki has been in the venture capital (VC) business since the beginning of his career. He started with Jafco, the largest VC firm in Japan, and later moved to Gree, one of the largest mobile social gaming companies, where he was involved in the company’s strategic investments into the mobile gaming industry in the Japanese and Chinese markets.

After leaving Gree, Hideki co-founded Coent Venture Partners with Shuhei Morofuji, who founded SMS, a healthcare information service for the elderly in Japan. And soon after in May 2015, Hideki set up Segnel Ventures, which is also backed by Morofuji.

Segnel, fully run by Hideki, has a very clear objective to focus its investment in Southeast Asia and South Asia. Within a short period of time, Segnel has invested in 14 companies (as at the time of writing),most of them are Malaysia-based and amongst the startups are KFIT, Favful, and SaltyCustoms. Segnel has one exit — Watch Over Me, which was acquired by Carousell in August 2016.

I need to understand the founders, and they need to understand me.

“The most important thing in the venture capital business, to me, is understanding of the people behind the business,” said the 35-year-old venture capitalists, “It is extremely important to understand the business and the market. But understanding of the founders is very important.”

Hideki values spending time getting to know the people his is planning to work with — their passion, motivation, aspiration, strengths and weaknesses. “I need to understand them (founders),” said Hideki, “And they (founders) need to understand me.”

Having a good grasp on each other’s personality goes a long way. “When the business is good, it is easy to communicate,” Hideki explained, “But (in business) you are often faced with difficult situations and there may be arguments.” Therefore, if the parties involved have taken the time to truly communicate and set expectations, conflicts will be much easier to be resolved.

“But it is not easy,” Hideki admitted that understanding a human is a complex task, not to mention having to overcome barriers in the culturally diverse Southeast Asia. Certainly, it requires high intention and sincere effort.

Straddling on Both Sides 

Hideki, besides being an investor, is also an entrepreneur. Not the commonly seen entrepreneur turned investor, but concurrently an investor and a founder of a startup.

In 2015, Hideki co-founded Perobox, a media and e-commerce platform for pet owners. His startup, based in Singapore, is about a year old and ready for market expansion. Being a founder, he has to go through the same process of business growth like every other founder in Southeast Asia – building business model, acquiring customers, marketing, raising funds, etc.

Hideki’s dual role puts him in a vantage point where he gets to understand both sides of the story, especially when it comes to fundraising. He is able to relate and advise founders in a more meaningful way.

Don’t Propose on the First Date 

Many people, including Hideki, agree that investing is like a a marriage, which has a process that goes like this: get introduced to each other, getting to know more about the other person, a proposal, a promise for commitment, and then spending a lot more time on communication (in good times and bad times).

It is not good that when you meet for the first time, you go straight into talking about only fundraising

However, in reality, as Hideki revealed, entrepreneurs would often rush to the investors with the expectation to score on the first encounter. “It is like you propose for a marriage on your first date,” joked Hideki.

“It is not good that when you meet for the first time, you go straight into talking about only fundraising. We have to talk about who we are, what we provide and where we go from here in order to understand each other,” Hideki stressed.

Hideki comes across as a very down to earth and earnest person, who is certainly very passionate in what he does — be it in investing or running a business.

Hideki has plans for Segnel to be one of the top seed investors in Southeast Asia, not only on the number of investment but also on quality growth of the portfolio companies. In the long run, he wishes to bring in more investors and founders from Japan to this region.

Segnel invests independently with ticket size ranges from US$10-500K, and it focuses consumer internet services like marketplace, mobile based applications, e-commerce, media and ed-tech.

You may log on to www.segnel.com to learn more about Hideki and Segnel Ventures. 

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