Until Appier Became a ‘Unicorn AI Company’: CEO, Chih-Han Yu on Fundraising and Building the Organization (Episode 3)
Appier, founded in Taiwan in 2012 and listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Prime Market as an "AI x SaaS" native AI company, is dedicated to advancing the widespread and practical use of easily accessible AI. The company operates globally across 17 locations, providing support for corporate sales and marketing activities. CEO Chih-Han Yu discusses the essential qualities of entrepreneurs and the key factors for business growth on a global scale in an interview with DIMENSION Business Producer, Noriyuki Ito. (Four Parts)
Zero Preparation for “Sequoia Capital”!?
In 2021, Appier successfully raised a cumulative total of $162 million before going public. Did you have specific points or strategies regarding fundraising from international venture capitals?
When we founded Appier, AI was not yet a hot topic, so we had essentially ruled out external fundraising, not even planning to raise funds from venture capital.
The initial investment we received from Sequoia Capital also came about by chance after coincidentally bumping into each other in Singapore.
Despite not even knowing what Sequoia Capital was at the time, I still went to meet them with a smile on my face! Afterwards, I googled the company and read that Sequoia Capital was an early investor in Google, which was quite a surprise!
I bet everyone from a startup wants to talk to venture capitalists, right?
I wasn’t thinking about investments at that time, as I was too naive to even recognize the name. In fact, we met without any preparation on my part, but the natural conversation seemed to work well and lead to their investment.
I believe Sequoia Capital invested in us because I was able to talk purely about the value we were aiming for, rather than seeking funding. What I want to convey here is that “building business is building value, and when you have the value, investments will come.”
Next, in a private company, shareholders are long-term companions on a journey. So, you should choose investors who not only provide money but also genuine help along the process. To complement the elements your team lacks, use your cap table to build your advisor board.
The last point is determining the right timing for fundraising, both for the market and your company. It’s counterproductive for business leaders to constantly devote time to fundraising, so it’s important to identify the appropriate timing and execute it efficiently.
Separating Individuality from Nationality.
Do you notice any differences between venture capital in Japan and the United States?
I’m always conscious not to associate any differences or individuality with countries. Whether the countries are the same or different, there are always differences among venture capitalists. Investors have no borders.
Similarly, when dealing with multinational employees, I make sure not to link “individuality” to “nationality.” In any country every individual is unique, their differences are not defined by their country.
Do you consider the large number of small IPOs in Japan a challenge to businesses?
Whether to IPO or not is ultimately the decision of the business leaders, so it’s not necessarily a matter of structure. However, it’s true that small IPOs can come with risks that may not justify the maintenance costs.
I believe the presence of late-stage investors is important in promoting business growth and exit strategies other than small IPOs. The United States is ahead in terms of this ecosystem, so I think it would be beneficial for Japan to develop in this direction as well.
What were you conscious of when it comes to building an organization?
When we founded the company, we assembled a team of people who embrace our beliefs. They are individuals who are willing to work together to achieve this mission.
Especially during the challenging initial stages of founding a company, it’s important to build a diverse team that can complement each other’s strengths.
Take our founding team, for example. I myself specialize in machine learning algorithms, CTO and co-founder Chia-Yung Su is an expert in data and systems, and COO and co-founder Wan-Ling Lee is not an engineer but excels in business development and organizational building.
We complement each other’s abilities and personalities and also respect each other, allowing us to commit to focusing on a common goal. We always aim to create a culture where people are willing and eager to work together. Whenever we meet someone with remarkable skills, we are always excited.
Being “open-minded” in every encounter with new people is important, not only in fundraising but also in building our organization, and we believe in its significance.
Interviewer Noriyuki ITO
DIMENSION Business Producer: Graduated from Waseda University, School of Political Science and Economics. After working at Rakuten and EdTech startups, he invested in and analyzed domestic startups and provided management support for their IPOs at Dream Incubator Inc. In 2009, he joined Dream Incubator Inc. In 2009, he participated in the MBO of DIMENSION Fund from Dream Incubator Inc. He is working to revitalize the Japanese economy by providing support as a capitalist to ambitious entrepreneurs. He is an outside director of FinTech startup 400F Inc. Also teaches "Venture Strategy Planning" and "Business Analytics" at a business school.