Openspace meets Kumu: The Story

Hian Goh
October 29, 2021
As remember by Hian Goh

This is the one I have been waiting to write for some time. It’s a company that’s close to my heart simply because it’s a media company. It took eight years for me to begin seriously thinking about a company that, in my opinion, has surpassed the success of what we achieved at Asian Food Channel almost a decade ago.

We first met Kumu inNovember 2018, almost 3 years ago now. At that point in time, the company was already executing impressively, but because so few investors were paying attention to the Philippines, nobody had picked up on their success.

However, as a fund with a belief in the whole Southeast Asia region, Openspace was already beginning to look beyond Indonesia, and towards the emergent Filipino start-up ecosystem.With more than 100 million people, we had a high conviction in the market, and my experience running the Asian Food Channel 10 years ago sharpened my intuition for its latent potential.

When Rexy and Roland first came to our office in Singapore, what struck me was how much they had achieved in such a short period of time. However, I was carrying my own baggage around media companies (call it post-traumatic stress, for I know how challenging it is to start one and then gain market share).

But, I was left astonished by the way they thought about media – they were taking such a refreshing angle. Here were two digital natives, media guerrillas, warfare practitioners and operators who not only what they wanted to achieve in connecting the Filipino diaspora, but also knew what it would take to capture the attention of the audience in today’s environment.

If I had one question at the time, it whether their tech stack would be able to scale in line with their business. Given their ambitions and global vision, it would need to be able to handle a lot.

For a moment, I thought I was right to be concerned. When I asked, “who’s running your tech?”, they replied, “oh, we’ve got one guy.” One guy! What does that even mean? How can one guy handle tens of thousands of concurrent users and scale it up? But, little did I know.

This one guy, in turns out, was Tony Wang from Agora. And Tony Wang had been quietly seeding the Agora platform, which powers Clubhouse and many other large global video, platforms to create a media revolution in multiple countries. And the first one that he had achieved critical mass with was the Philippines – and the agent, that was Kumu.

So, pacified with that knowledge, I returned to my belief in investing on first principles ­– because you need to understand what is happening from that point-of-view in order to make confident assumptions about the future. And here’s what I saw: Kumu was building a definitely ‘new’ media business and designing a more equitable, safe, and authentic creator economy.

Parking the fact I had spent 10 years devoted to Cable TV, I had to admit that the future now belonged to Rexy and Roland, and to the tens of millions of Filipinos who are using mobile phones to create and consume content.

Our confidence in the business grew, and it wasn’t long afterwards that we led and raised their SeriesA round – giving them the fire power they needed to fast acquire new users. Our internal operations team then actively helped them scale up their tech architecture, persuaded Crystal Wijaya from Gojek (who’s Series A we also led) to come on board, and helped them find a CFO. In the background, we’ve been quietly working to raise the growth round they deserve.

What I most proud of is that our partnership continues to be productive, consultative and open. As an example, last year the team came to me and asked a simple question. Should they spend a seven figure sum to acquire the format for Pinoy Big Brother? The issue was that this would be the biggest deal that they’ve ever done and they wanted to check whether it was right to spend that kind of money. My response was a resolute yes: this would put them on the map. "Go now, before you lose the deal."

Well, the rest as they say is history. It’s become clear to me that Kumu is now woven into the public consciousness in the Philippines, and is beginning to find its global audience– edging ever closer to building a billion-dollar business we expected from the outset that they could become.  

Let’s go back to our first meeting, where after listening to them for 30 minutes, I said:

"You do realise that you control a $10 billion asset". 

Rexy and Roland replied,"what do you mean?" 

“Well”, I said, “you have about 6 billion of assets because 100 million Filipinos have bought mobile phones and the 4 billion is in the 4G network, but everybody’s using Kumu. You’ve arbitraged, and are now leveraging, a $10 billion asset, which someone else paid for."

I don’t think Roland or Rexy fully understood what I meant a few years ago as we sat on the couch in our office, but I’m sure they do now: Series C – and the best is yet to come as they continue on their mission to build the world’s largest participatory social network.

Active Intelligence to find build and back transformative companies. That’s the Openspace way.