Join Steve Melhuish on the Good Business Podcast as he discusses impact investing and building sustainable startups at Wavemaker Impact.
What does BIG impact look like? In this episode of the Good Business Podcast, we are joined by Steve Melhuish who aims to reduce 10% of global carbon emissions by building 100 x 100 companies. We talk about his experience building and ultimately stepping back from PropertyGuru to start Wavemaker Impact. We discuss the importance of building a community, the role of business coaches and advisors, and the surprising findings of climate tech investments. Tune in for valuable insights and notable soundbites on entrepreneurship, technology, and reducing emissions.
In this conversation, we learnt…
– How Steve started and scaled PropertyGuru (03:41 – 07:45)
– The challenges he faced when opening into new markets (08:22 – 12:09)
– How Steve decided to take a step back and spend more time with his kids (12:37 – 14:39)
– How business coaches and advisors helped Steve build the business (15:41 – 21:03)
– The story behind Wavemaker Impact and its mission and vision (21:27- 32:00)
– Wavemaker’s business model and formula (32:56 – 33:42)
– The companies Wavemaker has invested in (33:56 – 38:05)
– What makes a good entrepreneur (38:15 – 41:54)
– The role of women and part-time work in the future (41:54 – 44:06)
“Cutting and pasting across multiple markets doesn’t work because every market is very different in terms of culture, people, hiring, competition and more.”
Upon the success of PropertyGuru in the Singapore market, Steve expanded to four new markets in four months. This was a particularly challenging time for the company as the scale of the business expanded rapidly. The team in Singapore, who were only focused on one market, stretched into managing sales, marketing, hiring, pricing, launch plans, the website, mobile apps for consumers, and agents, as well as Android and iPhone users, in multiple languages, all at the same time.
Ultimately, the team needed to go into a bit of a fix mode and dig deeper.. They had to identify why this arrangement wasn’t working. Ultimately, they discovered that they needed to professionalise the whole organisation by creating processes and systems.
“My identity was so intertwined with the organisation that stepping out and doing something else after such a long time was quite hard and hugely uncomfortable.”
Due to the business and travelling extensively, Steve missed the first three years of his personal life with his family, which was a bit of a shock for him. His priorities shifted and he told his wife that by the time his kids are five, he’ll be out of the day-to-day operations. Looking at his current schedule, she dismissed it and said it was not going to happen.
But through hiring a strong CEO and working extensively with a business coach, Steve was able to accomplish this transition. Letting go was hard work as he enjoyed the town halls the leadership, and the media interviewsas his company had become synonymous with his ego. He struggled personally with the transition process, having a crisis in confidence and even mild depression.
“We have all the technology we need today to reduce emissions by 50%. So the challenge is not technology or science, it’s around adoption of what already exists.”
While there is extensive investment and R&D in the sustainability field, especially in the transformational technology field, Steve recognised that there is a need to stop emissions today. Especially in the next five,,10 or 20 years. Because we can’t wait 30 years and realise it’s too late.
Wavemaker Impact focuses on building fast-growing climate tech companies, which take existing technology and rapidly scale the adoption of existing technology to reduce emissions in the short term. For example, why don’t we already have solar panels on every roof in Southeast Asia? It’s not due to the lack of technology or cost but rather the lack of a specialised business model and incentive. That’s where Wavemaker Impact comes in.
“So we focus on building 100 x 100 companies. Those that can have the opportunity to have 100 megaton emissions reduction by 10 years, while generating 100 million revenue.”
Before investing in a company, Steve and the Wavemaker Impact team spends a lot of time gaining the conviction that the venture is going to be able to reduce emissions by up to 100 megatons. That is a HUGE undertaking as Singapore is about 50 megatons. They also hire or support experienced entrepreneurs that have either built one or two businesses in other tech industries and know what to do in the sustainability space. Plus, they take three venture builders from their team who are essentially like management consultants and work with the founders intensively for six months – validating the pain point which is usually customer or economic, and then finding ways to address this with a low emissions solution.
“50% of all of the emissions is in the food agri and land use space.”
One of the first tasks of the business was to build a carbon emissions map for Southeast Asia. Their surprising finding was that a large portion of the emissions were in the food agriculture and land use sectors. Most of the climate tech investment is focused on mobility, such as EV companies, battery companies, charging companies, etc. So that’s where all the money and time is focused when the emissions are actually elsewhere. Therefore, to have a meaningful impact on our emissions in the short to medium term, we need the entrepreneurs and the money to be flowing to the areas where the problems are.
“I think if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, nurturing and building and staying connected as a community is really, really important.”
In the initial days when he started PropertyGuru, there was no real startup community in Singapore, which has evolved extensively since then. A community can provide enormous opportunities for support for a startup. Be it a startup community or a business sector community. In addition to the support, Steve talks about how it can help you connect with the right people. You can find great clients, potential investors, potential hires, and more.
Chris Edwards (01:31)
Do you ever meet someone who’s incredibly accomplished, successful and should be a little bit intimidating, but they’re not? They’re just really down to earth, Friendly and relatable? Well, my next guest is exactly that person. Steve Melhuish was one of the founding partners of PropertyGuru. And he’s had enormous success building that platform from zero to 1500 staff. And the audience of property grew is now something like over 40 million consumers monthly. He’s raised over 400 million in funding, and done five m&a deals. He’s done an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. I mean, is there anything this guy hasn’t done. And he’s also invested and invested in all mentored, over 20 green tech startups. He’s really passionate about tackling climate change and inequality. And I gotta say, I just loved this chat with Steve. I think he shares so openly what his passions are, but also what’s so hard about being an entrepreneur. And I feel like I could have spent hours chatting to him. And I’ve learned so much, and it’s a conversation that I keep going back to and thinking about and talking about with my friends and family. So I think you’re gonna love this episode today. Let me know what you think I won’t let any more out of the bag. Let’s jump right into it.
Chris Edwards (03:05)
Hey, Steve, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. We met many moons back when I was like a deer in the headlights just starting honeycombers. And someone said to me, you should really meet Steve, he started PropertyGuru. He’s a really nice guy. And I think I sat down with and had a coffee with you and kind of was just like, how, what am I doing? How am I doing it? So it’s nice to have a full circle moment. Can we go back to the beginning PropertyGuru? Let’s just briefly can share about it’s a wildly successful property mega site in Singapore and across Asia. But how did it come about?
Steve Meluish (03:41)
So how it came about was I was I was renting a property in Singapore. I was running another startup, which is a mobile content startup, which was failing, undercapitalized and for lots of reasons it was not going where it should have been going. And then I had to move out of the property I was renting in 2007 at the height of a big property boom. Much like what we’re seeing now I guess. And yeah, so the first thing I did because I’ve been in Singapore for about two years at that stage I went online and to my surprise, there was nothing online and it was a hugely frustrating process to wade through inches and inches and inches thick if you remember those days of classified ads 10s of 1000s of three lines of text and so as a recently arrived followed in Singapore is really really hard to navigate because it’s like Villa Marina telephone number. So no photographs, no, no videos, no floor plans, no price information, nothing really. And so it was a horrendous process for me looking to rent a property but then I started to think, okay, look, if I’m gonna buy a property, I’m gonna spend in Singapore, like half a million dollars or more, and I’ve got no information at all. I’m completely powerless and so If I’m relying on an agent who’s maybe going to try and sell me something, or property developer trying to sell me something, or my friends and family who perhaps don’t know, the real estate market, advising me, it’s a single biggest thing, you’re gonna make an investment in your life, but you don’t have any information. You’re completely powerless. And it’s a stressful process. And so that got me thinking about, well, how do we make this a less scary process, less stressful process and kind of put the information and the tools and the transparency in the hands of the consumer. And so kind of set out to try to make the market more transparent, and also help consumers make more transparent property property decision, more confident property decisions. So we sort of, you know, hacked it together. And, you know, miraculously 12 or 13 years later, you know, we have about 50 million people now, using the service and across five countries. And so it was a hell of a journey. But, you know, obviously, we’ve made a lot of mistakes. And there’s a bit of a bump along the way. But yeah, that’s how it started.
Chris Edwards (06:01)
Wow. And did you have any experience in creating a tech platform or website platform before you started?
Steve Meluish (06:08)
Yeah, I mean, I’d been my background is building tech companies, and it was initially telecoms and Internet content, mobile. And so yeah, some of the businesses I’ve been working with and building, there’ll been in that kind of space. I didn’t have direct coding experience. And so that was going to be a bit of a challenge. And thankfully, you know, serendipitously It was introduced to my co-founder, Yanni, by one of the investors the company, or was the startup I was running. And, and he introduced us and he and he was dating a real estate agent, now married with a kid, and had started to build a property valuation website, but wanted to build a online real estate marketplace. And so, you know, I was still running a startup, he was he was consulting and doing consultancy, software consultancy in India. And so we started to work together temporarily, it’s all part time on the weekends, and then eventually worked, you know, seven days a week together. But he, he’s, he’s a software developer. And so he had that kind of product expertise and coding expertise. And that was kind of the front of the house to business development, sales, marketing, you know, doing all those sort of media interviews and this kind of thing. So that’s kind of roughly how we split things. So without Yanni, I guess we wouldn’t be where we are. You know, so I was very, very thankful that, you know, kind of it worked out well. And as by accident, more than anything else, you know, so he and I are fundamentally different, in many ways, like a book, a Myers Briggs, eight boxes, I think, were polar opposites. And all of those eight, which is either going to be worked really well together and complement each other, or you’re going to explode. And thankfully, we kind of complemented each other. Yeah,
Chris Edwards (07:45)
I remember you saying to me, once, when we caught up, how many staff do you have? And I think I had about 20 at the time. And you were said, keep it under 30? Like, that’s the sweet spot. And I think PropertyGuru, has what is it 1500 staff now or something crazy?
Steve Meluish (08:01)
Chris Edwards (08:04)
You didn’t obviously head your own advice on that. But,
Steve Meluish (08:07)
Of course, of course, I’ll do as I say, not as I do. That’s my motto.
Chris Edwards (08:12)
So what were some of the challenges of growing a business from zero to 1500 Staff? And now it’s reaching 40 million people a month across five countries? Is that right?
Steve Meluish (08:22)
Yeah, we have, we have about 40 to 50 million people every month using the services, looking for real estate, or looking for mortgages? On the side. So definitely, I felt like, you know, I guess the conversation I had with you, it definitely changed when it went to a roundabout, you know, between 30 to 50. So I guess the big impact for us was when we went from one market to multiple markets, which then led to the fundamental big increase in scaling. Because we went with it, we spent the first three or four years building Singapore, and it was about 50 staff. And as a profitable company. In Singapore, we had a sort of 80% market leadership position at that stage, and which would kind of work very hard to achieve the first four, four plus years. And so we felt okay, now we’ll just cut and paste a rollout across multiple markets, because we’ve conquered Singapore. And it should be easy just to cut and paste now, and how wrong we were. But yeah, so during that process, we hired about 250 people in a relatively short space of time, and it lost 250 people and then rehired 250 people. And, and so, you know, having spent four years doing one country and then going to faculty, four countries in four months, is definitely not the way to do things. And we put a lot of stress on the company. And so I learned a lot, which, in hindsight, sounds really naive. But, you know, I guess we’ve had to perhaps go through the experience, but, you know, first of all, cutting pasting across multiple markets doesn’t work because every market is very different in terms of culture, in terms of people in terms of hiring in terms of competition in terms of purchasing or renting property, but also when you kind of do things so fast that you do the quantity and the quality goes. And so you know, let’s say we have two to 50 people last turn and 50 people, the whole, the whole of the Singapore organisation was just focused on Singapore. And then we kind of stretched them into managing and helping launch Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, you know, sales, marketing, hiring, pricing, launch plans, you know, the website, the mobile apps for consumers, and agents, Android and iPhone, multiple languages, all at the same time. So of course, the Singapore team got completely stretched, because they were like, suddenly launching multiple markets, because Singapore business income has suffered as well, morale then suffered as well. And we then had to kind of go into a bit of a fix mode, and then dig a little bit about all Actually, why is this not working? Well, clearly, we don’t have a regional organisation, you don’t have processes in place, you have systems in place. And so we have to professionalise the whole organisation, and you know, started off with the finance organisation in a proper ERP in place, hire the CFO, and then thought about the marketing organisation then thought about the HR organisation and the product organisation. And so started to put the building blocks of that leadership process in place and the systems in place. But basically, it was a crazy three years of, you know, scaling super fast, which we did, because we were really, really worried about losing the opportunity, which it felt like that kind of healthy or perhaps unhealthy paranoia. If we don’t do something, now we’re going to miss the opportunity, the barrier to entry for a property website was, you know, we were getting people posting on these web developer or software, software developer sites saying we want to clone PropertyGuru, you would have come to SGX, please help us. And so we were seeing all this increased competition, you had one or two or three players in each market coming on. And so we felt we had to run, but in hindsight, perhaps we shouldn’t have done it quite so fast. And so we had three years of a huge amount of stress almost broke the company through that process. And it had to kind of then fix and put in place the proper building blocks. And so we kind of clear up the mess that we had made. And so that was a hugely stressful, stressful time.
Chris Edwards (12:09)
Wow, it’s a great story. And it sounds like it sounds obvious, but it doesn’t it doesn’t like I definitely think as an entrepreneur, you’re so optimistic, you’re like, sure we can do this. And you’re also a bit fearful of adding unnecessary costs or, but yeah, so now today, you’re not day to day in property group. So I’d love to know, how did you get out of managing the business that you created? And you’re still on the board?
Steve Meluish (12:37)
I’m still on the board? Yeah. So. So for me it was during that mess of scaling it I was in Malaysia 45 times and Thailand 35 times a year. And you know, as I was away, and during that time, 10 years, too late, but had kids. And so we had twins. And so I missed seeing the twins grow up for the first three years of their life, just because I was just in the business working crazy, and travelling a lot. And so one day I woke up and I kind of had this epiphany that, you know, if I carry on doing this, I’m gonna miss seeing my kids grow up. And I can’t rewind that time. And it was a bit of a shock to me. And so that then became the my priorities at a point change. And I said, looking to my wife, you know, by the time the kids are five, I’ll be out of the day to day operations, and she went bullshit, it’s not going to happen. And so I took that as a challenge. And so then started to put in place a succession plan. So to kind of persuade the board that this made sense, and the job of any good leader is to build a succession plan. And then we had to then need to really put some building blocks in place, which were, you know, first of all, professionalising the organisation and leadership and putting some of the stuff I just mentioned, but also about diversifying, because even though we’d expanded to multiple markets, 90% of the revenue was still in Singapore, you know, 90% of that was still coming from one customer base, which was a real estate agents. And so then, you know, how do you diversify organically and inorganically, so we acquired some companies as well to kind of diversify the revenue base, and then the other country, which was Vietnam. And so then we got to a stage where, you know, it was approaching 50% of the revenues are outside of Singapore, it was more like, you know, 60/40 agents and non agents. And so, and then, of course, you know, hire a CEO, which we thought would be a real challenge, but actually, you know, wasn’t as challenging as we thought it was gonna be because actually, there were quite a lot of frustrated super talented leaders in the in the region who were working for large big tech companies, increasingly matrix management and bureaucracy and things where we presented a small organisation organisation, but the ability to control everything, you know, so product sales, marketing, you know, HR, everything, basically. And so as you’ve had some times when we selected Harry’s done the absent just amazing job and so that made my job a lot easier to kind of manage that transition. So into 2018 When I handed all the operations over, and you know, the momentum just continued and just him and the team have done an amazing job.
Chris Edwards (14:56)
Just Harry’s see his kids.
Steve Meluish (14:59)
Yeah, I hope so.
Chris Edwards (15:02)
You must have done something to make it more manageable for him. Right?
Steve Meluish (15:06)
Well, I don’t know, I think it’s maybe it’s a little bit around personalities? Well, I’m a little bit of a workaholic. So I just, as I mentioned, right at the very start before we started, yeah, my inability to say no to things. And so yeah.
Chris Edwards (15:19)
And so how do you manage that? I mean, you did say when we, when we started, you said, I’ve got 12 meetings today. And I was like, quick, let’s get going. But yeah, how do you manage that? I mean, I’ve suffered from a similar thing, in that I would get very excited and say yes to lots of things. But what’s your trick to kind of coming back to work life balance and focusing on you know, the why you’re actually doing the work?
Steve Meluish (15:41)
Well, I don’t have a solution for that. To be honest, I think I’m actually seeking professional help. I actually have, you know, my first official coaching session today, on this subject to get some help.
Chris Edwards (15:53)
Steve Meluish (15:55)
Yeah, it’s something which I’m trying to manage myself better. So I can actually get the balance better.
Chris Edwards (15:59)
We’ll have to come back for part two.
Steve Meluish (16:02)
Yeah, I’ll have that conversation in three or four months. Let’s see where I am at that point. But yeah, just being a little bit more disciplined and putting a filter on things and just getting the balance right and managing time a bit better. But yeah, I’m not the best person to ask them.
Chris Edwards (16:16)
Have you used business coaches and advisors before?
Steve Meluish (16:18)
Yeah, I’ve been very, fortunate that, you know, I’ve had some fantastic things. I couldn’t have done it without the support. I had been, particularly from my wife through the whole process. But also, I was a member of his organisation called EO entrepreneur organisation, which has about 18,000 entrepreneurs and business owners, and you know, my forum of eight of us for four hours once a month for about 10 or 11 years. And that support around business, personal, family, you know, wider how you manage your life a little bit. And some of the challenges of doing that, as well as being an entrepreneur, were invaluable. And so, you know, last night, I had, I took my forum out for dinner. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did, we’d probably do it, they would just this the support I had during the challenging times, was invaluable, but also have been our business coaches at certain times, you know, so Junos scaling is that one market to four markets. During that time, I had a coach, who was a friend of one of the investors who now is one of the partners, managing partners, one of the VCs here at Knoxville. So gopeng, inspirational entrepreneur had built many businesses and take these sold their businesses or taking them public on in the US, and now running a successful VC in Southeast Asia. And he helped enormously around two areas. One was around scaling, sales organisations, but particularly around building accountability. You know, it’s one of the areas that you and I struggle with is, as we grew, we were so integral to all decision making and problem solving, etc, that, you know, we were frustrated by the team has grown now from 30, to 50, to turn and 50 to, but people are not owning the problems. So how do we get that going? And so he’s helped us enormously around that. And I remember sitting in a workshop with him once, and he’s like, so why do you think people are not owning it? Like, why do you think people are holding a mirror up to our faces? Oh, I see. So it’s because we’re going in fixing the problem each time not holding them accountable. And yeah, so let some important lessons from him around that. And then and then laterally around the whole succession plan, because obviously, you know, going from a, an organisation for the first 10 or 11 years, which has been founder lead to then having a transition process to a professional CEO, is obviously highly risky, highly risky for us, as a founders, highly risky for this new CEO Harry coming in, you know, all these crazy founders can actually let go, you know, and also from the investor’s point of view, you know, from, you know, large private equity companies as to TPG and KKR. And as our shareholders, and so how do you manage the risk of that whole succession plan, transition plan, and so had a coach helped us with that, you know, coaching me, coaching my co founder and coaching, Harry, and then also all three of us together, which is hugely uncomfortable, because of all the stuff that you’ve been sharing about your concerns, and, you know, complaints, and it all came out into the open, and then we had this very awkward conversations around that. But that was that that definitely helped to manage the risk and the transition process. And I mean, personally, I struggled with the whole whole thing, whole transition process, letting go discover that had an ego in the process, you know, actually quite enjoyed the town halls and the leadership organisation that, you know, the media interviews, and I didn’t think, you know, I did think I had an ego but suddenly I realised I haven’t ego, yet. I kind of struggled with that for about 18 months or so I had a bit of a sort of a dip into the crisis of confidence and mild depression. And so let let go it was actually very hard as a founder. I think my wife said, You’re the most miserable I’ve ever known you when you just take the CEO role back. Is that what you want? I said, No, no, no, I just thought I want but she’s so shut up there to get on with it. But so it was, it was definitely definitely challenging time because it felt like identity was so intertwined with the organisation that kind of stepping out and having some something outside of that after such a long time, because it was quite hard. So yeah, I had to I had to kind of go through that journey in that process, which was hugely uncomfortable. But yeah, that was a year and a half.
Chris Edwards (20:16)
Wow, wow. And now you’re on the board. So you get to give advice or help with direction, but you don’t call the shots. Right?
Steve Meluish (20:26)
Correct. Which is, yeah, I guess, have some of the history of the organisation, I’ve obviously have some of the relationships still with some of our partners and clients and competitors, who now want to be acquired. And so you know, have some of that, but also just around, you know, the strategy and direction. And also, how we kind of steer the business over the next sort of five to 10 years. But yes, it says it’s a different role. And, but hugely interesting. And another area of learning. So the, you know, working with some, a whole bunch of non non execs on the board and non exec chairman, but also the shareholders at a different kind of different level. So it’s been really interesting.
Chris Edwards (21:03)
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Chris Edwards (21:27)
And when did the idea of WaveMaker come about?
Steve Meluish (21:30)
Yeah, so we make an impact. So that kind of came about. So 2018, I kind of took a step back. And the whole idea was to spend time with my kids, and see my kids again, and also thinking about what next. And so as I was spending a bit of time going on vacation for the first time, a long time with my family, suddenly, you know, everywhere, not sure if you remember but 2018 was quite a pivotal year as the climate drum was beating extraordinarily louder and louder and louder and louder. It was the year that you know, things recorded. Extreme weather damage caused, there’s like $300 billion of weather damage caused in record temperature to Siberia. There are wildfires in Australia. And also in the west coast, the US record floods record Raul’s the year that the climate scientists came together. And actually, for the first time reach consensus, actually, climate change is driven by human beings. And actually, it’s accelerating, it’s actually a bit bigger than actually one they’ve kind of initially thought. And also the year that Greta went on the climate to their climate strike, and started to raise attention around that. And also Larry Fink at Blackrock did the first letter to saying that we’re gonna be moving more into ESG and away from fossil fuel. And so the more I researched it, the more well first of all, I got worried and scared for the future of my kids. And in all this kind of stuff that I’ve taken for granted as a kid in terms of nature, walking through a forest or swimming in an ocean not filled with plastic, or, you know, trivial things like things snow and skiing, quite likely not gonna be there for my kids, and certainly for their kids. And, you know, with hundreds of millions of people displaced, you know, increasing food security issues, increasing crisis, and so the stability of the world is kind of under threat. And also just extreme weather changes in terms of higher temperatures, lower temperatures, higher winds, higher floods, more droughts, all in the same country, at different times, I think kind of this kind of prospects of that made me feel really, really sad and also scared for the future for my kids. And so I thought, look, I can enjoy my life, you know, and buy an island or go yachting or something, or look my kids in the eye and say, Look, I know how bad this thing was gonna get. And I tried to play a very, very small role in it. So that became the focus for me. So what seemed obvious in 2007 2008, for building PropertyGuru, it seemed like the most obvious thing, I need to get a big problem, big opportunity. You know, 2018 suddenly became crystal clear to me that the most obvious thing I need to be working on now is around climate change, and how do I play a role around climate change? so then I kind of got slightly overwhelmed, but where do you start? Because it’s such an overwhelming subject, all encompassing subject, which, you know, affects everything – nature, governments, countries, companies, consumers, investors, everything, you know, physics, biology, chemistry, it’s everything. So where do you even begin to start on this? And so that was quite overwhelming initially. But I guess what I do know is how to build tech companies. And what I do know is, I’ve been angel investing and working with founders and founding teams, and startups, helping them scale their businesses. And so in 2018, all of my angel investing that I was doing for the previous, you know, 15 years or so, then flipped into just focusing on that space. And so I invested in 25 companies, green tech companies, under the planet rise umbrella, who are all addressing either planet or people challenges, so predominately climate tech, but also social equality. So people click at the bottom of the pyramid, women led enterprises, people are marginalised in society who can be most affected by climate change? And that became the focus. And then during that journey realised that actually if I have a really big impact, I really want to scale this doing on my own, with my own money and my own time is clearly not scalable. And so to have a really big impact, the conclusion I came to was to build a fund and work with other people to build that fund and have a bigger impact. And so that then led to conversations with my now partners in WaveMaker. And so we’ve made an impact. So one of the companies I invested was energy efficiency company in Singapore, called Table pointer. And I invested in this company, which was a spin out or a venture that been created by ng factory. So the venture builder, part of Ng, which is one of the largest energy companies in the world. And so they built this company then. So the two people in the team inside the ng ng factory had built this. And so we started talking. And they were increasingly frustrated by the corporate constraints and bureaucracy and limiting geographic and also sector focused for what they were doing. And they wanted to do something around net zero. And so we started having conversations. And through those conversations, and also this investment tail points are brought along another entrepreneur, Dough, and also the managing partner from WaveMaker. Partners poor. And so the FiVER, so Marie, Quentin, Paul, and myself, we had an idea two years ago, and we then formed into wavemaker, which we launched about 15 months ago, so just over 515months ago, is just really an idea. But the idea was and the ambition and the mission was, how do we mitigate 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. And so that became the North Star and is the North Star of what we’re doing. And we’re starting in Southeast Asia. And so we’re focusing on building fast growing climate tech companies, which take existing technology, and rapidly scale adoption of existing technology to reduce emissions in the short term, because a lot of the investment going in is round new science, new technology, which transformational technology, which we absolutely need in sort of 30 to 50 years time, but it’s gonna take that kind of length of time to scale, and build the infrastructure, you know, think about hydrogen, think about new kinds of nuclear science and nuclear technology and, and thinking about carbon capture. This is transformational technology, which is going to play a role in the future and help us get to that zero ambitions. But what do we do in the meantime, because every day, every minute, every second, we’re pumping up emissions, which unfortunately, stay there for hundreds of years. So what we do, what we do today, is going to impact the next two or three generations, and it compounds. And so how do you stop emissions today, and then the next 510 20 years, we can’t wait 30 years? Because in the meantime, we’re gonna make things a lot worse. So what can we do today, and we have all the technology we need today to reduce emissions by 50%. So the challenge is not technology or science, it’s around adoption of what already exists. You know, why do we not have solar panels on every roof in Southeast Asia, it’s not a technology reason, the cost is significantly cheaper already. So it’s a business model reasons and incentive reason, you’ve got maybe a business tenant in a building, you’ve got a building owner, and he maybe got energy company, and all incentives do not line up. So how do you how do you think about business model innovation, which kind of addresses the incentives and the behaviours of the key stakeholders and makes their life better by increasing their revenue, or reducing their cost to provide them with economic value, which, in turn that gives emissions impact for us. So we focus on building 100 by 100 companies, a company which can have the opportunity to build 100 megaton emissions reduction by an extra seven or 10 years, and 100 million revenue. So we spend a lot of time getting conviction that this venture that we’re going to invest in and build can reduce those emissions by by up to 100 megatons. And we realise how hard that is, because just to give you a kind of a view, or your listeners a view. You know, Singapore is about 50 megatons. And so we’re talking about two, Singapore’s per venture per startup, essentially. And so we think, how do we do that? Well, we spend lot of time getting conviction around what the how we could get there. But also we take experienced entrepreneurs, you know, so an entrepreneur who has built one or two businesses already, maybe it’s a FinTech, maybe it’s a prop tech, maybe it’s a legal tech, or whatever it might be, and who now wants to do something in the sustainability space, but like me for four or five years ago, didn’t know where to start or don’t don’t know where to start. And what we do is we take three venture builders in our team who are essentially like management consultants, as founders of businesses, and we work with them intensively for six months, and we kind of validate, get a get a, you know, we speak to hundreds of customer potential customers, we get to a stage where we can identify there is a pain point, this customer and economic pain point typically. And then how do we address this in a low emissions solution? And so therefore, you think about, well, you know, 18 million farmers, horticultural farmers, for example, they are all using diesel water pumps to irrigate their fields, but there actually is a cleaner and cheaper alternative, which is a solar water pump. It’s not rocket science. How do we get these 18 million farmers to move from diesel pumps to water pumps? And so the first thing is, well, how do you what’s the incentive for them to do it an incentive for them to do it is actually if you move if you take replaces diesel, water pump with a subtle water pump, there’s the farmer who’s earning about $100 a month. And feeding a family of five people can earn an extra 30 to 50% income net income. So there’s a real economic reason why they should do it. And by doing that at scale, suddenly you start to then have a really, really big impact on emissions. And from there, once you have that farmer trust and they’re using the solar pump, then you start to say, well actually let How can we help you a little bit around bio fertiliser rather than chemical fertiliser to increase your yield? reduce your cost, but for us reduce emissions? How do you think about precision fertilisation? How do you think about precision irrigation? How do you think about storing your food, and so we then stack, solar pump, there’s, there’s a soil quality and bio fertiliser plus storage suddenly, you know, with, with maybe a million farmers or half, you start to get towards the 100 megaton and 100 million revenue opportunity. And so that was our first venture with a company called AGRIS. It just closed a $2 million round. And it’s increased by about five 5x, from when we first entered in terms of the revenue growth is on track to do sort of 4 million this year revenue and back 10 million next year. This is growing nicely. So these are fast growing ventures delivering triple bottom line. So you know, our impact measurement is emissions. And so, you know, greenhouse gas emissions or co2 equivalent, as we call it, and also,
Steve Meluish (31:22)
And also livelihoods. So the farmers in this case are getting 30 50% extra income, which impacts not just their family, but also the community as well, but also generates profit for the venture. So the company is operating, operating level EBITA positive. So it’s, it’s a great case study for the kind of things that we’re doing. And so the founder, Reeves was a previous management consultant, he had his own little startup. And now he’s building this one with us. And so yeah, we’re the plan is to build, you know, we need to get to 50 of those at unicorn level, in order for us to get to our 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, there’s a big hairy goal, we’re just getting started,
Chris Edwards (32:00)
Sorry, 50 companies to unicorn level to get to
Steve Meluish (32:05)
a five Giga tonne target, which is 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. So how do you do that you focus on first of all Southeast Asia. And then we think about, okay, maybe go deeper into India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Europe, Latin America. And so we have 15 hubs, each of them producing, you know, 15 to 20 of these companies in a period of three years. And so, you know, we’re gonna have, you know, hundreds of these companies, hopefully 50 of them will become unicorns, by we do risk it by by spending a lot of time getting experienced entrepreneurs, and also spend six months validating, and then next 18 months helping scale some of these companies,
Chris Edwards (32:42)
And is the first 18 months or the, I suppose it’s like the first two years, the most critical is that once you’ve got it up and running, and you can see the trendline and the take up and you’ve got the formula, right?
Steve Meluish (32:56)
Yeah, so it’s very intensively just three venture builders plus the entrepreneur, for intensive for the, for the first six months, after that point, we invest $650,000. And then we work for next 18 months very, very closely with them, helping them, you know, go to market, prove the concept, monetize and scale to a point where it becomes a kind of a pre series A or a series a stage company. So at that stage, we probably invested maybe $2 million into the company. And then, you know, hopefully, then they’re on to the sort of just the further, you know, go from zero to one the one to 10 stage at that point. And we kind of think at that point, we’ll take a bit more of a step back. So yeah, so the critical thing is like you to proving the product market fit, and also scaling in one or two markets over that two years.
Chris Edwards (33:42)
And what’s the average run rate that you’re seeing, like, you know, if you’ve got 50 companies, how many get to that two year mark? Well, I don’t know. It’s only been 15 months now. I mean, how’s it going so far?
Steve Melhuish 33:56
Yeah. So, so far, so good, right? So the first one that is now on track to do four million and revenue operating EBIT da positive, they have 2000 farmers. And, you know, we’ll be growing at four or 5x per annum for the next few years. And so, great first case study, the second one built from scratch, again, around agri food waste, but by the way, not surprisingly, because it was starting in Southeast Asia, what we realised was with first thing we had to do is build a carbon emissions map because it didn’t exist for Southeast Asia and what what it shows which is maybe a bit surprising to people maybe listening in, in Europe or in on US or more developed economies is that 50% of all of the emissions is in the food agri and land use space, you know, whereas all of the investment, climate tech investment and also entrepreneurs all focused around mobility. So you know, Evie companies, battery companies, battery swap companies, battery rental companies, battery management companies, you know, two wheel three wheel four wheel or, you know, charging companies, that’s where all the action is going but actually the missions are elsewhere. And so that’s a reason by the way that we’re doing these venture builds. Because, you know, if we really want to have a meaningful impact on our missions in the short to medium term, we need the entrepreneurs and the money to be flowing to the areas where the missions are. And so that’s why we’re building so yeah, so So yeah, so once there are six venture now and five of those six are in the food and agri space, and so they’re all you know, making making good progress, you know, we’re the next one was, was agri food waste company, which has turnings aims to turn 7 billion tonnes annually of food waste, pineapple weighs pineapple waste pile and waste, rice waste husks and rice straw into biochar, which is then used to regenerate the soil and use as a fertiliser for soil. And so that then helps the right the rice or the palm or the pineapple mill, increase their profits by 2x. And so the mills get more income by rather than this waste being burned to burn or left to rot to create methane, they turn the waste into something valuable, which they can actually sell back to the farmers who by the way, then use it to regenerate the soil increase yields, rather using chemical fertilisers. So it has a multiplier effect, and not just an economic effect, but also an emissions effect. The third one is around methane from rice. So about a third of all of the methane generated in Southeast Asia is from rice. And not many people know that they think of you know, these days comes from cars, cows farts, or when it comes to oil and gas, right. But a third of the methane comes from rice. And so what happens is the rice fields are flooded, and it’s and it’s basically that water is perfect breeding ground for the bacteria produces methane, and very simply by draining the rice paddy fields, and then refilling that you’ve reduced the methane by by 80%. But the reason why the farmers don’t do that is because it’s extra work, they’ve got to kind of pump the water in and pump the water out. If there’s a perception, it increases pests or increasing weeds. Whereas actually it has an impact or better impact around yield, in fact. And so we’re partnering with Bill Gates, his Breakthrough Energy ventures on that one, and also on with Temasek, the sovereign wealth fund in Singapore. So we have a joint venture, where we are building a huge opportunity and huge problem, and that we’re just in the process of scaling that and finding the founder, CEO to run that business currently. And then we have a few others, one of those is around renewable energy to run to put solar panels on 10 million homes in Southeast Asia. How do you make that happen? How do you what’s the business model for that? And how does green finance play a role as part of the mortgage process? And so that’s kind of the business model for that for that company, and one around soil regeneration, one around palm degraded land in Southeast Asia, how do you regenerate that? And what’s the business model around that? So those are those early stage ones? So yeah, we’re doing our first one in Australia, New Zealand at the moment, so just in the process of getting that one going. And yeah, so we should do six ventures this year.
Chris Edwards (38:05)
Wow. Wow. Okay, I can see why you think trouble with fitting everything in your day. So tell me what makes a good entrepreneur?
Steve Melhuish 38:15
Yeah, really good question. Because I guess like most venture capital companies think about deal flow as how many, you know, new startups can I see and therefore I get to see 150. And I choose one or two a month and I invest in those, our pipeline and our deal flow is slightly different. We know we look for really experienced entrepreneurs. And so you know, that’s, that’s kind of how we think about things. And so we know we leveraging on network, we’re doing events, you know, we’re reaching out to other founders of VCs and things. But a good entrepreneur is someone I guess, has had some experience of scaling, they know how to just kind of grow a business from you know, zero to one. And ideally, from one to 10. They’ve got the battle scars, they might have been successful. And actually, to be honest, doesn’t matter if they have or not, it’s about have, they actually learned some lessons through the business building activities, because we don’t need them to be climate scientists or have any kind of science or engineering, we need them to be able to think about scaling. So have they demonstrated or can they demonstrate, you know, the thinking and experience and maybe the battle scars of scaling a business? And so, so that, I guess that’s the first thing Secondly, you know, having a passion for a mission for sustainability. You know, if they’re doing this to get rich, then on the journey, they may find other more revenue generating or other alternatives, which can take the business off onto a right angle from where, you know, I guess we’re approaching things. And so that mission alignment is absolutely key. And I guess we also look for, you know, signs or experience of resilience and grit, because, you know, building a startup is not easy building a startup and the climate and sustainability space is challenging, but particularly because, you know, a lot of our stakeholders, it’s a highly fragmented market, you know, let you talk about rice, you got 14 million farmers, you know, you’re talking about factories, you’ve got like 10s of 1000s of factories. It’s highly fragmented, how li traditional, and how do you therefore go out to market? How do you what’s the distribution? How do you and so that’s, that’s gonna require a different mindset, scaling mindset and go to market mindset that we look for. So those are kind of those are kind of the key areas. Now, you know what was quite interesting for me and I will come as no surprise to you but for me was was a revelation was going from a from PropertyGuru, whereas real estate is a construction industry is heavily male dominated. In 2018. When I started to explore this space and sustainability space, I was really, really pleasantly surprised by all sustainability manager Chief Sustainability managers, CSOs meeting, were mostly women. And that kind of filled me with a lot of hope and optimism for the future that actually, you know, we’ve got some sensible people are going to help us take us to the to rosier future. But then, to my sadness discovered that actually founder level we still have, it is still heavily male dominated. And so one thing has been keeping me awake, because they’re how do we how do we how do we change this and, you know, some horror stories, which I’m sure you’ve heard, and in terms of from, from the women founders, I, you know, my own portfolio, but also outside of that have experienced, and also how male dominated still the investment community still is, you know, so at a senior partner level, the VCs is still not enough representation amongst women. So we’re doing a lot of work, including we have an event tonight, which we’re partnering with Harriet on, to try and to, you know, encourage, and think about how we support and how we invest and fund more female lead founders, in our case, particularly around the climate tech space. So, yeah, yeah. So I guess specific to that subject, you know, I guess, if anyone’s interested, generally, but also, you know, women who are interested in starting a business in a sustainability space. Be very, very happy to explore further.
Chris Edwards (41:54)
Hmm, yeah, I think absolutely. And it’s very interesting. The, skew and the bias there. And a lot of it is unconscious bias. But, you know, I do think also, for lots of reasons, women aren’t represented at founder level. But yeah, there’s a real opportunity there. And my business honeycombers is something like 90% female. And we also have a lot of people who work part time, and I just see that as, I suppose being a little bit clever, because the smartest women don’t want to work full time. And they don’t do it for the money, you know, and they’re just they really value to be able to be home at three o’clock. So they can actually also be a great mom. And I tapped onto that little pool in Singapore years ago. And it’s really helped me build a business with a,really smart workforce that is incredibly talented, but part time doesn’t really exist in Asia. You know, it’s, it’s crazy.
Steve Meluish (42:52)
No, it doesn’t theres huge demand, though. I mean, you know, if I think about the portfolio, so I was having conversation one, those are facts that are gross, actually. And actually, not just that, but it’s also the bulk of those companies. Most of the times I’ve worked with are roughly the series a plus or minus, as they’re starting to think about organisational development start think about professionalising organisation a little bit. And so they don’t need, for example, full time CFO, but they if they would love to have someone like one day a week as a CFO, or, you know, senior financial planning and analysis person, maybe for two days a week. And so at that certain level, there’s this huge opportunity. And so first of all fractional roles or part time roles. So it’s, you know, I think there’s I see the demand, I will see the opportunity, and I guess you obviously clearly managed to kind of make that work. I don’t know why that doesn’t happen more. But yeah, most of my portfolio companies would bite the hand off, you know, somebody who can, who’s happy to do two or three days a week or two or three days a month, you know, depending on the role.
Chris Edwards (43:53)
Yeah, I suppose it’s cultural in Singapore, I think, you know, it’s like, if you’re not working full time, you’re not committed. Or, you know,
Steve Meluish (44:00)
As you said, it’s super smart. Why would you do that? If you could, right? Maybe it’s a stigma? I’m not sure.
Chris Edwards (44:06)
Yeah, maybe it’s an interesting one. I’m conscious of your time, I could literally chat to you all day. But I know you’ve got 11 more meetings to go to. I want to ask you, do you have any key business advice or business mantras that you keep coming back to?
Steve Meluish (44:22)
Yeah, I think specific to two startups, I think, you know, the key one, which I think has served me well. And also my portfolio well, is really, really getting real clarity around what’s the big problem you’re trying to solve? And I know that sounds really obvious, but quite often, I speak to founders and they’re trying to push their technology or their product at at an audience rather than actually think it will, what is the real pain point that you’re trying to solve? And I guess that’s kind of the approach that we take when we make an impact, like, over a six month period, we spend a lot of time just thinking about that, and how to address that. And so that’s,the key one for me. And if you can identify a big enough pain point, that’s not being address, there is going to be a big opportunity there. And so in the case of proper gear, it was around just in transparency of, you know, trying to find a home to and $50 billion of homes or real estate being transacted every year. Huge problem, huge value there as well. And that in our case, now, with climate change, you know, just as it just in Southeast Asia, $2.7 trillion, gonna have to go into decarbonizing Southeast Asia in that transition process. So $2.7 trillion is addressable market. And you’ll be surprised. So what’s the what’s the big pain point in there? That unlocks the 2.7 trillion. So spending time really get clarity on the stakeholders and their pain points and focus on solving that?
Chris Edwards (45:39)
Yeah, no, I think that’s a very valid point about pain points. And I do think entrepreneurs skip over it all the time, because they want to get to a solution because they fall in love with their idea. And actually, the ideas, the fun bit. And actually, the digging into the pain point. And doing the research is actually hard work. And everyone’s like, Oh, I’ve done enough of that. Let’s move on to the solution.
Steve Meluish (45:59)
Yeah, absolutely. All there’s multiple pain points amongst five or six different stakeholders. So we’re going to solve all the problems for all those stakeholders, versus Okay, let’s double down on the big one. And the big one then becomes a driver for the others, in profit Euro cases like the consumers, right. And if you get the consumers and you get the 40 50 million eyeballs, then the real estate agents, the banks, the property developers also want to join in, but solving the one big pain point, which in our case was that this was the driver. And I think that is really, really hard. When you see all these as an entrepreneur, you see all these opportunities everywhere. And you want to pursue all these opportunities, but actually, that prioritisation of focus on the big one is an important lesson I had to go through as well with probably here.
Chris Edwards (46:42)
Yeah, not getting distracted. So I wanted to ask you how big has community been? I mean, you’ve spoken a little bit about EO and having your suppose inner circle of advisors and mentors and pals, but what does community played for you and business?
Steve Meluish (46:59)
I think it’s huge. I think if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, particularly I think having nurturing and building and staying connected as a community is really, really important. And it might be a startup community. So think about, you know, I guess your, I guess our time when we started our businesses, right? There was no real startup community to speak off right? In, Singapore when we both started, and then see how that’s transformed. And you know, so now, you know, there were no investors of no co working spaces, no, you know, incubators, accelerators. Now you’ve got like maritime protein, you know, co working space for sustainability and sustainable finance, you’ve got, you know, you know, pre pre precede seed, right through to the tune of $50 billion dollar kind of private equity companies investing in this space, you know, b2c b2b, deep tech, Blockchain sustainability, climate, you know, so that the whole level of sophistication of startup ecosystem, I think, has really changed. And therefore, that’s one big community, I think, which provides enormous opportunity for support for a startup. And I think the other one is just around the business sector, ecosystem and community. I mean, how do you kind of nurture that and build that? So in my case, it’s around sustainability, broad, but within their climate, and emissions. And so I think that’s, that’s where you can find great talents, where you can find great clients is where you can find potential investors, and so nurturing and building that is a really important role, I think, of being an entrepreneur, that part of that business development, you know, always selling mode, I guess, is really, really important.
Chris Edwards (48:32)
Yeah, I mean, if nothing else, for your own sanity, it’s important, right? Just to have those people that you can ring up and dump on. And tell me, have you got a business collaboration or partnership that you could share? That was something that really transformed? I don’t know, one of your businesses, maybe maybe PropertyGuru, or maybe one of your newest ones that you’re investing in?
Steve Meluish (48:54)
So what I totally mean, from business point of view, I guess, I think, obviously, from a support point of view, entrepreneur organisation was, it was a fantastic example. And I would encourage anyone to kind of, you know, explore that as a support mechanism for an entrepreneur, taking a more holistic approach. But in terms of business, I think so back to the community building, I think that kind of investing a little bit time into that is really important. And you know, as I guess, as I’m sure you do, as well, because, you know, do a lot of public speaking. And sometimes you think, what’s the ROI on this, you know, is it actually having any kind of meaningful impact? And I’m quite got the answer this yet. But, you know, that, that, that, you know, sometimes bit hit and miss. But you know, as I was on the panel that nine months ago, and talking about what we’re doing away, make an impact and all that and be thin and rise and then sit next to me was the guy from Temasek, agri food is that oh, that’s an area we’re looking at as well. And how about we have a conversation is there but I was talking to the guys at, you know, Breakthrough Energy ventures about this as well. So suddenly, you know, from that very, I was thinking, why am I doing this talk to suddenly, six months later we’ve got business and we’ve got collaboration with you know, some some perhaps some powerhouses in this In our partners in this industry who really know their stuff, and they can help open doors and provide hundreds of millions of dollars of funding into the venture that we’re building. So, yeah,
Chris Edwards (50:11)
it’s a great example of how just showing up and investing without knowing what’s going to come back is worthwhile, because you never know what’s going to come back, especially if it’s in your space.
Steve Meluish (50:23)
I think I just summarised this in one way. So one of my portfolio companies in a Senate really, really neatly and actually, I’m now copying and using but I’ll get I’ll give him credit for it later on, was just increasing your Surface Luck Area. So you know, by doing these touch points, you increase your surface luck.
Chris Edwards (50:39)
Oh, I like that.
Steve Meluish (50:41)
Yeah, I like that as well.
Chris Edwards (50:44)
Surface luck area. That’s a very scientific.
Steve Meluish (50:51)
He’s an engineer.
Chris Edwards (50:52)
It’s why it’s like it’s very masculine, like in the feminine, it would be talking about creating an energy or a space, but I love that surface luck area, I love it. My last question to you is, so at Launchpad. And I suppose myself personally, I believe a rising tide floats all boats. So I’d love to know, have you got an entrepreneur we should have on these podcasts who would be inspiring and who’s running a good business,
Steve Meluish (51:16)
I would have two recommendations. So it really depends on what kind of person you want. So one person would be Durreen Shahnaz who basically started a business called impact investment Exchange, which is started as an impact investing platform. And it’s kind of pioneered a lot of impact investing that sort of happens today, but also particularly around gender. And so she’s been supporting women led social enterprises across emerging markets for that 14 years. And pioneers thing called Orange bonds, orange being the colour of the SDG, around, you know, gender lens, as part of that women’s livelihood bond, which I invested in, which was basically, you know, supporting women led businesses now, gender plus climate. I think one recommendation, though, would be Brandon at AMPT, who is the person who came up with that Surface Area Luck. And so what he’s doing is decarbonizing the construction industry by replacing essentially diesel generators on construction sites with essentially a big battery, which is not only saves a lot of money for the construction companies, but also reduces emissions by 80%, but also reduces air quality challenges, you know, think about big urban environment, breathing in these horrible diesel fumes, that’s all gone. And so he started off his business in Hong Kong, and then scaled it to Singapore, to Australia, to Europe, and now us. And so great, great story, you know, they’re generating 10s of millions of dollars of revenue. And a great story of someone focusing on this sustainability space, but also able to then scale to multiple markets in a very traditional industry to take your pick.
Chris Edwards (53:10)
Hmm, okay, I love that. I will take my feet you know,
Steve Meluish (53:14)
it’s very hard choosing your favourite, best, you know, best child right out of the 25. But I’ve just done that. And now alienated the other 23. But anyway, I’m sorry, sorry, the rest of you.
Chris Edwards (53:30)
I love it. Do you know Durreen Shahnaz used to be my old boss? So that is full circle moment. She was my boss at ACP publishing, which was where I worked before I started honeycombers. So there you go, wow, okay. Okay. I know, I know. It’s a small, small world that we small circle that we’ve seen. Thank you so much for your time, as I said, I could honestly speak to you for hours. But it’s been totally fascinating. And I love what you’re doing. And it’s so in alignment with what we’re doing at Launchpad. So I’m looking forward to our journeys crossing multiple times in the future.
Steve Meluish (54:05)
That sounds great. Thanks very much for having me on. And well done for doing this as well. It’s a great initiative. And yeah, look forward to seeing future success from you and also this initiative, and hopefully to Singapore soon.
Chris Edwards (54:16)
Yes, that sounds great, Steve.
Steve Meluish (54:18)
All right. Take care.