Meet our Mentor: Alex Smith

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Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you do now?

I currently lead the Customer Success Unit for Microsoft Azure's businesses in the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. This involves me working with a team of architects across Southeast Asia to help enterprises on their journey in innovation - typically through either net new projects which support new lines of business, or through effecting change in traditional business practices.

Prior to Microsoft - I was with Amazon Web Services, leading their Media & Entertainment Architecture business for Asia Pacific. I've spent most of my career working with media businesses on their online video platforms - whether it's strategy, build, management, or expansion - across the US, South East Asia, Japan, and Australia. Outside of that, I've worked with several startups on their early stage development and setup - especially those with a focus on high scale online businesses.

On a personal note, I was born in the Isle of Man, a small country near the UK. I moved to London at age 16 working for an eCommerce company which was later acquired by NetSuite and Oracle. I'm a firm believer in growth being a personal endeavor, and that it doesn't have to come through the traditional routes of academic or even conventional experience.

What does a typical day look like for you?

All of my team are senior individuals - so I'm lucky to have a lot of flexibility in my day and the structure, as we are all expected to self manage time and hold ourselves accountable for our own success. At the same time, I keep in touch with everyone on a weekly cadence and so on a typical day, I'll have a few 1:1s - which due to the distributed nature of the organisation are through video conferences. At the same time, I'll run through the rhythm of business with my business stakeholders in a standup fashion, and usually help unstick any of our customer engagements to reduce our customer's time to success.

I am involved with and mentor in several startups in Singapore, so at least once a week I'll have a session to go through their challenges and help. Most of the session involves listening - I've found the biggest benefit anyone can do as a mentor is to allow a startup to put together their thoughts and articulate. Combining this with the odd technical challenge or network expansion requirement, it's a great opportunity to keep me on my toes.

From your perspective, what are some of the trends in the startup ecosystem at the moment?

It has never been easier to get investment. In recent years many startups have trended towards a short sighted view of perceived revenue growth and missed the core reason for change: improving the status quo. With this, I also see startups designing for exit from their beginning - rather than considering how they can help empower individuals or impact real change.

In terms of business models - there's a huge growth in hyper-personalisation. Not just backward-looking reflections, but predicting future behaviour. I see this as a great potential, as with personalisation and comfort comes loyalty and retention. At the same time, personalisation runs the same risk as DLT/Blockchain or AI - which is losing the core deep technology focus, and in place merely being marketing hype.

What's one piece of advice you would give to a startup?

Do it with passion, or not at all.

It's easier to go through the motion of building a company and creating a product - however if your passion doesn't translate into what you're building, you'll stumble at the starting block.

Other than that - I tend not to proactively offer advice before I get to know individuals - there is so much nuance that means listening twice before speaking once is immeasurably more impactful.

What are some of your highlights during your time as an Accelerating Asia Mentor?
Hearing about the real impact that some of the cohort were making really are the highlight for me - for instance how BeamAndGo really impacted Overseas Filipino Workers and their families in the Philippines through structured remittance, or DeafTawk and their work in equalising accessibility for the hearing impaired by providing sign language services.

At the same time, seeing the growth of the organisation itself - from a couple of ideas that Amra and Craig had to now a multi-programme offering is very exciting, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the next generation of impact scales.

Why did you become an Accelerating Asia Mentor?

I originally got involved with mentoring via muru-D, and was lucky enough to meet Craig and Amra through that program. My reason is simple - I am motivated by helping drive impact, and if you read Accelerating Asia's tagline that "Entrepreneurs are one of humanity’s greatest catalysts for positive change", there is no greater opportunity to scale that impact and even indirectly make a difference to the lives of individuals across the world.

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