“Taiwan has plenty of R&D talent, and its startup environment is healthy, so we decided to stay in Taiwan.”
James O’Claire, COO of Bubbleye, came to Taiwan last year to attend an 8-week program by MOX, a mobile-only accelerator. During the intensive mobile development program held in the space of Taiwan Startup Stadium (TSS), James was able to interact and connect with local startups. Two months later, James and his team decided to move their office from Beijing to Taiwan.
Their startup, Bubbleye, helps clients to maximize the performance of their advertisement campaigns. Following the trend in mobile marketing, Bubbleye provides access to new intelligence by collecting and analyzing hundreds of millions of data points from apps and games. Powered by AI technology that has been under development for more than two years (and still improving), the service offered by Bubbleye allows clients to target advertising to apps based on their implicit attributes, matching app flavors with user tastes. As the COO of a tech startup, however, James is not a typical computer science graduate.
Diverse interests and experiences bring different perspectives and opportunities.
Majoring in East Asian Studies at UCLA, James didn’t receive complete training in information engineering. After high school, he first worked at an event company for a few years, helping clients to plan and customize their wedding banquets. Afterwards, eager to experience foreign cultures, he used the money he had saved to travel around Asia and Africa as a backpacker for a year, and then returned to the U.S. for college.
So how did he step into the tech industry? “I remember playing basic programming games in elementary school, and since then I’ve always enjoyed tech.” In high school, he started to take design and programming courses like autoCAD, HTML, and Java, and also helped his friend to create WordPress websites. James smiled and said, “I almost got kicked out of school because my friend showed me how to use a terminal and I accidentally broke into the school system!” His interest in tech has always been a part of his life, and eventually became his career after he graduated from college.
Before Bubbleye, James had been working at an app advertising company for two years, where he found that there was no precise database analysis system for mobile advertisements, making it difficult to target specific kinds of users. At Bubbleye, James’ team started from game apps. By analyzing a huge amount of comments by game players, Bubbleye tried to find key words which consumers used to describe a certain game, so as to extract the attributes and map their mutual relationships. The result then became the product, which helped clients improve targeting and select the best performing publishers as well as the best suited users. Now Bubbleye focuses on B to B, winning clients such as General Mobile Corporation (GMobi*) in Taiwan. This has allowed for 30% growth in clients.
*A global provider of mobile Internet services and products. Founded in 2011, the company was invested in by industry leaders including MediaTek, Trend Micro, SingTel Innov8 and CDIB.
The issues that Taiwan’s Startup environment is facing now are…
What are the differences between Taipei and Beijing in terms of startup environments? “The startup environment in Beijing is getting unhealthy. Sometimes startups who are literally doing nothing can receive incredible funding. The ecosystem is growing too fast which might cause the startup bubble there,” said James. On the contrary, startups in Taiwan are growing more steadily and the scale is more reasonable. The pros can be cons as well. Lacking an example of a startup giant in Taiwan, entrepreneurs seem to think within a relatively limited scale. “If no one builds a successful example of a huge startup, the society is likely to be trapped in a more conservative way of thinking.”
As Bubbleye decided to settle down in Taiwan, they also hired local employees, helping the team to further expand local connections. “Just like the U.S., especially Silicon Valley, is opening its arms to international talent, hoping to bring in more multicultural stimulation, Taiwan also needs cross-national/cultural cooperation to help local brands to go international.” James pointed out the importance of international collaboration, which has been widely discussed by many studies. According to the National Foundation for American Policy, immigrants have started more than half of America’s startup companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more.
“What Taiwan needs are more role models who take risk and achieve success.”
In order to learn more about how foreigners in the startup field look at Taiwan’s startup environment, we also interviewed William Bao Bean, Managing Director of MOX, who has been living in Asia for many years, including five years in Taiwan. Based on his observation, “Taiwan’s startups have a huge opportunity.” There is an abundance of highly educated technical and engineering talent with global experience and good command of English. The cost of R&D is also relatively low in Taiwan.
However, generally investors and entrepreneurs tend to be more conservative. There is a culture of disrespect for failure. Taking the risk of failing or embracing international collaboration seems to be a mental obstacle that is hard to get through, which limits the potential of business development. “What Taiwan needs are more role models who take risks and achieve success. Taiwan’s market is small, so entrepreneurs should go global.
An investor’s support and an entrepreneur’s ambition, it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. But no matter how, “Young people have to be brave to fail and just don’t make the same mistakes again. Embrace failure. Only through failing will you learn how to succeed,” said William firmly.
About James O’Claire
James O’Claire grew up off the grid in Northern California. Later he studied East Asian Studies at UCLA, with a minor in Chinese. He found success in Beijing working with mobile game publisher Elex Tech and later Cheetah Mobile. He focused on data analytics driven strategy. James has helped publish titles such as Tap Titans, Clash of Kings, Happy Farm, Jelly Blast and others. Later James moved to a mobile ecommerce startup, BellaBuy. Outside of work James has interest in data, hiking, gardening and science fiction.
In October 2015 he joined Bubbleye to help it pivot to advertising. In January 2016 Bubbleye decided to move to Taiwan to take part in MOX. Since MOX, Bubbleye has seen success in having its operations based in Taiwan and is looking to open its own office soon.