THE STORY BEHIND SEQUOIA’S GIANTS BETS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

“The level of support was incredible. In particular, it was very hands-on during demo week,” one investor whose portfolio company took part in the programme remarked.

“No other programme has the access and reach to connect young entrepreneurs with industry stalwarts from across the world,” said another investor. “They get to meet some of the best people in tech and that’s going to create more interesting entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia.”

Members of the first Surge cohort

Currently, Sequoia has around 30 active investments in Southeast Asia. Two Surge programmes running each year will mean a significant increase in the number of companies that are affiliated with the firm. That not only means more activity, but it could also impact how Sequoia is viewed in the region.

While Sequoia has raised its deal activity in Southeast Asia over recent years, Surge will mean that its brand is more prevalent still. By the very nature of startups, that’ll mean more successes tied to the firm, but surely more negatives, too.

“It is standard to expect accelerator attrition, but that’s not normal for Sequoia,” one investor said. “The Sequoia brand is resilient and it is early times for Surge. But, over time, you can see that the brand could become increasingly diluted with more Surge cohorts.”

Refocusing on early stage

The early cohorts have been relatively easy to gather. Multiple investors said the firm effectively cherry-picked the members of the first programme—including some startups that it knew already had term sheets and thus would raise—despite claiming to have received over 1,500 applications for its maiden cohort. That challenge will escalate, however, as the obvious candidates dry up and the programme becomes more reliant on applications.Refocusing on early stage

The interesting tangle here is that Sequoia is keen to establish Surge as its own brand. The high-profile hiring of Rajan Anandan, formerly head of Google in India and Southeast Asia and a noted angel investor, to lead Surge is a key part of that independence. A degree of separation looks to be a key piece of the strategy when one considers that Sequoia will not invest in every Surge company.

But even then, it seems impossible to avoid negative signalling when a Surge company doesn’t raise money from Sequoia. Indeed, Sequoia is one of the key reasons founders are so keen on Surge—it’s a chance to become part of the exclusive club that is the firm’s portfolio.

“If you’re a founder and you’re approached by Surge, you at least hear them out, the Sequoia brand is that strong,” said the investor whose company was part of Surge.

And yet, it’s a link that is not as it may appear from the outside.

Singapore’s iconic Merlion statue appears in front of the country’s business and financial district

Investors who spoke to us expressed some concern at the impact Surge may have on their business, but, since it is early days, all are watching and waiting.