Singapore has a bunch of government schemes put in place to support R&D, technology commercialisation, seed funding for start-ups and so on. One of these is the i.JAM grant scheme. (You'll agree it's a cool name because it starts with a lower-case i. And there's a dot in the name. Yes, the JAM is all-capital but no, we won't explain what the abbreviation stands for. If it's an abbreviation. But I digress.)
This is a pretty decent scheme if you're a budding tech entrepreneur. You can go and read all about it on the programme website or here.
However, before you decide to take the plunge and become an i.JAMMER (er, corright spelling anot?), watch out for this: if you're approved for this scheme, you're allowed a maximum salary of S$1,000 per month. No, I didn't miss typing a zero. Whaddaya mean you need money for rent?
Readers outside Singapore may wonder what S$1,000 a month actually means. As a reference for comparison, my understanding is that cleaners and dishwashers make anywhere from S$700 to S$1,200 a month, a fresh engineering graduate would make perhaps S$3,000 to S$4,500 a month, and a newbie lawyer further north of that. On the cost side, rent can cost anything from a few hundred dollars a month for pretty basic accommodation (one room in a public housing apartment) to perhaps S$2,000 a month for a small flat in a decent private condo. These are rough numbers.
Seriously, what are our friends at the IDM PO thinking? There must be a reason for this, surely there must be, but I don't see it.
A wit once said, "Bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear
to be busy when they are writing and because the memos, once written,
immediately become proof that they were busy." That hilarious statement explains many things about the way bureaucracies and bureaucrats function. But what possible reason could there be for coming up with such an onerous limit on grant winners' salary? Could it be that:
They only want the independently wealthy to become entrepreneurs? But then why would such an entrepreneur want to go through all the hassle of applying for this grant?
They only want to fund people who have no alternative means of sustaining themselves except to try and start a company in return for accepting SS$1,000 a month?
They want to punish good entrepreneurs?
Does not compute.
The policy is counter-productive. Do they want entrepreneurs to be perpetually worried about their personal subsistence or focus on growing their business? Creating new technology, serving customers, hiring employees and all the rest is hard enough without having to also worry about being able to feed and clothe oneself.
None of this means over-paying. If the grant committee doesn't agree with a business plan, just don't fund the business. No VC to my knowledge has an explicit salary criterion. Yes, of course some entrepreneurs are overpaid. But then one engages with those entrepreneurs on a case-by-case basis or just walks away. Specifying a very low salary limit upfront is just silly.
Hmm, maybe that's where the answer lies: specifying a very low salary will discourage all but the few types of people bulleted above from applying, therefore resulting in less work for IDM PO. I really really hope this isn't the reasoning although, depressingly, I wouldn't be surprised if it was.
So what should IDM PO be doing instead? They should be funding projects based on their viability, not on whether the founders are willing to live on a pittance. Really, WHO CARES if an entrepreneur builds a business that can allow the entrepreneur to make a decent living as long as he tries his dangest to actually build that business? Working as an engineer, let alone turning tech entrepreneur doesn't have much of a cachet in Singapore to begin with, except among a few break-the-mould types. Click this, read that. Creating an artificial and unnecessary restriction on top of this is just shooting Singapore in the foot by achieving exactly the opposite of the government's stated objectives.
And plenty more could be done beyond the purview of the i.JAM scheme such as, e.g., helping somewhat more advanced start-ups get bank funding by guaranteeing their loans, to provide one idea off the top of my head.
Many of the fields that the i.JAM purports to be aimed at -- computer vision, AI, analytics, augmented reality... -- need high-quality experienced business founders. At these peanuts? Don't hold your breath.
Update: this post spawned a further discussion here.
Updater: Terence Lee of SGE has been told that the salary cap isn't a cap. About a third the way down on this page. Not sure how to reconcile this with what the i.JAM page says or what a recipient of the grant told me himself.
After posting this funny video the other day, I had a short exchange with a friend on Twitter:
Lo and behold, the FT now reports about fictitious Likes on Facebook. Is this as bad as fake clicks on ads and fake Twitter accounts? No. It's worse.
Fake clicks and fake Twitter accounts are generally generated by software robots. Yes, an advertiser loses money and yes, the advertising platform in question loses credibility. However, fake Likes on Facebook go one step further as the FT reports. Not only do advertisers and Facebook lose out, individual people's identities would seem to be used inappropriately to endorse certain advertisers.
Now, it's easy to see who's directly responsible for creating click fraud schemes and fake Twitter accounts -- individual fraudsters, not platforms like Google or Twitter themselves (though they certainly do take responsibility for policing their platforms). But who's responsible for fake Likes on Facebook?
I just saw this piece on the Indian e-commerce industry by an Economist blogger from a few months ago. Plenty of positive news but also:
Revenue models look shaky. To secure repeat business, most portals offer incredibly low prices, payment by cash on delivery and, nearly always, free shipping. Consumers love it but companies are scratching around for ways to shed the operational burden. Ironically, the very things that have propelled e-commerce in India could lead to its downfall.
It's not just cash on delivery. An investor in a large Indian e-commerce company told me last week about some customers demanding almost unbelievably that they be allowed to pay by credit card on delivery -- stretching working capital requirements even further!
What's interesting is that the mood in India seems to have become more polarised since this piece was penned. I encounter still-fervent believers and equally pessimistic naysayers, and not that many "in-betweeners". The believers tend to be entrepreneurs, of course :-) but also some investors and other observers. I am starting to sense that the momentum is shifting to the pessimists now. End of another wave in Indian investments?
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