Debbie Lee, in her 40s
CEO and founder of TechStorm
A few years ago, Debbie Lee was headhunted for not one but two high flying jobs. She turned them down. Her friends thought she was crazy, but Ms Lee decided to go the start-up route to pursue an idea that she felt would take off. This despite knowing that she would be considered a minority in the industry.
In March 2019, she launched TechStorm, the world's first technology and entrepreneur TV broadcasting channel. It was a runaway success - garnering 5.3 million viewers across Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines in less than two months.
Today, TechStorm's reach has expanded to include Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Brunei, Sri Lanka and Taiwan, reaching 43 million viewers across 100 platforms. In Singapore, viewers can watch TechStorm on StarHub and Singtel channels.
Last year, on top of its tech innovations and entrepreneurial startup programmes, such as Shark Tank, it launched a dedicated eSports timebelt, featuring international game reviews, tournament highlights and professional player interviews.
The 40-something Ms Lee considers herself a minority because the technology and gaming industry tend to be male dominated, and the programmes that TechStorm caters to, tend to appeal to males aged 18 to 35. But she is not deterred by that.
"Start-ups are formed, largely because their founders want to test a hypothesis or they see an opportunity," she says. Ms Lee doesn't see her gender as a hindrance.
She took a risk with TechStorm because there was no such dedicated platform, and she wanted TechStorm to be a champion for technology and entrepreneurial personalities. She later added on the eSports time belt because "the eSports industry is worth billions and it only makes sense to get a foot in the door".
Ms Lee also wanted to have the time to validate her hypothesis that a platform like TechStorm would work. "I wanted to test how big the idea can get, and how far it can go," she says.
While her busy schedule leaves her no time for gaming, Ms Lee enjoys watching eSports. She is no stranger to the broadcasting scene. She previously held senior executive positions with international media companies that include Asian Food Channel, as their vice president of sales and marketing, and was also responsible for the launch of regional media properties like Li, Life Inspired (LI TV), TV5MONDE and DW-TV ASIA+ across Asean, India and Hong Kong.
TechStorm is Ms Lee's second start-up. Some years ago, she launched Kezaar, a marketplace for classes and workshops, but it folded because "it was ahead of its time, before the gig economy became big", says Ms Lee.
As a female entrepreneur, Ms Lee acknowledges that she faces her fair share of challenges, one of which is getting funding for TechStorm.
According to Crunchbase figures, venture capital funding for women-led startups fell to 2.3 per cent in 2020, down from 2.8 per cent in 2019. However, a Boston Consulting Group analysis has found that when women-led startups get funded, they're more likely to succeed than male-led ones. Possible reasons include women-led startups having stronger business plans, and being more adaptable and resilient.
For Ms Lee, the low percentage of VC funds for women-led startups has lead her to declare that "it is data that I acknowledge but it doesn't mean that I have to accept it. Instead I need to overcome that bias."
TechStorm recently announced the completion of its oversubscribed Series A funding round which was snapped up by international business heavyweights, such as Gryphus Capital, Golden Hill Asset Management, alongside a roster of ultra-high net worth angels and family offices. Its earlier pre-Series A investors included high profile tech venture capital firm Majuven.
Ms Lee says the funding success comes from having TechStorm's successful performance and growth over the last two years speak for itself. "It also helps to approach investors who understand the value of your content such as how eSports is a sunrise industry," she says.
Another plus is the ability to pivot fast and, in this case, going into eSports and gaming. "There is great demand for it, and providing what our viewers want will help us stay ahead," says Ms Lee. "It is also important to have clarity in what you want to achieve."
While TechStorm has been making waves regionally, Ms Lee has set her sights further. In addition to putting out more original content, "we definitely want to go international, reach 100 million viewers in the next few years, and get the company listed," she says.