Spotlight on Experts: Kum Hong Siew
Founder Stories

Spotlight on Experts: Kum Hong Siew

Yi Jun Phung
January 18, 2023

Kum Hong is a business leader, GM and angel investor. He spent 10 years at Airbnb, starting as the APAC General Counsel before transitioning to run business and operations as the APAC Regional Director in 2017. Three years later, he was appointed as COO for Airbnb China.

Prior to Airbnb, he was a lawyer for 16 years, first in Singaporean law firms like Rajah & Tann and later inhouse at Yahoo!. Kum Hong was also a Nominated Member of Parliament from 2007 to 2009, advocating for social justice causes.

Currently, Kum Hong is an advisor and board member of GoZayaan (the company was part of Iterative's W21 batch), and actively helps founders out.

Spotlight on Kum Hong

Get to know Kum Hong in these series of questions - he shares more on his past experiences and why he loves working with founders.

What was your first job?

I was a technology lawyer in a big Singapore law firm. I was a lawyer for 16 years (first in private practice, then in-house), and I joined Airbnb in 2012 as lawyer #4. I transitioned into the business in 2017 to run Airbnb’s APAC business, before I became the COO for Airbnb China in 2020 leading product, engineering, operations, marketing, etc.

What's something about you or your past experience that would surprise people?

I had tremendous imposter syndrome in my first couple of years as a business leader. I really felt like I was the least informed person in the room and not good enough. But over time, I was lucky enough to learn from some world-class operators, and I also read broadly.

Looking back, I think my lack of prior business experience allowed me to learn with an open mind and consider things from first principles, while the imposter syndrome really drove me to work hard and learn fast.

What’s your motivation for working with founders?

I want to give back to the startup world which has benefited me tremendously. I am also energised when I work with smart and passionate founders, which is so rewarding. I’ve been advising Ridwan Hafiz of GoZayaan since 2021 (and he just added me to his board), and I soon realised that our calls were frequently the highlight of the month for me!

What’s something you’re especially good at or like helping founders with?

I’m really a general manager, so I’ve found that I’m most helpful to founders in things falling outside of functional specialisations. I especially love helping founders figure out what is the right path forward for them and their companies. The answer is frequently inside them somewhere, they just need a bit of help to tease it out.

What’s surprised you most about working with founders?

I’ve known how hard it is to be a founder, but I’ve now seen first-hand just how all-consuming being a founder is, how tenacious and resilient they have to be, and how passionate they can be about their business. I’ve been helping Ottodot’s founders Le Yi and Wong Lei, and they have consistently shown these qualities in spades, which has really impressed me.

While Kum Hong is not a Visiting Partner, he's graciously helped us out in past Iterative's programs (and has been actively helping founders who've graduated from our program). If you're a founder and working on something, you should apply.

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