Interview with Willis Wee, co-founder of Asia tech blog Penn Olson

I recently wrote about the state of technology blogs in Asia citing Penn Olson, who had recently received VC funding, as an example of the potential that the continent’s tech blogging scene is showing.

As follow-up to the post, I’m very grateful that Penn Olson CEO and Co-founder Willis Wee spared some time to answer a few questions I posed to him via email.

Read on for more.

Penn Olson CEO and Co-founder Willis Wee giving a lecture in Japan

Has the funding had any immediate impact or changes on Penn Olson so far?

The funding gives us assurance that our team is heading toward the right direction. It gives us confidence and the resources to fulfill our vision. We want to promote tech in Asia and also to bridge the East and West together.

What are you immediate plans to develop the blog? You’ve been actively recruiting new writers, how many do you currently have on your roster and how do you go about locating new contributors?

Building a team is our number one priority. We plan to hire writers in China, India and Indonesia. Japan is tough as the cost of labor is high. Other fundamental stuff includes style guide, disclaimer page, work process and allocation. We have Rick and Ratri as full timers so far. More will join by the end of June.

The technology blog scene in Asia is beginning to heat up, what other blogs and websites covering the region do you read?

China: Techrice, Technode, DigiCha
Indonesia: DailySocial
Singapore: Sgentrepreneurs, Young Upstarts, Techgoondu
Japan: Asiajin, Serkan Toto’s blog
Taiwan: Techorange
Asia in general: Asian Correspondent, e27, TNW Asia

They are amazing people who make Asia tech understandable.

[JR: Thanks for the mention Willis. For those interested in tech blogs in Asia, my list of must-reads is listed on Quora]

Disclosure and conflicts of interest in reporting are getting a lot of attention right now in the US, how will you manage the conflict of interest that has arisen with Penn Olson gaining funding from one of Asia’s most prominent VC?

The investment and our relationships with other Asian tech brands don’t affect how we pick and write our stories. We maintain full editorial control. In fact, we have rejected several pitches from fellow East Ventures funded start-ups. If a story isn’t interesting or insightful, there is no point covering it.

Why should people in Western markets like the US be interesting in what is happening in Asia?

We have 800 million Internet users in Asia, far more than the entire U.S population… and it will only keep increasing. This represents a huge market potential, especially India and China.

Asia is diverse in language and culture: a common pitfall why companies fail in this continent. We’re witnessing a lot of companies wanting to expand to Asia. To do that, you got to at least understand Asia before coming to Asia. It’s tough, even Asians don’t understand Asia. Keep reading and learning, that’s what we’re doing as well.

Asian start-ups are rising. Although a lot of them are ‘me too’ products, many are still considered good investments if they can capture the local market faster than the big boys.

Facebook is pretty well developed in Asia. There are high number of users in Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. It presents a huge potential for people riding on the Facebook wave including social commerce, advertising or analytics products. The only thing left is to localized the product for the respective markets.

What is it about technology in Asia that motives you to keep blogging?

There is a missing gap between East and West. We hope to be the bridge.

I’m proud to be an Asian and I hope to play my humble part for Asia.

We get the chance to speak to many PR people in major Asia tech brands and understand that most have problems getting coverage in English media. Needless to say, Asian start-ups are rarely featured. It isn’t because the story isn’t interesting. Some media just seem to auto-filter Asia-related news.

Penn Olson was founded as a learning platform. I only learn when I ‘pen’ down my thoughts and it is ‘awesome’ to learn. That didn’t change.

Sounds clichéd, but I’m sincere to help promote Asian technology. I believe Asia can be as exciting as Silicon Valley in the near future.

Thanks again Willis.

You can find more info about Penn Olson at the blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Anyone seeking more on Penn Olson should read this recent post from Willis which gives more details on his and the blog’s background, such as the meaning behind the name’.

Willis has previously been interviewed by Technorati and fellow Asian social media blogger Aaron Lee.