Companies to Watch: 88ships

Key points

  • 88ships is a boutique, white-glove company builder and advisory platform for startups between seed and Series A
  • In addition to co-building and scaling startups, the firm provides access to curated mentors and corporate partners
  • Its focus is on what it defines as high-potential startups, where it can increase the odds of success by injecting expertise and strategic thinking
  • For startups at Series B and up, 88ships also offers bespoke tactical and strategic advisory services
  • 88ships takes an execution-focused approach vs the education-focused approach followed by the established startup incubators and accelerators, like Techstars and Y Combinator

Introduction

88ships logo
Source: 88ships

88ships is an advisory platform and “white glove” company builder aimed at helping private, growth-focused businesses to position themselves for sustained growth as an investable and scalable business. Founder and CEO Ralph L Leung previously held a number of leadership roles at Morgan Stanley in investment banking advisory and corporate investments/M&A.

The idea for 88ships came from meeting hundreds of early-stage companies that were too product-focused, lacking the fundamentals required for a business to grow and scale, and attract investors, a pattern that he saw repeated both in New York and in the Silicon Valley. He determined that while a lot of “help” is available to startups, in the form of accelerators, incubators, angel networks and so on, it isn’t always the right kind of help, offering an education-based approach rather than execution-based help in which founders are helped at each step of the process.

The name 88ships comprises a play on words referring to a Cantonese phrase for wealth, as well as reflecting the firm’s approach to putting together all of the elements needed to set a startup on a path to success, or “launching the ship”. It also reflects the firm’s goal to help 88 startups “launch the ship” over the next ten years.

Innovation spotlight

Noting that the vast majority of early-stage startups fail, 88ships aims to fill a gap in the market between the early stage accelerators and incubators on the one hand, and the corporate funds and investment banks on the other, by providing bespoke coaching and advisory services to startups whose activities would fall between these two extremes. Specifically, 88ships effectively serves as a team of co-founders, working with the full team on a day-to-day basis to do help them build, grow and scale.

88ships platform
Source: 88ships

As Ralph Leung notes, investment banks typically work with pre-IPO or late-stage, large-cap startups, while incubators like Techstars and Y Combinator provide a curriculum and schedule for participating startups, but once the founders graduate from the program they are on their own.

The firm offers two types of services, aimed at startups in different stages of their trajectory. The Player-Coach program is intended for companies between their seed and Series A round, which 88ships identifies as the most challenging stage for many startups. It works with clients closely to co-build their business, designing, developing and validating their business model and product, while also providing assistance with designing marketing strategies, and “hygiene”, like recruiting, legal structure and finance & accounting.

As an example, for one of its portfolio companies (see Table 1), 88ships fundamentally transformed and built its business, from implementing a comprehensive business strategy to going to market for business development and partnership opportunities, to developing a pricing strategy and sales framework, among other assistance. 88ships notes that under its partnership this company took its monthly recurring revenues from a few thousand dollars to six figures per month within a year.

For later-stage startups, those at Series B to pre-IPO level, 88ships offers bespoke, on-demand services like strategic finance and operations consulting, capital raising preparation, and even exit strategy alternatives and preparation.

88ships portfolio
Source: 88ships
Table 1. 88ships portfolio companies
Company Activity
LIKK Technologies IoT-based water leak detection
Trax Computer vision, AI and image recognition
Ion360 360-degree camera
FYO Labs Augmented and mixed reality
Bear Founders UC campus platform for entrepreneurship
Betr Female social community network

Source: 88ships

The firm’s portfolio companies operate in a variety of industries. LIKK Technologies, for example, provides an IoT water leak detection solution for commercial and multi-unit buildings, giving building owners and managers a comprehensive view of damage across their entire building. Trax, meanwhile, is a global company that sells its solutions to the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies and retailers, helping its clients to optimize shelf space and placement. FYO Labs has developed and licensed a 360-degree camera and is working on augmented reality headset technology.

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