* Malaysia’s Anthony Tan Leads GrabTaxi in Regional App Race

By Susan J. Cunningham
Forbes Asia

This story appears in the March 2015 issue of Forbes Asia as “Hailing Taxis, Building a Business”

When Anthony Tan graduated from Harvard Business School in 2011, he was expected to rejoin his two older brothers at the family firm, Tan Chong Motors. Instead, the youngest Tan, now 33, decided to strike out on his own with a mobile taxi app developed for a school business-plan contest. His mother was one of the original angel investors; his father, Tan Heng Chew (No. 16 on the richest Malaysians list), wasn’t. The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree, though. Anthony says he was inspired by his entrepreneurial grandfather, Tan Yuet Foh, who was a Kuala Lumpur taxi driver before building the multinational auto sales-and-assembly empire.

Tan’s GrabTaxi wasn’t the first mobile hailing app untethered to a specific taxi company. But the concept was novel in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru when Tan launched what was then called MyTeksi in June 2012. For passengers the free smartphone app enables them to hail a cab from any taxi company, regardless of their location, as well as see the identity of their driver, the route to their destination and the estimated fare. For taxi drivers the app not only earns them an extra fee (the equivalent of 28 U.S. cents for each fare in Kuala Lumpur), but also saves them from wasting gas and … MORE

* 2014 in Review: Thailand’s startup scene

By Susan Cunningham
Digital News Asia

FOLLOWING months of sporadic protests, the most significant event in Thailand’s year, business or otherwise, was its 12th military coup on May 22 and the installation of a military-controlled government.   Unlike the two most recent coups, in 1992 and 2006, General Prayuth Chan-o-cha doesn’t plan an imminent return to electoral democracy, despite pressure from Western governments.

In the meantime, an appointed committee with no popular participation is in the process of writing the country’s 20th constitution.   One of the junta’s first acts post-coup was to cancel planned auctions of spectrum licences that would enable 4G wireless broadband services throughout the country. There are also signs that the junta might do away completely with spectrum auctions, now required by broadcasting law.  

Consumer and tourist confidence along with computer sales began to revive mid-year, though external factors dampening exports will likely continue in the new year. Overall, growth in the information and technology sector was flat in 2014.   Not surprisingly, only two major investments in Internet startups took place prior to the coup: A Softbank Ventures equity stake in an online games company, and a venture capital score by bookseller Ookbee. MORE

* Myanmar Digital Startup NEX Wins 2nd Round Funds From Blibros

Myanmar digital startup NEX has won second round funding of  US$150,000 from Singapore’s Blibros Group, the privately-held investment arm of Sweden’s Böcker family. Yes, this is the family of Magnus Böcker, CEO of the Singapore Exchange and former CEO of Nasdaq OMX Nordic. NEX got its initial angel investment of $50,000 last year from Singapore  investor Ned Phillips, formerly of  E*Trade and Chi-East.

I met NEX’s founder and CEO, Ye Myat Min, who’s all of 23, a few months ago when I was in Yangon. NEX had 15 employees then; now there’s 20.  The new investment will enable the company to build on Fyre, its Web-based software introduced in May  that enables small businesses to quickly set up an online storefront. One of the first customers was TAC, the country’s first authorized re-seller of Apple products.  ”Most small shops want an app, but they can’t afford to get their own. Instead, they can pay … MORE


* Rocket’s Asian Ups and Downs

By Susan J. Cunningham
Forbes Asia

Philippine Long-Distance Telephone’s 8.6% stake in Rocket Internet is a no-brainer: Telecom and Internet giant PLDT is a pioneer in online and mobile payments, and Rocket’s own payment system, Payleven, quickly foundered in 2012 when the first Rocket e-commerce sites were being established in Asia.

For many poorer residents the cheap smartphones now flooding into the far reaches of East and South Asia will mean their first access to the Internet, and mobile wallets will make them more likely to become online buyers. As it is now, Rocket’s six Amazon-like general shopping sites in Southeast Asia (called Lazada) as well as its nine Zappos-like apparel sites (Zalora in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, and Jabong in India) offer the option of … MORE

This story appears in the September 2014 issue of Forbes Asia.

* 48 Heroes of Philanthropy – 2014

By John Koppisch
Forbes Asia

For the eighth straight year we spotlight notable philanthropists in the Asia-Pacific region, especially those who made news in the past year by launching new and innovative projects. The 48-member honor roll ranges from billionaires with expansive visions of how best to help society to less well-known business people whose generosity is also leaving a huge mark.

Our goal is not to rank the biggest givers–the figures would be impossible to collect. Instead we aim to call attention to people and causes. We try to identify a new group of altruists each year, though several people here are returning to the list because of an important donation or project announced since a year ago. MORE

I contributed to this annual list of Asian givers.

* Keeping Up With Rocket’s Southeast Asian Adventures

By Susan Cunningham

Beginning with fashion site Zalora in the Philippines in late 2011, Germany’s Rocket Internet has been hatching dozens of copycat e-commerce sites in Southeast Asia and the general vicinity–and quickly shutting down some of them. It’s invested at least $200 million already in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam–perhaps more like $500 million if Rocket startups are spending tens of millions of marketing dollars in each country as rumored.
rocket in SE Asia

In the coming year,  we’ll  probably see  some of that money expended on the intense city contests for taxi-booking apps and restaurant delivery services.  I also think that, as new fashion sites pop up  or existing ones become more visible, Zalora will have to come up with a better selection of women’s clothing. MORE


* Pete Bodharamik Goes Big on Broadband

Forbes Asia July 2013 Richest Thais

Jasmine’s Pete Bodharamik

By Susan J. Cunningham
Forbes Asia

Five years ago Pete Bodharamik was a 35-year-old with a big challenge. He had just taken over as chief executive of Jasmine International, the telecom holding company his father had started back in 1982. It was going through rough times, emerging from years in bankruptcy court after his father had diversified madly on borrowed money in the 1990s.

One of Jasmine’s biggest assets, a 30% share of fixed-line operator TT&T, was in bankruptcy itself. And expectations weren’t high that Pete was the one to turn things around. He had held what he calls a “small job” at Jasmine for a few years, dabbling (and losing) in the dot-com boom, before leaving in 2003. “It was surprising,” one equity analyst recalls. “To many observers he was just a rich boy with a big inheritance. No one thought him capable of cleaning up his dad’s mess.” MORE