* As Myanmar looks to develop, a value-added revolution is needed in the countryside

By Susan Cunningham
Mizzima News
24 September 2016

Agriculture must be at the forefront of Myanmar’s anti-poverty strategies not only because nearly 70% of Myanmar’s population live in rural areas: of the total number of poor people, 84% reside in the countryside. More than half the workforce is employed in agriculture, yet the majority of farmers own less than 10 acres of planting land and lack access to electricity and clean drinking water.

These stark statistics from UNDP highlight what could arguably be termed the elephant in the room – the need to upgrade Myanmar’s agricultural sector but ideally in a sustainable way.

One man understands the challenges particularly well. Tin Htut Oo, an agricultural economist, retired as director-general of agricultural planning in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) in 2009. He is today CEO of Agribusiness and Rural Development Consultants and chairman of the Agriculture Group of Yoma Strategic Holdings.

A former advisor to President Thein Sein, as the chairman of the National Economic & Social Advisory Council beginning in 2012, he led a working group that drafted a policy paper, entitled “From Rice Bowl to Food Basket,” outlining pathways for modernization of the country’s agricultural and food sector. Earlier this year, group members presented the proposals to key ministers and officials in the agriculture, commerce, and planning and finance ministries and to … MORE

* Myanmar: 45 Million Mobile Phones and the $19 3G Smartphone

True smartphone on sale in Yangon - Credit: Susan Cunningham

Only in Myanmar: the $19 3G smartphone

The phone in the above photo is a shiny new $19.44 smartphone. When I saw this for sale in small corner shop on Anawrahta and Pansodan streets in Yangon a few weeks ago, the 23,000 kyat (at 1,183 kyat/US$1) price included one SIM card too. As you can see, it’s 3G capable and has slots for two SIM cards.

Later I saw the same Thai brand, complete with Thai packaging, among the familiar and strange brands of phones being sold on sidewalk tables, like the ones in the photo below. Since bargaining comes with the territory and these phones aren’t being sold in a shop with overhead costs, do they cost even less than $19? Such a low price for a new phone must also affect the pricing of secondhand smartphones, regardless of brand.

Myanmar (Burma) has three mobile carriers: the government’s MPT and the two private carriers: Qatar’s Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor. Two years ago this month, Ooredoo introduced its service with 1,500 kyat SIM cards; MPT had dropped its Sim price from the equivalent of $300 to 1,500 kyat some months before that, but the private company turned on the advertising and promotion firehose and Telenor followed suit a few months later. A decade ago, SIM cards were in the $1,500 range. Nowadays, some Myanmar people have two phones, each with a different carrier, because coverage varies in different parts of the country. And since a SIM card costs less than $1.50, why not?

A few days before I came across the True phone, I had interviewed Jes Pedersen of the local tech community organization, Phandeeyar, for Digital News Asia. The astounding growth in the past two years of both mobile users and smartphone users was an inevitable topic. He said that today there are 45 million active SIM subscriptions, up from only 3 million or 4 million two years ago: “And sixty to eighty percent of those are smartphones.”

How is that possible when the average wage is $3 a day? Bear in mind that the recently released statistics from the 2014 census … MORE

* Omidyar grant jumpstarts for-profit accelerator in Myanmar

By Susan Cunningham
Digital News Asia | Aug 02, 2016

  • eBay founder’s US$2mil grant to Phandeeyar will also support social entrepreneurs
  • Myanmar SIM card subscriptions grew 10-fold in two years

A US$2-million grant from the Omidyar Network to Yangon tech community Phandeeyar will help support a for-profit accelerator programme to be launched in September.

After hearing pitches from short-listed candidates in mid-August, judges will select four to eight winning teams, according to Phandeeyar Accelerator director Jes Kaliebe Pedersen.

Each team will get US$25,000 in seed money, office space, and six months of coaching by some of Phandeeyar’s 30 mentors, who include executives and investors in Myanmar and abroad.
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* 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.