* Rocket’s Lazada And Zalora Lost $235.3 Million In 2014 But Are Moving Toward Profitability

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | May 12, 2015

Lazada, Southeast Asia’s largest shopping platform, and its sister apparel site, Zalora, racked up huge gains in sales and transactions in 2014 but together lost $235.3 million. The good news for those invested in the German parent company, Rocket Internet Group, is that losses as a proportion of revenues are shrinking.

Rocket, which has stakes in 141 internet companies throughout the world, released its 2014 results last week. It listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange on October 2, 2014.

Lazada Losses and Revenues Double

Lazada’s six general merchandise sites operate in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Lazada’s net revenue was US $154.3 million last year, more than double 2013 results of $75.5 million. Yet the company’s net operating losses (EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) were $152.5 million, also more than double the 2013 figure of $67 million.

(Most figures in Rocket’s annual report were in euros; Lazada’s results were reported in US dollars.).

For online retailers, however, a key metric is growth in Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV)–the sales value of products sold. In the case of an unprofitable company like Lazada, another metric is the share of losses relative to GMV and whether that share, the negative margin, is narrowing year on year. By that measure, Lazada is moving in the right direction. MORE

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* Rocket Internet – First Mover In Asia?

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | Oct 5, 2014

At the end of Rocket Internet’s disappointing first day of trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange last week, co-founder and CEO Oliver Samwer looked weary but, as usual, kept on-message, telling CNBC that “most [Rocket sites] are market leaders in their sectors.”

When he announced the IPO last month, Samwer told a press conference, “I do not have growth, competition or margin as my key problems. Why? Because I’m the first mover in most of my markets.”

Rocket may well be a dull duplicator of others’ innovative ideas, so the subtext goes, but it is boldly pioneering in markets where the grateful natives are just discovering this internet thing. One could easily get the impression from coverage in the western media that there is no e-commerce or online retailing in developing countries from Asia to Latin America to Africa.

World’s Largest Internet Platform?

Where exactly is Rocket the first mover? And how does the investor and digital startup factory intend to become the “biggest consumer internet group outside of the US and China,” “the Alibaba of non-US and non-China countries” or, most recently, “the world’s largest internet platform outside the United States and China”? MORE

* Malaysia’s Patrick Grove Aims To Go Global With Iflix Video-On-Demand

By Susan Cunningham0228_asia-cover-mar_175x226.jpg smallest
Forbes Asia

(This story appears in the March 2017 issue of Forbes Asia).

Patrick Y-Kin Grove is leaning against the pool table in Catcha Group’s headquarters in the Mid Valley mall-lands of Kuala Lumpur. The Internet pioneer has started company after company, but today he’s doing something different–he’s plugging a local tailor shop. “I’ve worn a suit twice in the past five years,” he jokes in his raspy voice as staffers look on. “To get married … and divorced.”

He was getting an award at a gala dinner that night, but he had left his only suit at his second home in Singapore. A call to the tailor produced an offer: Tape a promotional video for the shop and a bespoke suit would be his for free. So here he was, being asked by a cameraman to describe himself. “I’m proudly from Southeast Asia,” Grove says. “I split my life into two halves: before 24 years old and everything after–when I became an entrepreneur.” And his life goal? “I want to create a great company that goes global and disrupts an entire industry.”


The company is two-year-old Iflix. The industry is subscription video-on-demand. Grove is targeting developing countries, and Iflix, part of his Catcha Group, is now operating in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere. Iflix offers unlimited viewing of 20,000 hours’ worth of movies and television shows, available any time of day, for a monthly fee roughly equal to the price of a pirated DVD. That’s usually between $2 and $3, depending on the country. The content comes from more than 100 studios and distributors, including Disney, Paramount, the BBC and Media Prima, and MORE

* 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.

Backbreaking rice planting in Myanmar - by Hong Sar for Mizzim

Planting rice in Bago State, Myanmar.    Credit: Hong Sar/Mizzima

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