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
By Susan Cunningham
(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
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.
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
Only in Myanmar: the $19 3G smartphone
By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | August 10, 2016
The phone in the above photo is a shiny new $19.44 smartphone. When I saw this for sale in small shop on the corner of 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. 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 for sale 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? Continue reading
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.
By Susan J. Cunningham
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
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