* 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

* The Rohingya Pipeline

Traffickers’ jungle prison camps on the Thai-Malaysian border ‘operating for years’, say Rohingya migrants in Malaysia.

Susan Cunningham, Kuala Lumpur
Mizzima Weekly, August 20, 2015 

[This article appeared in Myanmar’s Mizzima Weekly print magazine in 2015 but not online. I decided to post it here more than a year later because the Rohingya homeland in northern Rakhine State is once again attracting international media coverage. Even Malaysian PM Najib  wants to take advantage of the crisis this round. The spotlight won’t last long. There was another brief international moment in spring 2015 when the overloaded boats were drifting around the Andaman Sea and various governments vowed at a high-profile multinational meeting in Bangkok that the recent arrivals in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand would be resettled in third countries within a year.  In the weeks after, though, I was unable to interest any international media outlets in why thousands of stateless Rohingya risk their lives to reach Malaysia each year or how they live illegally once they get there. Fortunately, Mizzima was interested.

As for that one-year deadline? Who knows or cares? When it was coming up, I emailed the NGOs and individuals that had appeared last year to have some knowledge and interaction with Rohingya  (not to be confused with the much greater number that tweet relentlessly, often spreading baseless rumors and phony images, but don’t do anything else). Only one person replied. She said she heard that the Rohingya that had arrived in northern Sumatra in 2015 had made their way across the Straits of Malacca to Malaysia, but she had no details. That movement is interesting because the Acehnese were very welcoming to their fellow Muslims last year; my guess is that the Rohingya wanted to join relatives in Malaysia. The trial in Thailand of more than 100 people involved in trafficking Rohingya ultimately convicted 62 persons, including an army general, two provincial politicians and many local businessmen. Malaysia has displayed much less interest in prosecuting alleged traffickers.  Twelve police officers were arrested but charges were dropped without a trial in March 2017. I know that, while not surprised by that outcome, Rohingya in Malaysia must be especially distressed that no Malaysian immigration officials were charged. How difficult would it be to trace the holders of those mysterious Maybank and CIMB accounts where ransom payments were deposited? It’s difficult to take the Malaysian government’s expressions of concern for Rohingya welfare too seriously.

It will be interesting to see if Justin Trudeau’s grandiose statements mean that Canada will begin to accept Rohingya for resettlement. At the time I wrote this article, the US was the only country resettling Rohingya from Malaysia; that had been the situation for many years. The conditions and work prospects for Rohingya in Bangladesh were far worse than in Malaysia even before  tens of thousands of Rohingya arrived there in in the final months of 2016, after fleeing attacks by the Myanmar army in their homeland of northern Rakhine State. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh may therefore be the first priority for resettlement in a third country.]

While traffickers’ jungle prisons along the Thai-Malaysian border were first widely exposed by Reuter’s reports published almost two years ago, they have been well known to Rohingya in Myanmar and Malaysia for more than a decade.

Sultan Ahmed bin Ahmed Hussein, the new president of the Rohingya Society of Malaysia (RSM), arrived in Malaysia in 2012 by way of a border jungle prison. The 2001 Sittwe University graduate had been working in Rakhine State for GRET, a French non-governmental organization involved in agricultural development. After the 2012 communal riots, the French staff left the state and he was interrogated by the police. “They wanted money,” he recalled earlier this month. “Some of my friends were arrested. Some were shot and killed.”  After he left his home in Buthidaung to stay with friends in Maungdaw, he heard that back home “thirty police had descended on my house, so I knew I had to leave.”  His wife and four children are still in Myanmar (Burma).

Beginning with a Thai fishing boat, the cost and route of passage to Butterworth via Thailand were common knowledge in Maungdaw by then: 6,000 Malaysia ringgit (US$2,000) or the equivalent up front, followed by another 6,000 ringgit to be paid into traffickers’ bank accounts once the passengers had arrived somewhere in the vicinity of the Malaysian-Thai border. Continue reading

* Women Journalists In Myanmar Are Numerous But Still Stalled by Stereotypes

By Susan Cunningham
Mizzima

12 November 2016

Women are strongly represented in Myanmar newsrooms but few reach decision-making levels, reflecting the many obstacles they face in advancing in their professions. In Yangon, professional opportunities are growing and society is receptive to women in many media occupations. For those working in the states and regions, however, options are severely limited by traditional attitudes about women’s roles and fears about personal safety.

The findings were included in a report presented last week in Yangon at the 5th Media Development Conference by Agneta Soderberg-Jacobson, a senior gender advisor with Sweden’s Fojo Media Institute.

The report, “Gender in the Myanmar Media Landscape”, is the product of research in the past year with 298 respondents working in Myanmar print, online and broadcast media. Fojo conducted the research by surveys and focus groups with support from International Media Support (IMS). The respondents, more than half of them women, were journalists, senior editors, media managers, and representatives of media organizations. They worked in Yangon, Kayin and Shan states, and the Sagaing region.

Mothers not wanted

Of the 2,000 accredited journalists in Myanmar today, 60% are women. However, even in Yangon, the majority hold low-ranking and mid-level positions in the media industry with men dominating decision making.  Continue reading

* 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