* 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

* 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

* 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

 

* Keeping Up With Rocket’s Southeast Asian Adventures

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com

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