* 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

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* 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.

* Keeping Up With Rocket’s Southeast Asian Adventures

(Originally published December 31, 2013)

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com

rocket in SE Asia

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.


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

 

* BlackBerry’s days are numbered

Business Report Thailand, June 2011

If you believe the most optimistic estimates floating around, there are 1.5 million smartphones in use in Thailand and 500,000 of them are BlackBerrys.

Software developers and telecom staff doubt there are quite that many smartphones or BlackBerrys. Perhaps there are only 1 million smartphone users. But observers all agree on one point: BlackBerrys are by far the most popular smartphone in Thailand. (RIM’s office in Singapore declined to estimate and doesn’t yet have an office in Thailand).

Interest in developing apps for the BlackBerry is nonetheless slender. If a company is committed to creating an application for all operating systems, it will get to BlackBerry eventually, but that isn’t the first or even second system in the queue.


The skepticism about BlackBerry’s future stems stems partly from the kludginess of the operating system, which developers and analysts worldwide think will soon be outpaced by the superior iPhone, Android and Windows 7.

Then there are the reasons BlackBerry has done so well in Thailand as well as Indonesia. Prices for a handset are below THB 10,000 on the grey market, which is at least half the price of an iPhone and about the same as local smartphone brand Spriing and Taiwan’s HTC.

The clincher for Thai and Indonesian consumers has been the reasonable prepaid monthly packages that include unlimited text messages. In Thailand a package costs less than THB 600 per month. Unlike SMS messages, these are conveyed via the internet but otherwise BlackBerry users tend not to browse the Web or use the other internet-enabled features that telecom operators would so dearly love to charge for.

Users of other smartphone brands and operating systems in Thailand probably don’t use many of their internet options either.

Many of BlackBerry’s most visible users, such as students and female office workers, are a fickle lot. “Some say that Thais change their mobile phone every eight months,” said Freewill FX’s Nuttapon Boonpinon. Moreover, loyalty to the BlackBerry phone hasn’t transferred … MORE

This was a sidebar accompanying a cover story I wrote on Thai smartphone app developers. It appeared in the June 2011 issue of Business Report Thailand. Fast Company in April 2012 ran an analysis of BlackBerry’s decline followed by more interesting comments from Mark Lambert and others. Note that the analysis is written by a marketing man indirectly flogging his services. Then there’s the stock analyst’s sobering perspective. WSJ‘s July 2012 tale of Nokia’s decline is interesting too.

* Coupon clash

By Susan Cunningham
Southeast Asia Globe

As discount deal websites explode in the region, a Thai company shows how it’s done.

Deep-discount deal sites have been surging throughout the United States and Europe for almost three years, but they were late off the starting blocks in Southeast Asia – arriving only in mid 2010. Since then, they have moved and morphed, bought and sold themselves.

In June 2010, when Tom Srivorakul and his two younger brothers launched Ensogo, the first deal website in Thailand, they employed five people and had a single offer: a 60% discount at ice cream chain iBerry.

A year later, when Ensogo was bought for an undisclosed sum by LivingSocial–the second-largest US deal company with a monthly revenue of $50m as of the start of this year–the start-up had 430 employees, 17 city sites in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia and more than two million subscribers to its daily discount deal e-letter … MORE