Quarterly Business Magazine

Tech Start-ups In Myanmar

Posted :
Monday, February 15, 2016

“Ideas are cheap. Execution is the hard part,” said Ko Wai Yan Lin as he pondered on the past 3-years-journey of starting up Myanmar’s first-ever car website, Myanmarcarsdb.com. When he and his two business partners initiated their start-up in early 2012, the idea of listing cars on a website for sale was quite preposterous for many laypeople in Myanmar. Consequently, Ko Wai Yan Lin and his partners, while still working in Singapore full-time, had to invest some serious oversea phone conversations with many of their relative and family friends to convince them to list their cars on the newly created car website that was still devoid of any listing. Now in 2015, Myanmarcarsdb.com has over 17,000 cars listed for sale and is one of the leading car websites in Myanmar.

It is easy and even tempting to think that one’s idea is so unique, but there is hardly anything new under the sun. Before Google, there were other search engines. Before Facebook, there were other social media websites; they were, to put it simply, just not as good as Google and Facebook. We keep learning that the success stories of innovation are usually made up with 1% inspiration (idea) and 99% perspiration (execution) as Edison and Einstein famously iterated. Ko Wai Yan Lin recounted that within three months of Myanmarcarsdb.com’s launch, an international company with multimillion-dollar funding. Rocket Internet, came into Myanmar and launched a similar car website, Motors.com.mm. Competition normally drives industry, and competition with an international giant did rev up Myanmarcarsdb.com’s engine to its full-throttle. Since its inception, the start-up has received 6-digit funding from angel investors twice and is gearing to battle out with its competitors, both local and international. “After all, this is a winner-takes-all industry. And the bell is not ringing anytime soon,” Ko Wai Yan Lin said with a determined smile.

As the tech founders like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg have transcended traditional businessmen status and gained international stardom along with immense wealth, many tech-savvy entrepreneurs around the world have aspired to swing for the next multi-billion dollar start-up. A bumble high school English teacher from China, Jack Ma, has managed to pull off a $25 billion initial public offering (IPO) with his Alibaba Group in late 2014 at New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), instantly making Alibaba one of the most valuable tech companies on earth and Jack Ma the richest man in China. Success stories of recent and long-established tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Alibaba, Dropbox, and Oracle have sent resounding waves of hopes and dreams across the globe in the spring of the 21st century.

Myanmar has not been impervious to this global tech ‘Gold Rush’ despite its decades-long isolation under international sanctions, Especially after the new government, which took the office in August 2011, has initiated reform processes in both political and economic terrains, any Myanmar repatriates from Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Americas, and the Europe have come home. Some of them were people like Ko Wai Yan Lin of Myanmarcarsdb.com, Ko Nay Aung of Oway.com, and Ko Ye Myat Min of Nex, to name a few, who are actively spearheading the tech frontiers in Myanmar despite many well-known systemic obstacles-such as relatively costly and unreliable internet connection, unexpected power outages, ubiquitous governmental red tape, and obsolete banking system. Overcoming these obstacles will take time, but as Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles has to start with a single step, and Myanmar has covered some impressive ground in such a short amount of time.

In fact, Myanmar tech landscape is going through the initial breakout from its early barren state; in April 2015, Myanmar Computer Federation organized a software Showcase Event in Naypyidaw, where President U Thein Sein and Vice President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham honored with their attendance. Local technicians, tech entrepreneurs, and students from respective technical universities also attended for educational sharing. One important message President U Thein Sein delivered was that though Myanmar is rich in natural resources, sustainable economic development cannot be built if we continue relying heavily upon extractive industries. He acknowledged that human resource development, especially among the country’s youth, is a major driving force of development for the future of Myanmar.

At grassroots level, inspiring people like the founder of Phandeeyar, David Madden, and his colleagues are doing something special in order to help realize the “human resource development” of Myanmar. Phandeeyar, located near Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon, is a vibrant community center with an ICT hub at its core, aiming to bring the tech entrepreneurs together with those who are trying to make a posivtive difference in Myanmar- suck as “civil society organizations, social enterprises, and independent media”. Across the town in MICT Park, the country’s largest startup incubator and accelerator, Kanaung Hub, has officially launched in June 2015. This spacious establishment is taking up the whole level 4 of building 14 and is collaboration between Myanmar Computer Federation (MCF) and MICT Development Co., Ltd. (MICTDC). Kanaung Hub was founded in order to provide a co-working office space with essential facilities at affordable prices for lean start-upers, to host educational talks and workshops concerning with the information technology, and to offer mentorship, business plan guidance, and funding opportunities for Myanmar tech entrepreneurs.

“Heart-poundingly exciting things are happening in Myanmar now,” is the nearest translation of Ooredoo Myanmar’s tagline. Cheap SIM cards, widespread availability of 3G internet, arrival of foreign consumer brands and fast food chains, materialization of nascent tech companies and innovation hubs-these are hardly exciting for those living in developed countries. For Myanmar people though, we are going through our version of the “fall of the Berlin Wall” in slow motion. It might take another decade or two before we have Myanmar’s Larry Page or Bill Gates, but given the right education, determination, and a kick of inspiration, Myanmar tech entrepreneur may surprise the world at one point, just like Jack Ma did.

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