Ookbee CEO Natavudh shares on building a regional company in SEA

Ookbee, a Thai-based e-book platform, has partnered up with some of the biggest publishers in Southeast Asia. How are they doing now?

Ookbee

Thai e-book publishing platform Ookbee has been scaling new heights.

First, it partnered up with Indonesia’s SCOOP in 2012 to bring their combined titles to 600 with a reach of over four million devices. Then, in early 2013, they joined forces with Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) to launch an exclusive newsstand app and see over some 100 magazine titles be made available on Ookbee.

That’s not all. Within their second month of operations in Malaysia in February 2013, the company also said that it has grown to over 100,000 users. Ookbee shared then that it wants to hit a million users by the end of 2013.

Founder and CEO Natavudh “Moo” Pungcharoenpong shared that they have four million users on Ookbee from all countries combined right now. He added:

“We had delivered over 15 million books and magazines so far including free. [We have] operations in Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. We will add [the] Philippines within October this year.”

Read also: Thailand ebook store OOKBEE raises US$2M at US$8M valuation

Going regional 

When Nick Seguin of Startup Weekend came to Bangkok, he shared that “entrepreneurs in Thailand need to start local but think regional“. Who else better to talk about going regional than the founder of Ookbee?

Moo shared that they had a hard time setting up a local team in every country they plan to have operations in. This was especially so since they have to understand and decipher cultural issues. They partnered up with locals with joint ventures, and successfully tackled this issue.

Secondly, he talked about payment methods, which needed to be re-evaluated and re-integrated. As Olivia Segovia said in an article, “Think before you drink the Southeast Asia startup Kool Aid“. This is especially true when it comes to payment solutions. While places like Singapore might have a higher credit card penetration rate, Thailand and Vietnam would require a plan B.

The last challenge faced by the team at Ookbee was the aggregation of local content. There was the issue of creating a local store, as well. For example, the Malaysian store for Ookbee is completely different from its Thai counterpart, but one would be able to tell immediately that there is a similarity in flow and branding.

OokbeeMY

Moo also said that Thai startups looking to go regional have to test their ideas locally first, as the market is “big enough for a startup to test [...] and gain traction”. He added:

“First, I believe you have to make it to the point that you know you are strong enough in Thai market before start looking out of Thailand. [...] Once you know how to run and grow it properly in the local then you can bring that knowhow and try to apply that to the regional market.”

The founder also reinforced that it is important to have a “strong local partner who knows the local market” well enough that you can bank on their local business networks. He said, “Together with your experience from what you did in Thai market then you and your partner can adapt it to fit the new market. Local partner will also be valuable when you want to start something fast. In our case we ended up using our partners office and pull in the first several staff from our local partner team to make it happen fast. If you have to do that all by yourself, it will take three to six months more.”

Global Brain experience

In 2012, Ookbee was selected to attend and pitch at Global Brain Alliance Forum (GBAF), an annual event which sees the presence of about 100 representatives from major Japanese corporations like NTT DOCOMO and KDDI. They emerged as winner of GBAF and got a chance to speak with many big venture capitalists and Japanese companies.

As the pitching session was held in a very professional setting, Moo shared that it gave them good contacts whom they are still working together with till date. He also added:

“Since the event, we told many VCs we met that we won that event and I think it helps in terms of they know that you’ve actually pitched in the international event in front of many investors. We also have many good contacts from there which we still constantly working together till date. GB themselves is also very helpful in giving us comments about our plan and help refer good contacts in Japan.”

Echelon Ignite, which is happening from the 5th to 6th of September, will also look to select one startup which will go on to pitch at GBAF this December.

Perks of an Ookbee employee?

Is Ookbee the next Facebook or Google in terms of employee perks? I wouldn’t be too surprised. On Moo’s personal Facebook account, he shared that the company is hiring, and benefits include daily free lunches and employee bonuses given out twice a year. He told e27 that this was to “make it more attractive for [Ookbee] to bring in more good new people.”

Every year, they would evaluate each team member and give them a bonus. However, judging from the “fast moving environment” that they are in, Moo said that to wait a whole year before looking at their performance was a little too long.

Natavudh “Moo” Pungcharoenpong will also be speaking at Echelon Ignite Thailand this September 5. Catch him in action here!

Elaine Huang

Elaine is a fervent believer that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, we will all be snapping away at them with our phones and posting them onto Instagram. A Mass Communication graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies, she enjoys writing about technology and entrepreneurs. When not hashtagging her way through all sorts of trouble, Elaine is probably contemplating how to write in the third person.

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