Geeks on a Plane toured through Southeast Asia and had a weekend stopover in Bangkok. It is fair to say that this marks one of the most important and exciting weekends in Bangkok’s relatively short startup history. Geeks on a Plane then included Dave McClure, Khailee Ng, and they also hosted investors from Japan, Malaysia, and the region and beyond.
On Friday evening, Ardent hosted the folks from overseas at their office. Saturday, it was both dtac accelerate and HUBBA who co-organized a conference at the S31, and on Sunday, Launchpad and TechinAsia hosted the final installment before the Geeks would fly off. However, True Incube will have its Pre-Orientation Session on Tuesday, which is linked to McClure’s 500 Startups.
Dave McClure (Twitter) is the first Silicon Valley investor to come to Thailand for business and this will undeniably put Bangkok on the global startup map, at least on a short term. Silicon Valley will notice his trip to Asia. Others might follow, but only time will tell. As Krating Poonpol pointed out in his energetic presentation: Thais don’t know when to stop, Thais keep fighting. The community just finished round one.
During his presentation Dave provided insights into the investment strategy and practices at 500 Startups. He briefly explained the relationship between Lean Startup and Lean Investment, and how especially Cloud Computing changed the startup game significantly. More important though, Dave emphasized on the importance of using existing platforms, business models and real problems to advance or optimize existing businesses. You don’t have to disrupt to be successful; you just have to make life easier for some. During Q&A he admitted that, for several reasons, the Valley sometimes breeds products and ideas that are sort of off and that it’s likely that developing countries are solving more relevant problems.
When the crowd broke up into discussion groups it became however clear that there is not much knowledge about investment. Khailee Ng (Twitter) and Wee Jonn Leow had to educate quite a bit, nobody dug deep though. The real problem seems to be somewhere else anyway. One participant mentioned that there is no experience in customer development. How does one actually build a product for customers, or find the customers at all? How do you decide what is noise and what is advice? These are the steps before investment.
It showed that the community, apart from few individuals, might not be ready for it. Does an event like this come too early then? Yes and no. During brief conversations, it became clear that investments will be made during this weekend. Whether this is an investment to establish relationships, show goodwill, create more excitement and show commitment to Thailand, or because the startup is just excellent remains to be seen. Whatever the reason, it gets Thailand in the game. What more can we ask for at this point in time?
Then, again. I spoke with Takeshi Ebihara (Rebright Partners) who told me that the situation in Bangkok reminds him of Indonesia two years ago. Very vibrant, events every day. It slowed down significantly, even though some good exits and startup examples exist. A weekend like this will increase the hype, helps to keep the momentum. Maybe the basics were missing? Customer development, Built – Measure – Learn. Is it possibly the case for Thailand?
Thailand is lucky to have dtac, True and AIS investing in accelerator programs and educating those interested. With the support of SIPA it is possible that the government support will be more focused and effective than in the past. Currently missing are efforts from universities. Apart from Bangkok University there has not been major academic effort. Thammasat has a (so-so) related program, but universities like Kasetsart or Chulalongkorn, and King Mongkut need to up their game. There are reasons for Silicon Valley and Singapore to be such dominant hubs, and part of that is Stanford and NUS. Currently though, Disrupt University is the only course that really addresses startup education. MBA programs were once again, rightfully, trashed during the dtac event, but universities are not too eager to give up their cash cows just yet (to be fair, nowhere around the world).
The community has shown that it can pull off great events – no doubt – and create a buzz. Now the question is if it is sustainable. That is always the much more difficult part, but then again, Thais are stubborn. And to paraphrase Khailee Ng: “it seems like you are on the right track”.