A board member at Startup Weekend, Nick Seguin is also a mentor at Brandery and Awesome Inc, where he shares his entrepreneurial experience and exposure with founders and funders for their benefit. Based in Ohio, USA, he flew down to the city of Bangkok for this year’s Startup Weekend Bangkok (SWBKK). Organized by HUBBA and powered by Kauffman Foundation (where Nick also spent time as manager of entrepreneurship), SWBKK 2013 saw 90 participants get together under one gymnasium roof and pitch their ideas at the end of 54 hours this May.
We had the opportunity to correspond with Nick via email and find out what he thought about the Thai tech startup ecosystem.
1. What was your impression of the tech startup ecosystem in Bangkok (or Thailand) before SWBKK?
To be honest, I didn’t have an impression of the tech startup ecosystem prior to the event. At least not a personal one. I had heard that it was immature, but beginning to buzz, but that was from others. I had also heard that many of the successful tech entrepreneurs were expats, or at least Thais who had spent significant time abroad — mainly the US. So, if I had to formulate an impression, it would probably be very nascent, and led by non-locals.
2. Did your impression of the scene change after the event?
I did meet a number of successful tech entrepreneurs (judges and mentors), and it does seem that many of them have connections outside of the country. That said, many of them are Thai, or a good percentage Thai. And they choose to live and work here. I think that’s incredibly important — they see the potential of the economy, the market and the people and have voted with their feet. They are building businesses in Thailand and in the region.
I was also very impressed by the level of talent and enthusiasm for startups at the event. While it may be a small percentage representation of the total population, with access to the internet and the global startup community support, it’s clear that young entrepreneurs in Thailand are “in-the-know” and looking at opportunities just like entrepreneurs around the world. The big questions, I think, will be around actual execution of ideas (more action, less talk) and then support — by customers, by mentors, and by everyone in Thailand. Support and champion your entrepreneurs.
So, while the scene does seem to be just beginning to hit its stride, there are many people and community pockets (like HUBBA!) that get it and that are committing everything to helping growth.
3. What do you think budding entrepreneurs in Thailand require in order to be successful, as compared to their counterparts worldwide?
Some of this is probably in my answer to #2. I also think that more groups, people and communities like HUBBA are important. Entrepreneurship is difficult and lonely — more so than non-entrepreneurs understand. Support and community are hard to measure, but so important.
I think they need to make sure they are trying many things and are willing to fail. Not many entrepreneurs are successful on their first go of it, so getting repetitions in, and not being afraid to fail, are very important. You learn so much.
I think entrepreneurs here need to think about real business problems too. Apps and games are interesting, and can make money, but the important companies – the sustainable ones – are those that solve very real problems for many many people.
I also think that entrepreneurs in Thailand need to start local, but think about how to expand to the region. the SE Asia region is incredibly linked and accessible for businesses. Models need to be built that can address the region as a whole.
All of the above said, it is not much different compared to entrepreneurs around the world. Many of the things that need to be done are universal.
The “community” at SWBKK 2013
4. Are there resources for these startups to tap into even after SWBKK?
There is abundant information online — many of them are already doing this, but with an internet connection these days, the equivalent of university courses and more are easily available to entrepreneurs. They can read, watch video, work through material. Of course, none of this is a substitute for learning by doing.
5. What are your thoughts on the winner and runner-up of SWBKK?
At the end of the day, the event is about changing individuals’ lives. Of course, great projects, products and companies are born here, too, but really we’re focused on changing communities and people. In that vein, I think both teams were very successful. People who didn’t know each other Friday at 10 AM are now friends and colleagues and have built something together. There aren’t many other places or events in the world where that happens. I think both teams were examples of good complimentary skill sets coming together and working well.
Specifically about the companies:
LocalTipz is a great collection of skilled people — lots of expats who have experience in these types of businesses. It was great to see them build the business model, validate with customers and actually build a prototype. Great execution. Their concept brings together some important behavior: up and down-voting like Reddit and short form like Twitter. [I am] excited to see how they advance it.
JazzPay is the coolest thing here is the skills of the founding team. Security, IT, e-commerce and payments backgrounds makes this team well-versed to build something meaningful. They will need to focus on growing partnerships and of course building a prototype as fast as possible. Their concept seems to be especially promising in the Thai market where credit card penetration remains low, but online payment is needed constantly.
6. What can we expect to see with regard to SW’s involvement in SEA in the near future?
We’ve focused on MENA in the past six months and will continue to increase that focus. There are hundreds of millions of people in just the Southeast Asia region whom we would love to support through the Startup Weekend model. Our model has always been built on great people: organizers and volunteers who can execute great events, build community, and extend the underlying motivations of the organization. Not just anyone can run a Startup Weekend. Aim and Note are incredible examples of community organizers and startup activists. People love them, trust them and want to be a part of what they are creating. Our goal is to continue to expand events into as many cities as possible, and as often as possible in the region.
After SWBKK 2013 …
Startup Weekend Bangkok has ended but that’s not the end of your startup journey in Thailand. Just like what Nick said in his responses, there is an abundance of resources out there. One of which is Echelon Ignite 2013, which will be happening in September this year. It is a two-day conference gathering tech, businesses and thought leaders of the industry to focus and discuss the tech ecosystem in Thailand. Register your interest here!