Entrepreneurs in Thailand’s startup ecosystem have much to cheer for as the industry is on a strong growth trajectory. Through the work of various government-backed initiatives and agencies such as the National Innovation Agency (NIA) and True Digital Park, tech innovation and investment has become the cornerstone of the Thai government’s efforts to transform the country into a digital economy.
Such favourable conditions have led to healthy investor interest in the country’s burgeoning startups. Indeed, in the past years, we have seen the likes of Chinese giants, such as JD.com and Alibaba, pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy to bolster the tech industry. According to a report by Techsauce, the number of deals grew from 13 in 2013 to 35 in 2018 (although the deal value saw a drop from two years before).
Yes, while there are still chinks to be ironed out, such as introducing more business-friendly regulations, the fact remains that stakeholders in Thailand’s ecosystem can be optimistic about its future.
To illustrate, here are five growth-stage startups (Series B and above) that have become shining examples of what the Thai ecosystem can produce, with the right backing (and the right teams, of course).
The restaurant booking app Eatigo became a hot item on the startup press when it was revealed that it raised a Series B funding from global travel information giant TripAdvisor through its global restaurant reservation brand, TheFork. What was significant about this news was that it was TripAdvisor’s first investment in a Southeast Asia-based startup.
TripAdvisor remained confident in Eatigo’s business model and operational abilities, putting additional capital into the company two years later in a pre-Series C round, giving the company a total of US$25.5 million in funding raised.
The strategic investment allowed Eatigo to expand aggressively into various markets in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and India.
Today, Eatigo, now six years in business, is a household name not only among entrepreneurs but also consumers, who use them to grab cheap meal deals during off-peak hours. The model is a win-win for both diners and restaurants as it helps the former maximise their capacity and the latter to eat at discounted prices.
The company was last reported to have over four million users, and partners with over 4,000 eateries including luxury hotels and restaurants.
Like Eatigo, Wongnai operates in the restaurant service vertical, although, instead of providing restaurant booking services, its primary offering is restaurant reviews — similar to Yelp.
The company operates only in Thailand, allowing its users to peruse information and photos of restaurants in the country.
Wongnai clinched a Series B from InVent, the VC arm of InTouch Holdings, in 2016. And in 2018, the company made its own investment, putting US$1 million in restaurant POS startup FoodStory.
This move enabled Wongnai to build its own restaurant management system, which allows owners to streamline the process of managing delivery orders or menu updates on a single digital platform. The system also allows diners to pay for their orders using QR codes.
Today, Wongnai claims to have over eight million users and 250,000 restaurants across nine cities in its inventory.
Founded by Korawad Chearavanont, the heir to one of Thailand’s wealthiest business empire, Eko is designed as an all-in-one communication and task management platform that is built for the smartphone, which Chearavanont says goes beyond its rivals such as Slack and Facebook’s Workplace.
Some of the Eko app features include hierarchical approval system, digital signature, and even auditing facilities. It can be deployed in several industries ranging from hospitality, retail, corporation, construction, to healthcare.
The founder, who is now 25 years old, secured US$5.7 million in funding in 2015, and, three years later, clinched a US$20 million Series B funding round led by Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas Digital Ventures (SMDV), with participation from other investors such as RedBeat Ventures (an investment unit of AirAsia), East Ventures, and Gobi Partners.
Chearavanont has set his sights beyond Thailand and plans to expand the business to regions like the US and Europe.
Fashion marketplace Pomelo has a lot of competition in Southeast Asia, but it has not stopped the company from raising US$19 million in a Series B round led by JD.com and Provident Capital Partners, together with Lombard Investments, in 2017.
The company has raised a total of US$31.5 million to date. Its success can perhaps be partly attributed to Co-founder David Jou’s extensive experience launching Lazada in Thailand and the company’s focus on fast, trendy fashion at affordable prices.
While primarily an online store, Pomelo has also started into the offline space. Just two weeks ago, it launched its offline store, in the heart of Singapore’s shopping district — demonstrating, also, the company’s strong regional presence.
Pomelo is also mulling developing new technology that will help eliminate traditional check-out lines.
Check out e27‘s in-photos feature on the store in this link.
E-payments company Omise was but one of the companies that managed to catch the ICO wave was still riding high, clinching US$25 million in the process. Like Pomelo, it also has to face a slew of international competitors, such as Stripe, for example.
But that has not dulled prospects for Omise. Just after the ICO, the company raised an undisclosed investment led by the corporate venture arm Krungsri Finnovate, a subsidiary of the Krungsri bank.
The funding enabled Omise to build out its vision of an Ethereum-based p2p open payments and value exchange (OmiseGO network) and its blockchain e-wallet.
In 2018, OmiseGO raised an undisclosed amount in funding, led by Japanese VC firm Global Brain. Together, they are working on foundational projects including the Ethereum Community Fund (ECF) and blockchain focused co-working space, Neutrino.
Earlier this year, Omise lit the headlines when a report claimed it was acquired by CP Group, one of Thailand’s largest and oldest conglomerate; Omise later refuted the report in an official statement.
While it remains to be seen whether Omise’s blockchain and crypto initiatives will see widescale adoption, it is no doubt that the company is not afraid of pushing ahead with cutting edge innovation.