A view of Yangon City (Ben Bryant/Shutterstock)

In many Asian countries, online map- and location-based directories have increasingly eclipsed print counterparts like the Yellow Pages. Services like Google Maps, together with country-specific portals like Streetdirectory in Singapore, have been providing users with up-to-date information about which businesses exist and how to get to them.

Not so in Myanmar though, where internet and mobile penetration is still at a nascent stage. Until the arrival of Yangon Explorer, Burmese and tourists alike had to search for information about local businesses the old-fashioned way, through telephone directories or even word-of-mouth. Now, residents and visitors to Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, can finally have information about their favourite stores and helpful businesses at their fingertips.


How does Yangon Explorer work?
Using Google Maps as the underlying platform, Yangon Explorer gives a birds-eye view of the city, with little overlays littering the map. These overlays show the locations of businesses, and their varied symbols represent different products and services – from restaurants to law firms. Cleverly, dense areas with many businesses are packaged into one overlay symbol, which upon zooming in resolve into individual businesses. In addition, the overlay on the map can be further sorted into categories, simplifying the layout and allowing one to zero on a business even easier.

The above is the work of one person, Sam Htut, who is the founder and developer of Yangon Explorer. “Making the product was rather straight forward. I did most of the work myself as I am trained in IT, so there was no need to pay someone else, which played a major role in keeping the cost down,” said Htut.

Sam Htut

Sam Htut, Founder, Yangon Explorer

The need for a web-based map directory in Myanmar came to Htut when he was working in Singapore. “When I was stationed in Singapore, I visited Yangon a couple of times a year,” he said, adding, “Every time I wanted to search for something nearby, I had to ask people. So I thought it would be a good idea to create an online map directory of the city.”

Facebook marketing all the way
Yangon Explorer’s current stable of over 1000 businesses is impressive, considering the simplicity of Htut’s marketing plan. “For the listings, several businesses contacted us because it is free for a certain period of time,” he explained. For end-user marketing, though, Htut chose to focus on Facebook. “We were exclusively advertising on Facebook because it’s almost as if  there are more Facebook users than internet users in Myanmar,” Htut illustrated. “Now, Yangon Explorer’s Facebook page has over 90k fans, which is nine per cent of the total Myanmar Facebook users,” he added.

A startup that cost just S$700!
As mentioned, being a one-man startup does help with the costs. Even so, Htut has some other money-saving tricks up his sleeve. For one, it costs little to market to a Burmese audience through Facebook. “The lack of advertisers, bidders and credit cards in Myanmar means advertising on Facebook is so much cheaper than in other countries such as Singapore or US,” Htut pointed out. This has allowed Htut to start Yangon Explorer at an unbelievable budget of S$700.

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This being said, no startup can survive without revenue. Htut’s plans to monetise Yangon Explorer are similar to those employed by similar sites, which include listing fees and advertising. “The company revenue will come from standard business listing fee, premium business listing fee, featured advertising spaces and product reviews on our blog,” Htut elaborated.

Expansion on the cards
Moving ahead, Htut plans to hire a few commission-only sales agents to approach businesses and collect payments. He said, “As business grows, the team will of course expand. Therefore, I believe this business model can generate revenue and grow without funding.”

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Plans include expanding to other cities in Myanmar as well as an offline mobile app, catered to the majority of Burmese who don’t have data plans on their phones.