Dr. Jay Jootar, managing partner for Venture Catalyst Group says, the most important thing to do to grow the tech industry in Thailand is to create more tech entrepreneurs with the right skills and the right attitude towards building successful companies instead of a hit-and-run attitude.
The Thai startup ecosystem has recently captured a lot of regional attention with upcoming startups, such as Builk, making their appearance on international platforms and also student developer teams winning at the Microsoft Imagine Cup finals. The community has also grown stronger with more local events such as Startup Weekend and Mobile Monday. Thumbsup, one of Thailand’s main tech blog is also taking the lead in building the local startup community through media publicity as well as community events.
While we often hear a lot from the local Thailand community on how their startup ecosystem has grown over the last few years, we have not had the chance to hear the views from local venture capitalists. For this, we managed to interview Dr. Jay Jootar, managing partner of The Venture Catalyst (VC) Group, based in Bangkok.
Tell us more about VC Group.
The Venture Catalyst (VC) group is a group of companies jointly owned by us (Venture Catalyst as the holding company) and our investment partners. Among investment partners are Foxconn, which invests through its subsidiary in one of the portfolio companies. Portfolio companies consist of four companies not including Venture Catalyst itself (though this number may change up or down in the future).
Each portfolio company operates in its own product areas. As a group, we focus in the following areas – cloud computing, smart TV platform, mobile/tablet applications, content platform including video platform, monitoring platform, telecom system, video conference, machine to machine, energy management.
For each portfolio company, I and my partners (different partners for each portfolio company) help manage the company in the areas ranging from product development, business development, to sales and marketing, and others. Most of the companies are in stealth mode at this point of time. Each will make public announcement in the future when the appropriate time comes.
How is the VC scene like for the tech ecosystem in Thailand and how does VC Group continue to bring more value to the startups there?
Startup scenes are heating up in Thailand following the trends in the US and elsewhere in the world. We think that Thailand has a strong technical talent pool. But we are lacking tech entrepreneurs who can turn technology into business. Venture capital cannot be successful without enough tech entrepreneurs, no matter how much money they have. So, the most important thing to do to grow tech industry in Thailand is to create more tech entrepreneurs with the right skills and the right attitude towards building successful companies instead of a hit-and-run attitude.
We aim to contribute to Thailand tech startup environment by creating tech entrepreneurs in a step-by-step fashion. We will first train engineers with good potentials to become product or business development managers. When they are ready, we will spin off our joint ventures into independent companies and turn those product or business development managers into tech entrepreneurs. This metamorphosis will take time but we think it will contribute to a sustainable tech industry in Thailand.
How do you see Thai startups faring compared to the rest of the region?
As I mentioned earlier, I think Thailand has good technical talents. That is a very important foundation for a tech startup environment. On the other hand, the common weakness of Thai startups is in the reluctance to go and attack overseas market. This is partly due to language skills and partly due to culture. But I have witnessed a big change in the attitudes of the young people who have more international outlooks and are more aggressive in approaching overseas market. So, I am very optimistic about Thai startups. I believe we have as much opportunity to create great tech startups as any other countries in the region.
In your opinion, what can a local Thai VC provide to companies in his portfolio to help them go global better than a foreign VC?
The one big advantage I can think of is the understanding of Thai culture. One very important role of VC is in coaching and tutoring entrepreneurs. Having an understanding of Thai culture can help in giving entrepreneurs the appropriate advices in growing the expertise and having the right attitudes for tech entrepreneurs. The other thing that a local VC can help is the local connections. Even if the startups target regional market instead of the local market, they most likely will have to interact with local institutions (universities, regulators, governments, key reference customers, suppliers, etc.) to facilitate their businesses. Having a local VC with the right connections can also help them overcome several issues in a smooth manner.