Jeffrey Paine, founding partner of Golden Gate Ventures and Managing Director of Founders Institute Singapore was part of a discussion panel at Echelon Ignite. Recently, Jeffrey was also awarded the Director with the Greatest Ecosystem Impact by the Founders Institute Director Awards 2012.

After the trip, Jeffrey shared his thoughts about the Thailand (Bangkok) startup ecosystem. Read on because you will definitely take away a few key things about the startup community in the country.

Thailand (Bangkok) Startup Ecosystem by Jeffrey Paine

I was recently invited to be in a panel discussion at Echelon Ignite 2012 in Bangkok organized by e27 and Hubba Thailand. The discussion was about sharing the insights of investing in the region (Southeast Asia), particularly what investors look for and to share our individual experiences. The other panelists include Kuan Hsu from Gree Ventures, Adrian Vanzyl from Ardent Capital, Danny Wirianto from Mindtalk, and Nic Lim from 8Capita.

It was my first serious trip to Bangkok for business (looking to invest in technology startups in Southeast Asia) as part of Golden Gate Ventures. We are actively looking to invest in Southeast Asia and Thailand as one of our key countries of focus in 2013. Although Thailand is only a few hours by flight away from Singapore, I always feel a sense of mystery about the country, people, and culture, and I always learn a ton every trip. This time it was no different. One major reason is the language and the people are not something we cross paths with early on in our lives in Singapore. We are more familiar with Malaysia and Indonesia (Malay as one of our four main languages in Singapore plus encountering them since we are kids from school or as neighbors), India (Tamil as the other of the four main language in Singapore), and Philippines to some extent because of the history of domestic helpers in Singapore who are from the Philippines. To all my new friends in Bangkok, thank you for making my trip a fruitful one! ขอบคุณมาก!

My Bangkok Startup Metrics: In three days, 10 companies intrigued me, seven are from Thailand. If the conversion rates are good, you will see us do deals sooner than you think.

The Plot:

  • The market size is large in itself, but because it is still a developing country, many startups are inclined to look outside of Thailand but most will start local and will stay local. Personally, I think the market is large enough to generate a sizable profitable business in the consumer or enterprise space.
  • Startups in the mobile space, brand marketing, e-commerce and anything social seem to be the most popular. People in Thailand are social online/mobile in an interesting way. By far, they are one of the top users of LINE (chat app from Korea) and also Foursquare. They rival Indonesia and Philippines in that respect. Very interesting to see how it will evolve.
  • There were mixed views on the availability of technical talent in Bangkok. I think it depends on what skill sets you are looking for and whether or not you are willing to train them on the job. There are good technical schools/universities and design talent up north I was told. You do have to put in effort to track the best talent down.
  • The design talent in Thailand has also been much talked about. The top practitioners are really good at what they do (I met a couple of them who are rock stars! Impressed!), am optimistic that this area of development will be very strong in Thailand going forward. If you look at the film industry in Thailand especially in post production, creative talent has always been a strong foot hold and will likely continue to be, spilling over to the technology side.
  • The funding landscape is similar to Korea and Singapore a few years ago (some angels, 1-2 early stage funds, most venture funds focus on growth to late stage investments, AIS has a venture fund, and Japanese investors are looking in, etc. And now us at GGV). Mobile operators need to slowly immerse themselves into the ecosystem. It will take time but it will be an overall positive. Large families who run conglomerates should also start to look into investing and being part of the support system. Maybe the next generation leaders of these families will be the new drivers.
  • Legal/regulatory concerns seem to be the talk of the town, sometimes in hushed tones, but good entrepreneurs will eventually figure out the right direction to take. This area could be the most sticky point if Thailand wants to improve, but it is nothing new in emerging markets: it is never smooth sailing. Company incorporation alone can take a few months with a high paid up capital to start.
  • Both traditional and online media like Thumbsup are covering startups and celebrating the founders who did well.
  • University administrators I met (at least three) are setting up or have set up entrepreneurship programs and have asked some speakers at Echelon for advice. This is definitely a good sign.
  • My overall feel of Bangkok startup scene is that it is six to nine months behind Jakarta, Indonesia (initial reaction). The classic founder mistakes are prevalent (not enough research done on go to market strategies, market sizing, the need to raise money to build X or finish Y). This is pretty common in the early days of a new and growing ecosystem.

The Cast:

  • There are lot more foreigners building companies in Bangkok than any other city in Southeast Asia (aside from Singapore). I worry about the plight of Singapore the more I speak to them. [EXPLETIVE, DOUBLE EXPLETIVE]. The high cost of living and operational cost in Singapore (not forgetting the talent crunch with unreliable immigration policy for new hires) is no laughing matter. Great entrepreneurs are not fully sold on Singapore as before, there are moving parts that irks them. When you bootstrap and just want to get things done, Singapore is not the place on the top of your mind. Not until later. Maybe. Maybe not.
  • The core participants of the ecosystem seem to know each other extremely well, supporting one another (Thai social culture). Very encouraging to see. Feels like a family.
  • Local serial entrepreneurs are starting funds and programs to teach and give back. It is interesting to see Thailand’s version of IdeaLab, Science, Betaworks like Ardent Capital and lean programs like Disrupt University. Wherein Singapore does not have either yet, except maybe FI, or JFDI.
  • Finally, I feel it in my bones that Bangkok is now definitely ready for Founder Institute in 2013. More information to come soon.

Some media takeaways:

  • We were interviewed by Chatpatwee! Woot woot! (Link to interview later)
  • Boyband stars spotted
  • Speaker dinner photo at Bottoms Up.
  • First movie called Soob Kuu Ku Lok after touching down (recommended by my hotel bell hop ). It was hilarious!
  • Will end this post with Potato’s song (dedicated to Gabriel, Mohan and the e27 & Hubba crew and all the Echelon Ignite speakers and ecosystem participants and new friends made – once again thanks for everything!). Disclaimer: Potato is my favorite Thai band since 4 years ago. Check them out.

Source: Thailand (Bangkok) Startup Ecosystem by Jeffrey Paine.