I spend the recent two days at Echelon Thailand 2014, an event that promotes technology start ups and is a localised event of the famous Echolon in Singapore. Organised by E27 and Hubba at Sasin Institute. It seems the place to go when you are a tech startup in Thailand.
The event tries to bring together those who think they might have the best business idea ever and those, who are looking deep into it - entrepreneurs and investors. So no wonder day 1 was mainly on the investors side, with a lot of talking about exit strategies and founding rounds and less about actual business models and products.
A quite impressive talk was given by Kent Liu, CFO of Viki, a video streaming site that is a success story. He was one of those who encouraged found to think globally rather than local. Vikis success is that they sign deals with content providers in every country they can. A Thai success story is by the way Ookbee, an online bookstore that went in 3 years to 7 million users and three countries.
The most important event at Day 1 is the start up pitch. 8 founders presented their ideas. Wishbeer.com was the jury's winner: They deliver over 600 types of beer to your door, not just in Bangkok but all over Thailand.
Piggipo (peoples choice) is an app that lets you record all of your credit card spendings. Something that seems to be quite necessary in Thailand, and they have a lot of downloads already.
My favorite was My Motosai, an app that let you call you a motosai. You may say why I need this, they are just a few meters from my home, but there are reasons like all of them are busy, track record and it gives you better choices.
Within the same category falls Skootar, a messenger service app, that aims to consolidate trips from messengers to make them more efficient and increase their income.
School OS wants to improve the administrations system of schools in Thailand and is already in place in private schools in the south. Would be hard to get it through the bureaucracy and corruption of the public school system.
A company that wasn't pitching but an exhibitor is Food story. They provide an extraordinary designed POS system for restaurants, and they give the basic version for free. It works only with iPads, but is worth a try.
The industries darling seems to be Grabtaxi, maybe because they are quite active and present in social media. A bit disappointing was that their speakers had to admit they make no actual money, and they kind of waiting for it instead of having an aggressive plan. Focusing on the social enterprice part can turn out not to be the best strategy.
So, how about the event itself? Well, start up events always tend to see themself in the center of the world. In particular by defining start ups as technology companies and kind of claiming entrepreneurship for their own industry. What makes indeed a difference to traditional ways of founding a company is that events like Echolon encourages them to seek investors and funding as soon as possible. Few speakers actually pointed out that a good business has to make money as soon as possible and has to have a sustainable business model. But for it it was the majority who is looking for an exit as soon as the funding money is burnt. This is how it works in Silicon Valley, but I am not sure if it is a good model for Asia, where local investors are looking for an ROI out of the companies operations, not from more VC money. Also, IPOs in Asia are still risky and should be well considered.
But, despite my concerns, a lot of optimism was there, you could feel the passion of young business people willing to start something from scratch and work hard for it. Maybe this was the most common advice for them: You have to be dedicated 100 percent and work hard, very hard for your goal.
Regarding the organisation of the event, the Sasin Institute is a well know institution in education, expensive and a bit fancy, but a good place for an event like this. The event went smooth without delays, although for the next time a check of the pointer system would be good: failing technology is bothering both participants and speakers likewise. And: it is nice to offer a webapp for asking questions (and vote for them) to the panel. but not so nice when this isn't used much. My suggestion: Let the speakers answer all question afterwards online.
The best voice goes to the speaker from Mymotosai, as you can hear in this this video: