musings & critique about hi-tech, academia, building startups, and a journal to building eKita
Friday, July 27, 2012
Well the last few days have been quite eventful. Still running quite behind on backlog of work (when am I not?) but its worth piping in here to jot some things down.

This week started off great when on Monday I had a chance to catch up with Claude Barthels who is going to be one of my organizers on the ground for setting up 3 Day Startup in Luxembourg.
I caught him up to speed on things, and we are going to continue talking with the student group BetaCube to get more team members to organize it with us.
We already have a few sponsors committed and are going to start moving forward again now. We had previously been putting things on hold in order to respectfully give Farvest their chance to react and participate since they were the initiator - but as entrepreneurs we simply cant wait around for slow moving overweight corporates to get in line. So, happily, all organizers and sponsors involved thus far have agreed - lets get this show on the road!

Tuesday started off nice and fresh with a local meetup called OpenCoffee, where from 9:00 until 12:00, tech people meetup at a nice coffee shop downtown and share projects, business ideas, technology tidbits, and have a good time networking.
It was quite impressive, actually, the turn out - both in quality, diversity, and quantity! Alot of very big movers and shakers doing lots of big things here in Bangkok.
These meetups in Bangkok are quite good actually, I'm impressed each time.
Of course - everywhere I go and everyone I talk to about 3DS here results in nothing but positive eagerness to be involved and see it happen. From Tuesday's meetup alone I found 2 more event organizers who are keen to help build 3DS here in Bangkok with me. Both of them are founders of their own startups.
So we went and had lunch together, when one of them also called a contact of his to come join us. Not surprisingly, the contact was also very interested in 3DS. It was none other than the President of GEW Thailand.
Since we are already planning to do 2 GEW events in conjunction with eachother we discussed adding him to the mix. The response was excellent! We now have a very eager potential partner to work with, who will be involved in deploying the first 3DS here in Bangkok as one of the high-lite GEW events!

Wednesday was a workday at home to actually catch up on things.
There has been an incredible amount of progress and movement in Israel regarding 3DS events, on all 3 fronts: Center Region, North Region, and South. All are seeming to move along quite nicely - although as always there have been big changes and things to take care of.

Thursday was a great day again in town, where I had the pleasure of having a nice brunch with Jakob Lykkegard, a relative "local" in Thailand - originally from Denmark - who has had an incredible story mixed with business and adventure all around Asia. He learned Chinese and lived there until realizing he didnt like it so much - so he learned Japanese to live there, and still wasnt all that satisfied - so now he lives in Thailand (and yes has apparently learned Thai as well). Quite a story by itself for a young professional but wait - theres more. He's exited a few companies already, especially focusing on facebook games and similar social media markets, and currently invests and gets involved heavily in others. With a big focus here in Thailand now that he's found the place he wants to call home. A veritable well of experience and knowledge of how to setup business here in Asia, he's already been of great help to me in setting up eKita here...And obviously - he's very excited about 3DS too!

Thats not all though - Thursday also had me following up on a conference call to Lux to speak with another one of our supporters there who confirmed their eagerness to sponsor the event. Since its a firm we already work with quite alot all around the world, its always nice to continue doing business with them.

Well - today, Friday, have 2 more conference calls to Europe and one big weekly crunch session for eKita.

Then I'm going to try and squeeze in a meetup with Kelly Kampen, Bangkok StartupDigest curator and a "local" entrepreneur as well ( & before being late to my lady's friends' birthday party, heh... ;-)

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Friday, July 20, 2012
There's a very interesting thing going on in Bangkok right now.

With the establishment of the governmental MICT department in recent years, since the Thai government realized it had missed the Technology Wave, huge amounts of investment have gone into IT technology and infrastructure.
In addition to that, a whole plethora of additional technical schools and universities have popped up, pumping out thousands of skilled Thai engineers every year.

The problem however is that there are no Thai startups to absorb all these fresh new talented locals. Instead, Japanese and Chinese companies have setup shop here - in fact they started doing so already many decades ago. These foreign companies are the predominant force that takes in every top talented local engineer or skilled professional that they want. In recent years, there have even been a plethora of European and even American built companies here - entire R&D divisions of foreign companies in fact - that have setup here in Thailand to take advantage of this great market.

Whats the draw? Low cost of living, high quality of life, and strong company loyalty are all part of it. It's not necessarily a new kind of outsourcing - but is quickly becoming the most effective one: where instead of selling R&D to Indian/Russian companies or development teams - an R&D branch is simply setup, relocating the top management with it, to run development from places like this where many foreigners are already eager to enjoy the higher quality and more luxurious lifestyle anyway.

There are a few very harsh hurdles however:
One is the Thai government's protectionism.
A company cannot be incorporated here without Thai national(s) owning a minimum of 51% of the shares in the company. This means that any startup company with any foreigners in the team would be minimalized.
It also means that Thailand is very unnatractive for foreigners to incorporate and setup here.

Two is the Thai labor and employment laws...
...which state that any company - branch, local company, or otherwise - must employ at least 4 Thais for every 1 foreigner.
This is absolutely crippling to a startup, obviously. A startup that typically will have 3 to 5 founders or "core team members" - all of whom are probably not going to be Thai (if lucky - maybe 1 or 2 of them will be). This of course also means that such a startup is not going to be able to hire a team of 20 people to match the team of 5 founding foreigners.
Simply - not possible.

Three is the lack of know-how, experience, and cultural initiative to build a new company.
The current situation is that Thais simply do not know how to build startups - the very concept of a startup is still hard for the majority to grasp. The expertise and experience in building startups is very much needed here, but the current law structure is purposefully pushing that very same expertise and experience away.
Add on to that - Thais as a culture are very focused on structure, tradition, following suit. I can tell you this personally as I am engaged to one! It is an extremely hard cultural mentality to break through for someone who wants to be an entrepreneur - an innovator. The only real type of "startup" that exists here are service companies - or better phrased: companies that build your website, mobile or facebook app for you. These are not real startups, of course. They are small versions of normal companies. Which is, as we all know, the #1 most incorrect definition of a startup.

Now - let me state one more thing clearly before continuing here.
Thais are absolutely hungry to building their own startups!
Meetups are filling up on the same day they are posted. More people are coming than there is room at the venue anyway. When foreigner entrepreneurs enter the room we are almost celebritized simply because we've already done it before and they want to know how. The attention aside (which I actually dont really like - as a foreigner here you already get too much of it, and its never the right kind), the good thing here is that there are a dozen or more startups that have made the jump. So far most startups I've seen are being built by Thais who have lived in other countries (or are dual-citizens) - or are in fact built by foreigners who have either incorporated elsewhere (Hong Kong, Singapore) and tried to cope with the Thai employment laws by finding Thai partners.
There have been a few successes.
Its a budding startup scene. It definitely is - but without a very strong push from something big, it wont get beyond this.

Additionally - so far from what I've learned here regarding the investment scene - is also that there are a huge amount of investors here. There are investors here simply because there is an investment residency visa that is available - quite easily - only for someone who comes to invest here. Thereby being able to permanently live here (which many foreigners want to do).
Aside from that, Thailand is the biggest southeast-asian market. There is an enormous amount of interest in investing here from both inside and out.
What I have ironically found in the tech scene is that there are more investors than startups. I have been told by a few VCs and angel investors already that their most challenging task as an investor here is actually finding projects to invest in.
So that obviously couldn't be better for the task of creating alot of new Thai startups!

There can of course be a few fixes for this:
1) Implement programs here that help Thais learn how to build their own startups. Such as 3 Day Startup, Founders Institute, and so on.
2) Create service and consulting companies based in another law zone (such as Hong Kong, Singapore - which are common alternatives for foreigners working here) that cater to startups.

So far I have seen quite a few of #2 - but none yet that cater to startups. The lot that exist now are targeted towards structured companies. Which is an obvious choice - as startups here dont really exist enough yet for there to be a viable market for such consultancies.

So that leads me to believe that #1 is the best choice to fixing this problem.
Enter 3 Day Startup, and myself. Via 3DS, successful international serial entrepreneurs like myself can help Thais learn how to build their own startups, thus opening the door to a thriving startup scene which can spearhead the rest of the support network that is generally needed for startups to thrive.
Doing it this way will cater to the protectionism mentality of Thailand, allowing them to create things on their own with local ownership.

Here's some pics of a recent meetup this past week where I was invited to present 3DS regarding just these topics I've written about above - creating Thai startups, and pushing for a more prosperous and open international startup scene.
The Thai government has spent all this money into building the IT support industry, the infrastructure, and the skilled workers - isn't it time that they fix the last mistake that they yet reluctantly wont let go of, and open their market to new businesses?
I for one, definitely believe it is. And I am probably a perfect example of why: I myself am here to build my startup. However, without these issues being resolved, it isn't going to be attractive for me to do it here when I have much better nearby options such as Singapore.

Well I guess afterall a bit of good/bad news mix!

The web-development meetup that sounded very promising which I was invited to speak at here in BKK on Tuesday will definitely be a go - since the New York trip just got cancelled!

Will be great to have the chance to meet and share knowledge with more of Bangkok's best entrepreneurs. Despite many people suggesting that it'd be a waste of my time to work with the Thai government in building the startup scene here (despite the Thai govt spending huge amounts to support it via new departments devoted to ICT, eg: - I'm going to give it a shot. I mean, their devotion and success thus far in building information infrastructure has been damn impressive. Theyre doing a better job to remote locations (in order to include the entire population) than even the USA (although; I agree - hillbillies with 3G and fiber-O would be an obvious waste). First though - need to do my homework, and see what people are really up to, interested in doing, and of course where the current startup scene exists already. Looking forward to the meetup afterall!

Oh - and today. Today was a damn thundershower. Welcome to rainy season in South East Asia! Should have taken a snap from the car on the way home this morning but the view of the rain filling up our pool will have to suffice.

Before arriving back here in Bangkok (we own a condo here - I had thought that the BKK startup scene was yet-another-nearly-non-existant-one...

I was happily proved wrong when I just started doing a bit of actual investigation into local happenings, including even something as simple as some searches on where I found more than a dozen very active and up-to-date groups in the hitech/startup space.

Going to attend my first startup tomorrow night, a Designers meetup, and start the process of engaging with the local scene to learn how it is working, where it needs help, and in what areas I can best add value to it. (Which I am sure there is still quite alot - but to see so much activity already is a great thing!)

Friday, July 6, 2012
Had a great day in Vienna today.
Was able to check out the new Technology University of Vienna (TU Wien) that is still mostly under construction.
Spoke with some administration people and they seem very eager for future driven platforms to run their academic content and classrooms on. eKita seems to be finding itself a new home everywhere it goes!

This day, however, was mostly devoted to simply enjoying one of Europe's finer cities.

First a video - found this abstract art structure just smacked down in the middle of one of their most historical squares. The square which marks the "liberation" of Austria (by the Russians) from Nazi rule. (Which was obviously only half liberation, and half conquering/looting).
Here's your wikipedia link to read up on it if interested.
Enjoy the video...(video unaltered - the sound effects are part of the art installation)

And of course...
Enjoy the pictures...

Just going to link here:

Was a really great step forward for 3 Day Startup, and entrepreneurship in Israel.

As for me - getting on that airplane at 6:00 (T minus 7 hours) to Vienna. Got a day of fun there to hook up with a few startups and check out the scene, maybe see a museum, relax in a park, then back to Thailand to start setting up eKita in Asia between Thailand and Singapore.

More on that is just waiting to come!