Thailand is well positioned to be a thriving startup hub of Southeast Asia. It is the second largest economy in the area with a relatively high availability of local talent. There is strong support for research and development, technology and entrepreneurship.
Digital connectivity in Thailand
Thailand is an early adopter of technology and much like some of its Southeast Asian neighbours, rapid development in Thailand has allowed it to “leapfrog” technology.
The prevalence of technology, especially mobile technology is consistent across the region and Thailand is no exception. It has already established itself as the world’s third largest social media user by country. According to TechSauce, Thailand will rank as the third largest 4G market in Southeast Asia and Oceania by 2018.
However, one of the challenges that Thai startups face is the speed of internet connection. The average download speed in Thailand is 19.8 mbps, ranking 8th in Asia but it is still slightly under the global average of 23.3mbps. Nevertheless, this has not fazed the surge of tech-based startups in Thailand.
In terms of deal quantity, the most popular vertical for Thai startups is e-commerce. Other popular sectors in the ecosystem are e-logistics, Fintech and payments. The food and restaurant industry has been garnering interest as well, taking over gaming startups.
Consumer to consumer (C2C) has seen a massive development in recent years. This is powered by the rise of a young, middle class with a high propensity for shopping, more specifically, online shopping. Social media and messaging platforms have been largely responsible for supporting this C2C interaction. It is quite commonplace for Thai people to contact sellers directly via Instagram or Line.
However, there is a slight bottleneck for tech-based startups in Thailand as well as the region as a whole. There is still a great deal of mistrust surrounding online payments and to maintain the current growth trajectory of tech startups, this is an issue that needs to be overcome. According to A.T. Kearney, 60% of Thai consumers are hesitant to pay through a mobile platform, opting instead for more ‘traditional’ methods such as bank transfers or simply paying upon arrival.
Government support for startups
In April 2016, the government announced a US$570 million venture fund for startups with the goal of raising the number of startups in the country to 10,000 by 2018. The funds will be split between the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Finance ministries. It comes as a result of the lack of VC firms entering Thailand in comparison to other Southeast Asian countries. For these firms, the more advanced and populous nations – Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are prioritised before Thailand. Current investing activity in Thailand is largely attributed to angel investors and VCs focusing on seed stage startups.
The ecosystem expands
The startup ecosystem rose to prominence with the most progress made within the last decade. In 2012, only three startups achieved funding. Since then, those figures have spiked to 60 funded startups in 2015 and 75 in 2016. With this, there has been a parallel growth in investors and accelerators as the country becomes one of increasing interest for startups.
Major corporations and investors are actively working to foster the ecosystem and this has undoubtedly propelled its growth. It is interesting to note the deal flow in Thailand, especially between 2015 and 2016. While the quantity of startup deals have remained fairly constant, the same cannot be said for the value of disclosed deals made, showing an incredible 159% increase from US$39 million to US$86 million.
Ookbee, a digital publications platform managed to secure the largest ever deal for Thai startups – US$19 million by Chinese-owned Tencent. This was closely followed by payment gateway Omise Pat US$17.5 million and online shopping destination Orami at US$15 million.
The potential of the Thai startup ecosystem is enormous and its currently trajectory is set to continue with further support from external parties.
Hubba describes itself as the “go to place to learn and get plugged into the Thai startup community”. It opened in 2012 as Thailand’s first ever co-working space for startups, creatives and freelancers. In these 5 short years, it has earned the reputation of being the largest co-working network, operating 6 spaces across 3 cities.
Hubba goes beyond the usual functions of a co-working space successfully organising many tech startup events such as Startup Weekend Bangkok and Startup Next. Its joint venture with Techsauce is also working to create “Thailand’s leading technology media company”.
Mobile provider Total Access Communication Public Company Ltd (DTAC) launched its “intensive bootcamp” – DTAC Accelerate in 2013 and has since graduated 4 “batches” of startups. The 4-month programme gives budding startups access to capital, mentors and investors all in the one space. It offers commercialisation support from dtac’s parent company Telenor as well as legal, accounting and financial support from Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC)
In mid-2018, True Corporation is set to open a massive tech hub – the True Digital Park. This US$500 million project works hand in hand with the Thai government’s goal of transforming the country into an innovation centre.
Thai startups are gaining interest among local and international VCs alike. In 2015, the most active investor in Thai startups has been 500 Tuk Tuks – a US$10 million micro-fund managed by 500 Startups, closing 20 deals in the year. They were closely followed by 500 Startups itself at 11 deals and Invent – a Thailand based VC. Since then, 2 crowdfunding platforms for startups – Dreamaker and SinWattana have also been established.