Despite the fact that Thailand’s Startup scene was initiated as early as 2003 with the inauguration of an agency to promote innovations under the Ministry Of Science and Technology then and with the extensive promotion of startups starting about 8 years ago in 2011, the amount of local Thai startups that have entered the stage A funding stage is so few and countable. The emergence of a Thai Unicorn in reality is a far off dream.
The government has spent millions in the last few years on promoting the startup industry and also the private sector has also followed suit along the creation of more incubators, accelerators, hubs and digital parks, but unlike our poorer neighbours like Indonesia and Vietnam, Thai startups have not really taken off and made big. In fact, Vietnam which entered the startup scene late, is at the moment accelerating at a faster rate in terms of the number of startups that are rising in such a short phase of time.
This is not to say that local Thais are not innovative and creative nor are they lacking skills in technology. On the contrary, the younger Thais are far more advance in terms of their tech skills and also in terms of absorbing new technology.
What is causing a constrain in the local startup scene after talking and doing a basic analysis of over more than 35 local startups is the following:
Thailand Startups Lack Funding.
Most local startups have lack of access to funding for their pre-seed and seed phases. Despite talks by government and private sectors about various funding platforms available, the reality is that about 96 % of startups in Thailand lack monies to take their creative and innovative ideas to the next level. There is lots of bureaucratic red tape at government agencies and even then the type of financial support available for pre-seed and seed phases is simply pathetic. In the private sector, many of these incubators and accelerators are run by greedy and calculative individuals and corporations who are only interested in big yields from their investments, hence there is a lot of financial scrutiny while the innovative and technological merits are often overlooked, let alone the intangible benefits. What is worst is that often nepotism, cronyism and favourism is often at play with these private entities. Yes if you are relative of Thailand’s biggest agricultural and food monopolistic conglomerate, you definitely will not only secure funding, but the local agencies will be sucking on your toes as well and promoting your startup despite the feasibility of the whole project being questionable.
Thailand Startups Lack Marketing
Having come across a lot of new startups with real brilliant innovations and ideas, what we discovered was that most of them was lacking marketing in their whole business equation. From branding, establishing a corporate identity including online presence, utilizing PR and media coverages, using offline, online and below the line marketing strategies to not only get their platforms across but also to gain users, vendors and also investors was all but missing. To most of them, having a basic but crappy website, a facebook account with tons of followers (ie mostly bought followers with maids, somtam sellers and god knows what as their followers!) and some A5 size paper brochure only in Thai language will suffice in helping them with their dreams of being launched into overnight millionaires.
What is even ironical is that even the startup agencies involved in promoting startups, the incubators, accelerators and corporate hubs in the country are all run by individuals who themselves do not know the basics of how to use marketing.
Forget even about the whole marketing spectrum, just focusing on PR and media engagement alone, none of these entities knew how to exploit these platforms for their advantage strategically to further their objectives, presence and activities.
We had the opportunity of attending a Press Conference by a so called leading accelerator in Thailand where first hand we saw that that the whole entity including its owner and his staff were not able to properly utilize the media and also had no prior PR strategy in place. To most of these individuals, having some coverage in Thairath or Bangkok Post will suffice without even considering the contents and their strategic value if any.
We also see so many startups not knowing how to engage the media or even get the media to promote their startups. Most do not even know how to draft a PR Release or even worst, do not have a strategic marketing plan in place. Many assume that having facebook page and facebook ads will suffice and would do them wonders. Off course this are the ones that also see faster death of their startup.
Thailand Startups Lack English Skills
Yes, hate or not, English is still the universal and accepted medium of communications in the international business arena. Most startups in Thailand unfortunately lack proper English skills to even try to sell their ideas and concepts to foreign entities.
If you think that only the Thai language will suffice to get your startup off the ground, think again. It’s a fallacy that the Thai language is sufficient to get a startup off the ground or even that English is not required if you are merely going to target the Thai market. If that was the case, the government agencies and also accelerators etc will not be needing to get foreign venture capitalists to set up offices in Thailand or even to attend pitching sessions etc. Also note that the startup concept and even Tech terms were originally coined in English and its the only best medium to express oneself and also for one to learn more about any particular tech or subject area.
What is even worst in Thailand is that we have many so called Startup agencies and accelerators and hubs whose staff cannot even speak a word of decent English themselves!
Have seen so many Thai startups unable to pitch themselves in English at foreign events and at pitching sessions and its worst when they have to submit a business plan in English.
Improving Startup Thailand
If anyone really wants to do something and improve the startup climate in Thailand, start by simply focusing on these three simple areas that need urgent attention. If not millions spend by various entities in trying to promote startups in Thailand is but a waste of resources and time.