Startup scene in Thailand is growing well recently, thank to the growing of the whole startup ecosystem with some venture funds, startup incubators and accelerators from some large corporates and telcos. AIS The StartUp is one of the most successful programs which actively contributes helpful resources for startups, and supported Thailand best startups such as Ookbee (ebooks), Priceza (price comparison engine), StockRadars (investing made simple), SkillLane (eLearning)… It’s a program of AIS, the largest telco in Thailand, backed by Singtel. I was happy to have a chat with Dr. Srihathai Prammanee – Head of AIS The StartUp to get more insights about the program and Thailand startup scene.
What are the main criteria to select startups to AIS The StartUp Accelerator?
In fact, AIS The StartUp isn’t an accelerator. Literally, our core value and proposition is in a form of digital business partnership. We’ve provide a platform of connecting people and creating a journey together in order to strengthen startup business with growth opportunity. And, our criteria are pretty straightforward.
Team: we truly believe in people and a combination among the team members. Product can be failed or out of date in one day. But if we pick the right team, the members will still exist. Any skill that we’ve developed them will help them to do another great thing for the country.
Is there a real problem and what is accessible market size? : Startup must show, there is a real problem to be solved. Not just giving an assumption. More importantly, startup needs to prove us that there are a significant number of customers who are willing to pay for the service. Going deep down, we also consider timeframe whether it’s the right time to introduce the service to a target market.
Business: Focusing on a business, core value proposition, together with unfair advantage of the company, is taken into consideration intensively. What is a proposed business model and is it line with Strategic fits of AIS?
Product and technology: This point may be similar to other investors. We look into ease of use, UX/UI, or underlying technical infrastructure.
What are the successful startups from previous batches? And what are the common points you see from the founders of these startups?
Different people define the term of ‘success’ differently. So, it’s quite difficult to name who are successful startups since it really depends on viewpoints of each person. I’d rather give you the example of promising startups who have shown continuous improvement over years.
Firstly, Infographic Thailand. The team was formed in 2011. At that time, startup philosophy just began in Thailand. Not many information about startup was available publically. Not many people truly understood about startup. Most startups failed. Just a few have still survived up to now. And yes, Infographic Thailand is the one. It provides infographic digital content and advisory. And, now they have expanded their business into various vertical industries. The company demonstrates a proven track of financial record, turning from zero to profitable.
Local Alike was the winner of AIS The StartUp 2014 in Social Enterprise Category. It’s the community-based tourism (CBT) platform to match between traveler and the local. Local Alike also helps the local to develop their skills to manage tourism activities happening around the area. The team has been recognized worldwide. The startup was awarded the winner of Chivas Venture 2015. And, recently, the company was listed in the top 10 travel tech startups from booking.com accelerate.
Flowaccount, the winner of AIS The StartUp 2015, is cloud-based accounting for small business. The strength of Flowaccount is ease of use. The team focuses on customer. And, this pays off. The service receives positive response from users. The growth of paying customers is continuously increasing. Invoice value recorded in the platform is over 15,500M Bath. In Aug 2017, Flowaccount was granted an investment from SBI investment – a leading VC specialized in Fintech.
What’s I see in common among those startups is about founder and team. They are strong teams with great combination of the founders. Founders from the early days, today they are still together. They really understand the essential – What they are doing, why they have to do it, and who they are doing it for. And least but not last, it’s about flexibility. They can adjust and adapt their business and monetization model to different contexts and circumstances.
Do you see any differences between the top winners of this batch and the previous ones? (if any)
Umm, it’s still too early to say. The previous took more than 2-3 years for us to see their real growth and company direction. But, we’ve just had the 3 promising startups from International Networking Night 2017, only less than a month.
As the largest telco in Thailand what are the real benefits these above startups have leveraged on AIS customer base or offline branches? (if possible)
Business partnership. Startups gain an opportunity to expand their customer bases. We have over 41M subscribes with a wide range of demography and characteristics. Not limited in Thailand. With an alliance of Singtel Group Operators, market access, literally, covers over 650M subscribers across the world.
Will AIS do M&A with these succesful startups?
We are not investor. So we don’t invest or get equity returns. Either equity investment or M&A isn’t what we focus. However, we do partner with other world-class investors, for example Singtel Innov8 or Globe-Kickstart. Potential startups shall be gain an investment opportunity from those investors.
AIS The Startup focusing on: Community and Lifestyle, On Demand Economy, Payment & Fintech, Social Enterprise, Smart SME Solutions, Travel Tech , AI.
Those categories are listed on our website for our interests in 2017. However, we are re-focusing the interests for 2018 onwards which should be announced soon. Nevertheless, these won’t be too much different from the current ones. We still drive new services and technologies for the era of digital business.
“Either equity investment or M&A isn’t what we focus”, so what is the main focus of AIS while doing AIS The StartUp program?
We mainly focus on establishing digital business partnerships together with startups and talents, ultimately commercialization.
What are the most potential fields Thai startups can grow well in next 3-5 years?
In the 5 year time, the coverage of IoTs connectivity will become one of factors to facilitate IoTs and hardware-based startups. We could see more Thai startups moving into IoTs space. Nonetheless, we will still see the number of service-based startups since service economy is fundamental in Thailand.
What do you think about Thailand ecommerce startup scene?
e-commerce has been booming for years. Once digital payment becomes more mature; people are more educated about this; there will be more room for expansion. However, when we talk about e-commerce, it’s not just about a website or purchasing platform. This covers logistics, packing, stocking, and etc. There are a lot of angles of opportunities for startup to fulfill the needs.
AIS The StartUp plan in 2018?
At this point of the time, we are finalized the plan. Certainly, once it’s done, it will be announced. So, please stay tune.
What is your most favorite person and/or startup in the world tech startup and why?
I don’t have the favorite in particular. I personally believe that each has own strengths and something that we can learn from them. I love to learn from people experiences in both success story and failure to improvement.
What’s your work & life motto?
I’m not just do the best I can, but I do it the best it could be. Challenging my limitation.
What’re your favorite books? and digital devices?
Similar to the above questions, there isn’t favorite one. I read anything, like startup story, leadership, marketing, even comics. All books broaden our mind.