The first time I looked at Southeast Asia as a strategic region was more than ten years ago, thanks to the Japanese government. At that time they launched a training sponsorship for SEA software engineers to learn how to work with Japanese companies. The first three countries attending the program in Japan were Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, each of which assigned 5-7 engineers. That was also the first time I got the chance to communicate and work with the Thai people. Initially, it appeared to me that Thai and Vietnamese people shared some the same traits, but I found myself altogether wrong later, we are vastly different. The Filipino people prefer to be in groups, Thai people sometimes go out with a group, sometimes are seen to be alone, and more of Vietnamese people love going solo.
In 2006 I started traveling to Singapore, Malaysia, then the Phillippines. Since the trip to Thailand in 2009, I have been back and forth between Vietnam and SEA countries many times. The last nation I reached in my SEA tour is Indonesia, six years ago. I have also traveled to all tiger and dragon countries in Asia (JP/KR/CN/TW/IN) to know the role of SEA in the big Asia picture.
Therefore, from the views of local countries in Southeast Asia, maybe except Indonesia as their local market is big enough they don’t need to go SEA early. But all Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam’s startups all need to go SEA to maintain competitive advantage, scale up and can raise more funding. Besides that the Japanese need to go SEA when their market is highly developed and saturated. The Singaporean, Korean need to go SEA as their local market is not big enough. The Taiwanese has the same reason with Singaporeans and Koreans, and they need to go SEA to avoid relying too much on China market. The Chinese wanna go SEA after they already dominate their huge local market and wanna show their presence in the world stage.
Two years ago, I went to Seul and got to know Korean startups are more interested to go global to tackle US market via a Softbank executive. Recently an ex Samsung/Lotte marketing veteran also shared that Korean startup scene: Southeast Asia is the most desirable global target! after they realized SEA markets are more possible to penetrate. Look at Taiwan, their government is even progressing a New Southbound Policy to go South, (18 countries including 10 Asean countries, especially Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand) to reduce their dependence on China market. The Chinese giants Alibaba, Tencent, JD obviously go SEA via billion dollars pouring into Lazada, Tokopedia, Shopee, Tiki, Central…
That’s why, now I’m writing this series as a Vietnamese ecommerce expat have been based in Thailand for almost five years, and keep working on Southeast Asia region, especially Thailand – Indonesia – Vietnam Internet & ecommerce markets.
Part 1: Thailand vs Vietnam
Part 2: Indonesia – Beauty in the Ugly