Entering the Southeast Asian Market
Thailand’s Priceza.com has become one of Southeast Asia’s most successful e-commerce search engines, all during the Alibaba and Amazon e-commerce era of global monopolization. Priceza’s rise is instructive for the Korean startup ecosystem, where Korean startups have struggled to enter foreign markets; even more noteworthy, Priceza.com is in six Southeast Asian countries and has 30% of Indonesia’s market share-quite a feat given Indonesia’s track record for foreign startup failures.
Interview with Thanawat Malabuppha
I sat down a couple of weeks ago and asked Priceza.com’s CEO Thanawat Malabuppha about his “secret sauce” and the Thai startup ecosystem.
Describe Priceza.com’s organization, rise and its present strategies.
“We are three Founders, who were university friends who studied together: CEO Thanawat Malabuppha, CTO Wirod Supadul, and CPO Vachara Nivataphand.
We began by focusing on revenue generation and growing the company; as a result, we broke even in one year and didn’t have any funding until 2013. We received our Series A funding in 2013 from CyberAgent Ventures out of Tokyo, Japan and Series B from Germany’s BurdaPrincipal Investments in 2016.
Initially, in 2010 we were a search engine focused on price comparison, but Priceza has crystallized into a platform that helps customers make the best shopping decisions by answering shopping-related questions. In 2013 we entered Indonesia and 2015 the remaining Southeast Asian countries we are in presently: Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Thailand and Indonesia are our best markets, and of the two Thailand is better because Thai’s have more buying power and better banking penetration and are more adaptable to adopt new innovations even though Indonesia has a lot more people.”
You are not presently in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar; especially regarding Myanmar which has a young and vibrant population, why haven’t you expanded there yet?
“Timing in Myanmar is not ready yet, Burmese are looking for main information and not spending money, yet. It is still too early for e-commerce.”
Does ASEAN mitigate problems concerning expansion In Southeast Asia?
“When expanding, people are more open if the service is proven. Other Southeast Asian nations are more open to each other, thus there is more regional integration which has facilitated expansion in the five other nations. But not free trade, there are duties still being applied. When Thais order a product from a fellow ASEAN country they still pay a duty.”
How have you managed diversity being in six Southeast Asian countries?
“Simply, requiring our staff to have proficient written/spoken English skills. Southeast Asia is perhaps the most diverse area in the world with every country having its own distinct language and culture; as such, English is the communication bridge to all six countries we are in. I also believe Southeast Asians share many cultural traits, for example, communitarianism, strong family values etc. These common traits help to create bonding among all ASEAN nations and promote solid business partnerships.”
Any plans to do an IPO any time soon?
“No plans for an IPO soon.”
What are your opinions on the Thai startup ecosystem?
Seed funding and Series A are adequate but later stages are quite challenging. Thailand still has a lack of native talent in the ecosystem, so a corollary would be to hire foreign talent. Lots of bureaucratic paperwork is required to hire a foreigner; in addition, 1 million baht is needed for investing in the company.”
“There is a great demand for startups because Thailand has so many problems to solve. Thailand is amidst a transitioning period from a middle-income-country to a newly-industrialized-country, so demand and opportunities are increasing for startups.”
Are there opportunities in Thailand for foreign startups in Thailand?
“Thailand is very open to foreign startups. Thailand has been historically open to foreigners and has mostly had amicable relations with them. The Thai government is in the process of easing regulations on foreigners opening startups.”
Are there any industries on the horizon which Priceza may enter?
“Priceza’s has recently entered the industries of financial product comparison, insurance, cars, and personal loans. Perhaps MEDITECH could be an industry of the future, given the great demand from foreigners retiring in Thailand.”