Inside Bangkok’s growing startup scene


See the original article in Japanese, posted earlier this year

Skyscrapers from Chong Nonsi station
Skyscrapers from Chong Nonsi station

I recently had a chance to visit Bangkok, and the following is a conversation with many locals who have unique insights into the Thai startup scene [1].

Oranuch Lerdsuwankij (Mimee) from ThumbsUp

mimeeMimee is the cofounder of ThumbsUp, a partner media for The Bridge with whom we often exchange articles. ThumbsUp was founded in 2011 by a team of five, and currently there are seven members who run the Thai and English editions. While Mimee works as a consultant at another company, she operates ThumbsUp, organizes startup events, and hosts an IT-focused TV program call Thailand Can Do.

Thailand has three telecommunications carriers: AIS, DTAC and TRUE. And all of them have startup programs. But the problem is that there is little difference among these three programs, and consequently the same startups tend to occupy the programs. So Mimee thinks it is necessary to expand the startup community, and she focuses on helping startups in Thailand expand overseas.

Vincent Sethiwan & Permsiri Tiyavutiroj from Launchpad

Launchpad entrance

Tokyo-based Animation Crowd Funding platform, Anipipo was launched in 2013. The board members, Vincent Sethiwan and Permsiri Tiyavutiroj (Sam) are in Thailand most of time, founding a co-working space called Launchpad in November of 2012. The space is about a 10-minute walk from Chong Nonsi station, only two stations away from the downtown Bangkok. While many co-working spaces often use a room in a small building, Launchpad has its space on the first floor Sethiwan Tower, a fairly large building. I was quite surprised to see such a great location, and Sethiwan tells me that it’s a property owned by his family, as we might have guessed from the name!

Permsiri Tiyavutiroj (left) and Vincent Sethiwan (right)

Vincent previously participated in Alpha Lab, an accelerator program in Pittsburg. After he came back to Thailand, he got to know Sam while he was working at a Japanese consulting firm. They explained:

Although the three telecom carriers have startup programs, the startups participating in those programs are the same. What Thailand’s startups scene needs is not a pitch contest. Thai startups don’t really know how to do business. Then we got the idea of starting an incubation program. We’d like to offer hands-on training, and we will first accept only around three startups. […] We have a two-hour time difference between Tokyo and Bangkok though, and it would be great if we can do networking or share our pitches over Skype or something.

Amarit Charoenphan from Hubba


Another co-working space, Hubba is a renovated house with a garden located in the east of Bangkok, at Thong Lo, an area where many Japanese and western people live. The co-founder and director of Hubba, Amarit Charoenphan (pictured below, left), said he wanted to create a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere. Hubba is operated though organized events and paid membership. In the past, it was the organizer of Echelon Ignite, a localized vesion of the Singapore-based Echelon tech conference.

amarit_and _masaru

Hubba even has a shower, so for long events like the 54-hour Startup Weekend Bangkok, participants can refresh themselves. There are many Japanese restaurants and pubs around this area, a taste of home for any Japan’s startups who would like an office in Thailand.

Hubba’s backyard

Jon Russell of The Next Web & Paul Srivorakul from Ardent Capital

Jon Russel on the right, Photo by Elisha Ong

The last time I met Jon Russell was at Echelon, a tech conference held in Singapore. He often reports on Asia-based startups from his base in Bangkok. He referred us to Paul Srivorakul as a key person in the city. Paul is the founder of Ardent Capital and he co-invested in Asian tech media site e27. He founded NewMedia Edge, Admax Network, Ensogo Group and sold each business to STW Group, Kimil Media and LivingSocial respectively.

Most entrepreneurs in Thailand have little knowledge of management. So Paul sends those who have management experience in major companies to be startup board members and let entrepreneurs learn from them. He focuses on Southeast Asia’s fast-growing market, and has shown interest in meeting Japanese startups who are willing to do business in Southeast Asia.

At Khaosan Road

Even though I spent just a weekend there, I met so many key people in Bangkok and learned a lot from them. My overall impression is that Thailand’s startup scene is just beginning. Startups like Oakbee, Wangnai or Builk are often mentioned as success stories. But success for Thai startups, according to Vincent Sethiwan, is to fundraise in Singapore and expand overseas. The mindset is very far from that of Silicon Valley’s startups and might be closer to the outlook of Japanese startups.

I found that many people have a good impression of Japanese people and products. While there are 18.3 million Facebook users in Thailand, Line has already attracts 12.3 million [2]. There are some great examples of implementing Japanese apps such as the case where Thailand’s police started using LINE for sharing investigation information with members.

For Japanese startups looking to do business in Asian countries, I hope they can consider Thailand as a possible choice.

  1. This article was first published back in February, and has been slightly modified to create this English version.
  2. The Facebook data is according to research data by Cereja Technology, released on Januarty 8th, 2013. Line’s numbers are based on an infographic from Line’s blog, released on Januarty 18th, 2013.