Startups in Laos on the Rise
Vientiane is expanding rapidly; its population is expected to grow by 54.5 per cent from 2015 to 2025, which will take the number of inhabitants to an estimated 1.6 million..
And while Vientiane is growing it is still dwarfed by other major competing hubs like Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. This is affecting the input of angel investors, an important lifeblood for entrepreneurs looking to grow their business but lacking capital or the ability to generate profits.
Steve Landman, a member of the Mekong Angel Investment Network, launched and supported by the Australian government, says investment is slow in Laos due to the infancy of the start-up scene.
“We have not found any investable companies at this point,” he said. “Market size is important. Especially, is the product or service expandable into other markets? Because most of the countries in the Mekong region don’t amount to sustainable markets.”
For Vientiane, the intention is to unearth the city’s “start-up hero”. It is a crucial step to unlocking understanding among the population, most of whom do not value risk-averse enterprise.
That traditional resistance, mostly among the older generation, is an active hurdle for one group hoping to be the champion of Vientiane’s start-up scene.
Souliyo Vongdala and Mangkonephet Sayasane are co-founders of Bizgital, an increasingly profitable marketing solutions company serving international clients like Coca Cola and Heineken, and Foxpress, an online courier service.
The latter project tackles a clear problem in Vientiane – the mail system – yet uptake is still modest.
“In Laos, the postal service is very poor and insecure. If you ship something very valuable from overseas to here, most likely it’s going to get lost or stolen,” Vongdala, a confident, US-educated 25-year-old said.
"But in Laos it’s really hard to change people,” he said.
It comes down to engrained culture, he says, explaining how the families of most of his colleagues generally do not support entrepreneurship, instead encouraging them to take up traditional secure jobs in banks or corporations.
“The change is coming. The younger generational will be even better…they are reading about success stories and they have energy to do something,” he said.
Foxpress currently mostly services online sellers, who use Facebook as a platform to do business. Once more people start using the service, they hope to create a central app that will act similarly to Uber, but for couriers.
“Laos is a small country, there are tonnes of problems that need to be solved so that means there are tonnes of options. If you fail the first one, you do the second, you do the third one or you do the tenth,” Vongdala said.
“But if you get one thing right…you might be making money while solving a problem, and that’s something you should be proud of.”
At Book Delivery, Bou too has bigger plans – to transform the business using Amazon as an inspiration. In the coming months the group aims to introduce clothing and shoes to their online offering, and further explore the opportunities for e-books, a first for the country.
“I love this. Others are afraid of failure,” he said. “If you want to do something, you should do it. You’re the boss now.”
Source : Jack Board, Channel News Asia
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