Road to success a challenging slog for local start-ups

Entrepreneurs in Myanmar are hurt by high costs and high expectations when starting up businesses, according to tech entrepreneur Ko Thar Htet.

The Zwenexsys founder warned those that attended Mobile Monday – a tech networking event that this month focused on Myanmar’s past, present and future – of unique challenges and dangers faced by the nation’s innovators.

Issues for business builders in Myanmar crop up right from the beginning. If investors provide US$2000 in funding, entrepreneurs are left with $500 after registering to get a company off the ground, Ko Thar Htet said. Costs present a major obstruction for startup workers, he added, as overhead rates here are higher than elsewhere.

In its Doing Business 2014 report, World Bank Group ranked Myanmar last in the category of “Starting a Business” – 189th out of 189 economies.

People are part of the problem as well, according to Ko Thar Htet. While new hires aren’t ready to work and require training, technical talents are “leaking” out of Myanmar to other countries, he said. Meanwhile, competitor businesses offer workers larger salaries and guidance.

“The real tigers are [here] right now. The Japanese companies are here,” Ko Thar Htet said, noting these businesses can pay $500 a month. “You couldn’t afford to pay like that. They’re here and they’re going to eat all the human resources.”

Meanwhile, the state of the union, especially with regard to infrastructure both physical and institutional, drives frustration. “Every day you’re angry once you’re start-stopping your pedal in your car,” Ko Thar Htet said.

Three images – a wheel that indicates a page is loading, a small exclamation point on a web page, and a blank, black square of a slide – illustrate major problems entrepreneurs deal with: connectivity issues; access to international internet services like PayPal and Google Cloud; and blackouts. They seem all too familiar to the crowd, which applauds the first and laughs heartily at the third.

Past roads and internet infrastructure, legal frameworks hamper the way forward as well. “The laws are not in your favour,” Ko Thar Htet said, giving an example where a locally registered company can’t pocket funding from a foreign investor under the Foreign Investor Law.

The startup founder also named two fictional syndromes that imperil innovators: Silicon Valley Syndrome and Crony Wannabe Syndrome.

For the first, he prescribes a practical attitude: “Get real.” For the second, he presents a choice between the Red Pill and the Blue Pill, an allusion to The Matrix. “You could make money but you have to make a choice,” he said.

Ko Thar Htet also offered his audience advice that dealt with managing expectations and staying realistic. Some tips: Reduce your expectations to 10 percent, triple the amount of your expected cost, and double the time required to stability, his presentation read.

Progress is coming to Myanmar, and entrepreneurs will be part of the movement, despite the hurdles they’ll have to jump. Their reason for being here: they believe, with Ko Thar Htet, they can foster Myanmar’s change, he said.

He shows an equation his father gave him, which reads “0 x 100 = 0” and illustrates that a weak base undermines a result. “You are the multiplier,” Ko Thar Htet said – and according to him, they are building the base.


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