Rita Nguyen delivered an electrifying keynote speech on the opportunities awaiting technology companies that expand into Myanmar to close the conference session for Startup Asia Singapore Day 1. Her wide-ranging presentation delivered insights gleaned from her work as co-founder and CEO of Squar.Asia, a social media and gaming company making strong headway in Myanmar.
As Nguyen explained, the fact that Myanmar has become a much-buzzed about new market for internet companies was near-unthinkable just three years ago. With laws and regulations severely restricting online autonomy, and by extension entrepreneurship, many companies assumed that the nation was off limits. That started to change after the military junta, which had been controlling the country, was dissolved in 2011.
Now far less fettered, Myanmar citizens are free to explore the internet and join what Nguyen calls the “global conversation”. The hunger for net access is not to be underestimated. Nguyen recounted that SIM cards cost US$2,000 on the black market as recently as two and a half years ago, making them highly sought-after but exceedingly rare. In fact, when Myanmar Post Telecommunications offered a SIM card lottery for 350,000 cards at $1.50 each, over one million people showed up – some standing in line for eight hours under sweltering 40 degree heat just for a chance to enter.
Nguyen described Myanmar in 2014 as “celebrating Thanksgiving,” implying that that following a period of anticipation, consumers will rush to spend money online – the same way American consumers rush to the mall on Black Friday.
Ngyuen encouraged the audience to consider Myanmar as a startup destination by offering her own company as an example of success. Noting that Myanmar youth are much like the youth in the rest of Asia in their desire for independence and individuality, her company has targeted social media and gaming for efficient market entry. The gaming side of the company has seen strong user growth, and it’s “MY” (short for Myanmar) series of five games are currently played a combined 2 million times each month.
In Nguyen’s own words, Myanmar “is a market of 60 million people coming online almost overnight.” Compounding the promise of the market, she notes that 47 percent of the population is under the age of 24. With such a promising setting, it will be very worthwhile to see what sort of tech scene Myanmar is able to stage in the coming years.