Ms. Chuencheewan Wongsaeree (Juice) is the co-founder of Globish Academia, an online English learning platform that focuses on situation-based conversational English. Ms.Juice, is also a part of the Thai Tech Startup Association (TTSA) and works closely with the government and venture capitalists in order to promote and grow the Thai startup ecosystem. During this interview, she discusses her thoughts on the future of the Thai startup ecosystem and how it can move on from the Covid-19 pandemic that has impacted all industries around the world. Can you give us your thoughts on the current state of the startup ecosystem based on your experience and interactions with startups recently.
Ms.Juice says that the Covid-19 crisis is undoubtedly the primary influencer of the current state of startups. Startups in industries such as travel/tourism or hospitality that have been negatively impacted by the crisis have suffered a great deal. On the other hand, startups in industries for example; e-commerce, online education, and logistics have seen a major boost in their business and have been impacted in a hugely positive way.
Another observation that Ms.Juice described is that startups are facing more challenges when it comes to the fundraising process. From her own experience, she has found that it has become much more difficult to find an willing investor during these uncertain times especially when it comes to foreign investors and VCs. Ms.Juice says that numerous deals that were in the negotiation process prior to the Covid-19 crisis have fallen through as the pandemic hit.
According to Ms.Juice, there are a number of reasons why it has become increasingly difficult to raise funds, especially with foregin investors. Firstly, foreign investors, due to their location and the travel restrictions enforced during the crisis, are not able to keep an eye on and track the progress of their investments in Thailand as easily as the investments in their home country. Secondly, the uncertainty in regards to which startups and industries are going to survive and thrive during the pandemic and which are going to fail will mean that investors and VCs are much more careful and risk-averse when it comes to their investments. The final reason is that investors and VCs may have restrictions or a decrease on the amount that they are able to invest during times of turmoil. Examples of restrictions and decreases may include; liquidity requirements, investing freezes, risk requirements, or losses in prior investments leading to less being allocated to the amount that they can use to invest in startups.
The most noticeable thing for Ms.Juice since the lockdown has ended is that events and gatherings for startups such as; hackathons, meetups, and pitching competitions are returning. These events allow for startups in all stages to network with each other and with potential investors thus providing more exposure for startups, especially early stage startups. Additionally, Ms.Juice also says that she has seen an increase in the activities of VCs and investors, stating that they are more actively looking for startups to invest in and support.
Ms.Juice states that recently she has been to a number of startup events and have found that the number of people who had attended was much more than she had expected. She attributes this to the fact that because people were unable to meet and network with each other for so long, now that events are being held again, many more startups and VCs are likely to turn up making for an incredibly exciting and fun environment within the community.
Ms.Juice breaks her response down into two categories. The first are startups that have been lucky in the pandemic and are in industries that were positively affected by the Covid-19 crisis. As mentioned earlier, startups in industries such as e-commerce, logistics, and online education have experienced positive impacts from the crisis and have seen growth during these times therefore allowing them to survive through the crisis.
The second category that Ms.Juice describes are the startups that have successfully pivoted their business using the resources they had on hand in order to provide a service or product that would perform well during the crisis. The example that Ms.Juice gives is of the startup Eventpop. Eventpop, as the name suggests, is an events company which provides an end-to-end event management platform and offers a number of tech oriented services. During the crisis and the lockdown, as events were not allowed to be held, Eventpop was unable to generate revenue through their events services. The startup therefore decided to completely pivot from their normal services and come up with a service that brought in revenue during the crisis by using the expertise and the resources that they had. Eventpop shifted their business from events to e-commerce solutions and online booking for various services and activities. To Ms.Juice, the ability for startups to reinvent themselves and adapt well to the changes that came with the crisis was a major factor in whether or not they survived.
Ms.Juice agrees that there may possibly be less opportunities for startups to meet foreign investors due to the travel restrictions and inability to meet them in person. However, she firmly believes that at the end of the day, the number of opportunities that startups have to meet investors and VCs is ultimately up to the founder of the startup. To her, the number of opportunities before and after the crisis has not changed drastically, what has changed is that they are not able to meet in person. Ms.Juice states that startups have to be just as aggressive if not more aggressive than before in their search for an investor. Personally, Ms.Juice continues to follow-up with investors even after they have turned down a deal in case the investor has a change of heart in the future when the crisis has gone away.
The Thai Startup Association (TTSA) are planning on hosting a number events with the Thai Venture Capital Association (TVCA) in order to promote and strengthen the startup community by providing knowledge sharing sessions, and networking events allowing for smaller/early stage startups to meet with startups who have gone through the series A or B fundraising rounds.
The second goal for the event is to promote partnerships with large entities such as international trade associations or various embassies in order to give Thai startups exposure to other international industries. Finally, the last main goal of the events is to introduce consumers to Thai tech products and services and push these consumers to use products and services from Thai tech startups more.
To conclude, Ms.Juice provides her advice to other startups and those who are wanting to begin their own startup journey. She says that the key to succeeding is to listen to your customers. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed consumer behaviour in a huge way and startups must be able to adapt to these changes adequately and adjust the product, service, and business model accordingly.