Taking a successful plunge into the digital pool
MORE and more young entrepreneurs have begun to start their own businesses in Myanmar have achieved success.
Among them is U Ye Myat Min, founder of nexlabs, a digital consultation firm that provides branding, marketing, and tech advice to diverse mix of clients in sectors ranging from retail, finance and for consumer products.
U Ye Myat Min recalled that when he was a 12, he was very passionate about computer games and he dreamt of creating computer games of his own.
“I was interested in computer programming when I was 12. I wanted to create a game because I spent most of time playing games back then. This morphed into a desire to invent products either for myself or for others. Then I got an idea to make something by combining the two in 2012,” said U Ye Myat Min, 27.
His “invention” became known as nexlabs.
The company, just a little over six years old, is already one of the leading technology-based consultancy companies in the local market, and has achieved a remarkable degree of success. It recently won second prize in marketing, advertising and media website Campaign Asia’s awards held last December in Singapore. The event was held to recognise the best advertising agencies of the year in the region and nexlabs was nominated based on its operations, and the marketing campaigns and applications it produced for its clients.
“I am pleased that I got the prize. I had to compete against agencies from three nations - Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. There are many other countries in Southeast Asia and I am not content yet as I cannot compete with those countries,” U Ye Myat Min said.
At the age of 16, he passed matriculation in Myanmar and attended the Science and Technology University in Singapore, and then Singapore Management University (SMU).
He worked as a freelancer at an advertisement firm during his spare time in Singapore, he said.
“When digital technologies became a trend around 2009-2010, brands represented by that Singaporean advertising firm needed a lot of work on things such as social network pages, mobile applications and websites. Back then, my main task became advising clients how to focus on mobile applications, what strategies to use, the reasons for those strategies, and the requirements to develop a mobile application. Based on that experience, by the time I finished university, I became interested in establishing my own business in the same field,” he said.
Having read about how many young entrepreneurs in more developed countries like Singapore raised funds, established companies and became successful in newspapers, he was encouraged to establish his own business, he said.
Although he attempted to start in 2012, he did not have enough capital, so he had to meet with people interested in Myanmar to raise capital, he said.
“Fortunately, I met a person who shared my opinions about the potential in Myanmar, so we started the business in 2013.
“But we faced some difficulties in the first two years as we were only proficient in technical aspects and knew little about accounting, statistics, and human resources,” he said.
“As the other founders were just technicians like me, we had many problems. The first two years passed without us knowing what to do about our weaknesses and the company saw little growth. Thankfully, after the initial two years of struggling, we learned to find our feet. This took another year, but luckily we had good mentors and guides,” he said of the company’s early days.
To survive the challenges, however, he had to hire outside consultants and delegate the tasks to operations experts, he said.
“Every business goes through bad times. It is important to learn from these failures. As for me, the main lessons I learnt came in the areas of management and human resources. Sometimes, when we manage people, we mistakenly look at individuals and we don’t understand organisationalbehaviour. This is a major challenge and I am still learning from it,” he said.
Many small businesses in Myanmar face difficulties in accessing funding and talented employees, he said.
“There’s no avoiding the need for money or people. The success of a company depends very much on the talent of employees. There are many candidates in the market but not all are extremely talented. As many companies compete to hire the talented, smaller organisations struggle to hire good people,” he said.
“Even if you can find talented graduates, many move to bigger companies after a while,” he said.
Although digital marketing and advertising is growing in Myanmar, it will take time before they reach their full potential, the young technopreneur said.
Technology is still a vast and growing field in Myanmar as more people learn to rely on it. Facebook is his biggest rival as more use Facebook than applications on phones, he said, and this means his company has to work hard to change minds about relying on technology and digital channels for advertising and marketing, he added.
He feels that, while more and more businesses see the need to rely more on technology, many of their employees are not ready for the change.
“More employers need to offer training and educating for their employees to be able to adapt to the digital economy,” he said, adding that technologies such as smart TVS, smart homes, online shopping and digital services will only continue to spread in the future.
He advised youths who are trying to start a business extend their social network and not to lose sight of changes in government policies and regulations and in the fields they are interested in.
“If you really want to start a business, you need to throw yourself into it,’’ he said emphatically.
“My friends, like many other youths, take too much time thinking. Market conditions are changing fast, so tomorrow the situation will not be the same. So, you need to just start, or the good time will pass while you are thinking,” he said.
He says his goal is to make nexlabs one of the biggest providers of digital solutions in Myanmar.
“There are a lot of opportunities for digital technologies to be used by businesses seeking to build relationships with consumers. I would like to provide digital solutions in the areas such as marketing, human resources, accounting, and process management. I wish to replace conventional business operations with digital technologies,’’ he said of the future goals of nexlabs.
There’s no avoiding the need for money or people. The success of a company depends very much on the talent of employees.