Head of Dtac Ac­cel­er­ate ex­plains how he helps make dreams come true.

AS HEAD OF DTAC ACCLERATE, SOM­POAT CHAN­SOM­BOON REL­ISHES THE CHANCE TO BRING THE DREAMS OF YOUNG TECH EN­TREPRENEURS TO LIFE

The Nation - - FRONT PAGE - ASINA PORNWASIN

DTAC Ac­cel­er­ate is re­garded as a pi­o­neer in ac­cel­er­a­tors for tech­nol­ogy star­tups in Thai­land – and much of the credit can go to the youth­ful stew­ard of the pro­gramme, Som­poat Chan­som­boon.

The com­pany’s ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gramme, which serves as an in­cu­ba­tor for bright ideas, has nur­tured 46 star­tups with a com­bined com­pany val­u­a­tion of Bt5.23 bil­lion.

Som­poat, also known as Meng, took over dtac Ac­cel­er­ate in 2015, suc­ceed­ing Krat­ing Poon­pol, who ini­ti­ated the pro­gramme in 2012.

Of the 46 star­tups, each has achieved an av­er­age growth in val­u­a­tion of around five times. Some 72 per cent of the star­tups from dtac Ac­cel­er­ate have se­cured vi­tal fol­lowon fund­ing; else­where in Asian, the pro­por­tion is around 20 to 25 per cent.

Be­fore tak­ing over at dtac Ac­cel­er­ate, Som­poat, 40, worked with Citibank for 11 years and as head of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing at UOB for 18 months.

He grad­u­ated in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing from Tham­masat Uni­ver­sity and went on to gain an MBA from ABAC. At Citibank, in his first post, he worked as a man­age­ment as­so­ciate at the global fi­nan­cial gi­ant, which has a pres­ence in 13 coun­tries across Asia Pa­cific, for two years. He was based in Sin­ga­pore, which served as the com­pany’s re­gional of­fice, for one year.

He over­saw fi­nan­cial and prod­uct ac­qui­si­tion for Cit­bank’s re­tail bank­ing op­er­a­tion be­fore mov­ing to UOB. At that time, the Sin­ga­pore bank launched a new busi­ness unit, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, and Som­poat was tasked with get­ting the unit up and run­ning.

A turn­ing point for Som­poat came in 2013 with the birth of his son. He was then aged 35 and de­cided to leave UOB and take time out for fam­ily life.

“I did not know how I could go about be­ing a good fa­ther and, since I wanted to spend all my time with my son, I quit my po­si­tion at the bank. I re­mained look­ing af­ter my son un­til he was aged five,” Som­poat said.

Dur­ing that pe­riod he found time to take classes, for Batch 6 at Dis­rupt Uni­ver­sity, as it was known at Dis­rupt Tech­nol­ogy Ven­ture. The or­gan­i­sa­tion was run by Krat­ing, a fig­ure re­garded as the god­fa­ther of star­tups in Thai­land.

“I was in­ter­ested in him and his thoughts, since his words and ac­tions guided me on to the path that I love. I de­sired to take his class and through that we could got to know each other more closely – and that led to him bring­ing me to dtac Ac­cel­er­ate,” says Som­poat.

He loves works that in­volves build­ing up some­thing from scratch. Be­fore start­ing his first job, Som­poat and some of his friends es­tab­lished the Thai iPad Club as an iPad com­mu­nity, and went on to de­velop a Thai key­board for iPad. That was be­fore the launch of iPad in 2010. He also de­vel­oped a sys­tem for dis­play­ing maps on a tablet for taxis, and a com­pany went on to buy the sys­tem. It was dur­ing that time that he met Krat­ing.

“He (Krat­ing) said if I did my own startup, ul­ti­mately I could do only one to two star­tups each year. But at dtac Ac­cel­er­ate, I could help at least 10 Thai star­tups each year. That is a huge dif­fer­ence and it made it more mean­ing­ful for me as a mo­ti­va­tion to join dtac Ac­cel­er­ate. And that al­lowed me to do what I love, pur­su­ing tech­nol­ogy and start­ing new things, all while hav­ing time for my fam­ily,” Som­poat says.

Som­poat started tak­ing care of dtac Ac­cel­er­ate Batch 3 be­fore mov­ing on to the cur­rent Batch 6.

He started his jour­ney at dtac Acclerate with an em­pha­sis on man­ag­ing his team, since he re­alised that good man­age­ment is re­quired when try­ing to bring out the best in a team.

“We need to put the right man or the right woman in the right job in an ex­act fit. The ta­lent can de­liver in a job to meet ex­pec­ta­tions, but they can de­liver at a rate of 10 times that if they are in a job they love,” Som­poat says. “There­fore we need to know what par­tic­u­lar pas­sions are driv­ing the team mem­bers.”

He says he is grate­ful to the ex­ec­u­tives of dtac that gave him a li­cence to fail and a li­cence to suc­ceed - with­out in­ter­vene in his man­age­ment de­ci­sions.

He says that ap­proach is vastly dif­fer­ent from the en­vi­ron­ment in his bank­ing ca­reer – and this dif­fer­ence is driven by the youth­ful pro­file of the team mem­bers, who are mostly from the gen­er­a­tions Y, Z and mil­len­ni­als,

A new way of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is needed with such peo­ple and, says Som­poat, tech­nol­ogy pro­vides the com­mon lan­guage.

dtac Acclerate rates its suc­cess ac­cord­ing to the achieve­ments of star­tups in each of the batches, Som­poat says. When a startup suc­ceeds it is his team’s suc­cess; if it fails, it is his fail­ure.

dtac Ac­cel­er­ate in­vests in pre-seed round of fund­ing of up to Bt1.5 mil­lion for each startup.

An­other mea­sure of suc­cess is the rep­u­ta­tion of dtac Ac­cel­er­ate. Once star­tups from dtac Ac­cel­er­ate suc­ceed, this prompts an in­crease in ap­pli­ca­tions to join the pro­gramme, boost­ing the like­li­hood of more qual­ity star­tups in the pipe­line.

Through the four batches un­der his man­age­ment – from Batch 3 to Battch 6 - the num­bers of ap­pli­ca­tions jumped dra­mat­i­cally from 30 prospec­tive steams in Batch 3 to 600 teams seek­ing spots in Batch 6. But the num­ber of qual­ity star­tups is more sig­nif­i­cant than num­ber of the ap­pli­ca­tions, which dou­ble ev­ery year.

What’s more, the chal­lenges set for the teams are changed ev­ery year, Som­poat says. The com­pany needs to ad­just the chal­lenge for each batch ac­cord­ing to the tech startup ecosys­tem sit­u­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, from lean startup, scale and hook to blockchain.

“The chal­lenge in Batch 3 was to help star­tups to se­cure seed fund­ing af­ter at­tend­ing a four-month camp, while the chal­lenges in batches 4, 5, and 6 were to help star­tups to se­cure pre-se­ries A fund­ing and pave the way for batch 7, which aims to help statups to se­cure se­ries A fund­ing,” Som­poat says. “Our chal­lenges change ac­cord­ing to the qual­ity of the star­tups in our camp.” The cur­ricu­lum is al­ways up­dated. This is to en­sure the star­tups keep ben­e­fit­ing from their par­tic­i­pa­tion in dtac Ac­cel­er­ate. “It is to of­fer what they need, such as growth hack­ing, cus­tomer base, pub­lic re­la­tions, and fundrais­ing,” he says.

dtac Ac­cel­er­ate has been evolv­ing ev­ery year. Star­tups se­lected to join the camp need to be smarter and be more pro­fi­cient. Each year, around 10 to 12 teams at­tend the camp.

“More­over, there are a lot more fe­male founders in tech star­tups. Star­tups run by fe­male founders show new char­ac­ter­is­tics such as a more ded­i­cated fo­cus on peo­ple man­age­ment and more con­cern in tak­ing risk. I ad­mire fe­male founders. I per­son­ally like the cul­ture of star­tups that have fe­male founders,” Som­poat says.

He says dtac Ac­cel­er­ate aims to build star­tups, to in­vest, to men­tor – and to seek men­tors for them.

“A good team shar­ing the same pas­sion is one of key suc­cess fac­tors for dtac Ac­cel­er­ate,” he says.

“The ul­ti­mate goal of dtac Ac­cel­er­ate, from day one, is to build the first uni­corn startup in Thai­land.”

A uni­corn is a pri­vately held startup com­pany val­ued at over $1 bil­lion. It is a long jour­ney but Som­poat be­lieves the com­pany is on the right track.

He is con­fi­dent that at least one to two cen­taur startup – com­pa­nies with a val­u­a­tion of more than $100 mil­lion - will emerge from dtac Ac­cel­er­ate in the next three to five years.

Around 72 per cent of star­tups from dtac Ac­cel­er­ate se­cure fol­lowon fund­ing, putting Thai­land in the top three coun­tries in this space in South­east Asia. This suc­cess has helped draw men­tors from over­seas to par­tic­i­pate in the camp.

The star­tups that pass through dtac Ac­cel­er­ate on av­er­age en­joy five time the nor­mal growth in 12 months in terms of trac­tion and val­u­a­tion. Since 2015, the to­tal val­u­a­tion of star­tups in dtac Ac­cel­er­ate was around Bt500 mil­lion; this has in­creased to Bt5.23 bil­lion this year.

“There are two more large exit deals sched­uled to be com­pleted by the end of this year,” says Som­poat.

In Batch 5, nine of the 12 teams se­cured fund­ing, seed and pre-se­ries A stage fund­ing. At that time only 20 star­tups in the whole coun­try achieved that. Som­poat says this means that al­most 50 per cent of the to­tal num­ber of star­tups to reach that mark have been in the dtac Ac­cel­er­ate fam­ily.

He says that as long as Thai star­tups need ac­cel­er­a­tion, he and dtac Ac­cel­er­ate will be there for them. The new chal­lenge for dtac Ac­cel­er­ate is to en­cour­age more Thai star­tups to move on to se­ries B fundrais­ing.

“It is like the domino ef­fect. If we drive star­tups to se­cure se­ries A fund­ing, more ven­ture cap­i­tal funds will in­vest in them for fear of miss­ing out,” says Som­poat

The tools that dtac Ac­cel­er­ate use are not only for dtac it­self but they form a blue­print for the other 13 coun­tries where Te­lenor op­er­ates. The dtac Ac­cel­er­ate model has al­ready been im­ple­mented in seven coun­tries.

“dtac Ac­cel­er­ate is lo­cal out­fit from Thai­land but its model is be­ing im­ple­mented in many other coun­tries. As part of a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions or­gan­i­sa­tion, the value added to cus­tomers is im­por­tant. If we have value added on shelf to ad­dress all our cus­tomers’ life­styles, we will win the game over the long term,” says Som­poat.

In­vest­ments in star­tups in South­east Asia have been in­creas­ing dra­mat­i­cally. In 2016, this came to US$18 bil­lion. In­vest­ments in star­tups in Thai­land amounted to US$230 mil­lion as of early this year.

“The beauty is, the more for­eign in­vest­ment in star­tups means more money to em­ploy peo­ple, cre­ate jobs, and cre­ate other in­vest­ments,” Som­poat says.

The first uni­corn startup will spur global ven­ture cap­i­tal funds to in­vest in Thai­land. “An in­di­rect ben­e­fit is to draw more in­vest­ment to Thai­land,” Som­poat says. “Thai­land has the po­ten­tial to have uni­corn star­tups.”

He makes the point that Thai­land does not yet have a uni­corn startup be­cause the prod­uct mar­ket is not yet fit for the global mar­ket, even though it is ad­e­quate for lo­cal mar­ket.

“Many tal­ented founders think global com­pa­nies ex­e­cute lo­cally suc­cess­fully, but ex­e­cut­ing in the global mar­ket is very chal­leng­ing since the prod­uct-mar­ket fit is to­tally dif­fer­ent,” says Som­poat.

“The chal­lenge is to think which way to move to be­tween ‘think­ing glob­ally and ex­e­cut­ing lo­cally’ and ‘think­ing glob­ally and ex­e­cut­ing glob­ally’.”

The dtac Ac­cel­er­ate fam­ily con­sists of 46 com­pa­nies, each with 50 em­ploy­ees. dtac Ac­cel­er­ate also works as a part­ner with a lot of tech com­pa­nies, and much of the suc­cess comes from the men­tors at hand.

“The star­tups in dtac Ac­cel­er­ate cre­ate about 10,000 jobs. This may sound small as a con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try’s GDP, but it is a good start,” Som­poat says. His great­est con­cern is the depth of the ta­lent pool in the coun­try, es­pe­cially as seen over the past 18 months; it has not im­proved.

“There are not enough ex­pert de­vel­op­ers and lead­ers in the de­vel­oper com­mu­nity in Thai­land. This af­fects the startup ecosys­tem as a whole,” Som­poat says.

Each ac­cel­er­a­tor has dif­fer­ent strengths and he fees proud to play a part in the startup ecosys­tem. Cur­rently, there are 13 ac­cel­er­a­tors in Thai­land. dtac Ac­cel­er­ate plays a role as ac­cel­er­a­tor and a cor­po­rate ven­ture cap­i­tal (CVC) fund.

“Not ev­ery startup needs ac­cel­er­a­tion,” he says. “Most star­tups re­quired be­ing ac­cel­er­ated in dif­fer­ent ways, and that’s why dtac Ac­cel­er­ate has three dif­fer­ent tracks - an in­cu­ba­tion track, an ac­cel­er­ate track, and a global track. “Suc­cess­ful star­tups need a strong tech­ni­cal team. They also need the right sup­port from the gov­ern­ment, which has been pro­mot­ing star­tups.

“Over the past three to five years, Thai­land’s star­tups ecosys­tem has been rapidly grow­ing.”

Som­poat says he is happy work­ing with the younger gen­er­a­tion. “Ev­ery morn­ing I wake up to help young peo­ple’s star­tups move one more step for­ward to suc­cess,” he says.

“It makes me happy. I am cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment for the next gen­er­a­tion and for my son’s gen­er­a­tion. I get a chance to do things that are very good for the next gen­er­a­tion.”

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