By JINTANA PANYAARVUDH
THE SUNDAY NATION
JOINING A START-UP bootcamp initiative organised by Google in Silicon Valley last month has been an eye-opener for the two participating Thai start-ups, their founders say.
They have brought home new experience and determination, and the event has helped them expand new networks and sharpen their focus on creating an environment for success.
QeuQ and Piggipo were selected to join Google's Launchpad Accelerator programme in which they will work closely with the US-based tech giant for six months.
"The most valuable thing we found here is an inclusive perspective from mentors who came from all over the world, as well as from Google people," said Rungsun Promprasith, chief executive officer of QueQ, an app that helps users manage time more wisely in crowded places.
Rungsun said mentors from other start-ups had shared with them some insights they had never had. "We can use this as a bridge for further exploration," he said. "We do not need to start from scratch if we want to expand our service beyond Thailand."
Before attending the program QueQ, who already dominated queueing systems used in chain restaurants in Bangkok, was at a crossroads, trying to decide whether their next step should be to expand its service to hospitals in Thailand or look overseas.
The mentors suggested they keep their focus on working with chain restaurants - but expand to other countries.
Focus on customers
Rungsun was also advised that if QueQ wanted to expand its service it needed to take into account customers' behaviours, cultures and lifestyles.
He immediately took this newfound advice to heart. He had been thinking of expanding his service to Japan. But he thought it could be too much of a challenge to introduce his app to a country that already had a well-established culture of queuing.
For Supichaya Surapunthu, chief executive officer of Piggipo, an app that helps users manage their credit card spending, a highlight of the programme was how it enabled her to share her experiences with others involved in start-ups. "We can share our experiences and hurdles through true experience and not by lectures or theory," she said. "We feel free to share without fearing that we could be competitors.
"Here [at the camp], they believe in the philosophy of experience sharing. Google may be good on doing something in the US, but may not know much about the same thing in other countries like Thailand or India. So we had a unique opportunity to share," she said.
Like Rungsun, Supichaya also liked the tailored-made programme that differed from others in that it emphasised the value of mentoring and then customised it by choosing mentors relevant to each business.
"The program helps connect start-ups and relevant specialised mentors. So we can learn from them and they can modify what they teach to suit us," she said.
Goal-setting the Google way
One new thing they learned from the camp was "Objectives and Key Results" or OKRs, an organisational system Google used to both set the company's goals and work out how each employee can best contribute to them.
All start-up participants have to set their own OKRs and Google will use these to follow up after trainees have returned home and until the end of the programme.
Piggipo set three OKRs: to double its number of downloads from 300,000 to 600,000; to increase its revenue from Bt300,000 to seven figures; and to raise series-A funding or receive more than $1 million by the end of the year.
Supichaya said she would put more focus on her OKRs, put less importance on other tasks and then evaluate every month how close her team is to achieving its OKRs.
When they return to Thailand their employees will have monthly online meetings with their mentors, who will continue to give guidance until the end of the six-month programme, she said.
Rungsun, too, will adopt Google's focus on OKRs.
For QueQ, its goals are to expand its service to other provinces and learn more about machine learning to create added value to its service.
QueQ is considering using machine learning and Google's Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create more value, said Rungsun.
"We can match our service, which is able to locate people using the app indoors, with Google Maps, a web mapping service developed by Google, which is able to locate people outdoors," he said.
Rungsun said QueQ mirrored Google's fundamental aim to solve people's problems without focusing solely on revenue.
Working with the tech giant was a refreshing contrast to the experience of most Thai start-ups, which struggle to raise funds because big foreign Venture Capitals opt for Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, he added.
"I learned about the culture of Google," he said, "which shows that you don't only grow through the use of technology but through grooming people to grow together."
Lessons from emerging markets
The accelerator programme, which is currently in its fourth bootcamp, is focused on working with start-ups in emerging markets because Google wants to bridge the gap between them and Silicon Valley, said Roy Glasberg, founder and general manager of Google Global Accelerator and Google AI programs.
Glasberg said his team was amazed at the quality of start-ups from non-California parts of the world.
"I have started to recognise a very unique DNA which can be valuable here in Silicon Valley," he said.
It involved many things you don't usually see in Silicon Valley, he added. These included identifying the real problem, solving it quickly, becoming profitable as soon as possible and getting the business up and running.
In Silicon Valley, on the other hand, you would find some crazy idea without an end product but it still attracts funding.
"I think the beauty of what I see is that [people from emerging markets] are very focused entrepreneurs, who are very business-oriented," he said. "They understand their market and their business. They know what they are solving."
Some 33 start-ups from Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico), Asia (India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines), Africa (Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa), and Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland) are taking part in this latest programme.
They are receiving guidance from mentors and Google staff, a two-week training bootcamp at Google's Mountain View headquarters, equity-free funding and free credits for Google's cloud-computing services.
Programmed for success
After running the accelerators for two years Glasberg says he has been uplifted by the level of investments made in participating companies.
"For me it's very encouraging to see the largest investors putting their faith in markets they had never been to before," he said.
He saw start-ups in the program being able to raise funds and he predicted aggressive growth in the next two or three years.
Of the 78 start-ups that had attended the three previous programmes, two had shut down but three had been bought out. "We have $220 million in funding for the start-ups that join the programme," he said. However, the challenge for emerging markets lies in several areas, he said.
Firstly, how do start-ups maintain a flow of funds? Usually seed funding is relatively easy to get but follow-up funding is harder.
Secondly, how to get access to mentors? Also important is knowing how to grow the company and whether to expand beyond its current city or region.
Last but not least is how to create an ecosystem, said Glasberg.
This relates to entrepreneurs building their companies, then taking their money and returning to the market to start investing or training again or helping the next generation to emulate their success.
"We need more successes so they can take more knowledge and resources back to their home countries," he said.
Glasberg had one final word of advice to start-ups. "Whatever you do, make history and become the entrepreneur you want to be," he said, advising them to push forward in order to achieve their goal.
"That's what we are doing here," he concluded.