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Line pushes Thai startups to scale up

May 20. 2019
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THAILAND, with a population of 69 million, is messenger platform Line’s second-largest market after Japan. In fact, 90 per cent of the country’s mobile internet users are connected via Line, with the monthly number of active users amounting to 44 million.

However, the company is now shifting from a messenger tool to an all-in-one app that provides various services ranging from e-commerce to content. This not only corresponds to the increasing demand by customers who want to do everything in one app, but also mobile companies’ efforts to increase the time spent on their apps. 

To increase time spent on Line platform, which is now an average 63 minutes a day or one-third of the total time spent on a smartphone in Thailand, the company has been betting big on the hyper-localisation of its services and operations. 

This is why unlike other global internet companies that have a presence in Thailand, Line has hired several hundred local employees and created various services. Those services range from content that including that of Line TV and Line Today to an online-to-offline service such as delivery service Line MAN in order to appease local demand and tastes. 

Time to scale up 

Another way of localising the messenger platforms is to play a significant role in boosting Thailand’s startup ecosystem, which is lagging behind other Asean nations. 

“In the last two years, more and more startups have successfully finished accelerator or incubating programmes, which is a positive change,” Jayden Kang, executive director of Line ScaleUp, told |The Korea Herald in a recent |interview. 

Nevertheless, Thailand’s startup scene is still nascent with deal value in 2018 totalling only about US$61 million (Bt1.94 billion) for 35 deals, according to a report by Techsauce, a Bangkok-based tech media. And 75 per cent of those deals were either seed or series A funding from 2017 to 2018. 

There were only three merger and acquisitions, two of which were bought by Line. “We identified three pain points that Thailand startups are facing, and how to build a global mobile platform that can help address them,” Kang said. 

He said the three main challenges are how to secure additional funding post-accelerator phase, how to scale up and how to expand globally. 

Kang, who oversees Line’s business in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, launched Line ScaleUp last year to help solve these issues. 

Line ScaleUp offers Thai startups access to Line messenger platform’s API for free for a year and funding opportunities from Line Ventures, the company’s venture capital arm. Line ScaleUp and Line Ventures will invest up to $20 million in Line ScaleUp winners once the programme this year finishes in November. 

In return, Line eyes long-term benefits from ScaleUp as it can cooperate with startups with innovative ideas that could create positive synergy. 

And also it would give the company an opportunity for handsome financial gain by discovering promising startups. 

Much needed unicorns 

Kang hopes that together with the Thai government, Line can help bring a much-needed success story to the Thai startup scene and help the country be better prepared to build a healthy ecosystem, which has become an important economic pillar for many countries, as well as get ready for a race with its neighbours. Other Asean nations, particularly Indonesia and Singapore, have eight unicorns together and have become global startup hubs. 

Kang, who has observed the Thai market for several years as a consultant before joining Line, attributed Thailand’s underdeveloped startup scene to the very low unemployment rate – standing at 0.9 per cent in 2018, according to the Bank of Thailand -– a lack of role models or success stories, and the belated government policy transition to digitalisation. “Amid low unemployment, big companies such as banks and telecommunication companies absorbed good talent while the lack of a success story did little to encourage skilled people to join startups,” Kang said. “But if you don’t see a unicorn in three to five years, it’s possible that the country’s startup ecosystem would lose a chance to mature.” 

The executive is determined to make that happen under his helm. 

“I don’t want to predict when Thailand is likely to see a unicorn, because it would take too long if you simply sit and wait. Rather, I want to help make it happen.”


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