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Helping Myanmar’s Businesses Transition into the Digital World

How local start-up nexlabs operates in a young tech ecosystem

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 26 Jan 2018

Helping Myanmar's Businesses Transition into the Digital World

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Of the countries in Southeast Asia, Myanmar may have one of the most fledgling tech ecosystems. Ye Myat Min is hoping to change this. Inspired by the Silicon Valley successes he read online, he founded his start-up nexlabs.

“When I was still a student and a freelancer in Singapore, I started reading about start-ups on TechCrunch and a bunch of other technology blogs. Oftentimes, there would be stories about young individuals who were around my age, starting various technology companies and raising funds by convincing experienced investors to believe in them,” CEO Min says.

He also wanted to have an impact on businesses and employees in his home country, so nexlabs helps them transition into the digital era. The company does consulting in user experience design, product strategy, technical development, and online marketing services.

But his efforts are not without roadblocks. The first is fundraising. According to Min, only a few venture capitalists have deployed capital into the country, though he admits the investment outlook is improving.

“There’s a lot of interest and buzz around Myanmar tech start-ups but only a few have been serious. We start to see more and more investment groups getting their boots on the ground and getting their hands dirty,” he says.

Once a start-up does manage to raise capital, it’s difficult to use those funds efficiently because you have to build a lot of systems that would be readily available in other countries.

“For example, if you’re an e-commerce start-up, you’d also need to figure out the whole payment processing and logistics. There’s no ready-made best practices yet, so you’ll have to continue to test and iterate your business model and process over and over again while keeping an eye on your capital,” Min says.

As a start-up, nexlabs has also faced significant obstacles in attracting the best talent in Myanmar. Min admits that the company complained about the issue for some time before buckling down and finally taking action through internship and training programs.

“Through our internship programs, we have been able to attract like-minded talent from some of the top universities in the world. We started to build a culture around sharing knowledge and structured training programs (some internal and some external),” he says, noting that these efforts have resulted in better retention and employee engagement, along with establishing nexlabs as one of the most innovative companies in the country.

nexlab’s efforts are paying off. In 2017, nexlabs launched a nationwide, omni-channel campaign for coffee brand Nescafe wherein participants would get a puzzle piece and would be tasked to find the person on Facebook with the piece that would complete it to win prizes. nexlabs also tapped local influencers to amplify the campaign.

“As a result, the brand received about 15 million impressions with 2000 winners nationwide. This is also Nescafe’s first ever digitally driven campaign in Myanmar, and additionally, it was also the first campaign with door-to-door delivery of prizes for 2000 winners across 40 cities in Myanmar,” he says.

Min had words of advice for other entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia, particularly for founders like him who may be operating in newer tech ecosystems.

“Don’t get demotivated by all the challenges you face. It’s going to be a long, hard journey to build and scale a start-up in a new ecosystem and frontier markets. Also, remember to always ask for help when needed instead of spending too much time trying to solve these challenges on your own,” he advises.

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