In line with our mission to shed light on the many investment opportunities popping up across Asia and Australasia, FinanceAsia is showcasing the entrepreneurs who are leading the wave of technological disruption in different countries and across a range of sectors.
Their companies range in size and maturity, but these people share a common drive and vision to compete against established institutions, whether in financial services, retail, energy, robotics, or logistics, to name just a few of the industries featured.
Following our methodology, we have selected five entrepreneurs from each of Asia Pacific's largest economies. Today we turn to Thailand.
Thailand is a country in the middle of great economic transformation. To find success, local entrepreneurs must reckon with a country that is home to both glitzy Bangkok high-rises and embedded rural poverty where 40% of farmers – who make up a third of the population – live below the poverty line.
A 2015 United Nations’ report warned of the middle-income trap catching Thailand as the country faces stagnant growth and productivity. To stimulate innovation and economic progress, building a strong startup ecosystem may be the solution.
Headquarters: Bangkok, London
Year founded: 2012
Prominent backers: Gobi Partners, East Ventures
As the heir to the Chearavanont family’s business empire, this young entrepreneur has been groomed for entrepreneurship his whole life. He founded corporate communications app Eko from his college dorm room – a feat that put him on Forbes Asia’s 30 under 30 list at the age of 21.
After dropping out of his history studies at Columbia University, Chearavanont returned home to turn his ideas for Eko into reality.
“There are already many tools for team networking and productivity,” the entrepreneur explained to FinanceAsia. “These tools, however, target knowledge workers like me and you who sit at the office.
“Employers of frontline workers don’t want to buy an HR tool, a business management tool, a knowledge management tool and a workflow tool. It’s too expensive. So we bundled all that into one app,” he said.
Chearavanont saw a gap in the market for workers who might not otherwise be connected on existing applications such as Slack. Eko, headquartered in Bangkok, hopes to help corporate workplaces with its company-wide communications platform.
The service has more than 600,000 subscriptions from more than 100,000 employers around the world and boasts a 99% customer retention rate over the past two years. Eko is currently available in the UK, Asia and North America, with a planned launch in Australia in October.
NITHIPONT BOND THAIYANURAK
Year founded: 2013
Prominent backers: 500 Startups
Thaiyanurak is the founder and chief executive of Box24, which runs a network of more than 250 lockers across Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. It is a last-mile logistics startup to facilitate easy delivery of goods.
He introduced WashBox24 – where customers leave dirty clothing in designated lockers to be laundered and returned for pick up – to Asian markets in 2016. It was a success and spurred a series of Box24 offshoots including MoveBox24, which is specifically for people who are moving house.
“People are busy and we provide the flexibility of time and place,” Thaiyanurak said. “Grab and Gojek are on-demand but we are the opposite.”
The entrepreneur often receives requests from people to bring Box24 to their countries and even ships his smart lockers overseas. He plans to focus on existing markets for the time being but sees Manila and Jakarta as the next likely destinations for growth.
Year founded: 2012
Prominent backers: Tencent, InTouch
Pungcharoenpong launched Ookbee to capitalise on Thailand’s niche electronic publishing market and to create an ecosystem where users can create and share their own content.
Ookbee is backed by Chinese media group Tencent and together they launched the self-publication initiative Ookbee U in 2016. The two ventures have more than 10 million users and attract approximately 1 billion views each month of both paid and free content.
Pungcharoenpong studied engineering at the Asian Institute of Technology and is also a venture partner at 500 Startup’s Thai fund 500 Tuktuks.
Year founded: 2013
Industry: Logistics, E-Commerce
Prominent backers: Cyberagent Ventures, DKSH
Srivorakul is a serial entrepreneur based out of Bangkok. His latest project is e-commerce logistics company aCommerce, which seeks to provide end-to-end services to online retailers including order fulfilment, marketing and web development.
As chief executive officer, Srivorakul counts more than 200 global brands as clients. The company has a presence in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.
Company: Energy Absolute
Year founded: 2006
Industry: Transportation, Energy
Prominent backers: None
Somphote is the billionaire founder and director of renewable energy and biodiesel producer Energy Absolute. The company operates solar farms across the country as well as energy generating wind turbines.
After studying engineering in Thailand, Somphote graduated with an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. Today the entrepreneur is steering a new course towards electric vehicle (EV) adoption in Thailand and has pledged to put 5,000 EVs on Thai roads by the end of next year.
Energy Absolute went public in 2013. Last year it and posted a 30% jump in profits to $162 million.