As I have lived in Yangon long enough, I longed for access to large bodies of water. The only possible way in Yangon for me at this moment is to sail in Inya Lake, in the middle of Yangon. I started learning how to sail in the local club since 2016 March as a beginner sailor and started joining races as I progress in my learning ladder. Here are some lessons I have learned while sailing in Inya waters which can also be applied for startups in Myanmar.
1- If you are in a niche enough market, you will be the top of of the game.
Races in Inya Lake can be held for same boat classes, combined race or a fleet race. I once joined a combined race where various classes of boats will start off together but will be ranked according to their own class. A wide eyed beginner me joined the race having little or no clue about the rules except for safety. The race ended and what a surprise to learn I came in first in my class since mine was in the only boat in my class anyway. While I could claim bragging rights as the winner of the race, I know myself that I am nowhere near being the best sailer in the race. As a startup define their market niche enough, they could very well claim to be the best, top of the game or any other bragging rights, but in the end it’s the profits which they should use as a measure of their success.
2- Changing conditions can be a good thing
In Inya, unlike the open sea, I have observed that wind in the lake isn’t always constant, the various of even the same class could respond differently to the changing wind conditions. During races, when a wind shift occurs or when the wind conditions change, the boats which are slow in medium winds could be overtaking others during a light wind condition. If you look around enough, you can probably spot a good gust of wind that you can take advantage of that nobody have noticed either.
Myanmar’s economic and political development can be analogous to Inya’s winds, they do keep changing unlike more developed countries. Startups can use it to their advantage against bigger firms. Spot the opportunities of a gust of wind, take advantage of shifting winds, do what big companies cannot do.
3- Learning can be subconsciously done with enough motivation
The first sailing class I took was “Junior Sailor”, which was based on the sailing syllabus for Singapore Children. How to tack, gybe and how to tie knots are learnt consciously but the most learning come from just floating around the lake in a boat with my wife or in the heat of a race. That is where the formal lessons get drilled into my skin and bones.
Business and management trainings and books I took gave me knowledge on operating a startup but it’s during the execution, growing the company and competing in the market that gives me confidence and skills.
4- Aiming too high can sometimes slow you down
Most races in Inya involve sailing towards the wind (upwind) and following the wind (downwind). Since sail boats can’t possibly sail against the wind, the best possible angle is achieved by posting the boat at 45’ towards the wind. While this is in theory, the slight changes in wind condition and the geography means pointing at absolute 45’ will only slow you down. You are better off aiming at ever slightly less than 45’, try to achieve speed instead and win the race as a longer term strategy.
Same goes for startups in trying to optimise their resources. Sometimes, the best strategy is to aim and optimise for longer term market win instead of trying to optimise every resources or trying to win every deal.
5- Reduce as much drag as you can
Drag is the force which is applied to your boat from opposite direction you are trying to move. Sailors try to reduce drag as much as possible by making the boat’s hull smooth, making it sail on one of it’s edge, pulling up the centre board half way or even totally at certain sailing conditions. If you have some debris caught in your rudder, remove it immediately since they introduce more drag.
As we are trying to lift off our own startup off the ground, reduce as much unnecessary drag as possible. Keep the team lean so you won’t spend trying to entertain human resource issues instead of going out to meet customers. Keep your feature set small, bring your partners fully onboard or leave them behind for another trip, help them make that decision as fast as they can.
6- The position you took can make or brake your race (being at the place where the wind is).
It could be due to the pure luck that you started the race at just the right spot, or you entered a wind shadow with no wind at all. It could possibly be also because you planned that start of the race all along and you just had no choice to go through a zone with no wind to get to your destination.
Either you are cruising through your customer acquisition journey or stuck trying to overcome a tight technical spot, it could have been pure luck, pre-planning or something unavoidable. Whatever that is, your goal is still there and you may as well have to paddle using your bare hand through that wind shadow. If you did run your boat aground, you may have to jump off the boat for a bit and launch it again like you might have to reboot your company or start another one.
7- Competition gives you a reference and makes you learn faster (changing wind conditions wouldn’t let you compete against yourself)
Unlike other sports where you can race against your own time, sailing is tricky when it comes to that since even a lap of practice would give you better or worse results based on wind conditions. This requires you to have a competitor to give you a reference on how you are doing but not so accurately. You may be improving on your own term but if your competitor is improving much faster than you, you are still going to loose your races.
No startup is going to go through the same journey again. Even with the same team, same amount of funding, the market conditions would have been changed and you can never measure your improvement. Competitors give you a good reference on how much progress you have made and if you could possibly be doing it better.
8- Enjoy the experience even if you aren’t winning the race.
The best part of joining the race is the excitement and energy of the environment. Wind, sun, moon and the sound of water makes it all worth it in addition to the learning you get during the race regardless of your finishing position. Enjoy the race of startup and life in general. Winning would be good but even if you don’t come on top, there are things that are worth valuing along the way.
Sure, I will have more updated lessons as I progress in sailing and entrepreneurship, and will even have corrections to these lessons that I wrote of. I will keep the audience posted on them.
Traditional Online Marketplaces in Myanmar’s E-commerce era are on the edge of struggles and the coordination between stakeholders such as telcos, banks and payment providers served less users than more integration with many FinTech companies initial efforts to penetrate the market aside but it’s still questionable for the Country where Social media is a King and Cash is still dominating.
Maybe it’s time to rethink what an online marketplace can do for the frontier market like Myanmar? Could there ever be a multi-channel, artificially intelligent platform that can assist the social sellers to be successful in promising near future. Plus isn’t it time we skip the repetitive and boring process of posting online in multiple channels for the sellers and buyers alike with the artificially intelligent tools??
With enthusiasm for the massive machine learning technology, a group of young IT geeks has founded a cutting edge technology for Myanmar Online Marketplace: MyanZen — Rebuilding the Selling Experience
MyanZen is a platform that empowers small and medium social sellers to sell beyond traditional marketplaces. MyanZen blends in with the existing selling behaviour of the social commerce and provide solution at each part of the selling process — where social sellers can create products, track, manage and review the sales process effortlessly with the power of AI.
MyanZen is going to be launched soon and Startup95 team is privileged to mingle with them lately.
Q. Why MyanZen and how are you going to launch this to the market?
Founder & CEO (Swan Htet Aung): I thought it through in a very simple way. Online users do not have great user experience when it comes to online shopping and when we surveyed about it, the results were amazing enough for us to realise there was great problem at hand and began to start this out. Many users are socially active but not website friendly for the marketplaces, be it blog-shops or actual online e-commerce marketplaces, they are still behind par to serve social media users in Myanmar.
To trace back, late 2015, I did a survey on a scale of 1000 people of which of 30% are buyers and 70% sellers. There are approximately 4000 shopping pages in Myanmar, based on our findings and approximation through Facebook tools and data crawling. .
Our survey show that the real problem to solve for online marketplaces is not primarily on delivery or logistics, but the Order Placement..
Based on this finding, I decided to work on MyanZen which empowers the social sellers who are using chat apps and social networks to inefficiently sell on social media. Our platform seamlessly integrates with existing social networks to provide the best selling experience possible. By providing the backend system and AI tools to manage the storefronts, the social sellers will be able to manage their shops effectively and efficiently. Our UI/UX blend in with the existing selling behaviour and we’re able to do that because we have strong local knowledge.
Co-founder & COO of MyanZen (Paing Hein Htet): “We are going to mostly engage and acquire sellers through direct marketing and social media: Facebook marketing and we have set the initial approaches categorised into four layers/factors.
1. Focus Group Discussions
2. Sellers Success Stories
3. Word of Mouth Campaigns
4. Targeted ads on Social media
And we would aim to achieve 500 sellers in the first phase after the launch and expected to grab 30% market shares by the end of 2017. Most importantly, in our first year we want to make sure our technology is reliable, up and running smooth and sustainable to gain reputation and we will make sure all the sellers on our platform are satisfied and return to use our platform in the first place.
Q: It’s understandable that MyanZen is part of Telenor’s Accelerator program, but how was the idea initiated and developed in the first place?
Swan Htet Aung: “The first MVP of the idea was to solve the online marketplaces problems through a simple order placement tool in my native land. But then I was young and not able to convince my family to start my own business. I even shipped out to Singapore to find a job as developer, but then I was still so eager to start developing my first MVP of MyanZen. So, I set up a good story to tell my parents that it was hard to get a job in Singapore and finally returned home to do what I dreamt of. After returning to home, my second thought was that I needed a co-founder who should be experienced in similar things in hand. That’s when I met Paing Hein Htet who was working for one of the online shopping startup and it was a great Christmas present for December 2015.
But we both felt that we needed a proper training and support to establish a good platform. Finally, we got into accelerator programs where we learned execution for product placement and operation, investment 101 and pitching practices to work on better MVP everyday and getting a good founding members and employees for the business during our 4 months training days. We have met great people from silicon valleys and investors. The best part of the training also included better understanding about the ecosystem in the region and how the other industries are running across the regions and how we can apply it here.
The last but not least important founding member, Thiha Tun, CTO of MyanZen, Ex-NEX. A good old friend of Swan Htet Aung, joined the squad right after the Accelerator program as they both rekindled the passion to start something together just like the old days back in previous company crafting apps together.
We had a good chat with co-founder & CTO, Thiha Tun with couple of questions, as well.
Q: Facebook has launched e-commerce for the users to sell with nearby users and instagram — “Inselly” too — Do you think it would be a bit challenging for you to forecast what’s gonna happen next alongside country’s opening up with US businesses coming up something like Facebook and Instagram would dominate the market since “Facebook” is a thing here in Myanmar?
Thiha Tun: It would be a surprise to say that we are not surprised by that and we are even feeling better at the opportunity to learn more AI and Machine Learning technologies as our goals are to support the sellers with automated backend flow on a single platform. As we have all observed that buyer/seller behaviours in the region are totally different and most assumptions are not useful at times. But thanks to Facebook inspiration, now every business can be supported by Machine Learning that would make Facebook the actual store front and MyanZen will be a support with a great platform to online users with marketplaces and stores. We would let Facebook compete with everyone and give us the best resources to create. It’s a total win-win to us to deliver the best experiences.
The most challenges we see are — Unicode/Zawgyi — Burglish as language barriers — but it’s going to be fine. For machine learning, it would at least take twice the efforts to even just train for Myanmar Language. But we have made progress with the help of those newly launched machine learning libraries. Thanks to that we have better understanding on machine learning and have achieved better MVP with 35 sellers as our beta users.
Q: What are your actual plan and pipelines to work it out?
Paing Hein Htet: “We are going to have super LEAN team with awesome abilities. We need mostly technical skills to make sure our product gets going well and run smoothly. We are going to hire about 10 people in our first year in 2017. As we grow, we have to learn a lot up to the minute as it’s automated — product is AI as the core. Learning is the key culture at MyanZen and it will be a great workplace to grow the careers with us.
“And our ultimate goal is to support the startups ecosystem in the country, finding the right business path, fundraising strategy & tips and building the infrastructure together with industrial stakeholders.”
MyanZen will be introduced to the market in the coming early 2017. Meanwhile, interested users may have a look at this website of MyanZen — http://www.myanzen.com/ to subscribe for more updates and stay tuned for the launch very soon or drop an email at [email protected]