The Unprecedented Explosion of Smartphones in Myanmar

July 11, 2017, 3:30 AM

Just six years ago, only North Korea had fewer mobile phones than Myanmar. Now, almost everyone in Southeast Asia’s poorest country is connected.

By Philip Heijmans

Outside the offices of an internet startup called nexlabs, a snarl of honking cars and rickshaws grinds to a standstill on a trash-strewn street lined with crumbling buildings. Inside, though, the scene could be straight out of Silicon Valley.

Programmers in t-shirts and jeans tap away at laptops beneath posters exhorting them to “Innovate” and “Dance Like Crazy.” Local demand for their smartphone apps and websites is exploding, and in the last 12 months they’ve inked marketing contracts with multi-nationals like Samsung Electronics Co. and Nestle SA.

“It’s in the air,” says the company’s 25-year-old chief executive officer, Ye Myat Min. “Yesterday, I was in a cafe and the guys next to me were talking about building an app.”

An employee make notes as she takes inventory of mobile phone accessory at a store in Yangon.

An employee make notes as she takes inventory of mobile phone accessory at a store in Yangon.

What’s remarkable about Ye Myat Min’s internet success story is that it’s happening in a country where most people are farmers, the majority of roads are unpaved, and reliable electricity remains a luxury: Myanmar.

Just six years ago, when Myanmar was emerging from decades of isolation imposed by its military dictatorship, phones were an extravagance available only to the rich and well-connected. Only North Korea had fewer mobile phones. Now, though, after the airwaves were opened to foreign investors willing to bear some of the cost of building a vast wireless network, almost everyone in Southeast Asia’s poorest country is connected.

“It’s amazing,” said Marc Einstein, an analyst at Tokyo-based consulting firm ITR Corporation, who’s advised several telecommunications businesses moving into Myanmar. “I can’t think of another market where things have transformed so quickly.”

The watershed came in 2013, when a government led by former president Thein Sein ended the state monopoly over phone service. A smartly planned tender offer made sure new licenses weren’t a simple giveaway. Investors had to commit to covering the country’s farthest reaches, not just its cities, where population density makes for easier money.

By the following year, Norway’s Telenor ASA and Qatar’s Ooredoo Q.S.C. were starting to spend billions of dollars to cover a land mass the size of Texas, spread over steep mountains and lowlands that flood in monsoon season. Japanese carrier KDDI Corp. and trading company Sumitomo Corp. struck partnership deals with the government’s Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications to invest another $2 billion.

A cell phone tower on the outskirts of Yangon.

A cell phone tower on the outskirts of Yangon.

Now there are thousands of cell phone towers sprouting out of forests and remote rice paddies, running off their own solar-powered electricity. Refrigerated boxes protect their computerized brains from Myanmar’s sweltering heat.

In 2015, Myanmar signed up more people for mobile phone service than any country in the world except China and India, according to the Asian Development Bank. By last June, about 90 percent of the country’s 54 million people had access to a phone with internet service, the Myanmar Computer Federation says. Some 60 percent use Facebook or other social media to get news, state media reported in April. In Yangon, the country’s biggest city, you can now hail a car using ride-sharing apps like Uber or Grab.

Back in the days of the junta, the identification chip that goes inside a cellphone, a SIM card, could run you more than $2,000 on the black market. These days, a data-enabled card sold by Ooredoo, the Qatari company, can be had for $1.50. A smartphone itself can cost less than $20. And domestic calls are about 2 cents per minute.

Left: An Ooredoo employee shows a book containing available mobile phone numbers inside the company store in Yangon; Right: Shoppers look at mobile phones for sale at a street stall.

Left: An Ooredoo employee shows a book containing available mobile phone numbers inside the company store in Yangon; Right: Shoppers look at mobile phones for sale at a street stall.

Naing Win, a 30-year-old man selling waffles from a pushcart in Yangon, says for years he had no way to communicate with his family back home in the countryside, except by post. “It’s much easier” now that everyone has a smartphone, he said.

Thiri Thant Mon, owner of a small investment bank in the city, says she still remembers how magazines from the outside world used to arrive weeks late because censors needed time to comb through them.

“Suddenly because we’re on internet,” she said, “people realize what the rest of the world looks like. Now it’s like everybody on the street is talking about Trump. A few years ago, nobody knew what was happening in the next town.’’

If there is a risk in Myanmar’s mobile phone miracle, it’s to the companies who’ve invested in it, according to Einstein, the telecom consultant. Asia is full of examples, he says, where regulators have allowed cut-throat competition that drives prices down fast, but also puts firms out of business.

"A few years ago, nobody knew what was happening in the next town."

In January, Myanmar may have taken a step in that direction when it issued a fourth license to a group led by Viettel Group, the state-owned carrier run by Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense, which has a track record of entering markets in far flung places like Haiti, Tanzania and Cambodia—and mowing down the competition.

Viettel didn’t respond to a request for comment. Representatives for all three of Myanmar’s current carriers said the companies have always assumed they would have to deal with a fourth competitor. Einstein, the analyst, summed it up this way: “Things are going to get nasty.’’

For the average Burmese person, though, not so much.

Most people in Myanmar still have to carry wads of cash in their pockets — banks are scare and only 5 percent of the population has an account, according to the United Nations — but a crush of new apps may solve that.

One of them called Wave Money, an app developed by Telenor with a local partner, allows people to make payments or transfer money, and even withdraw cash at thousands of general stores using nothing besides their smartphones. Some 450,000 people have used the service since its launch last August, according to the company.

“Myanmar is crying out for better financial services and smartphones make this possible without the usual brick-and-mortar investment,” said David Madden, founder and CEO of Yangon-based business incubator Phandeeyar.

A man carries a Telenor parasol in Yangon.

A man carries a Telenor parasol in Yangon.

Smartphones for everyone means Myanmar’s farmers can now get addicted to online games just like everyone else. Local software developer My Play says it already has one million users for its five games, including one that allows players to race the obstacle course of Myanmar’s roads in a rickshaw. In March, Australia’s Isentric Ltd. said it agreed to purchase the company for $4.6 million.

Myanmar is offering the world an object lesson in how the internet can render obsolete some elements of physical infrastructure, like fixed line phones or even bank branches, but there are still things the internet can’t replace.

At nexlabs, the Yangon start-up, the electricity failed just as CEO Ye Myat Min sat down to talk about Myanmar’s mobile phone gold rush. The young entrepreneur seemed unfazed as the office plunged into darkness for a few seconds before backup generators roared to life.

Doh Eain (ဒို့အိမ်)

By Henry Kyaw Zin Oo


Doh Eain is an initiative that focuses on heritage conservation and urban renewal in Myanmar. Its aim is very clear which is to revivify Yangon's rich historical and multi-cultural city center in a locally-owned, forward-looking and financially sustainable way. It also aims to create a Home Owner Fund through which a percentage of revenues from the renovated buildings is channeled into repair and preservation of common areas and other social projects for instance, roofs and facades and back alleys, and homes of people who cannot afford renovation. As a first project under this Fund, Doh Eain launched its Alley Garden project which plans to turn dirty and trashy back alleys of Yangon's buildings and houses into beautiful garden alleys with children's playgrounds, recycling units, and art drawn on the walls by children, artists and other volunteers. By running this project, it improves the unsightly looks of the back alleys as well as it showcases the talent of different members of neighborhoods. Doh Eain believes in improving not only the looks of the building facades and back alleys but also the lifestyle of the people of Myanmar.


A Yangon City upgraded in terms of attractiveness, safety, cleanliness and sustainability, and owned and enjoyed by the original residents who actively take part in developing the city's rich and diverse legacy.


Help Yangon's home owners, residents and local authorities see the socio-economic significance of historical, cultural and natural assets present in Yangon, and help them capitalize on these assets, thereby creating incentives for their future preservation.


To upgrade a minimum of 100 properties or spaces in a financially viable way within 5 years, thereby generating at least USD 1,000,000 for other urban renewal projects.


Working with NEX

Doh Eain was initially called Yangon Heritage Homes (YHH). They wanted to work together with NEX for rebranding and renaming of their project, so without any hesitation, we gladly accepted. There is no honor bigger than working with an initiative that wholeheartedly preserves the beauty and elements of Yangon’s heritage to let them shine through the entire city. Bringing these colonial beauties back to life takes a gargantuan effort and we all know that naming is super important because we need to make sure the name captures the hearts of the Burmese people as well as blossom deeper and greater love for the country and for its betterment.

The Thought Process

The thought process of naming for Doh Eain was rather a fun one for everyone involved at NEX. “How fun?” you may ask. For young, creative and energetic people, brainstorming session is always the times we look forward to because all sorts of ideas are splurted out and we get more creative coming up with ideas after ideas and with each moment passed. What’s more interesting is, we even searched for the names in ‘Pali’ – the language of Dhamma. Now that is really something, right?

While researching the names both in simple Burmese language and Pali, it made us learn many things that would be very useful and necessary for branding and brand identity. For instance, creating a rhythmic tagline for a product or a project and the meaning of that name. So, working on brand identity and name is like killing two birds with one stone. We learn where brands’ directions are and we gain more experience in coming up with recipes to cook interesting and original dishes of brand names and identity.

Discarded Ideas

Well of course when it comes to brainstorming, there sure are some ideas that are left thrown in the bin. We cooked up too many ideas that the wok overflowed. Some of them, we feel, are best kept secret because they are just too creatively hilarious.

Some of you may wonder why some ideas were not used, so we will share them with you here and the ‘WHYs’ of them being discarded. Here we go:

Gehathit – it essentially means ‘A New Home’ or ‘A New Haven’ for the people. Homes are used to be called ‘Geha’ in the past, during the colonial era. ‘Geha’ represents an act of providing a safe haven for families and relatives.

So why was it discarded?

Well, while the sound of it in Burmese was pleasing to the ears, it did not really convey a good feeling for the home owners. It was actually more focused on the rental of the homes rather than showing the meaning of the purpose of the project therefore, this was not very ideal to use.

And other names? Well, there are a few more.

EainThit – it basically means the same thing as ‘Gehathit’ except it is in pure Burmese language and ‘Geha” is Pali language. As the name is very general, this does not bring much of a value to the colonial buildings as well as to Doh Eain’s purpose. So this was discarded as well.


YangonDecors – this is simply a name given with a simple meaning behind it. Yangon – a sense of belonging or rather, commitment to Yangon and with a sense of scalability at the same time. Decors – ornamentation of the interior with a sense of what the business will be doing. A classy yet illustrative name indeed.

Thaha Eain was a name that was also suggested. Thaha, by definition of Pali, means ‘Just/Fair’ while ‘Eain’ means ‘Home’. Sounds interesting, isn’t it? These are the names you could not even begin to imagine in your daily lives because it takes a real deep knowledge of what the word truly means. A thorough research has to be done.


So this is discarded too? Yes.

Whilst this name may sound interesting to everyone, it ripples more aura of Dhamma than to portray the elements of colonial buildings. We don’t want it to sound like we’re visiting a monastery or a temple now, do we?

Anymore? Sure there are!

YwatThit – it means ‘New Leaf’. The colonial buildings are, as we know, old and timeworn infrastructures. Therefore, it is time they are refurbished to keep up with time and very obviously, to show off what they are – the essence of a colonial building.

“So why was this discarded too?”, you may ask.

We are talking about buildings here. Not just an average building. We are talking about colonial buildings. These buildings were build 100 years back and they don’t just collapse easily till this day. So to compare them with a ‘Leaf’, it would not be very soothing to hear the sound of it, would it?

BawaThit – this essentially means ‘New Life’. Why? They were built in the 1800s which is almost like a past life to most of us – the 21st century hippies. So it would only make sense for them to be revamped and revived to stand out in this century because after all, ‘Old Is Gold’, isn’t it?

Reason for this being discarded?

Truth is, we wanted the names to be only associated with a sense of belonging and architecture. Also, we had to keep in mind the purpose of Doh Eain’s which is to recondition the buildings and to preserve the rich historical values and legacy of the colonial buildings.

The discarded names are not to be mocked at though because they were very meaningful and essence-filled in their own ways. However, we concluded on the one name which would incorporate the values Doh Eain wanted.

Now comes the best part and why we settled with the name Doh Eain.

The Name

After having a series of meetings amongst ourselves, cracking our brains and coming up with loads of names, we settled with ‘Doh Eain’. Why ‘Doh Eain’? In Burmese, ‘Doh’ means ‘Our’ while ‘Eain’ means ‘Home/House’. In this case, we chose ‘Home’ because home is where the heart is.  Hence, the name ‘Doh Eain’ which is ‘Our Home’. This actually gives people of Myanmar a sense of belonging and makes them appreciate what is given or provide for them.

The Logo

The logo ‘Doh Eain’ is simply crafted with a text using the font ‘Akzidenz-Grotesk BQ Condensed’ accompanied by a colonial building engirdled with the letter ‘O’ – Iconography. The slogan comes with the secondary font and different color which creatively supports the primary font.

The Identity

Brand clarity is important thus it’s imperative that the right name is picked to go in line with ‘Doh Eain’ project. The icon shows a colonial building encircled with a ring around it which indicates that the colonial buildings are protected and preserved well. Even the slightest of details such as, the windows in the icon are carefully crafted to show the elements of colonial buildings.

Alternate Usage

Logos in Myanmar Version

The Colors

Turquoise’ and ‘Peach’ are the primary colors used. ‘Turquoise’ ripples out the aura of colonial buildings while ‘Peach’ flashes the strength of the old colonial bricks. These two colors collectively forge emotional aspects of colonial buildings while giving an impressionistic form.

In conclusion, we are very proud to be working together with Doh Eain. To have such many kind people involved in this project, it is really heartwarming and it spreads happiness in everyone. Don’t you agree? We believe you do. We also believe Myanmar and her people will see the values Doh Eain is bringing to them so, let us all appreciate the work Doh Eain is doing and let’s keep our city clean and green!

Beautiful Myanmar, where immense polite culture and hospitality blossom.

Please visit Doh Eain on their website and Facebook page to find out more.

The struggles and strategies of innovating in Myanmar

As featured on Frontier Myanmar

From taxi-hailing apps to curated content, tech-savvy local firms are striving to meet consumer needs in a market that’s growing rapidly but still largely bereft of competition.


YANGON’S version of Silicon Valley is a niche community of local entrepreneurs who are passionate about creating products and services specifically for the country. In a country that has just opened to foreign investors, these young startup founders approach a market ripe with potential.

Unfortunately, the developing nature of the market also means technology must be developed from scratch – and the lack of basic infrastructure makes growth much more difficult.

Ko Ye Myat Min’s fascination with computers began at age 12, when he first learned how to code. While attending the Practising High School (formerly known as the Teachers’ Training College), he would read books and write down coding language, but he had nowhere to test it. “We weren’t allowed inside the computer lab at school. It collected a thick layer of dust – this sacred place no one really touches,” he said.

While studying business in Singapore, he began building websites for international firms. This was his springboard for launching Nex Labs. Ye Myat Min then had the good fortune to meet an angel investor. In 2013, the investor gave him the seed capital to found Nex. The same day, he dropped out of Singapore Management University.

Like many Myanmar nationals studying abroad, he heard about the reforms happening at home and wanted to launch something that would cater to the under-served local market. The 24-year-old CEO, who was included on Forbes Asia’s 30 Under 30 list this year, considers Nex Labs less of an agency and more of a startup whose goal is “inserting innovation and creativity into anything we do”.

How Facebook Messenger Bots can add value to your business

Often times when you send a message to a Brand Page on Facebook, you'd have to wait an hour to days in order to get a response. No matter how much brands have invested in the front-line customer service department, a delay can always be expected as the other end have always been a person who's always struggling with a huge amount of cases to solve and queries to answer.

Would it not be great if you could have a streamlined experience where your Brand Facebook Page could become more efficient at answering customer queries? Would it not be a fantastic experience for your customer if they did not have to wait hours to get an answer for a simple issue that they are facing? To put icing on the cake, would it not be extremely beneficial to your business if your Brand Facebook Page could become the backbone of your company; salesforce?

Turns out you could achieve that grand vision of turning your Brand Facebook Page into something that offers not only an amazing customer experience but also leads for your expensive sales guys, today!

Recently, Facebook has introduced a new kind of interaction – named – Bots! There’s no other way to explain this better than showing you examples.



So, what does this mean for your business?

Here are some ideas that you could apply the usage of Bots to help grow your business.

1.      Customer Service Bot

If you are a consumer-facing Brand, the most effective marketing that you can do is customer support. Consumers expect your Brand to have good customer support. Until now, customer support has been an extremely labor-intensive task and yet, most of the support cases and inquiries are similar and thus, can be automated. Imagine a Facebook Messenger Bot which asks your customer automatically about issues and presents them with solutions automatically and efficiently without having any delays. Moreover, such Customer Service Bot could also regularly check-in with a customer and see if one has been facing any challenges lately without interrupting the customer.

2.      Sales Bot

Imagine a sales funnel where discovery and briefing could be automated by a Bot. This would mean that you’d have unlimited amount of sales agents to push sales and interact with customers.

 3.      News Bot

Finally, you could have 2-way conversation with your readers while informing them about latest news. Your readers love to personalize. They are sports fans and they do not want to see business news! Bots can exactly offer that type of personalized content to your readers and thus increase not only readership but also Brand Loyalty.

4.      Booking Bot

What if a customer could check availability and pricing regarding your restaurant or hotel right from their messenger? To make things even more interesting, what if they could actually book a room directly from Messenger? Possibilities are endless.

Bots are real. They’re fun and much more interactive than any other marketing/engagement medium that we have ever seen. And the best part is that they’re here today. And they’re going to be leading a whole new digital experience transformation. Now the question is – how do you want bots to help grow your business?

Bringing Design to Yangon

On December 2nd creative director Monika Traikov addressed a group of industry professionals, journalists, and fellow creatives at the formal introduction of Yangon Redesigned. 

First impressions are formed in a fraction of a second. With just a glance at your storefront, website or ad, your customer has already formed a perception of your brand. Standing out from the competition, building trust and communicating your service all occur within this brief moment.

It all starts with creative, original, graphic design.

With Myanmar growing and new businesses popping up, the design culture is lagging; brand recognition amongst companies is difficult. By promoting contemporary graphic design Yangon Redesigned is going to change that.

Five designers from NEX are involved in Yangon Redesigned to bring the project to life. With various backgrounds in photography, graphic design, illustration and UI / UX design, each member brings a unique perspective to the project.

“We aim to help people see Yangon in a different light, with the changing times we will be ahead of the graphic design game, by supplying social media users and companies a prospective image of what is possible.” says Creative Director Monika Traikov.

With a growing cult following of 3700+ people on Facebook, Yangon Redesigned will be expanding into poster and sticker sales, wallpaper and icon freebies, workshops, as well as facilitating local design get-togethers.

Previously sponsored events include the World Wide Instameet 12 (the only one of it’s kind in Myanmar), where like-minded creatives met at Kandawgyi Park and discussed tips on photography, illustration and graphic design.

Yangon Redesigned started by rebranding well-known local companies such as “Lucky Seven Tea Shop”, “The Dagon Centre”, “Oishii Sushi” and “Sai’s Tacos”. The rebranding was done in order to illustrate the process of a revising brand identity; as well as to showcase the potential of good design, and how it can bring value to local companies.

“There seems to be a disconnect between the messages that Myanmar brands are aiming to make, and their graphic execution. Graphic design is about supporting the message of a brand, and organising information to send a clear message. A lot of companies in Myanmar do not yet understand the value of effective design.” Traikov says. 

The initiative has been focusing on community projects such as redesigning a map of Yangon, the circle train line, as well as a map of Myanmar. Yangon Redesigned serves as a tool to educate Yangonites about design literacy and the importance of distinguishing between good and bad design.

Where we came from:

NEX is a two and a half year old start-up that has been helping businesses formulate and execute digital strategies locally, as well as internationally. The company is renowned for their reputation of combining strategic thinking and engineering capabilities with digital craftsmanship.

The tech-based company has developed products such as “Snackshots”, a customisable sticker app, “Kyeet”, a powerful election monitoring app, “Foodie”, a Yangon food guide app, and “Nexy keyboard”, an app that makes typing Romanized Burmese a breeze (as well as countless others).

The agency is shifting and expanding their creative department, allowing room for designers to enhance the digital strategy of businesses, and help them grow. 

The Yangon Redesigned project began as an idea, a realisation that Yangon has been lacking good contemporary graphic design. It is a project that NEX’s CEO, Ye Myat Min, always wanted. 

Yangon Redesigned is a part of the grander vision of NEX. Walking around I see what technology, in it’s limited capacity, could do for Yangon and Myanmar. So I want to bring that to life - that’s what Yangon Redesigned is all about.” Min says.  

Yangon Redesigned along with NEX hopes that design and technology will come together and reshape the way Yangon thinks about products, brands, and even the city itself.

NEX raises $150k more from Blibros; to become a full-stack digital agency

As featured on DealStreetAsia

By Juliet Shwe Gaung

Armed with its second round seed funding, Yangon-based digital agency NEX, that offers web and mobile development services, has added the creative design dimension to enable the two-year-old startup to become a full-stack digital agency in the frontier market. NEX recently raised an additional $150,000 from existing investor Blibros Ltd, an investment company under the management of the Family BÖCKER. With this round, Blibros’ investment in NEX stands at $300,000.

Ye Myat Min, 24, founder and CEO, NEX, is bullish about adding the creative design function. In fact, the firm is at a stage in Myanmar where it is educating the ecosystem about the possibilities and impact that design and marketing can have. In that direction, it has launched a voluntary initiative Yangon Redesigned, which is all about producing content and building awareness of design in Myanmar businesses.

Through the Facebook page of Yangon Redesigned, NEX have introduced some of their design works such as creating awareness about the country’s landmark elections, Myanmar’s traditional food, social causes and so on.

With a current valuation of $2.5million, NEX works with clients in Myanmar, China, Singapore, US and Europe. Speaking to DEALSTREETASIA in an interview, Ye Myat Min talks extensively about the creative design function at the digital agency. Edited Excerpts:-

NEX started its creative design team recently. How did you come about setting up this function?

Earlier, we handled application and website designs. However, we did not handle the logo design and branding aspect. Only around May 2015 we thought about working on design that included branding. When we receive a project, it happens most of the time that if the website is modernized, the logo is outdated. Some of our clients’ logos have been created a long time ago and the color used for the logo does not match the website that we have developed. On the other hand, if we change the website to match the logo, it doesn’t look good. So, it started when we thought about pushing our clients to change their logos.

When we walk around Yangon, at most of the shops, there’s only a signage. No proper logos, tag lines or branding. Most of the shops will make a sign board, go to the printing house for the menus. We tried to conceptualize the idea of what if there is a logo, and the menu created goes along with it.

What is the scope of work which will be covered under the creative design wing?

Under the creative design, we do branding including creating logos, custom printed cups, point of sales (POS) materials such as flyers and billboards, designing for social media posts, campaign designs, website designs and creating user experience. We have five people working for the creative team including a manger.

How do you go about the design process with your clients?

Before we create a design, we brainstorm on aspects like why the design needs to be created, what impact it will have, what is audience preference and who are the audience. When we get a project, we first do a detailed research. After finishing a design and before handing over to the client, we test audience perception for a month. Creating a logo is easy but maintaining the consistency is important. In some large companies, the use of logo in different areas is not consistent. We give an emphasis on these areas.

Do you see some challenges dealing with clients?

We turn most of the conversations with the clients to be educational. For example, we are working on the website for Rangoon Tea House. They already have a great branding and an eye on design, therefore, it is easy to carry on the conversation. They would easily understand why we are doing. However, for some clients, when we create a mock-up we always need to explain and have an educational process.

What’s the idea behind starting Yangon Redesigned, a non-profit initiative?

The idea of the non-profit is to be able to reach the educational material to everyone. The works created at Yangon Redesigned are what is deduced through public knowledge. It is our initiative and we want people to see our work, and provide a kind of knowledge or inspiration out of it.

Can you tell me some of the businesses that you have already been engaged in creative design?

We are now working on businesses in the food and financial services sectors.

Is there any non-profit organisations that you have worked with?

Connecting with NGOs is very difficult and takes time due to the approval process. However, we already have ideas from our side. Last month we planned to create a video and graphic campaign for some women-related issues like breast cancer and smoking. However, we could not take it forward due to lack of time. We feel instead of directly stating the ideas to the NGOs, it is more effective to lay out our ideas for them to see.

Back-Alley Computer Geeks Are Hidden Winners of Myanmar Election

[As seen on Bloomberg]

In a run-down building on a trash-strewn side street of oily vehicle repair shops and steamy noodle vendors, a group of 20-something software geeks are hunched over laptops in a white and red open-plan office, working on projects for everything from a private-jet operator to a mobile-phone network.

This is Yangon, where old and new aren’t so much juxtaposed as living on top of each other.

"There’s just enormous, enormous amounts of opportunities here," says Ye Myat Min, the 25-year-old chief executive officer of Nex, whose clients also include the state postal service. "We’re in a very unique situation where we don’t really need to think about competition at first because there is so much demand."

Those opportunities have blossomed in Myanmar in the past four years as economic sanctions eased after the military government agreed to end direct rule. Just as in China and Vietnam before it, the end of isolation brought an economic dividend, with 8 percent-plus annual growth spawning a property boom, traffic jams, and the telltale patchwork development of urban transformation.

Even with the country on the eve on an election that could produce the biggest political upheaval in half a century, executives like Ye Myat Min are confident that the sheer breadth of opportunity will keep the boom going.

“We really have been frozen in time for 50-odd years,” says Melvyn Pun, CEO of Yoma Strategic Holdings, a conglomerate invested in everything from real estate to Myanmar’s first KFC fast-food outlet. “The potential is very clear. I think we’re living through a golden period.”

Foreign direct investment jumped 10-fold between 2009 and 2014 to $4.1 billion. During that time, the junta transferred power to a military-backed political arm in a 2010 election in an effort to remove the crippling economic sanctions.

That poll was boycotted by the main opposition party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Next week, a new election will be held in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has the chance to break military control that stretches back to a coup in 1962.

While some fear that a shift in power, or a fragmented parliament with no clear mandate, would be disruptive for business, Pun says the will to modernize the economy runs across the political spectrum.

"They are all pro-reform," Pun says. "Reform has been beneficial to a large segment of the society, everyone from the current ruling party to the opposition party to the military to the ethnic groups."

There’s a lot still needed, including a stock exchange and new laws on investment, mining, intellectual property, condominium ownership and arbitration. A post-election session of parliament due to begin just a week after the ballot, suggests that the current ruling party will try to pass bills set aside during the 60-day campaign period, including updated companies and investment laws, according to Eurasia Group Myanmar specialist Christian Lewis.

“Whoever becomes the government, it’s important just to improve the economy,” says Khin Shwe, founder of construction firm Zaykabar Co. and an upper-house lawmaker for the military-backed government. The company, which has a caged bear by the gate to his offices on the outskirts of Yangon, is one that remains on the U.S. sanctions list.

Some of the issues Myanmar faces are new to the society, such as soaring real estate prices. Others are recognizable in developing countries around the world that have been starved of investment: poor infrastructure, skills shortages, corruption and opaque regulations.

Foremost for businesses, whoever wins the election, is to continue to hack away at the bureaucracy and stifling legislation that plagued investment for so long, says Aye Lwin, joint secretary-general of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“So many complicated procedures, so much taxation, so much corruption,” he says, comparing doing business in Myanmar to a potato-sack race where everybody falls down before they reach the finish line. It wasn’t the international sanctions, “we sanctioned ourselves.”

Since the previous election in 2010, the government has been trying to cut the obstacles to business, promising to grant approvals within a month, instead of several months.

For mobile network operator Ooredoo Myanmar, red tape has been less of a problem than the country’s archaic infrastructure, especially once you leave the main cities, as it tries to erect cellphone towers and lay 12,000 kilometers of fiber-optic cable across the country.

"In a lot of cases now, we need to first build the road," says CEO Rene Meza, whose company launched its service in Myanmar last year. "It’s an exciting country, an exciting market. Probably the really last frontier market with such potential in the industry."

The biggest fear that hangs over the hopes of investors, reformers and democracy campaigners is the memory of 1990. That was the first time the military leaders tried to reintroduce democracy. The election was a landslide for Suu Kyi’s party, but the junta annulled the result, plunging the country back into isolation and sanctions.

Though a repeat of that is unlikely, the political uncertainty over the past year has weighed on investment, Yoma’s Pun said.

“We do see investors being on the sidelines -- waiting for clearer signs of the future,” he says. “When we see a successful and transparent and free election being conducted, I think that will give comfort to investors.”

Still, he cautions against the euphoria and hype that came immediately after Myanmar’s re-opening. Nearby Vietnam began opening its country in the 1980s and even after more than three decades its economy is still half the size of Thailand, which has fewer people.

“Let’s be realistic, we’re not going to become Bangkok in five, 10 years,” Pun says. The opportunities in Myanmar are “very large, but you have to look far enough."

For Ye Myat Min and his coworkers at Nex, the election just means more business -- they developed an app for organizations monitoring the vote that reports incidents and fraud at polling stations.

In an industrial-chic space more in tune with a Chelsea design studio than a Yangon alley, a small slice of the country’s younger generation are busy tapping at laptops on large communal tables, under signs urging them to “Innovate” and “Dance Like Crazy.”

“We have a lot of foreign companies coming here. That’s great,” said Ye Myat Min, who started the company 2 1/2 years ago with seed money from an Australian angel investor. “But what I really hope to see within the next three, five years is a local Myanmar company expanding into other countries and making a name for themselves.”

Digital Marketing - Essential Element of a Successful Organization

In a business world that is so vigorous and dynamic, companies are always coming up with solutions and innovative ideas to make sure they stay ahead in this competitive race. Some of those solutions are, of course, marketing & advertising and they play a crucial role in the survival of the company. Marketing has many subcategories and out of those subcategories, there is one that is becoming increasingly popular lately – Digital Marketing.

Digital Marketing is the art of using digital technologies to promote a brand, raise awareness or to increase sales to either businesses or customers alike. Activities include Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Content Marketing, Influencer Marketing, Content Automation, Campaign Marketing, E-Commerce Marketing, Social Media Marketing, E-mail direct marketing, Display Advertising, E-Books, Games and many other digital medias. There are other digital marketing channels that does not include internet for the end users such as SMS, MMS, Callback or on-hold mobile ring tones. Among the digital marketing channels, there are a few favorite channels for businesses or customers which are affiliate marketing, display advertising, e-mail marketing, search engine marketing, social media and social media marketing. Some of those channels can be used for other purposes like communication, rather than just digital marketing.

Among all the social media channels in the world, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Plus, Youtube and Pinterest has gotten the most interest out of billions of users. A large portion of the users in Myanmar are familiar with Facebook for now but Instagram is starting to catch up. They have started to realize that social medias are really strong and cheap tools to get your brand across. Online shops are everywhere and the products range from clothing to makeup and even home-cooked food!

Businesses can create Facebook Pages on . When creating a Facebook Page, the business should decide which type of Facebook Book page to portray that suits their type of business. For example, if the business is a product company and chose Entertainment Page, the page will only be recommended to Facebook users that has most interest in Entertainment Pages. In other words, know who you want to market to.

Facebook Page is not just a social media platform. It is also the image of the company online. It is crucial that all the relevant information to contact the business is there. When designing cover photos and profile photos, it is best that it is designed in a way that promotes your product visually. After all, the first thing a user sees when visiting a page is the profile photo and the cover photo.

In this digital age, using digital channels are the fastest way to penetrate a market – a big market covered with just a few minutes! The core strengths of digital channels is that businesses get the chance to promote their product in a very short amount of time, analyze the customers’ feedbacks (both good and bad), evaluate their competitors and build customer relationships easily.

It is for the above reasons why digital marketing plays a huge role for the success of a company and that every company should have one.

Reference: Wikipedia, SAS

Working Lives Yangon: Internet entrepreneur

As featured on BBC.

At 24 years old internet entrepreneur, Ye Myat Min is, on paper at least, one of Myanmar's newly minted millionaires.

Two and a half years ago, Ye Myat divided his time between his studies in Singapore and trying to get the business off the ground.

The combination did not work. His grades plummeted and much to his parents annoyance he dropped his studies and returned to work fulltime in Yangon.

But the timing was good. Myanmar was on the cusp of a connectivity revolution. State of the art mobile networks were about to be built across the country and smart phone sales were rocketing.

His breakthrough has been Hush, a chat app that allows people to remain anonymous.

Myanmar's past as a closed off country means that many people are "very conservative, shy and closed about their opinions," he explains.

The platform allows people to speak more openly about their opinions.

His internet and app design company Nex was recently valued at $2.5m (£1.65m), currently has 30 employees and is expecting to add another 10 in the coming months.

Home-grown Digital Agency NEX raises another US$150,000 foreign investment to expand its service portfolio

Myanmar, Yangon, 4th Sep 2015 – NEX, a Yangon-based digital agency that helps businesses formulate and execute digital strategies, has raised an additional US$150,000 from Blibros Ltd which is an investment company under the management of the Family BÖCKER. Blibros Ltd had also invested in NEX as 2nd round seed investment in October 2014 and thus, bringing the total amount of investment committed by Blibros Ltd to US$300,000

For the past two years, NEX has offered web and mobile development services to clients in Myanmar as well as from China, Singapore, Australia, Thailand and the region. NEX has also created a range of its own apps that have been widely used within Myanmar. With the newly replenished funding, NEX is looking at expanding not only the team but also its service offerings by adding two additional categories – Creative Design and Social Media Marketing, in order to become a full-blown digital agency in Myanmar.  

From 2014 to present, there have been an impressive number of foreign investments into Myanmar tech startups from investors across Asia. NEX is the first local startup to raise investment twice from the same investor.

“We are positioning ourselves to become a noteworthy player in the digital space; not just in Myanmar but at a regional scale. I strongly believe that with the support from investors and advisors, NEX will be able to explore many more opportunities. Raising an additional round of investment from existing investors has been a big push in our motivation and confidence.” said Ye Myat Min, Founder and Managing Director of NEX.

Jonas Lindstörm of Blibros Ltd commented, “We are thrilled to be part of NEX’s journey and support the founding team to achieve its vision. We have witnessed exceptional growth within the last 10 months. With the new funds, we believe we can achieve higher strategic goals together with the NEX team”. Ned Phillips, early angel investor, added, “I have a strong belief in NEX as well as its founder Ye Myat Min. Since the first round of investment that I took part in two and a half years ago, with just 6 employees at NEX, it is impressive to see the company transformed into an international team with almost 30 full time employees.”.

Recently, NEX has recruited expatriates in order to strengthen its departments, particularly, on creative design and management. With such experienced fresh talent, NEX is expecting to create a perfect mixture between international expertise and local knowledge. One of the demonstrations of such capabilities is Yangon Redesigned which is an online design community with a mission to increase design awareness in Yangon. As of today, Yangon Redesigned has received a lot of positive feedback as well as dozens of requests to work with a range of different brands.

Through the newly replenished funds, NEX continues to look forward to the new age of digital Myanmar. “We are keeping innovation, design and localization as our DNA regardless of how far we’ve grown. Without such cultural values, we would never be able to achieve our vision. I am proud that NEX is writing history by being part of the digital transformation of Myanmar.”, said Ye Myat Min.

What is Yangon Redesigned?

Many of you have asked why we do what we do. Therefore, we wanted to take a chance at visually explaining ourselves.

This poster should explain all the things that you guys have been wondering about Yangon Redesigned. One thing that we can assure is the fact that we do not mean any harm or offense to any of the brands that we worked on. All we have ever wanted to do was to increase awareness for design in Yangon.

Sure, we did receive a lot of negativity. But, we have also received a lot of positive feedback that pushes us even further. To quote Larry Page of Google, “Negativity is not the way to make progress”. And therefore, we strongly feel that we shall not be intimidated by the sheer amount of negativity if we really wanted to push design awareness forward in Yangon.

We are always open to criticism because it helps us. We hope that we would be able to achieve our vision and create a positive design community with constructive feedback.


Young developers pull Myanmar into the digital age - Myanmar Now

As featured on Myanmar Now.

It was a typical Friday night in Singapore and Ye Myat Min, the 24-year-old university dropout and bespectacled founder of tech start-up NEX, was restless and bored. He did not want to go out but neither was he keen to extend his already lengthy working week. So he started coding instead.

“I’ve always had this itch to create an anonymous social network but couldn’t really find the time to do it for a lot of reasons; primarily due to my crazy schedule,” he said. “That weekend, I decided to just hack it and postpone everything else.”

By Monday, Ye Myat had a rough version of Hush, a mobile phone application that allows users to post location-based musings anonymously. 

“I’m not at all trying to sound political, but the country has been closed off for so long. Burmese people are usually conservative and rarely speak up. So one of my motivations (for making it anonymous)... was to change that aspect of Burmese people,” he told Myanmar Now in the company’s new office, an open plan space in downtown Yangon.

“Things have changed a lot. This is the right time to speak up and make your opinions matter,” added Ye Myat, his elbows resting on the meeting room table, the glass top covered in numbers, equations and questions from a brainstorming session that just ended.

Launched with little fanfare at the end of 2014, after Ye Myat moved back to Myanmar, Hush now has over 15,000 users, mainly in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon but also in two other big cities, and in countries with large Myanmar populations such as Singapore and Thailand. The company aims to triple the numbers in six months.

NEX, where the average age of an employee is 25, is symptomatic of a new generation of young, enthusiastic and technically-savvy entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of Myanmar’s opening up to bring the country into the digital age. 

The company has already attracted foreign investors and media attention in its two years of existence. When the company won a second round of funding totalling US$150,000 from Singapore’s Blibros Group late last year - the first funding, also from an investor based in Singapore, came in 2013 - the news was featured in Forbes Magazine. 

Jonas Lindstrom, CEO and Partner of Blibros Ltd, which has been investing mainly in tech start-ups for over a quarter of a century, said Ye Myat’s talent and Myanmar’s potential convinced him to invest.

“It was a rare combination of a young, talented and ambitious entrepreneur but still very humble,” Lindstrom told Myanmar Now in an e-mail interview.


Hush - not to be confused with a South Korean app of the same name - works on similar lines to Tinder. The user swipes through the posts, called Hushes. A left swipe dismisses the post, a right denotes like, and a tap to participate in the conversation.

“We were one of the first to introduce Burmese language stickers,” Ye Myat said proudly, as two of his close colleagues, both 23, grinned and nodded. The team is also behind the Facebook page Yangon Redesigned where Yangon’s landmarks and famous Myanmar brands get a design makeover. It is a cult favourite with creative types.

It has not all been smooth sailing, however. Hush 1.0 had a lot of bugs which took a week or two to resolve. They then tentatively released it, only to realise within an hour they had published the wrong app.

“Thank God nobody downloaded it,” the young CEO recalled. They published the correct version during the night.

People in Yangon’s burgeoning tech community were early adopters of the app. Then local media heard of Hush and user numbers jumped. They are now working on Hush 2.0, which NEX says is a much-improved version slated for release some time soon.

The new version includes a search feature and categories but more importantly, curated content that the team hopes would encourage quality conversations, rather than users posting their relationship status or what they had for breakfast.

“What we wanted to see is more well-thought-out content,” said Ye Myat.

“During this six months we’ve seen posts about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. There were hundreds of comments but they were all constructive … because nobody knows who you are so it gives you protection,” he added.

Yet there are also aware of the challenges of allowing anonymous postings. Since religious conflict erupted in 2012, Myanmar has been engulfed in online hate speech. Vitriolic and inflammatory comments targeting Muslims, who make up a small fraction of the predominantly Buddhist country, have become worryingly common on blogs, web forums and Facebook pages.

Internet access is still low, but it is increasing, from only 0.3 percent of the population in 2010 to 1.2 percent in 2013, according to the World Bank.

“We are very, very concerned. Not just us, but our investors and advisers too. We need to find the fine line between being anonymous and not turning it into a hate speech platform,” said Ye Myat. 


In two years’ time, they would like to see Hush being used in all the major cities in Myanmar, said Arkar, a childhood friend of Ye Myat and one of NEX’s developers.

The company itself has seen a sharp upward trajectory, from something Ye Myat formed with his friends while he was still in Singapore, to a fully-fledged agency with 22 staff, some of whom were hired in a decidedly unorthodox manner.

Take one of the designers. Ye Myat hired him straight out of high school based on his Instagram photos. 

“Where’s the fun if you follow a more conventional route of hiring? I wasn’t worried per se. I believed in him,” said Ye Myat, who himself took an unconventional path to becoming a CEO. 

A coding geek who turned to music after finding out he was “really bad” at maths and physics, Ye Myat rediscovered his first love when he found out what broadband Internet could do in Singapore. He then started designing websites to earn extra money while attending a diploma course in IT at Republic Polytechnic, so he could buy a shiny new Mac like his new friends.

He wanted to set up a company in Myanmar when he graduated but his parents, a father who works at an embassy and a housewife mother, wanted him to continue his university studies.

He obliged but received two warning letters and failed a subject in the first semester. A third warning letter would see him kicked out of school. When an angel investor stepped in, he left his studies and set up NEX,.

Ye Myat says he does not regret leaving university and encouraged would-be tech entrepreneurs in Myanmar to set up businesses regardless of their education or the difficult environment.  

“I’ve met plenty of people who are screaming they do not have enough opportunities. My main advice usually is to look inwards instead of outwards,” he said “One needs to start looking for problems (people) are facing on a day-to-day basis and think about ways to solve them. It doesn’t have to be a totally radical solution. One could simply iterate on an existing solution and make it better.”

Author: Thin Lei Win

As Myanmar opens up, Burmese mobile dev agency seizes moment, turns into product firm

[As featured on TECHINASIA]

By Daniel Tay

In Myanmar, technology has been playing catch-up very quickly with the rest of the world over the past year. The entry of Qatari telco Ooredoo has seen the price of sim cards dip to a paltry US$1.50 – more than 1,300 times cheaper than they were five years ago. The subsequent demand was overwhelming to say the least, with more than a million customers snatching up Ooredoo SIMs within just three weeks of its launch. With Norway’s Telenor coming into the picture, the competition will ensure that prices remain low.

Given that Internet broadband prices are still extremely steep, and a smartphone can cost as little as US$43, it makes sense that the Burmese are opting to access the web via the latter instead – almost 49 percent of them, in fact. With the government pushing for 74 percent of the country to have access to cellular services by 2016 – that is, about 37 million people – the mobile market is ripe for the taking, and local startups are sensing the opportunities.

One of these startups is development firm NEX, which just last week secured US$150,000 in funding from Sweden- and Singapore-based angel investor Bilbros. While NEX used to work primarily on web and mobile development projects for clients, it has more recently begun to develop its own series of products as well.

Finding the right time

The reason for the delay, according to founder and CEO Ko Ye Myat Min, was that he wanted to wait for the right time. “When we started in 2013, there wasn’t any major push on mobile penetration. As a mobile development firm, we thought it would not make sense for us to release our products while mobile penetration was relatively low,” he recalls.

Things started looking up in 2014, with major telcos pushing for mobile adoption across the country, and the government throwing its weight behind the momentum. Min decided it was time to change their focus:

More and more, people are getting connected every day and this creates huge demand on mobile apps. So, we decided that this would be the right time to start creating our own products. We’ve formed micro teams within our company and started focusing on products and side projects throughout those teams, while some of the other team members maintain the agency business. We will definitely be taking this route from now on and build up our product portfolio. I think this is the most sensible model for a 20-person team in an emerging market such as Myanmar.

Min tells Tech in Asia that he first begun looking for investors earlier this year at Startup Asia Singapore 2014. “I made a list of investors whom I liked in an Excel sheet. And then, I started cold-emailing them with a pitch deck of Fyre,” he reveals.

Not surprisingly, the success rate was low. But some investors did respond, and Min made his pitching rounds. It was by no means easy to get buy-in from them though.

“Being from Myanmar, it was difficult since the investment seemed risky for most of the investors. But in the end, we managed to raise US$150,000 from Blibros, whom we were introduced to via our angel investor, Ned Philips.”

Ned Philips was their first investor, putting US$50,000 into their coffers. Min says that the funding will mainly be used for product development and hiring of talents.

Fyre, a cloud-based mobile storefront platform that allows merchants to build apps for their stores, is still in works – it’s the fourth app that the NEX team has been working on. The other three were launched in quick succession over the past few months:

1. Kabyar

A simple app that lets you read Burmese poems on Android or iOS devices. It has been downloaded over 100,000 times so far, with about 1 million screen views monthly.


2. Nexy Keyboard

This app provides an easy way to type Romanised Burmese, or “Burglish” – a representation of the Burmese language or Burmese names in the Latin alphabet – on iOS 8 devices. In just four days, it has gathered over 5,000 downloads and counting.

Myanmar’s mobile app landscape

NEX doesn’t have a lack of competitors in Myanmar, according to Min. However, while there are many apps being created, he says that the Burmese are still lacking quality.

“What we are seeing is that Myanmar’s app market is filled with many utility apps. We feel that the market actually needs more content-based apps, such as books, videos, music, news 2.0, and so on,” he adds. “Also, SMEs are still not utilizing technology due to lack of education. We believe there can be a lot of innovation in that space.”

With huge demand for quality apps, Min believes that there is “enough pie for everyone to have a piece.” He is, in fact, hopeful for more and better competition. “We’ve seen so many development firms getting started, but only a few product companies. I hope there will be more product-focused companies in the near future.”