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Decades-old bets in Myanmar's tech industry finally reap rewards

Michael Kan | June 14, 2013
Local tech companies see major opportunities brought on by reforms in the country

"Why am I here? I'm wasting my time," he recalled thinking. "I'm wasting everything, my youth, my innovation, my opportunities, everything. But again, what brought me back is the people. If you're a leader you have to work hard until there's a transformation."

Others in Myanmar's tech industry are also reaping the benefits of that same transformation. Thaung Su Nyein is managing director of Information Matrix, an IT and media company also based in Yangon. Like Tun Thura Tet, he also made a decade-old bet on Myanmar's tech industry stretching back to 1999 when he decided to leave New York and return to his home country.

"I wanted to be the next Yahoo! in Myanmar," he remembered. "I wanted to be that pioneer."

But his business plan quickly collided with Myanmar's attempts to control the Internet. After arriving, Thaung Su Nyein learned that local authorities had detained several people for starting email services in the country. The government had also made it illegal to offer any kind of private Internet service.

"Politics was really bad at that time. Basically you were providing this outside gateway out of the government's hands," he said. "This was really dangerous in the eyes of the government. But for the IT business guys, they didn't even think about that."

It forced Thaung Su Nyein to scale back his business plan, and instead try to start an "offline cyber cafe." At the cafe, PCs would be loaded with pre-downloaded Web content imported on CDs shipped from Singapore. But authorities were quick to intervene, and shutdown his business.

"The leadership didn't like the word 'Internet'," he recalled. But despite his business plan's failure, Thaung Su Nyein found success in print media, and began releasing a publication covering technology. His company now publishes several weekly journals, in addition to operating online portals, and running a web development business.

Since Myanmar's new government took power in 2011, a sea of change has occurred in the country, he said. The government has ended the strict online censorship, and wants Internet and telecommunications to play a major role in developing Myanmar, Thaung Su Nyein added.

In addition, the government reforms are expected to open up Myanmar's mobile Internet market, potentially bringing a flood of online users to Thaung Su Nyein's publications. By 2016, Myanmar wants mobile penetration in the nation to reach between 75 and 80 percent.

"We could get tens of thousands of reader on our mobile apps," Thaung Su Nyein said. "That's something we are looking forward to."

 

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