Myanmar investor BOD Tech bets on online travel, to invest in 3 startups in 2017

Photo: Juliet Shwe Gaung. Mike Than Tun Win, founder of BOD Technology Company at his office in Yangon.

Mike Than Tun Win, founder of Myanmar investment firm BOD Tech, who calls himself a local venture capitalist, has placed some early bets on the internet-led travel and ticket booking platforms.

He is watching this space for more investments as he reasons, “the adoption rate for travel e-commerce is the fastest.”

BOD Tech – which owns flymya.com, a one-stop travel platform for flight and travel bookings, and bus ticketing portal Star Ticket – is keen to add three more startups to its portfolio in 2017 from the travel and news publication space.

Win finds huge potential for digital content and looks to better manage the monetisation models in its potential investments.

The firm is also looking at enabling its portfolio companies to expand to the neighbouring markets. The mandate for 2018 mandate is to link up all the startups in BOD Tech portfolio allowing users an interconnected service network.

“This year we will still invest in startups. In 2018, we will shift our focus to connecting our startups,” said Win.

Straddling the VC way & founder funding model

BOD Tech, set up in 2014, has so far invested in seven companies, some of which based on the pure VC model while others on the “founder funding concept” where it takes over 50 per cent stake and support with cash investment.

Its other portfolio firms include inmya.com, shopmyar.com, Yangondoor2door, Laundry.com.mm and Hla Pyo May (which will launch soon).

Investments like laundry.com.mm and shopmyar.com are supported through the founder funding concept. “This means we invest in the founder, starting a business from scratch,” he said. The founders would run the company while the required cash and expertise would be injected as needed and the investment could even go up to about half a million.

The founders will be able to draw a salary and take a minority share. “I think, this concept is very suitable in Myanmar,” he added. The method, he said, helps founders not to worry about getting another round of funding and wasting time pitching. “We own majority but we give them a lot of space and we don’t interfere,” said Win.

Its ticket size for Flymya is more than $5 million while for VC investments, it is not more than $1 million and no smaller than $100,000, said Win.

BOD Tech initially owned 60 per cent stake in Flymya but subsequently bought out the remaining stake from the other founders.

Along the way last year, however, their approach tilted in favour of the VC model of investments where they inject funds in mature businesses for far less stake. This model includes portfolio firms such as Star Ticket (where they invested $200,000) and YangonDoor2Door, a delivery startup.

From trading to local VC play

Win, who was born in Myanmar and moved to Singapore at the age of eight, returned to his home country in 2010 entering the trading and distribution of lubricants and automotives space.

He was an exclusive partner for oil major GS Caltex and Shell. He also handled the import of heavy machinery, commercial vehicles, oil tankers and trucks.

Once the telecom revolution took off in Myanmar, he divested his trading business in2015. It was around this time that he ventured into the telecom and internet-enabled businesses that were fast catching the attention of the frontier market.

“Maybe I should be a local VC,” Win recalls. And, that was how BOD Technology Company was founded.

Looking beyond Myanmar

While BOD Tech will continue to look for investment in the travel startups, they are also looking to expand their current investee companies.

Shopmyar, the business to consumer platform, has launched Shopmyar International Online Shopping site, connecting with Taobao, an online marketplace from China. “We set up an office in Shwe Li to have the logistics to send to Myanmar,” said Win.

Finally, they would help some of their startups to expand abroad.

“Our first try will be Cambodia and Laos,” he said. Later, we will look at other Southeast Asian countries. “Why do we always see inwards, why Burmese companies cannot go outwards (investment)?”

Internet business landscape

While the macroeconomic environment is very conducive for internet business, Win feels that they are seeing a steady growth instead of an explosion in the e-commerce space. This is because while the usage of smartphone has leapfrogged in Myanmar, the local population is still taking its time to adapt to the internet-led lifestyle.

“Many people don’t know how to use the app. They go to the website to complete the registration, checkup and end up talking to the call center. (They are) not talking to live chat support,” said Win.

However, what he finds healthy about the Myanamar’s e-commere market is that it is witnessing an “organic growth” not driven by subsidies and large-scale discounting as is prevalent in more mature markets.

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