Industry Insights, Telecom

Taking pulse of the fastest growing industry in Myanmar: Telecom (Part 1)

I have been procrastinating and not producing a single blog during past few weeks. Hope this sequels of blogs on telecom sector would serve as an excuse for my procrastination. 

TELECOM: The Past of the Future

In 1884, just 8 years after Sir Graham Bell (allegedly) invented telephone, Myanmar is already providing service to over 1,800 landline phones. After years of mishaps and mismanagement, the telecom industry of Myanmar slided. Only after a century and a decade later, state-owned telecom provider Myanmar Post and Telecommunication (MPT) introduced its first cellular mobile phone in 1993. As everybody aware, it comes with a unbelievable price tag: 1,500 USD per SIM cards officially.

Back in early 90s, the idea of carrying around a telephone is not a very exciting idea to Myanmar people. Then, to make things more interesting, the government changed the pricing plan to hire-purchase system and business savvy people started renting mobile phones with 8 to 10 USD per month. Later, the government switched back to 1,500 USD per mobile phone system, by then people are already used to the idea of “mobile phones” and affluent people started buying it. This was the era of mobile phones as big as my shoes and the price tag as big as a common person’s annual pay.

Telecom timeline

In 2008, Myanmar emerged again to the World’s telecom arena by providing first 3G service to limited number of phones. In 2014, the year when we could call a revolutionary time for Myanmar telecom industry, MPT introduced 1.5 USD SIM cards with limited availability and the government welcomed two international telecom operators; Qatar based Ooredoo and Norway based Telenor.

TELECOM: The Fastest Marketing Growing Market

The changes this market experience is excruciatingly speedy that it is hard for one to keep track of what is happening and which one is the latest figure. Currently, according to the sales figures of the three telecom companies; estimated 15% of country’s population (adjusted to the last national population census) owns a SIM card. Note that, it has been reported that a considerable amount of SIM cards are bought and discarded afterwards so the actual usership of mobile phone is currently unknown.

Telecom market

60% of mobile phones are smartphones – One of the interesting facts about this market is that out of those people who owns a mobile phone; 60% owns a smartphone. The underlying reason behind this unusually large number of smartphone ownership may be contributed by two factors; the unequal distribution of SIM cards and the Myanmar cultural perception towards mobile phone.

Firstly, mobile phones for years are unequally distributed to more affluent social classes either through putting the higher price tag or only making it available to elites of the government. Those elitists of Myanmar can easily afford smartphones and the highest ends of the mobiles.

Secondly, due to the fact that mobile phones are expensive and only in the possession of wealthier classes; they are perceived as luxury products in Myanmar. Hence, those who recently bought mobile phones are actually seeking “social status” as one of their purchase criteria, and thus, they buy smartphones which appear more “classy” and “modern”.

58% of smartphone users are male – Another interesting fact about Myanmar mobile market is that it is very male skewed. This is because inherently mobile phones are viewed as technological devices that is only related to males. The female counterparts viewed mobile phones, especially high-tech mobile phones are irrelevant to them. In fact, it has been found that Myanmar women are likely to spend less money on mobile phone purchase comparing to men.

TELECOM: Getting closer to the customers

“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves” – Steve Jobs

Now, let’s go micro. To look closely, dissect and segment the customers of Myanmar telecom industry, we could categorise the customers into 5 different categories; Techno-enthusiasts; the nerds and the geeks, Pragmatic Professionals, the business savvy people, Classic Users; the moms and the common users, Dream Chasers; those who dream to own a mobile phone and Tech Laggards; the tech conservatives.

They have different views towards mobile phones, they use mobile phones in different way, they have different purchase criteria and they have different aspirations towards mobile phones. Mapping on the two spectrums of how much they value their mobile and their location; it would basically look like this.


I will continue the detail look of each segment in next blog: Taking pulse of the fastest growing industry in Myanmar: Telecom (Part 2)

Opinions, Real Estate

Properties to Prosperity

This post is the joint work between Stephen Seng and me.

Myanmar’s Real Estate: Demand over Supply

Today, one of the nascent challenges facing many expatriates and investors coming to Myanmar is the surmounting price of property and access to standard accommodation. Since government reforms took place in 2010, an influx of foreign investors is seeking out business opportunities in Myanmar. Many multinationals dove head-first into the last emerging market with a vision of expansion, profit, and growth. But it became clear that the reality was not to their advantage.

The majority of entrepreneurs coming to Myanmar have an acute awareness of how high property rent has become, especially in regards to commercial operations in cities like Yangon and Mandalay. According to the Consult Myanmar, 1 sqft of land in downtown Yangon has risen from 240,000 Kyats (249 USD) to 250,000 Kyats (259 USD). WSJ also reported, 1Sqm of an apartment has gone up to about 78 USD, which is exceeding the price of 49 USD in downtown Manhattan. The answer to the question of this skyrocketing price scenario is simply discovered from one single factor: High demand over incremental supply. In addition, international companies facing conflicts in lack of basic property rights and regulations in the country. These create an increase of obstacles for many international investors who go to Myanmar with lofty expectations.

There have been a series of top-level talks between government officials and business communities, and international experts on property and commercial law that could be positive for foreigners. At the same time, the protests are going on the roads on the landownership disputes between the government and the occupants.


Poverty & Property

While ownership of a property may convey wealth, in fact, it is one of the drivers that can get an individual out of poverty. In developing countries like Myanmar, there are numerous “informal properties” which are not legally owned by the occupants of the property while it is owned by “customary” without a formal entitlement. These most valuable assets of this country should be maximizing its utility by giving formal ownership to those who had previously informally claimed as their own. The informal ownership restricts the occupants to utilize it fully, the occupants cannot legally plow or grow anything on land nor use it as collateral in taking loans. Based on the current status of Myanmar, 60% of the rural population needs greater agriculturally related businesses, giving the land rights to the people who know the best about this business is the best way to develop the agricultural sector.

The prime example of this is the Operation Barga, a land reform movement throughout west Bengal, India and proved to be successful. This movement resulted in 36% increase in agricultural production and enhancement of the lives of over 1.2 million people in the area.

Rice field

Property and Productivity

The current price of property for rent and unstable rules and regulations are hindering the establishments of multinational corporations and medium size enterprises. Land acquisition for commercial use through a proper legal procedure should be even efficient in the rural regions rather than the heavily regulated central cities, such as Yangon or Mandalay. Any entrepreneurs or expatriates coming to Myanmar now will need in-depth information on property regulations, or investment guides. However several investment guides, consultation services like Myanmar Business TodayMyanmar Investments or even online property markets such as House and  Myanmar Housing are providing first class consultations and receive the most viable opportunities and growth out of Myanmar.


Ultra wealth: Capitalizing the conspicuous consumption in Myanmar


Wealth-X World Ultra Wealth Report 2012-13

Last month, Wealth-X, a firm that gathers data on rich families for the use of fundraisers, financial advisers and luxury brand marketers released this year’s World Ultra Wealth Report.

In it, Wealth-X estimates that there are over 40 families from Myanmar that make the cut, and forecasts that this number is only likely to grow drastically in this country – to 307 families by 2022. As reported in Irrawaddy, the new rich will grow from such sectors as tourism, financial services and commodities (lumber).

To make it to the list, one will have to be valued in purely financial terms at minimum USD 30 million, also known as “High Net Worth Individuals.” This is a term people often throw around in the fundraising world where I worked in New York City. But it is also a deeply patronizing term, reducing a person down to a financial category. Equally patronizing…

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economy, Industry Insights, Market Insights, Opinions

Doing business in Myanmar: Not easy as you thought

During past few months, I have met with a number of foreign business developers and consultants and they all have a similar reaction to doing business in Myanmar – It is not easy as I thought.

When we talk about Myanmar, it is the crossroad of Asia, the final frontier of world’s economy and the next “big” thing and usually forgets that it is actually harder than doing business in Zimbabwe and just a bit easier than Congo. (World Bank 2014 Report)

There are several limitations for foreigner companies (and also locals) to start a business here in Myanmar. To start a business here, the company needs a considerable initial investment, an impressive stamina and great tolerance to all those restrictions and prolonged processes imposed both formally and informally.

The Lives of others

Let’s start with the cliché – “know the people you are selling to”. When businesses expand into Myanmar, they usually headquartered and start business in Yangon. But Yangon is the bubble where the city is already developed with intense enough competitions. Plus, once you are in this bubble, you will forget about the over 80% of the population who are living their lives outside of this bubble. In fact, it is not only foreign companies who cannot grasp the knowledge of this 80% consumer segment, even locals tend to overlook these people in their actions.

On the other hand, it is also not an easy task to understand and learn about this 80% consumer segment. Even though 90% of Myanmar shares the same religion, it does not mean they share the same language, tradition and culture. There are over 130 ethnics across the country and they differ from each other in one way or another.

Where is my money

Yes, you still need a considerable amount of initial investment, in cash. Even after you have bags full of cash to invest, you still need to know the right people who can get things done. Business in Myanmar operates on relationship basis, as most of the other Asian countries.

If you already checked out investment and networks, you still have to find the right suppliers. Both of the telecommunications company in Myanmar got into trouble in finding the raw materials and their response was “There aren’t enough cranes. The country is covered in jungle. The roads flood. There’s no power. It’s a bit like Thailand was 30 years ago – it’s a pristine and beautiful but undeveloped country.” Infrastructure, both soft and hard, is underdeveloped. Transportation is terrible, telecommunication is in the process, and Banking is still developing.

The unseen barriers

As if it is not enough, we also have deployed unseen barriers for the foreign investors. Yes we are in the reform and it is much easier to do business comparing to last 3 year. But, there is a slight confusion from the mid-level management. Thus, you will see a lot of inefficiencies in this “report everything to top” bureaucratic system. It took months for parliament to pass the “Media Bill” and they are revising it again just after less than a year. You have to have an impressive stamina to start a business here.

Moreover, as the country has been closed with not so impressive education system for past several decades, human resource is scarce here whether it is language or expertise. There is also a cultural characteristic which plays a big role, but usually overlooked, in business sector, called ana muu. Wikipedia explained it as “a characteristic or feeling that has no English equivalent. It is characterized by a hesitation, reluctance or avoidance, to perform an action based on the fear that it will offend someone or cause someone to lose face, or become embarrassed” From that ana muu, what you will see is, a lot of local people will say yes and seem willing to you, because they feel that they should accommodate to you, but you might not see actions from them. This is a lovely social manner but it hinder business some times.

Healthy Skepticism

Of course not that I am discouraging foreign investments into Myanmar. We need you! But I don’t want you to come then pack up and leave when you find it is not as easy as you thought. Aung San Suu Kyi said “These days I am coming across what I call reckless optimism, a little bit of healthy skepticism I think is in order.” So, take it with grain and salt, try to know the people and load some energy bars when you come down to this Land of Golds.

Advertising, Brands, Media insights

Television commercials in Myanmar: Why it works

Television channels in Myanmar
In Myanmar, television commercials (TVCs) represent 68% of total advertising expenditure and it has grown 12% in the last year. (Source: MMRD) This is considerably higher comparing to other countries.
Currently there are 7 television channels in Myanmar, but only two channels, MRTV and MWD is available nationwide. However, Skynet, the only pay channel of Myanmar do not feature local TVCs as it air foreign contents directly. Average TVCs per hour in Myanmar across all channels is around 14 minutes, which is lower than the international rate.
Television commercials in Myanmar
The underlying causes of this excessive expenditure in TVCs channel can be attributed to low production cost and local consumer preference. Local consumers consider TVCs as part of the entertainment programs they watch and enjoy watching them. Most of the local made TVCs are in “song and dance” format, where actors and actresses sing jingles about the product and dance along to it with little attributes to the actual product image or product related information. This method of communicating is sometimes scrutinized as lame or outdated. It is perhaps true to regard this format as outdated, but it should not convey ineffective, because these formats can be effective in this local consumer culture.
In Myanmar, majority of the products are sold based on their functional attributes rather than due to their emotional responses or attributes. A consumer buys a product because of its functions or somebody recommended it. There is only seldom situation where a consumer buys a product because he or she is emotionally evoked by a product advertisement.
Why local format could work
When a consumer is not emotionally evoked, but looking for rudimentary functionalities in a product, it is likely that the consumer is going to forget the brand’s name. One of the ways to ensure consumers remember the brand’s name is brand association, in Myanmar’s case, celebrities. By putting celebrities into TVCs, local consumers remember the product and the celebrity. It is common in Myanmar buyers ask for the product with the celebrity’s name; for example; “Multivitamins brand with Sai Sai in its TVC”.
However, there is a downside of this format, as local celebrities here in Myanmar are likely feature in two different TVCs in the same product category which leads to low brand differentiation. This results in decrease of brand loyalty from local consumers. Myanmar consumers are not likely to stick with one brand for a long time.
Go local or global?
There are more and more foreign brands on television than before and majority of them are not entirely localized. Most of the foreign TVCs are dubbed to local language without changing the visuals. This helps them reduce the production cost and there is also positive from local consumers as they regard international brands superior.
On the other hand, another reason foreign brands are not localized is because foreign advertising experts strongly oppose to use local “Song and dance” format which is considered lame. It is important to note that local format, as aforementioned, may not boost brand loyalty however it could give noticeable viral tractions among local consumers.
It depends on several factors such as product nature, product price and target market in order to go local or semi-local or leave it global. However, in my opinion, it is important for foreign brands not to disregard local advertising formats which may be outdated but still is effective

Market Insights, Media insights

Myanmar’s consumer behaviour in cultural perspective

Myanmar culture, due to the fact that the country has been closed for last 50 years with limited influence from foreign countries, it is quite distinct from other countries in terms of consumer behaviors and buying attitudes. Even with neighboring Asian countries, such as Thailand, there are only little similarities in Myanmar consumer culture.

Coca-cola in Myanmar

As Myanmar has high Power Distance Indicator (PDI), the indicator of how much less powerful members of society accept that power is distributed unequally, the influential power and referral power is considerably high in Myanmar. This is consistent among Asian culture where head members (usually elders) hold authoritative power and younger members are willing to listen to them. Consumers are more likely to listen to authoritative figures in this society. For example, an advertisement with doctor recommendations is likely to work better in this society.

In terms of nation’s masculinity, the indication of how achievements or success oriented the society is, Myanmar is rated relatively low in the Asian region. Myanmar culture is more feminism, i.e. caring and quality of life oriented. This is due to several historical and traditional factors such as the major religion being Buddhism where simplicity and quality of life is the core philosophy. Thus, materialism is considerably generally low in most areas of the country. People are likely to be content with what they have; they do not aspire to possess new things and products. Even though the country is rated high in feminism, men are still household decision makers where they dictate major purchases in the household.

Myanmar, as most of the Asian countries, is collectivist country, where the society is family and community oriented. A consumer needs and wants may not only for individual purpose but to fulfill the whole family’s needs. Moreover, in the collectivist society “word of mouth” is relatively more effective tool. Consumer tends to consult and ask friends, family or “seniors” advises before they make their purchasing decisions. It is an effective way of marketing to look for those influencers in the community and making them evangelist or brand ambassadors of the brand.

In terms of uncertainty avoidance, the indicator of how much adventurous or willingness to take risk, is considerably low in Myanmar, perhaps even lower than neighboring countries. This may be caused by country’s previous military rulings which effected consumer sentiment and confidences in the past fiscal policies they made. Banks are still not trusted and gold bars are still the best way to invest the money in Myanmar. Consumers are in general skeptical to promises and warrants from companies and advertisements. They are likely to buy the product either they have put their trust or someone in their environment has recommended.

On the other hand, Myanmar is long-term oriented country. This means, when a consumer buys a product they expect it to be long lasting without breaking down regardless it has warranty or not. For example; in Myanmar, male consumers expect their electronic white goods to last average 5 years while women expect as long as 10 years.This is also because the country is only at its developing stage and absorption of new products are still low.

This blog is based on my individual studies and research on Myanmar consumer and economy along with references to “An exploratory study of Myanmar culture using Hofstede values”. If you have notice any distinct Myanmar consumer culture, please feel free to leave a comment and let us know! 

economy, Opinions

Realizing Myanmar’s Dream

Dream dream dream

We all have heard of the famous “American Dream”. The dream people inspired to achieve great deal of success and live pleasurable life along with untainted individual freedom. It said “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”.

China, the sleeping dragon of Asia, now fully awake and realizing they also had a dream. According to Peggy Liu, the “Chinese Dream” is the one that could merge urban modernism balance with traditional values such as respect through sustainable development. This is the dream China is having.

So what are we going to dream? Of course, big dreams are not only for big players, Myanmar could also dare to dream big.  And this is the dream I dream for Myanmar…

To preserve

Myanmar, a country isolated from the rest of the world for last five decades is finally opened up. In isolation, Myanmar is a country where the traditions and cultures are untainted and people lives haven’t changed for a century. But when Myanmar opened itself up to the world, it is not only the foreign investments that pour in but also the values and cultures from all over the world creep in at the same time. Myanmar is a country currently losing its national identity, it used to be a dictatorial country with one of the worst military regime but now, the country no longer knows where it is going. At times like these, it is easy to lose or diminish the values and cultures that the country had. Diversity is great and foreign investments are welcome, but I believe, it is also important to preserve ones own identity. Myanmar should have a future that Myanmar culture is the core of the society but not just a description of what Myanmar used to be.

To select

On the other hand, not all those traditional values that Myanmar has are good and grand. Myanmar is conservative in a sense, close minded and even superstitious in some situations. Some virtues of democracy such as “the spirit of compromise, respect for law, need for opposition and tolerance of the same, protecting the rights of democracy” needed to be wielded out while weeding out old habits of the past regime. The old management system, the backward thinking models and exclusive society where only the aristocracies can reap what other people sowed should not be in our new dream. We have to be selective about what Myanmar values that we want to keep for the future, and what values we want to discard. This future shaping process should be taken as a responsibility by every citizen of Myanmar and it is important that the whole society should realize that it is them who will realize Myanmar dream, not the politicians and not the privileged 1%.

To rejuvenate

One more thing that Myanmar need is to rejuvenate the country. The country is in dire need to rejuvenate the system, the physical infrastructure, and attitudes and mindset of the people. This process will take time, even more for the country in the situation where majority of the population do not possess the knowledge resource and capacity to make this enormous shift in the society. This is where the country face its dilemma, either to wait until the majority of the population has the ability to shape the future of the country or to put the the future of the country into the hands of the privileged ones?

Myanmar’s dream

Myanmar is a country that is not suited to the philosophy of western democracy due to the fact that there are major conflicts in the native culture and the western culture in their political aspects. Moreover, Myanmar may never have a dream focus on individual freedom and prosperity like Americans had. It is more likely for Myanmar citizens to listen to the authoritative figures rather than making individual decisions that stand out as part of the culture. This leads to the point that Myanmar political situation will go towards “guided democracy”, where the political foundation is laid with basic democratic principles however is partly managed by government in authoritarian style. This “guided democracy” usually do not get positive feedback or criticism as it undermines what true democracy means, however, to my opinion for a country where individual opinions are not assertive, “guided democracy” can be the way to shape future as long as in the hand of competent government.

Now, it is for the government to know what Myanmar people dream of and what do they want. As for myself,

I have a dream… that one day Myanmar will rise up and prosper and this prosperity will be shared across the society.

economy, Market Insights, Opinions

Myanmar: Problem teenage child of world’s economy

By now, I believe you have heard that Myanmar economy has opened up. The country that is virtually unheard of several years ago is now popular water-cooler chit chat topic. But where Myanmar is really heading? Are we going to crash or soar?
Myanmar: A Golden Land
In April 2012, Myanmar government abandoned one of its economic regulations that crumpled top economy of Asia to one of the world’s least developed country, fixed foreign exchange rates. (Under military regime, 1MMK equaled to 10USD while in black market it was uncontrollably valued around 1,000 MMK) In November 2012, Foreign Investment Law is announced and it encouraged more investments to come in to Myanmar along with tax exemption incentives. Afterwards, it removed trade license requirements and now Myanmar is preparing for ASEAN free trade integrations.
Moreover, Myanmar by geography, strategically located below China, between Thailand and India. Neighboring countries with large population, approximately 41% of population is concentrated in this region (21% of world GDP). When it opened up, Myanmar economy grows at terrifying rate that could even scare some economists.
Following China’s track?
When China opened its doors to foreign investment in early 80s, global business community had same excitements and anticipations we are having now in Myanmar. China reformed its economy by being market-oriented and developing special economic zones along the coast lines and government favored foreign investments by lowering red tapes and tax rates. This would sound familiar to those who have been following Myanmar economics.
China by 1990s started to grow exponentially and now is the largest exporter in the world. On the other side of the story, China ranked 87th by nominal GDP per capital income basis and living standard of people has not improved significantly along with its economy.
Now, the world is preparing to enter Myanmar, the world’s last economic frontier, just like they did with China. Companies are eager to get their products and service to 55 million people in the country and at the same time economists exciting at the changes that are unfolding in Myanmar.
Myanmar: Problem teenage child of world’s economy
Myanmar is a country that is like a teenager. We want everything that is available in the international market and if you say “no” to us we will make your life harder. Don’t tell us what to do, but in fact we don’t know what to do and we need to be told what to do. We also got childhood issues rooted from our upbringings; we have a bureaucratic system that is complex and we have conservative backward thinking that is imposed by previous military government. But we have potential, what we need is a vision, a dream that can define what Myanmar really is.
Myanmar: envisioning the future
While Myanmar is trying to deal with its childhood issues and identity crisis, it is also growing and allowing all kind of investments in. Real estate is at, in lack of better word, “crazy” situation. Some articles have suggested that property price in Yangon is even higher than Manhattan. Technology sector is loading its launch with two new telecommunication companies, Telenor and Oreedoo. Tourism sector is also seeing the price hikes that never seen before. With this kind of market freedom and growth, are we following China’s path, more importantly, do we want to be like China, of course, it is for people of Myanmar to decide.
However, with this kind of unsystematic growth with lack of good foundation (both legal and economical) systems, we are looking at not so good future. By 2015, we will have a stock exchange market and this will disperse the risks throughout the country. With current pace and system, we are looking at a future where economy could crash. It is also important to note that the change (and also the crashing future) is in much more rapid speed due to the global internet which makes everything faster.
But this future is not something inevitable. 2015 election will bring a new leader to Myanmar. If that leader could rein the economy tightly with proper rules and regulations and could nurture the country like a parent who knows what the child want and properly guide. It is important time for Myanmar people to know what they want and have a vision or set of values that would define what Myanmar is. If we don’t, someone else will define it for us. Somehow, 2015 will be the judgement time for Myanmar.


Entrepreneurs in Myanmar

Dilemmas in Myanmar

In the center of technology hub, you could say a little silicon valley of Myanmar, there is a business that provides hotline service for consumers. Anybody can call up and inquires about business locations, ticketing and so many other things. This business is having good outlook and deemed successful. However, the future of this business is not yet determined. With the two telecommunication service providers announced that they will be rolling out mobile phones with internet in the 3rd quarter of 2014, the business is looking at unstable future.

On the other part of the town, there is a tech savvy business running online shopping platform, something similar to eBay. The founders are young and enthusiastic, dreaming big and waiting for their time. This business, unfortunately, is not as successful as the above one. This kind of business needs users and good viral traction, and without good internet quality and penetration, the business has nowhere to go for now. (Is Myanmar ready for digital marketing?)

Similar scenarios as above have repetitively played out in the history of developed countries. Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen perfectly presents these cases – putting too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, failing to adopt new technology or business models that will meet customers’ unstated or future needs and on the other hand trying to envision the future and rolling out business models that is not suitable for the current market stage.

Entrepreneurs in Myanmar

To add to the Innovator’s Dilemma, Myanmar is changing with fast pace. These hyper growths put entrepreneurs in unstable market and make them torn between serving the current market or adopt new business models for upcoming market which nobody is certain what it is going to be like.

Entrepreneurship, some says it is about management, some says it’s not but about passion. However you may define entrepreneurs are those who would like to bring changes, in their organization, community, country, world or in Steve Job’s case putting “a ding in the universe”. Entrepreneurs in Myanmar, no different from the rest of the world would like to make changes. However, the ambiguities of the market, the not-so-transparent legal system, and lack of infrastructure impose extra burdens to them.

Entrepreneurs and Myanmar culture

As said above, entrepreneurs in Myanmar would like to make changes just like any other part of the world, but what does it mean for an entrepreneur to grow up in Myanmar? There certainly are some cultural aspects that shape entrepreneur traits. Myanmar is an Asian country with collective society.  Myanmar people can be regarded as traditional and conservative. Derived from Buddhist teaching one can find passivity, simplicity and contentment with basic needs in life among the society.

Collectivism, where people identify themselves as part of a group or community, i.e., opposite of individualism, can do both good and bad for entrepreneurs. It is largely accepted collectivism encourages people to ambition larger than their own individual life but sometimes the same trait can burden the entrepreneur with family ties and commitments.The conservatism, however, is a trait that Burmese entrepreneurs should learn to overcome, bringing up in a society that is traditionalist and isolated, it is easy to give in to the old ways rather than paving a new path. However, living through closed regime for several years, Myanmar people has a knack for acquiring skills in unconventional ways.

What it take an entrepreneur to be successful in Myanmar?

Of course, those traits and cultural factors are in general, there will always be outliers in our society that will accomplish wonders with all the odds against them. Myanmar already had born Aung San Suu Kyi, a tiny woman who stood against one of the worst military regime the world has known. Who says we won’t see somebody similar in the business sector?

What it takes an entrepreneur in this current situation and current market of Myanmar, I believe, is resilience and flexibility. It is crucial for business to have resilience in this highly ambiguous market and at the same time to be flexible to rapid growing changes in the environment. To shamelessly steal the words of Charles Darwin – It is not the strongest that survive; it is the one who is adaptable to the environment. 

Starting a business in Myanmar? Here are the business facts you should, but you might not know

Advertising, Brands, Industry Insights, Market Insights, Media insights

Hey HTC, grab a chair, take a seat here in Myanmar

Mobile culture in Myanmar

As mobile phones are relatively new in Myanmar, the mobile phone culture is a bit different from others. Mobile phone is not considered as basic need. Possession of the latest mobile phone is associated with high socio-economic status, and it is not strange for one person to own more than one mobile phone. iPhone is considered to be among the highest status but usually regarded as “out of reach” product. However, Samsung is top of mind good brand followed by HTC, Sony and Nokia. Mobile phones made in China are generally perceived as cheap, low in quality and have no warranty.

Myanmar, used to be the country that is put in the same category with North Korea and. Not even 5 years ago, one SIM card can cost 2 million kyats (USD 2,000$). After 2011 reformation, Myanmar government decided to reduce the prices of SIM cards down and currently at 1,500Kyats (Approximately USD 1.5). With these changes, the mobile phone subscription surge, currently the figure of approximate population with mobile subscription is 5.4 million, i.e., 10% of the population. This trend is being pushed to grow up to cover of 75 – 80% of population by the end of 2016 by government.

Mobile war around the cities of Myanmar

With this surge of mobile phone subscription some global mobile handsets corporations are trying to ride the tide. Samsung announced its entry to Myanmar in November 2012, HTC announced its own in January. Nokia recently opened up its showroom in Yangon. Early entrants LG and Sony are also making sure to hold its ground. On the other extreme, Myanmar also got highly localized mobile handset JAS, which is targeted at laggards (or late adopters) with big keys and Burmese language. However, it is Huawei, mobile handset by Chinese telecom conglomerate which holds most of the mobile handset market share with its vast distribution.

Myanmar JAS

All these mobile handset providers are locking and loading their advertising weapons around Yangon city. Samsung billboards for its new Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear can be found at every major junction around the city. LG and Sony tout their new mobile handsets on rooftop of taxis. JAS recently launched a TVC casting one of the top advertising models of Myanmar, Wut Hmone Shwe Yee explaining its features.

Grab a chair, take a seat

After its entry to Myanmar on January 2013, HTC made it first move. HTC let all Burmese out there know that HTC co-founder, Peter Chou in fact is born in Mandalay with series of press releases. Later, HTC launched its first TVC ad for Myanmar featuring Peter Chou narrating his childhood story in Burmese. It went considerably viral and had high reception, this may be because of fiery patriotism that Burmese have. On 1st December, HTC launched its HTC One Max at Tawwin center endorsed by renowned celebrities such as Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein and also featured by recent top trending model Moe Set Wine.

HTC misfires

In the second half of 2013, HTC started rolling HTC One billboards all over Yangon and there was one execution error; the font size was too small that HTC might have mistaken this billboard with Snellen chart. These billboards would have cost HTC millions of Kyats to HTC and yet this one tiny error made this communication not effective as it could have been.

The HTC One Max launch, even though it had great reception there was a controversial moment. In front of Tawwin center, the host and comedian are “entertaining” the crowd with games. Everything was joy and fun until they asked a kid, perhaps 10-12 years old to be on stage. Soon after the comedian asked him to be half-naked. Later, the comedian stripped the kid’s pants down from behind. The comedian also made some dirty jokes on kid’s private part. Some of the audiences were aghast by this inappropriate prank and jokes to a 10 year old kid in front of a big crowd. Only because it happened in Myanmar, where these kind of things are tolerable, HTC did not get bad press on this.

Globally, despite its raging positive reviews on HTC One series and its latest ad debuting “Iron Man” star, Robert Downey Jr., still is struggling with its stock share plumps and market share drops. HTC recorded its first loss since its listing in 1992, and trying hard to turn it around.