Tue, May 08, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Bountiful South: Heading south, one click at a time

Taiwanese startups have found success in Southeast Asia’s vibrant e-commerce ecosystem, often with Malaysia as a landing pad and Thailand the prize market

By Liam Gibson  /  Contributing reporter

Illustration: Kevin Sheu

Butt masks — facial masks for your butt — are the hottest new thing in Thailand.

By claiming to moisturize, tone and “lift” your booty using a special formula, the invention is quickly creating buzz around Unicorn, the Taiwanese startup behind it — just the kind founder Johnny Shih (施凱鈞) strives for.

“The Thai market sets the trends for Southeast Asia,” he says, “especially in e-commerce.”

Strategically released to coincide with his company’s entry to the Thai market, Shih believes the waves Unicorn’s unique flagship product is making there will ripple across the region.

Unicorn is one of many Taiwanese

e-commerce enterprises expanding to Southeast Asia and finding success. With Malaysia acting as a landing pad and Thailand the strategic target market, many young Web-based enterprises are drawn to the region not only for its growth potential but also as an arena to evolve their business models. Their experience offers insight into the changing dynamics of the e-commerce sector as well as how the government may offer more effective support strategies to develop the nation’s next wave of e-commerce stars.

MALAYSIA: TAIWANESE LANDING PAD

CC Chang (張家甄), co-founder of FunNow, a mobile booking platform for the hospitality industry, says now is the time to expand southward. Not only is Taiwan’s market too small, Chang says, but Taiwanese companies have a competitive advantage in Southeast Asia thanks to the early development of e-commerce here.

Over the past 12 months, Taiwanese ventures Unicorn, FBBuy and FunNow have all expanded to Southeast Asia, choosing Malaysia as their point of entry due to wide use of the Chinese language (Unicorn is also opening in Singapore).

“Being able to rely on Chinese as well as English really lowers the barriers for market entry,” says Ivy Yang (楊雅如), whose company FBBuy provides an automated backend software system for Facebook sellers that allows people to place orders through commenting on a post.

Chang says Taiwanese startups often have a technological advantage over local competitors in app development.

“Many of our local competitors in Malaysia have apps which offer a search function without booking, or a booking system without a payment method. We’ve been able to integrate an all in one solution quickly thanks to our skilled team,” she says.

The different cultural environment also led Chang to discover a more effective business model.

As an outsider and newcomer, FunNow found it difficult to sign on individual retailers to their platform as they had done in Taiwan. Unsure how to best communicate with vendors, it instead went through mall operators who introduce the service to their tenant shop owners — with almost all of them getting on board. She says that by the fourth quarter this year, they expect to have over 1,000 Malaysian entertainment and leisure outlets on their roster.

Chang says hospitality business owners like FunNow not only because the app provides a new base of customers, but also offers a solution to the issue of no-show bookings by having the users pay first.

Chang’s team plans to supercharge this model in Bangkok, which has an even higher density of top-end shopping malls, aiming to capture the huge tourist as well as local market.

“For us, Thailand is the prize or crucible market,” she says “We really want to make it there.”

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