250 Million THB for Startups – True Incube
AIS and dtac are already in the startup game, only True has been awfully quite, that is until now. On May 30th True Corp. announced that they will allocate more than 250 million THB to activities developing the entrepreneurial community in Thailand. The program is called True Incube and is the first full-fledged incubator program in Thailand.
Real Know-How, Real Actions and Real Help
True, like dtac, works with 500 Startups and Gobi Partners to ensure international exposure to incubates. Five teams will be selected and given up to 1 million THB each to attend a 99-day BootCamp. The teams will work at Launchpad and –hopefully– create killer startups that will knock the industry off its feet.
The program created quite some interested, as one can imagine, and the 42 interviews were conducted last weekend. Notifications will be send out soon, and on July 20-21 the incubator will kick off at Launchpad.
The team running True Incube is led by Punnamas Vichitkulwongsa the MD of True Money, Virachai (Victor) Chusakulporn, program manager, and Saroj (Coke) Ativitavas, the general manager. We spoke the latter two; to find out more about True’s goals, the setup of the program, challenges of ecosystem and their personal interest in startups.
What got you both interested in working for the True Incubator, what is your background?
Victor: Coke got me interested! I got an IT background and a Master Degree. I got interested in startups about two years ago. I started to work at True in another position, in the beginning at the True Application Center department. One day Coke asked me to join the True Incube program. And that is how I got in.
Coke: I spent about 15 years in the telecom industry, mostly in ICT solutions area. Two years ago we met each other in Disrupt University. We both have a personal interest in Startups. When Mr.Punnamas started to set up the incubation program he asked me to join.
Have any of you ever worked for Startups?
Victor: No. We are more the indirect experienced type, but we want to make sure we get all the experience. We just really want to be involved in this environment.
Coke: For us it’s a good opportunity to learn as well.
Where did you work before True?
Victor: I worked five years in the financial software industry as a developer. Afterwards I moved to a consulting company for about a year. I became very interested in the Startup community and decided to join True to better understand the mobile industry, and hopefully be able to eventually start something myself.
What are your plans with True Incube?
Our plan is to help entrepreneurs of any nationality to be
Victor: We are looking to put as many entrepreneurs as we can into our bootcamp which will start in September. We will start with five teams initially and we hope that at least one out of five will become successful and are able to expand to the international market.
Are completely independent from True Money?
Victor: Yes, we are completely independent but being managed by the same person will help us ensure startups gain inside knowledge and smooth integration with True Money payment system.
What is the process you will have for the incubation program?
Victor: Until 30th June we accepted applications through our website. You had to answer about 10 questions, including a video about your team. Give us a glimpse of your personality, your business idea, your passion. The other questions were simple explaining questions, like; what is your business idea? How would you solve this? And so on. After the deadline we picked out the best 40, the ones with the most potential. We interviewed the 40 teams one by one, each for about 20 minutes. We filtered it down to 20 teams. All 20 teams will come to our kick-off event, which we have set up with our partner Launchpad.
Similar to the StartupWeekend we will teach basic knowledge, like Business Model development, during the event. After the event they will have to further improve their ideas up to the pitching day. The following weekend they will have to pitch to us, our partners and investors. We will then select the final five teams, based on their business model, the team, their ideas, and their pitching deck and so on. The five teams will then get into our bootcamp, starting in September and finishing in November.
During this time we will help the teams continue to develop their business models and software, to make sure it stands a chance against competitors. We will invite advisors from around the world to give special talks on the area of their expertise.
You will finish the bootcamp of with a demo day, I assume. Who are you going to invite? Will it be more Thailand focused, more on South-East Asia, or will it have a world wide scope?
Coke: Yes, at the end we will have a demo day. We are aiming for a big demo day, with worldwide audience if possible, if not at least South-East Asia.
Victor: Khailee Ng will definitely come to our demo day and he is with 500 Startups. We will definitely invite all the VC’s in the region.
True is part of the CP Group so there is a great potential that one of the many parts of the group might pick up one of the startups. On the other hand, True itself has an App platform. Therefore my questions, what is the goal for True, as an organization?
Coke: Actually our one and only mission is to help entrepreneurs to build successful businesses.
We will provide all the five teams with seed funding in terms of convertible loans. If the company gets follow up investment, our seed funding will be converted into equity
Thus, we will have our stake in the teams as well which means, True will be committed to help the teams be successful.
Victor: As he said, our priority is to help startups become successful, by any means. That can mean that True or another part of the CP group gets to acquire them or becomes their first customers. It also includes our competitors. If dtac or AIS want to use their services as well or invest into the startup they can do so. We don’t want to limit their growth potential. We are aiming for them to become successful. And by successful we mean that it can be sustainable. For example they can grow for 10 years and then get acquired, or acquire themselves. It’s not our main goal to build startups that can be acquired by True or the CP Group.
Is it part of your social responsibility program?
Victor: Well it has something to do with social responsibility, but it is not part of the social responsibility program. A lot has to do with our CEOs passion. Our CEO’s, Mr. Suphachai’s son is very involved in the startup community in the US and has himself entered an incubation program and is currently building the business. Our CEO wants local startups to succeed as well.
Do you exclusively focus on Thai nationalities?
Victor: We don’t limit by nationality.
Have you already developed a fixed timeline, when what person comes in to teach and help the teams or are you going to assess the abilities of the five teams first and build the curriculum around that?
Victor: The second part. We have to assess the teams first and see what kind of business they can become. We then can select their advisors.
Are you trying to get more locals as advisors or more international advisors and mentors?
Victor: We try to find a good mix. Foreigners will mainly come in to provide international expertise and experience. We could also have several advisors from large local companies to provide insight of local market.
Coke: We will have to see what kind of the startup products we will have. Depending on that we will invite matching mentors and experts.
Do you have already fixed agreements with some mentors?
Victor: We currently have four mentors. Each of them will mentor one of the teams coming into the program. They will have one-on-one mentorship with the team and will guide them through the whole process. We don’t have contracts; it’s more of a working partnership. They promise they will give us their time and we promise them priority if they want to invest in the startup.
Coke: We don’t have contracts yet but we have commitment. We have for example Google, who has committed to send partners.
What is Launchpad’s role in the program?
Victor: Launchpad is our partner in helping to run the program. They will be the on-site coach. They provide the space for the teams.
Coke: The co-founder of Launchpad is also running a startup and they do an incubator as well. They are currently incubating several startups.
Are you working with M8VC as well?
Coke: Only some of them. Some of the Mentors are also part of M8VC, but not all of them.
How does the program work during the weeks?
Victor: When the teams join the bootcamp we expect full time commitment. They can work at Launchpad for free. We are hoping they will work full time, not necessarily nine to six, but we expect them to fully utilize the resources over there to their full advantage.
Coke: They have to attend all the courses and all the workshops.
When do you plan to have the workshop and courses?
Victor: We haven’t specifically planned it yet, but we are thinking of 1 or 2 workshop per week.
Coke: Many of our events will be open for the public. Even other startups, or the general public. Everybody who is interested in learning about startups can join.
Victor: Actually, part of our mission is to enhance the startup ecosystem in Thailand.
Launchpad might not be large enough.
Victor: Actually, we worry about that too but the place should be fine.
Coke: We were able to fill in almost 200 people during our orientation early this month. We have a backup plan was well.
You expect the teams to work full time during the 99-days. Most, or at least some, of the teams will have full time jobs. How are you going to solve that problem?
Coke: That is one of our major concerns, but our program is focused on building real business and we believe that in order to accomplish that you will have to work full time, Monday to Friday, on your product.
In return for their full commitment we provide them with seed fund, co-working space, and mentorship for three month, plus business and product support from True
We think that is a fair deal and a good offer to quit their job, or in case of students, drop for one semester.
Is this why you set the starting time of the bootcamp to September, so everybody can sort out their problems?
Victor: Yes. The will receive the notification by end of July, early August, which will give them four weeks to quit work or convince their boss that this is worth working for. Maybe they can leave without pay, or come up with a good agreement. We created our program similar to the big name incubators in the US, like Techstars, 500 Startups, Y-Combinator and so on. They all require commitment for about 100 days.
It seems that, so far, only your CEO has a direct link to the startup community, however you are the ones that have to execute…
Coke: Yes, sure. That is why we partner with 500 Startups. One of the main things we need from them is information how to run a successful incubator. Their record is quite good.
Victor: There is also Launchpad. They have experience in running a program to. We try to leverage the knowledge of our partners.
Coke: Our Manager also ran his own startup, 10 years ago or so, in Japan. He developed a mobile messaging app before Blackberry Messaging.
How did you establish the collaboration with 500 Startups?
Coke: We approached many alternatives. Why we went with 500 Startups is that they are the top tier of incubation programs. Secondly, they are the only incubation program that has a real interest in the South-East Asian region. With Geeks on a Plane they came here to learn about the local startup scene. We had a talk with Dave and Khailee and there is a kind of good chemistry between us.
In terms of Ecosystem, what is currently missing?
Victor: We are missing people that want to get into startups. When you go to the events right now, 80-90% are people you met before. People that want to be entrepreneurs are missing. When we look at the applications for our program for example, the application numbers are ok but not through the roof. There is a lack of entrepreneurial spirit as well.
Coke: When you look at the market potential of Thailand in terms of mobile consumer market. We are the number one on Facebook. Bangkok is the most active city on Facebook. The top two locations of Instagram uploads are in Bangkok. Thailand is number two in terms of Line users, second to Japan only. The market is ready, but if you look at successful entrepreneurs…we only have a few.
Victor: Therefore we try to build an ecosystem that enables people to jump in and build successful businesses. A solution to this is to give money. It’s hard for people to find money, especially seed funding, that is why we provide 500,000 THB to teams that come to the bootcamp. If you want to start a business you need to save up money from your own work, or you have to go find a bank and take a loan.
In the latter case you need a business plan and a good business model, otherwise they won’t give you the loan. If that is not there yet, you will spend a lifetime saving money for something that might have a 90% fail rate. That is why we provide funding along with screening for the ideas that look most promising.
Coke: Especially for the early stage. It’s easier when you have some traction, customers, generate revenue. You can go to a bank at a later stage. There are also many investors that have mandate to invest in this region, but they don’t know how to find the good entrepreneurs. It is also our job to help them with that. In True Incube we also have a VC fund, so we can cover this issue as well.
Victor: There is also a problem of risk taking. Thai’s are quite risk averse. Thai’s shouldn’t quit their job, should work at a big company. Parents push this mindset into their children. Their children should not become entrepreneurs. Even though they see the news from the US; Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of university. Thai’s are not really prepared for that. Especially because family bonds are so strong here.
Do you think a big exit, a real Startup Hero is missing?
Victor: Yes. If we would have a Thai Mark Zuckerberg, people would likely want to follow his path.
Coke: True is a strong brand in Thailand. We believe that this program can endorse this way. When children drop out of their job, or university we hope parents will have less problems with it because the program is endorsed by True. It should give the parents and the society confidence that their kids are doing the right thing.
Do you think there is enough knowledge about Business Models, Lean UX, Lean Startup and so on in order to be able to execute?
Victor: Not yet. People slowly start to learn about these approaches. Knowledge about these concepts is still below par across the region. That is why we have an academy as well. It is not part of True Incube. We want to enable people to either become quality corporate employees or entrepreneurs. It will be similar to Disrupt University but focusing more on IT.