Meet Cambodian Journalists: Inside The Phnom Penh Post Newsroom

In 2010, I had a one-year stint at the Phnom Penh Post. While it’s a newsroom, it’s also an informal academy. I had the opportunity to get to know some brilliant media students. These are the new generation of Cambodian journos who love beating the deadline and drafting the first drafts of Cambodian history.

Many of them are now doing remarkable work in PR. I hope one day (in a few years), they will buy an independent newspaper (if any) in Malaysia. But to only make it more independent.

Cambodia technology startups

I received these questions from a Cambodian university student who’s working on her master’s program. Her work focuses on the emerging entrepreuneurs in Cambodia. The questions center around the business technology startups in Phnom Penh. The answers are my observation and perspectives.

You may also want to read: Phnom Penh’s startups: ‘the art of battling giants’

Question: What is tech startup? When has it happened in Cambodia?
A tech startup is a process or a journey of transforming a idea into a business that generate profit by an individual or a group of people. An amazing idea is still cheap without the execution. That’s what a startup is all about. Just like any businesses, this startup concept has been here in Cambodia for a very long time. But in our modern time Cambodia, in this digital age in particular, we’ve witnessed more and more startups here and there especially in Phnom Penh.

Question: What is your view of technology business in Cambodia? Is it a big field and going on well?
It’s almost impossible to do business without relying on or integrating technology. Both business and technology are way better when utilizing one another. They’re seamlessly together. The future of technology business is here.

Have government or other key players provided financial and non-financial support for this technology business?
The ministries play a very vital role to encourage and support this technology business sector to grow. The Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Tecom are at the forefront to nuture the young generation of entrepreneurs to do well.

What are the opportunities for this kind of business in Cambodia? And what are the challenges they face in this context?
Cambodia has a growing population of young people who are fluent in English and can develop technology skill very well. The ability to take on an idea and develop it into something amazing is a huge opportunity. In content production business, some Cambodian groups can launch digital platforms in the local language, build the audience, and have the opportunity to scale them to the region with external funding from some investors. It’s like mining gold. However, this is not without challenges. The local ecosystem to support these early stage businesses, who are a shoestring budget through bootstrapping, is not yet fully in place. From mentorship to seed funding to regulations, Cambodia is still in its early phase.

Do you know any tech entrepreneurs in Cambodia? Their typical profile?
Most of the tech entrepreneurs I’ve met are young men in their mid 20s. They’re fluent in English-language communications, very tech savvy, and socialable.

What are your views on the female entrepreneur in Cambodia?
In tech business, the playing field is open to everyone with creativity and the ability to take or minimize risks.

Do you know any female entrepreneurs in technology startups? May you name some?
Malypoeur Plong who founded Stops Near Me, a mobile application for Phnom Penh residents to take advantage of riding the city bus. Leakhena Long of Joonaak Delivery is another entrepreneur to watch out.

What do you think the barriers women face? Especially in technology? Do you think men and women face the same challenges?

Are there any supporting organizations or investors in technology startups?

Is it hard to attract investor or get loan? And do those financial institutions discriminate between men and women entrepreneurs?

What do you wish to see from the Government as well as other stakeholders?

Calling for donations for children born into prison

Sophie, my 3-year-old daughter, started her first year at the kindergaten several months ago. This year, her school will be supporting LICADHO’s Early Years Behind Bars for its annual beloved Giving Night.

I’m supporting this cause. And I’m asking you to join this with me.

What: I’m now collecting donations of child/adult toothbrushes as well any gently used or new toys, books, clothes or art supplies for children born into Cambodia’s prison system.

When: I’ll bring the donations of mine and yours to The Giving Tree School (Tuol Kork Branch, house #5, St. 325, Phnom Penh) on December 11th, 5:00 – 7:00PM.

How: If you wish to send your donations of stuff (not money) through me, please drop me a line of your pick-up location (Google Maps link) and mobile phone number. Thanks!

Last year, when my son 5-year-old Tom was a pupil at the school for this Giving Night, I also donated a set of Raspberry Pi 3 starter kit to the Rabbit School Organization. This year, I’m planning to get old books for the donation.

Cambodia & Facebook: a story of love and hate

Cambodians spend much of their time playing on Facebook, the world’s popular social networking website. Despite Cambodia is a hotbed for Facebook experiment, I expect that it will not affect the number of growing users. Of course, a small number of people here (including me) don’t like it.

If you’re wondering why Khmer people are in love with Facebook, please continue to read on.

Each and everyday, Facebook asks me: What’s on your mind? Here’s my answer to Facebook the company and its shareholders.

1- Cambodians started to hate TV because TV talked to them without listening to them.

2- TV is expensive. They spend money to buy a TV set just to watch. That’s all. Not fun. Nothing much on TV are cute. No cute cat. Not much to see selfies.

3- Cambodians think that everyone in Cambodia and all over the world is on Facebook. So they have to be on Facebook even being the last one in the kingdom to get on the social site.

4- Cambodians can create organic content with high reach. Cambodian users are probably the best viral content creators on the planet.

5- Cambodians have already abandoned TV. Facebook is the main source of all things day and night.

6- Ads spending on Facebook is high and growing non-stop. Why? Big, medium, and small businesses no longer want to spend their marketing money on TV and newspapers. They can easily pay Facebook to the work. $1 per day? Acceptable.

7- Cambodia’s Facebook users care about being on Facebook. Facebook Explore Feed. Who cares?

8- On Facebook, business is business. You have to pay to get in the frontpage if you want to sell.

9- On Facebook, you’re completely free to share your personal information and content (photos from your backyard, yes).

10. Blockchain? What? Facebook invests in you all and mine your data like a pro.

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Facebook Explore Feed for Cambodia

There is this new thing called Explore Feed for all the not sponsored Page content. It’s a Facebook’s experiment. And Cambodia is among the six test countries. So only sponsored Page posts get shown on the prime Frontpage.

The world’s most popular social networking site has just launched a new version for Cambodia’s users, among 6 other countries, the Facebook Frontpage. This newest test version is dedicated to updates from its users and sponsored content only. No more. For those publishers and brands who spent their budget on gaining the quanity of Likes will not get the same treatment of having their messages on the first front page. Those messages are now placed in a secondary section called Explore Feed. Just like its name, it means Cambodian Facebook users will need to do their own exploration.

Also: 12 reasons why Facebook is so popular in Cambodia

Facebook is a tech company that focuses on the result. Tweaking a small feature to get more advertisers to continue spending more money is the goal for the company and the shareholders. User experience is secondary. Publishers or Page owners with largest followers has already spent their marketing budget on getting the number of Likes. It’s as if the number of Likes is useless. This new feature allows Facebook to keep earning more from these businesses and others.

Cambodia has a lot of love stories with Facebook. But the interesting timing is Facebook, Google, and Twitter, are being grilled for their role in the last year’s US election.

I think the majority of Cambodians may not notice this tweak. What matters is that they still see that Facebook is working and feeding them the content they want to consume. If the social networking site were having a one-hour downtime, the public will get angry much more
than this introduction of the Explore Feed.

It’s the first time ever that this issue has happened. Facebook should have done much better than this. But after all, it’s the global tech company that can decide without listening to their users.

This is the worse tweak ever. My tweets here (also others’)

Most users will never know or notice. Nobody should ever blame Facebook.
https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/10/this-could-be-the-end-of-facebook-hive-podcast

I was quoted in this VOA News article here: Facebook Faceplants in Cambodia.

Phnom Penh’s startups: ‘the art of battling giants’

As competition among key players in Cambodia’s tech startups is at a new height, 2017 is the year of creative partnership. Uber and Grab are making their presence felt in Cambodia. The two giants are powerful in how they operate, market, and compete. Uber opened its Phnom Penh office mid this year, before officially launching a few months later with the presence of US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt. Singapore-based Grab quietly started by hiring young Cambodian talents to start its operation in the Cambodian capital. The arrival of the Silicon Valley’s company and the King of Asia will transform the Cambodian transportation sector dramatically in the next few months. Uber and Grab are in Phnom Penh to do both: to educate the local market as well as to bring this small, growing market more competitive. However, the future of the local startups in this category remains uncertain.

The art of battling giants

Unlike in Vietnam and Singapore, startups have a better ecosystem to operate thanks to the policy of starting and doing businesses. However, it’s new to young Cambodian entrepreneurs to enjoy that local support advantage. This year, Khmerload, a Cambodian Buzzfeed-like startup, received an investment from Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups. However, the Cambodian startup registered its business in Singapore, instead of its home country.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s home of tech entrepreneurs and startups, local startups have introduced their services to the locals and travelers on their shoestring marketing budget. Even though they’re new and small, they have been featured prominently in the local and international media outlets. BookMeBus, a 2-year-old startup was featured in CNN for making it easy to book a bus ticket. Other local startups like PassApp, Exnet Taxi, and iTsumo have been in this transportation and ride-hailing business for a couple of years. Time will tell. But their direct competitors are Uber and Grab.

For customers, the arrival of Uber and Grab mean more choices and better offerings. For the founders of Cambodia’s tech startups, it’s now the ideal time to draw inspiration from Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

Cambodian startups have to be very creative in partnership to take on the superiority of Uber’s technology. Cambodia’s ride-hailing ITsumo has recently partnered with Choice Taxi, a private taxi company offer 24 hours services.

With Cambodia’s largest money transfer agent TrueMoney, BookMeBus is now able to offer better customer-experience that the startup CEO believes will help grow its base of users. Most of Cambodian people still rely on cash for payments. This partnership allows BookMeBus to make it easy for more local customers to book their bus tickets at TrueMoney’s network of agents across the country. Also, the Cambodian unicorn startup last year tied a relationship with mobile money transfer services provider Wing.

On the digital content media and video on demand (VOD) front, the local streaming providers have to welcome and play a very competitive game with global players. Netflix launched in Cambodia with the film release of First They Killed My Father, directed by Angelina Jolie. It’s probably one of the most of strategic marketing and public relation campaigns to make its name known to the Cambodian users.

Mobile operator Smart is a partner with Malaysia-based iflix, a Malaysia-based company that offers video-on-demand service. Smart has recently acquired 30% stake in home-grown entertainment content producer Sabay. These businesses hope to become Cambodia’s digital champion in a few years. Both Smart and Sabay claimed that this October deal will help them to realize their dream.

Whether the partnerships come from pressure of Uber and Grab, it looks like the users will enjoy better, enhanced services with more added-values for their money. Probably this creative partnership is what the the small (startups) can battle the giants, both Uber and Grab.

The presence of both Uber and Grab also proves that Cambodia has it all for global businesses to launch and operate. Super fast Internet? Yes. Mobile 4G coverage? Yes. The majority of the young population who embraces digital technology? Yes.

Also:

Mekong ICT Camp: 2008 – 2017

In 2008, I flew to Bangkok and then took a mini van to Pattaya. It’s the first Mekong ICT Camp that took place in Thailand. The week-long workshop was inspired by Asia Source. 

The series of this Mekong ICT Camp continues the following years, 2010, 2013, 2015, and 2017. Only the latest one, 2017, that it’s organized outside of Thailand. I fortunately attended all those events. I started as a participant. Later on I took part as a facilitator, board member, and organizer. 

In 2008, upon the return from the first Mekong ICT Camp, I managed to work with a few Cambodian participants to initiate and start the first BarCamp in Phnom Penh. The BarCamp Phnom Penh is now everything for everyone across Cambodia. It’s amazing to look back and see how a idea and inspiration can aspire me to start doing things that now involve or impact thousands. I didn’t really imagine that. I just wanted to do something I’ve learned and feel that I pay back. 

After these five Mekong Mekong ICT Camp, I think the mission is accomplished. This latest camp took place in Siem Reap. It’s an attempt. I retire from this, although knowing that it means a lot to me.

Now I I have to think about the next thing after nearly a decade. The built network among people in the region and lasting friendship are the best things to have and to nurture.

Chea Langda, BookMeBus fearless founder

Chea Langda, BookMeBus CEO
Chea Langda, a doer and fearless founder

Chea Langda is a startup co-founder of BookMeBus. The young Cambodian left his 8-5 job to launch a website that lists bus trip information. It came out of his frustration when finding a bus seat to his hometown, Battambang province, from Phnom Penh. The BookMeBus now is one of the most popular websites among expats, foreign travelers, and local to book their bus tickets with a just a few clicks or swipes.

Uber ride in Phnom Penh?

This is an email interview I gave to The Cambodia Daily’s journalist Hang Sokunthea today

Date: 22 June 2017 at 12:09

I am writing a story today about the Beta test that Uber has launched last week and wondering if you could comment on the story?

A tech blogger has written a story as a review: http://wheninphnompenh.com/uber-launch-cambodia/

Do you know about this? What do you think is the significant of Uber coming to join the current market in Cambodia? We have Exnet for metered taxi, PassApp for both taxi and Tuk Tuk, and a few like GoTukTuk for only Tuk Tuk ride. Isn’t that already enough to serve the 1.5 million population city?

My full response
Uber is a unicorn disrupter (valued at $1 billion or more). So it’s not surprising that the Silicon Valley startup has to prove that it takes the world, including the Cambodian and other Asian markets, with its ride-hailing application.

Taking the recent Uber’s global leadership aside, I think this arrival will transform the Cambodian transportation sector positively.

I don’t really think the city has enough transportation service providers just yet. Let’s welcome other players like Lyft and GrabTaxi to come and compete here for the best offerings and services for the growing population of the city.

The presence of Uber in Phnom Penh will gradually change Phnom Penhers’ perception of access to private transportation. Most of the middle-class Cambodians prefer to own their vehicles. Some expats may rent a car. The convenience of ordering a ride with reasonable price (without being ripped off) offers an ideal choice.

The presence of Uber also proves that Cambodia has it all it takes for global businesses to launch and operate. Super fast Internet? Yes. The majority of the young population who embraces digital technology? Yes.

Read more:
The Cambodia Daily: Ride-Services Giant Uber Launches (Softly) on Phnom Penh Streets
Cambopedia: Taxi services in Phnom Penh
WhenInPhnomPenh: Uber finally launched their beta in Cambodia and here’s how you can ride for FREE

Cambodia’s tech startups: an interview

This is a recent interview I gave to a foreign correspondent. In the email questions & answers, I talked about the technology community and the emerging startups that Cambodians think help taking the Kingdom of Cambodia on the global map. You can also read my previous blog post about the Cambodian tech startups and coffee culture.

1) How was Cambodia’s tech scene changed since you started covering it?
Nearly ten years ago, tech geeks here worked quietly on their own. No collaboration, no exchange of what they’re doing. Basically, there was little communication and community in place for that. Today, the tech community is just amazing. It’s growing, and people are well-connected. This means people have more organic support and collaboration than in 2007.

At a tech event in Phnom Penh

2) What kind of challenges and opportunities do Cambodian tech startups face? Are they particularly active in some industries vs others (e-commerce, mobile money, etc.)?
Cambodian tech startups don’t, at this point in time, don’t really have the kind of support from the government like in Singapore or even Thailand and Vietnam. The main challenge facing the startup people here is: to change the mindset of the users (or customers). For example, even a successful startup that can build the best tech platform with a lot of payment methods, local customers are not willing to take the risk.

3) What are for you some of the most interesting Cambodian tech startups active today?
There is a big gap in term of doing things and living life in an ordinary way. To me, some of the most amazing Cambodian startups are those tackling the common issues. It’s not really about disrupting a sector but transforming it. For example, Cambodian startup like BookMeBus offers a convenient way to book online bus tickets. Home delivery service like Joonaak is changing the way Cambodians shop their products and get them delivered to their doorstep.

4) In what ways do you hope to see the country’s tech scene improve?
I’d love to see Cambodia’s tech scene to grow organically. The community, the service providers, the government, the investors, and everyone in between have the belief that to have a good environment, infrastructure, and support in place will help tech startups doing well. One day, Phnom Penh would become the most amazing city in the region for startups.

5) What’s the typical profile of Cambodian tech entrepreneurs?
This is so typical that a lot of founders I’ve met and talked to are men in their late 20s and early 30s. They’ve got the enthusiasm, commitment, and necessary skills to start things out. They’re much more connected within the community, too.

6) What kind of financing opportunities do Cambodian tech entrepreneurs have? Are more private investors investing in Cambodian tech startups?
I don’t really think there are many opportunities just yet. Right now, it’s small. So it’s a big opportunity for those interested in doing more things with Cambodian startup people.