Amazon, Alexa, & Echo

The future is here.

While I’ve been expecting to get my hands on Google Home Mini, I got this Amazon Echo first. As I’m writing this blog post, this the second day with the Echo (although I prefer to communicate with Alexa more). So the Echo is a smart speaker made by Amazon. Alexa is the digital assistant, whom I have a conversation with. The Echo Dot is on sale in Phnom Penh.

Before I can add more about my experience with this smart speaker, here’s some interesting things I like about the Echo:

  • It’s very straightforward to set it up with my home WiFi. It took me a few minutes install this device for the first time.
  • Before I headed out for lunch, I asked Alexa, are you hungry? Alexa said: I’m not hungry and thirsty. Thank you for asking. 😉
  • During work today, I had Alexa playing some NPR News. I also asked Alexa to open Ocean Sounds.
  • Each time I ask about tomorrow’s weather, Alexa points out the weather in West Lake (USA). But when I’m more specific by mentioning Phnom Penh, she can give the specific answer.
  • I believe Alexa is potentially a home tutor for English language. My 6-year-old son, Tom, will be able to ask Alexa about Pluto, Asteroid, and space, the way he used my Moto G 5 Plus smart phone to say Hey, Google.

Thank John for this 2018 gadget gift.

Southeast Asia Technology Trends in 2018

A story I wrote about Asia’s technology trends to watch in 2018 was published on Red Herring on December 22, 2017.
Read my full story here: Asia’s Top Tech Trends in 2018: By the Letters.

Across Southeast Asia, rising tech startups and firms are vying for glory in 2018. While artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) may be touted as the next big things in Silicon Valley, Asia will embrace simpler trends. According to a report by Google and Temasek, Southeast Asia’s Internet economy is flying along: it will reach $50 billion this year, and $200bn by 2025. Here are some of the biggest trends to watch out for heading into the new year.

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.

Notes from BarCamp Asean 2017

TechTalk 2017

One of the biggest sessions at this year BarCamp Asean (a special edition of BarCamp Phnom Penh), TechTalk 2017 offered some highlights of Cambodian tech startups to the enthusiastic audience. Key business players from big to small shared their thoughts on their tech offerings, challenges, golden opportunities, and what it’s like to build and grow a company. Read on my note from this event as I kept trying to capture some of the most important points from the speakers.

When: October 22, 2017
Where: Institute of Technology of Cambodia

Anthony Perkin, Chief Technology Officer of Smart, on cashless society

  • examples using cashes from India, China, and Canada
  • Mobile money in Cambodia is higher than in Thailand and Vietnam, although not
  • recorded by the national bank
  • Paying the electricity bill… now being replaced by SmartLuy or Wing
  • The last step is to run the transaction on the phone
  • Build the trust. trust the company behind them
  • SmartLuy

Sophorth Khuon, Founder and CEO of Morakot Technology, core-banking system for microfinance and banks

  • 70 registered micro finances, not capable to purchase software.
  • started out as a 3 people team
  • worked in the industry for about 10 years before starting the Morakot
  • first started by soliving the software price
  • support from outside and in a foreign language: time consuming
  • 1) affordable 2) cloud base 3) quick implementation 4) automate config
    expansion: Myanmar,The Philippines, and Laos
  • Sustainability: Started with our own money
  • careful to spend and cashflow: no salary
  • reserve money for 3 years
  • funding: careful with fixed cost, payroll
  • start small
  • pricing: monthly or yearly subscription, maitanenance fee
  • To start a tech startup, focus on a particular software (banking)
  • cashflow is very important. revenue from software or funding. the best funding source is from revenue. banks don’t like startup (risky).
  • investment from the co-founders and their relatives
  • The more operations , the spending rises
  • no pricing structure can be problematic later on

Leakhena Long, Joonaak Delivery

  • 2 years and 7 months in operation
  • Be honest with yourself
  • The initital idea is not great yet.
    The startup journey is very struggling
    4 people. one day, we were in a cafe and talking about starting a cafe. A missing piece, no delivery service. Only meal temple.
  • Our life would be very convenient if there is a delivery service. Regularly met up to continue with the idea
  • I don’t like when things didn’t move
  • We should go to Startup Weekend
    Joonaak Delivery was shaped during the Startup Weekend. Parcel delivery. 2nd place in the startup weekend
    Disappointed by not being in the first place but learned why.
  • 2 deliverymen. now 20 deliveryman
  • Her friend run a shop, need the service because to deliver the product to the customer, he needed to close the shop.
  • From the beginning, it was all manual. From paper to Excel, to application. to track.
  • In the future, to have a mobile to power the merchants and the customer to see the delivery tracking
  • Keep yourself learning, in the market
  • Everyday, there are many new delivery services. We need to continue to develop, warehousing, packaging.
  • After 2 year sand a half, the journey is hard, but we believe in what we do
  • Talk to mentors, talk to parents,

Ly Channa, CTO of BookMeBus

  • BookMeBus started in December 2015.
  • Get to know each other. Met in a coffeeshop and started working on the idea.
  • Started with 4 people. Now more than 10 people
  • Started as a bus ticketing platform
  • Buying a bus ticket is not very convenient. People out of Cambodia cannot easily buy a bus ticket
  • Keep wokring on the product
  • In 2016, released a simple mobile app.
  • Won the ICT award. Getting known to the local market
  • BookMeBus: bus ticket, private taxi, ferry
  • What I want to share here: when you started with a business, along the way you can see other opportunities. Ferry.
  • Next year, we’re planning to expand in Myanmar
  • We learn more from the trasnportation providers to allow us to
  • As a programmer, keep learning from going to events.
  • Commitment. Work hard. work until 1AM. Technology is just one part. Committment is a driving force for success

Bora Kem, Investment Manager of Mekong Strategic Partners

  • What we see in the market today
  • What an investor looks for?
  • Team. A business that is scalable. Large growing market. Traction. Testing the work.
  • Add value to the startup team
  • one hundred early startup stage.
  • Super focus on being local. How customers react, buy thing, work with financial institution
  • There are a lot of of web development agency
  • Marketplace. Listing space. No clear winner.
  • Regionalization. Region as the next market.
  • What does the future look like? I don’t know. A few guesses: ask yourself 3 things: is the future already here? Last time, after landing in San Franscisco airport, I took an Uber taxi, stayed in an Airbnb place, shop on Amazon
  • Young people are the driving force in buying
  • The third. What if. There are so man things impossible. What if the challenge you face won’t exist in the future? What does it mean to your customers? What if technology can give you the info you don’t have before
  • If you’re thinking about starting a startup, now is the golden age. Old people cannot tell you how to build app. But you can tell them

Makara Khov, Underscretary of State, Ministry of Post and Telecommunication

  • Industrial 4.0. Physical and cyber world
  • Innovative environment: government, industry, academe
  • Infrastructure & platform of innovation. Knowledge technology transfer. Policy & relegation. Human resource for innovation. Public private partnership
  • Agile innovation
  • Mobile penetration: ~130%
  • Broadband Internet: ~75%
  • T/ICT development policy 2020
  • Telecom law, subdecree of ICT licensing regime
  • will have R&D ~7M$/year
  • USO ~14M$/year
  • ICT Federation to represent the sector
  • Cambodia ICT awards. Stimulus measure
  • Do not expect quick investment from investors. Build a great product first.
  • Create NIPTIC. Improvmeent of education quality in high school
  • Open investment climate

Chy Sila, CEO of Sabay

  • Sabay started in 09, 2007. About 10 years old now. We’re the early to get into this sector.
  • A brand that focuses on vision. What we want to do. A source of inspiration for the youth of Cambodia
  • Future trend
  • Focus what’s happening in the world and next
  • Inform, inspire, entertain. Pioneer. The trend in other part of the world. Inspire.
  • Bring on awesomeness
  • The products that make people happy
  • I listen. I read.
  • In Cambdoia, our technology lags behind about 15-20 years
  • Learn from other giant startups and adapt and implement in Cambodia
  • Augument Reality
  • If we do not follow future,
  • Read more. Global trend. not copy. but it’s happening.
  • AI. VR. Do we know about them?
  • Sabay Der. Kanha. Women are 55%. In just one year, but 45% of traffic of Sabay
  • Backend payment. Sabay Wallet. Sabay Coins. Created since 2007
  • Soyo. movie content. drama. iflix. jaikontv.
  • Our vision is VOD is unique. we produce our own movie.
  • We’ll launch with Smart.
  • We cannot live far from our smartphone.
  • Focus on mobile first since 2014.

Panel discussion: opportunities and challenges of startups in Cambodia

Chanda Pen, moderator

Socheata Lim, Vice President of Young Entrepreneurs Association of Cambodia (YEAC)

Ros Khemra, Regional Accesss to Finance of Mekong Business Initiative (MBI)

Zoe Ng, Managing director of Raintree

Sopheak Chheang
Member of Corco and Co-founder of Emerald Hub
Sokunpanha You
Head of Strategy, Smart Axiata

Chanda: One of the issues facing startups
a company needs at least 3 years of capital
What are the some the criterias that Smart looks to invest?
Smart Fund. 5 millions dollar that invest in early stage compnay. lacking of fundings is one of the challenges

To MBI: what are some of the things MBI is looking for?
we’re an ecosystem builder that supports startups. government in Vietnam, Singapore and other countries are turning their focus to support startups
Startups have a lot of potential.
Startups can grow from a small company into a big one in the region
Investors look for in a startup. Team. skills. Realistic of the product. and growth potential.

Socheat
invest in 4-5 startups. 3 gone. one is half success
a lot of young and talent people. only 16 million population
Ecosystem is important

EmeraldHub
what advice to you have to startup people
A lot of challenges and opportunities
If you start the business, you need a clear mission, vision,. strong team and commitment.

Zoe Ng
What advice do you give to entrepreneurs
Networking. The people they know, partners, are one of the driving factors…
Have fun. Relationship is not going to last if you’re not having fun.
Try different things all the time.
Don’t just go to tech tech events.

Sokunpanha:
Smart Startup
CSR: Support events like BarCamp Asean, …
invest in company
Invest in young startups
partner with iflix. Support ecosystem.

The tech ecosystem in the region:
Khemra
The whole ecosystem: corporate support, government support policy
More co-working spaces
In term of technical capacity, we’re good. Top ten in 2016-2017. BanhJi top 10.
We have a smaller community, but good.

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.

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.

Google Wifi for my home

Lately, I’ve written several blog posts about Internet Providers (or ISPs) in Cambodia. In this latest, let’s take a look at Google Wifi, one of the most simplified WiFi routers, that’s both easy to install and use. In addition to this, Google Wifi is pretty much stable and fast.

At my home in Tuol Kork district in Phnom Penh, I subscribe to a fiber optic Internet connection, SINET Fiber Edge.

The dedicated speed for both upload and download is 10Mbps. Having the best of Google Wifi is a great addition to my home Internet. One pack of Google Wifi covers 457.2 meters home, while 3 packs have the capability to blanket your entire, large home of 1371.6 meters. I live in a 2 story flat house. So having one is good enough.

 

Technology websites like CNET, The Verge, and Engadget gave some great reviews about Google Wifi. CNET wrote that “Google Wifi is easy to use and a breeze to set up. It has strong Wi-Fi coverage and fast speed. It costs a lot less than other mesh Wi-Fi systems.” In The Verge, the review site said: “Google says that the Wifi system is the product of three-and-a-half years of work — and it has previously released a router, called the OnHub.”

This Google’s mesh Wifi router is taking on products like Netgear and Eero. Yet, Google multi-point router system is still priced cheaper than these brands.

In Cambodia, you can buy Google Wifi here at Sweet Memory Store. One pack is for $149.

SINET Fiber Edge, what?

Fiber Edge is an ideal Internet package for small, family-run businesses and technology startups on a shoestring budget in Cambodia. As I’ve been using this Fiber Edge Internet service plan for nearly a year, it’s a good time to share my experience with those who look for a good Internet plan from SINET, one of the best Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the Kingdom.

Over the past years, I used a shared Internet plan, an ADSL (not a dedicated Internet). Common uses for email and web browsing were just okay, but for the conference call and HD video streaming were an issue. Connection stability was just unpredictable. The pain came when the connection was down several times a month, and the support came to fix only a week after I contacted that ISP. I decided to switch my ISP for the first time in years.

In August 2016, I contacted to SINET, Cambodia’s dedicated Internet provider, to install the Internet at my home in Tuol Kork district. While I already did some online research into this Internet provider, the saleswoman still insisted on giving me more information about the package, Fiber Edge (8Mbps) I wanted to go for.

In less two days after I signed up with SINET for Fiber Edge, the fiber-only Internet provider sent their staff to survey the location and do the installation. This is the first time I’ve got this so-called fiber optic connection for my home, where about ten users with multiple devices connect to the new connection through a new, decent WiFi router, too.

The difference between the previous provider is that SINET’s support is far more responsive. It took them a shorter time to come fix when the connection is down. There were times when the Internet cables from the pole on the street were cut off without anyone’s notice. In Phnom Penh, this is so common. Good news is that SINET also has the MetroLink, the underground fiber optic cable, in many parts of the city, including in my area. So hopefully, I will soon have this connection over the MetroLink instead. I could imagine that the city hall has been working tirelessly to beautify Phnom Penh by having less messy cables across the streets and boulevards.

Starting in January 2017, SINET offered a free speed upgrade Fiber Edge from 8Mbps to 10Mbps, which is quite noticeable. I feel that this Internet package is much more than enough for a small office or a shop that need stable Internet with dedicated support. With a lof of the jobs relies on a reliable Internet connection, this $400 per year Internet plan is also just the beginning. I recommended this Fiber Edge to a friend who runs a small web design firm, to begin with before upgrading to a bigger bandwidth plan, Fiber Plus (20Mbps) when her company grows with more clients and staff members. Next, you’ll get to know more about Fiber Plus.

Also: Cambodia’s fastest Internet Provider ISP