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.