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Financial Technology, or “fintech”, has been at the forefront of Southeast Asia’s growing digital adoption. In 2015 and the first half of 2016, a total of $345 million was invested in fintech startups in the region alone because market maturation and ecommerce adoption have been stagnated by payments.

In recent years, there has been an array of mobile wallets and government initiatives in the region, like PromptPay in Thailand, or Wave Money in Myanmar. Not many initiatives have involved a less explored and more popular technology in the West – blockchain and bitcoin.

eIQ speaks with Philip Lim, the founder of SKYBIT, a bitcoin startup that encourages cross border payments to a frontier market – Myanmar.

He explains the concept behind blockchain, how SKYBIT could possibly change the lives of the Burmese and why he decided to launch his startup in one of Southeast Asia’s less developed countries.

What is blockchain technology and bitcoin?

“A blockchain is a ledger of transactions which are grouped into blocks and tied together one after the other by encryption,” explains Philip.

The bitcoin blockchain is the largest and most active one, it is the token of monetary value that flows in the network.

“A blockchain is immutable, which means you can’t change its history, as the system would reject it,” says Philip. “Immutability also means that the record is seen as permanent. A good non-payments application would be for transfer of assets like land.”

“The number of bitcoin transactions per day around the world has continued to increase and has recently almost reached 370,000. Such increase in transactions could be attributed to media attention, especially of bitcoin’s steep rise in price recently but the technology has actually been around since 2009,” says Philip.

How does SKYBIT utilize blockchain technology?

Philip developed SKYBIT to create significant social impact in Myanmar by solving difficulties in transferring money to Myanmar as it was one of the factors impeding the country’s and the peoples’  development.

The SKYBIT payment processor helps Burmese businesses and aid organizations receive payments from abroad. A number of charity organizations have already signed up to accept donations from anywhere in the world.

Merchant Accounts dashboard on the SKYBIT platform

Example Ad Item on the SKYBIT advertising platform

A customer who wishes to make a payment clicks on the “Pay with bitcoin” button on the sales page, enters details such as email address and bitcoin address (used in case of refund), and is taken to an invoice page, where they can simply scan the uniquely generated QR code using any bitcoin app such as Copay, Coinbase and Bitcoin Wallet.

Invoice page and QR code generated by SKYBIT.

Payment is detected instantly and the entire process is done in a matter of minutes.

Invoice page and QR code generated by SKYBIT.

Behind the scenes, the bitcoin is received by SKYBIT, and SKYBIT deposits Myanmar Kyat into the organization’s SKYBIT account. The organization doesn’t need to handle or even understand bitcoin at all.

In case of a refund, SKYBIT can send bitcoin back to the bitcoin address provided by the customer and there is a limited amount of time to report a problem related to an invoice or request a refund, during which the merchant cannot withdraw the amount earned from the sale from their SKYBIT account.

“Signing up to use SKYBIT is far easier than applying for a merchant account to accept credit cards, as banks only want to deal with large businesses. This may encourage small merchants and even individuals to use SKYBIT and access a global market,” comments Philip.

“Credit cards also still have many problems, especially fraud and chargebacks, which can cause losses to merchants. With bitcoin, which was designed especially for the internet, transactions are detected immediately and irreversibly settled within minutes, and cryptographic checks prevent fraud,” says Philip.

“Traditional forms of payment are outdated and not entirely secure as they were designed before the internet was even invented,” says Philip.

Cryptocurrency adoption within Myanmar

Bitcoin can be purchased from SKYBIT via its exchange to effectively open up a whole new world of online shopping for the more affluent Burmese.

Myanmar banks have only recently released cards that are accepted internationally, but most locals would not qualify for one or the process takes too long.

“Traditionally, Myanmar is a very cash based society. People have stacks of money kept at home, and most understand it’s not practical,” says Philip.

To address this issue, mobile wallets like Wave Money have been introduced in Myanmar to allow locals to send local currency via smartphone, even in rural areas.

“Since Wave Money can only be used to send Myanmar Kyat, it cannot be used for international payments so Wave Money and bitcoin can actually complement each other,” says Philip.

“It makes a lot more sense to replace USD as the de-facto currency of the internet with bitcoin, as there is too much friction when dealing with traditional fiat currencies on the internet.”

“Businesses also aren’t allowed to display prices in any currency other than Myanmar Kyat. Within the past two years, many businesses in Myanmar, including Swensens and The Pizza Company, began openly quoting prices in USD. Authorities ordered them to stop because of the weakening value of the Myanmar Kyat relative to USD at the time,” says Philip. “They are afraid it will devalue the local currency.”

A social enterprise

“There have been, and still are, so many big problems that need to be solved in Southeast Asia, especially in Myanmar. Poverty is the normal mainstream thing there,” says Philip. “Most people around the world have been oblivious to Myanmar’s problems.”

“I was learning about bitcoin and could really connect with all the things that prominent bitcoin evangelist Andreas Antonopoulos was saying. For example, 5 or 6 billion people have not been cared for by traditional financial systems. He also mentioned that one of the common uses of bitcoin was for donations.”

The sky’s the limit for SKYBIT

Philip, together with a new co-founder, plan to push offline marketing in order to meet organizations face-to-face in Myanmar.

“This is not the kind of thing I can create a Facebook ad for because the technology, even just web pages and email, is so foreign to much of the Burmese,” he says.

Despite currently being one of Southeast Asia’s most underdeveloped markets, Euromonitor predicts the country will become one of the 20 ‘markets of the future’ to offer the most opportunities for consumer goods companies globally.

But opening up Myanmar to the world takes investment and finding such is currently SKYBIT’s highest priority.

“The platform is ready, and ideally will flourish once I have enough funds to open an office in Myanmar filled with a strong marketing and sales team,” says Philip. “The country is full of potential and I’d like to take the next steps in introducing Myanmar’s goods and services to global shoppers, whilst simultaneously helping the people of Myanmar at all levels of society.”

Here’s what you know.

1. WhatsApp will reportedly launch peer-to-peer payments in India within 6 months

WhatsApp plans to use UPI, a cross-bank payment system backed by the government, to begin enable payments between users within the next six months.

“India is an important country for WhatsApp, and we’re understanding how we can contribute more to the vision of Digital India. We’re exploring how we might work with companies that share this vision and continuing to listen closely to feedback from our users,” WhatsApp said in a statement.

Credit card penetration is low in India, while WhatsApp has already emerged as a platform for facilitating ecommerce despite currently offering no features that expressly support that.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

2. QBO innovation hub will provide resources to enable Philippines startups

QBO is a partnership between tech startup accelerator Ideaspace, J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, and the Philippines government’s Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Science and Technology, with the aim to help grow the startup ecosystem in the country.

Two of the biggest challenges that Philippines startups face are securing funding and dealing with rigid government regulatory policies.

QBO aims to remove these barriers by being conduit between startups and private and government entities that can provide resources.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

 3. Recommended Reading: will Snapchat’s data play help fend off competition from Facebook and Instagram?

One month after its IPO, the messaging app’s execs are doggedly focused on broadening Snapchat’s appeal to brands—notably direct response-minded companies.

Snapchat needs to mine data about millennials more effectively to beat Facebook and Instagram.

Millennial marketers will be able to zero in on Snapchat users who are most likely to download their brand’s app, targeting slivers or swaths of the platform’s 160 million users who have shown interest in either the brand or the functionality it’s offering.

Read the rest of the story here.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Lazada partners with Unilever to capture Southeast Asia’s online retail growth

Lazada, has joined hands with Unilever in hopes of grabbing a bigger slice of the region’s online retail market in fast-moving consumer goods.

Lazada’s FMCG product category grew by 181% in 2016 over 2015, making it the platform’s strongest growth category.

The two companies will work closely together on supply chain, fulfillment, data, marketing, social commerce and talent development to grow their business’ reach in the region.

The partnership will allow Unilever to test new products before deciding whether to send them offline, while also allowing the company to offer exclusive products to Lazada shoppers.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

2. Unilever acquires minority stake in direct-to-consumer skincare brand True Botanicals

The deal is Unilever Ventures’ first with a direct-to-consumer luxury skincare brand, and demonstrates the appeal of natural products and digital business models to beauty investors.

Olivier Garel, head of Unilever Ventures said:

From a business perspective, the direct distribution enables the company to invest much more than has been traditional in the product quality and the shopping experience

True Botanicals is available at Barneys New York and natural beauty retailer Follain, but the company doesn’t anticipate brick-and-mortar sales ever exceeding 20% of its turnover.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

3. WeChat expands in Europe in bid for global advertisers and payments partners

Owned by Tencent Holdings Ltd., WeChat is looking to launch an office in the U.K. and another European country, alongside its existing presence in Italy.

WeChat is now focusing more on business-to-business, encouraging Western brands to sell products on the WeChat platform.

In Europe, the focus is first on fashion and luxury goods, and will in time expand to travel and broader retail services. WeChat is hoping its expansion in Europe will convince more high-profile brands onto the platform, to also reach Chinese tourists visiting Europe.

Tencent could be trying to do what Alipay is doing, but there’s much more uncertainty in terms of when the business could take off, as it would need to overcome many regulatory hurdles.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

Here’s what you should know today.

1. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the world’s second richest person

Jeff Bezos added $1.5 billion to his fortune as Amazon.com Inc. rose $18.32 on Wednesday, the day after the acquisition of middle eastern retailer Souq.com.

Amazon’s founder has added $10.2 billion this year to his wealth and $7 billion since the global equities rally began following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

Bezos remains $10.4 billion behind Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the world’s richest person with $86 billion.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

2. Freightos, an Expedia for the shipping industry raises $25m

Freightos, a Hong Kong-headquartered startup that lets people compare prices and book shipping services, has raised a $25 million funding round led by GE Ventures, the venture capital arm of General Electric.

Freightos’ main product is AcceleRate, a subscription software for carriers and freight forwarders to automate calculating and managing shipping rates. The price comparison feature is a new addition to the platform.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

3. Indonesia’s Go-Jek launches new feature to book Blue Bird taxi

Indonesian ride-hailing startup Go-Jek and taxi company Blue Bird today launched Go-BlueBird, a special feature to book Blue Bird taxis via the Go-Jek app. Under the Go-BlueBird feature, users will be able to pay for taxi fare using the Go-Jek’s cashless payment service Go-Pay. The new partnership establishes Go-Jek as an “industry enabler”.

The new product is launched as Go-Jek, with other ride-hailing startups Grab and Uber, battles an upcoming revision of the land transportation regulation.

Read the rest of the story here

Mitch Bittermann, Regional Chief Logistics Officer at aCommerce recently sat down with The Postal Hub podcast to discuss a successful B2C ecommerce strategy, logistics in Southeast Asia, and what he thinks brands should prioritize when attempting cross-border. 

The Postal Hub: From a retailer perspective, what are the challenges to get into ecommerce

Mitch: I would look into tech, customer service, warehousing and transportation. Retailers today are mainly working from a B2B perspective. This means bulky shipping and heavy-duty racking in the warehouses, which is only suitable when operating B2B. To do B2C, the requirements are completely different, because the consignments are smaller. From a transaction perspective, businesses would also need to think differently.

With transportation, it would either be light or FTL (full truck load), the size of packages are smaller with B2C, which means you have to work with parcel couriers to get the items shipped to your end customer. The biggest difference is also with customer service. If a company is running their own customer service, it usually requires them to talk to businesses, but with B2C, customer service means the end customer is contacting you through various channels, from calling to live chat, things that B2B businesses may not have.

The Postal Hub: If you are a retailer entering ecommerce, what are the key delivery considerations?

Mitch: I would go one step before that. I would think about what the location strategy is. Where is your supplier, brand, manufacturer and customer sitting? If it comes from a transportation perspective, today, you’re shipping a lot on freight. You’re shipping pallets, costs is definitely a consideration but from a cost perspective it is a lot smaller than if you have to send everything in small consignments. Someone has to pick up the bill.

Customers in Southeast Asia are more cost sensitive about shipping price so retailers will eventually need to consider setting up a hub somewhere to cut costs on shipping.

Postal Hub: Cash on delivery is popular in Southeast Asia. What are the other ways people are paying?

Mitch: Cash-on-delivery (COD) is the biggest enabler in ASEAN. This is the choice for most people, especially in tier 2-3 cities that are unbanked. If you look at Indonesia, in a place like Papua New Guinea, 90% is COD. Do we have another method? Yes, but one of the challenges is that we do not have Alipay. Banks offer platform but they are not default.

In Indonesia, a lot of banks are talking about an e-platform but nothing concrete is happening just yet. 

For now, we cannot live without COD in Southeast Asia. Potentially, a retailer could lose out 60-70% of revenue if they don’t offer COD as a payment method.

Postal Hub: What about buy vs. build? What should be outsourced?

Mitch: It really depends on retailer maturity. If a retailer is just starting, I would say do as much as possible by yourself. Pack and send off shipment by yourself, if your business scales, then look to outsource. When it reaches the stage of 100,000 orders a month, do you want to run it by yourself or outsource to a third party service provider?

With transportation, it is best to outsource. This is because Southeast Asia still has fairly weak infrastructure. There are a lot of options to choose from; DHL and Kerry are the big ones. Then we have smaller disruptors such as Ninja Van and Sendit. All the movements in the transportation industry also mean prices will be soon drop and the industry will become more commoditized.

Some of my clients run their own warehouses and some outsource. When I was working in B2B, companies were running their own warehouses and then the outsourcing trend happened. The trend is coming for B2C, but I don’t think it will take 5-10 years to take off, it will go faster.

Soon, the trend will go towards out-sourcing supply chain so that businesses can focus on growing and selling their products. 

Postal Hub: What about cross-border delivery?

Mitch: With delivery, some people request next day or same day. It’s more difficult to ship cross-border with these requirements. Companies need to consider regulations that are related to ecommerce shipment and study revenue transfer, especially if you don’t have your own entity in that country. Figure out how to get money back from country A to country B while also thinking about tax implications.

Businesses will also need to think about FDA licenses and certain regulations. For certain products, you would need a license to legally bring it into a country, including distribution and logistics licenses.

A client came to me, they wanted to ship stuff from Singapore to Indonesia, but it was taking 7-9 days and costing customers $7 per shipping order. Depending on the product, that is quite a high price point. Customers are also not happy to wait that long for a delivery.

The client wanted a local set-up and do COD shipment because they want to build up scale. The company never shipped more than 100 orders a month. When they signed on with aCommerce, we closed 1400 orders after 3 months. The only thing that changed is the country we did the shipping from.  

For businesses that are starting out in Asia, I would say for them to start their operations from either Hong Kong or Singapore. If it scales, then is the time to go local i.e. Jakarta, or hyper-local, such as tier 2 and tier 3 cities like Bandung or Surabaya for better reach. 

Postal Hub: What about parcel lockers? What are end consumers in Southeast Asia interested in?

Mitch: The interest is there, but it’s all about reach and coverage. In Singapore, the country is not that big and essentially a metropolitan location, which makes it easier to offer things like same day delivery. In Bangkok, we power SKYBOX, a pick-up station on sky-train stations that allows consumers to pick-up their parcels on the way to and from work.

In Jakarta, MatahariMall offers lockers but it is limited in terms of coverage. I would recommend looking at pick-up and return from convenient stores such as 7-Eleven, Family Mart and Alpha Mart. There is already a lot of offline coverage in Southeast Asian cities and retailers can collaborate with these stores to begin a wider distribution network. 

Listen to the full interview on eIQ’s podcast channel here.

Here’s what you should know today.

1. Singapore govt to give faster approvals, lower requirements for VCs

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced a proposal to simplify the authorization process and regulatory framework for VCs.

What is the new proposal? MAS will not demand VC managers to have directors and representatives with at least five years of relevant experience in fund management. It will also remove base capital and risk-based capital requirements, and will not require VC managers to provide independent valuation, internal audits and audited financial statements.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

2. e-Marketer survey says more Chinese e-shoppers to buy foreign products by 2020

Cross-border ecommerce in China is set to expand to a much wider population base by 2020, a survey has found. More than 15% of the Chinese population purchased goods from abroad worth $85.8 billion in 2016. The amount is expected to reach 25%-which translates into 325 million people-by 2020.

While a new cross-border ecommerce tax implemented in April will negatively affect some categories of goods, demand for foreign goods via the cross-border ecommerce channels is still expected to stay robust due to better prices compared with offline retailers.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

3. Thailand’s startup sector tipped to double in value

The Thailand Tech Start-up Association (TTSA) has predicted that the overall value of the start-up market in the country will double to more than $570 million dollars (Bt20 billion), with over 600 start-ups by the year’s end.

The main factors driving this growth are people’s increasing access to information technology, government support for innovation and start-ups, and a rise in venture capital and private-sector support.

Read the rest of the story here.