Thursday, August 17, 2017

Silicon Valley firm bets on Myanmar

California-based venture capital firm 500 Startups has made its first investment in Myanmar, putting money on local tech firm Bindez.

The company behind Myanmar-language news application Bindez Tha Din has now raised more than US$500,000 over three rounds of funding, with previous seed and angel financing adding up to $120,000 together.

The round came from a consortium of investors, with 500 Startups taking a minority position.

The new-school venture firm founded by Dave McClure counters the traditional investment model of making big bets on a few enterprises with millions of dollars, by investing small amounts of money – generally about $100,000 – on a larger number of companies.

Bindez CEO Rahul Batra said his company, with three founders, matched up with what 500 Startups was looking for: a hacker, a hipster and a hustler.

The company has already made strides with community engagement and done some incubation, he said. The app, as of yet still being tested but available for free download, has racked up 75,000 downloads and 20,000 monthly active users.

Bindez teamed up with Ooredoo in August and stacked its app with election-related information late last year, following its release in June 2015, as previously reported by The Myanmar Times.

Monetising the app is not on the table at this early stage, according to Mr Batra. The funding will help bankroll team and product development and the boosting of market engagement and reach, he said.

The app will tap an ever-widening market of Myanmar mobile users, whose number has exploded since the Union government reformed the country’s communications sector in 2013.

The administration claims that telecom penetration rates had reached 60 percent by September 2015 in a country of more than 51 million people.

“As entrepreneurs we take deep inspiration over the similarity in our venture’s journey with that of Myanmar’s recent resurgence,” said co-founder and chief technology officer Yewint Ko, in a statement.

“Just like the country itself in the last five years, Bindez has also weathered a topsy-turvy start-up phase in the last 18 months.”

Meanwhile, 500 Startups sees an opportunity in Myanmar, where start-ups can compete against behemoth tech incumbents.

“In most parts of the world internet platforms like Facebook or Google are dominant,” said 500 Startups managing partner Khailee Ng in a statement. “But in Myanmar, we see Bindez offering a locally developed, alternative way of consuming real-time, relevant information.”