I love Thailand. Have since the moment I first arrived for a business trip. The chaos, the city of Bangkok, the mountains, the oceans, the people, the food and this list can go on and on. However the place is not without it’s issues – just check this article for the silly reaction to a skit on SNL making fun of the sex biz in Thailand. I won’t get into how the biz is mostly run by and for Thais and is ingrained in Thai culture. Plenty of interesting books on the subject if you think I am off in left field here.
However I digress. Thailand has so many positive points but the country usually gains notoriety for its problems and usually these problems are self inflicted.
So that being said I am continually amazed why Thailand doesn’t quickly and decisively leap frog most of SEA by going for the Gold in the startup olympics. There is a startup fever in SEA – the HQ for this is Singapore but we all know the place is getting way too expensive. Many folks decamp for Malaysia or even work in Singapore and sneak across the border to live. Lots of folks setup shop in Indonesia which works for some but Jakarta traffic and lack of transportation infrastructure keeps folks like me out. Vietnam is cool and all but it is too much a mini China for me with the censorship and the government protection racket for incumbent companies.
So back to Thailand. It has issues. Freedom of speech, censorship and some others I won’t get into to. All in all though Thailand could be a great hub for SEA startups but the funding scene, the work permit and company issues tend to drive out anyone but the locals from really making a go of it. Sure I know there are startups in Thailand not started by the locals but there are plenty of stories from those who have tried and promise never to do it again. Some of those folks still work and live in Thailand but don’t form companies and legally stay via marriage or education visas. All good but not really the most convenient.
So when one see what Canada is doing to get startups to come to their country – I silently dream about Thailand doing the same thing. I know it won’t happen but it is possible and it would radically change the SEA landscape since Thailand is a good place to live, has talent and is starting to attract lots of hip people who just want to be here ( I know an investment banker thinking of jumping from Singapore to Thailand cause he thinks it might be a better city to live in for a while) but startups face such an uphill battle to be legal in Thailand if they are not founded by Thais. I won’t even get into the inane work permit requirements, the silly annual audits and all the other red tape that is death to a lean startup machine.
I will keep dreaming. Hoping that maybe someone in a big meeting room somewhere in some part of the Thai government decides to get radical.