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Digital Economy in Thailand

If there’s one thing that’s red hot in Thailand right now it certainly is the political landscape. But right after that we definitely have the Tourism and Food industry. And then we surely have…well at some point there’s Electronic Commerce and Online Business. And since Thailand understood that E-Commerce isn’t that big in Thailand at the moment – especially compared to other countries that we like to compare ourselves too (no, not Burma) Thailand has come up with some ideas to promote this – still not sky rocketing – market. How? Let’s see.

First we created adapted a unique buzzword that has been around for a while. Who won bingo when this word came up remains a mystery but we finally got a term to write over each and every conference, meeting and gathering of people with at least one iPad.

Digital Economy.

bingo bullshit

When looking at current happenings, events, talks, etc. in and around Bangkok you will see and hear the term Digital Economy a lot. A lot. A LOT! And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to promote the digital environment. Especially in a country where everybody is online 24/7 in order to ‘play’ internet.

What’s a bit weird, well not weird, actually more annoying are the buzzword bingo possibilities that open up over and over again. As mentioned before (The ASEAN E-Commerce Bubble) things that we’ve seen in other places simply seem to repeat themselves. Many people now argue that’s normal and something bound to happen and not necessarily bad – as long as it works. I agree. If we emphasize the last part of that sentence. As long as it works. How long did it work in Europe or the US? Are we learning from their mistakes?

Wait. Don’t answer that! I hear you. “We’re not the same!” “We’re different!”. I hear you. We are! We have less experience, less regulations, less long term planning. But what we have en masse: The desperation to close the gap with more experienced markets. Rather sooner than later.

[Tweet “Motivation is not the problem. Not having a plan, is. “]

Same same – but different.

If you have ever been to Thailand you know that saying. Same same but different. And as much as it annoys me, it fits quite well in this case. Obviously some things are quite similar to other markets and developments while others aren’t. The problem simply is that most players on the field have a biased perception of which aspects are ‘same same’ and which are ‘but different’.

  • Do we have a huge potential here? Certainly!
  • Do we need investments? Of course!
  • Do we need to skip certain developmental steps that lead towards a natural growth and maturity? The answer that we should give is ‘no’ but the answer we want to give is ‘we can skip those steps’.

Sure, we don’t need to walk as slowly as other markets decades ago. It’s even ok to take two steps at once. But trying to run up a flight of stairs by only taking every third or so step will eventually lead you to stumble since you have to struggle with

  1. the speed of your forward progress and
  2. the fact that you’re leaving out stabilizing steps

While you might be able to compensate one of those points having to struggle with both at the same time will eventually be too much – especially when there is no defined final goal that lets you stop after reaching it. The only way, once in motion, is to go forward and to get faster while doing so.

But there are others that manage it, right? How are they doing it? Let’s stay with the athlete / running example for a moment. How do you learn to improve your technique and speed? By training. Right. So how could we improve our digital economy growth? By having mentors and investors that know what they are doing and that bring long term strategies to the table.

The difference between long term and short term is obvious: Long term plans take, well, longer to become fruitful but will eventually pay out since your skills will be better developed, you know what you are doing and how to react to certain circumstances. Short term plans only tackle the issue that is at hand right away, make you react to a very current situation but don’t equip you with the skills to actually improve. That’s like teaching a new Muay Thai fighter how to throw punches and kicks but not explaining to him why he does that in which situation and how the moves developed. Sure he will survive for a while in the ring and might even land a few punches and score a few points but eventually he’ll be taken down. Similar things are happening in our Digital Economy right now. There are lots of investors coming in that see potential in the Thai (and ASEAN) market but do they really have long term plans or are they just in it for the quick buck? Are companies like Rocket Internet fruitful to the landscape or will, too many of them, damage the natural development of the local digital economy? Is putting the label “Digital Economy” on everything actually helping? Do I put a label “Muay Thai” on my gym when I actually just offer western boxing?

Sometimes the eagerness to make a change in ones own development sooner than later is a problem and prevents one from learning important, basic, steps on the way to the mastery of a craft / sport / concept. Let’s hope the eagerness to beat others in the Digital Economy game won’t lead us to stumble and and fall.

Bingo!

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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  • Love the BINGO card. That’ll come in helpful at the next tech meetup :)

    I think as long as they don’t pull a Malaysia, working on e-commerce investment policies is idling in the right direction. Part of the whole thing won’t last to see the end of the decade, but it’ll be the foundation for a more permanent, actually sound, digital economy. While some companies will turn out to be hype and burn through investments, they’ll still contribute to consumer education, credit card penetration and general internet proficiency of the population.

  • Hi Karsten. Danke fuer den Kommentar :-)

    I’d love to play some bingo at one of the tech meetups here some time soon :D
    Other than that you’re obviously making some good points. There needs to be some kind of foundation and it probably will take some trial and error to figure out how to find the ‘right’ one. I do stick to the point that Thailand isn’t eager on learning the basics first but rather wants to jump ahead of the line. But then on the other hand, everybody probably would feel that way and as you mentioned, even failures that come along with it will probably educate users in one way or the other. Here’s to hope that we here will learn the right lessons while being on the track to move Thailand’s Digital Economy forward.