Handcrafting Web Applications in Bangkok, Thailand with Jan Jones, Founder & CEO of Oozou

Jan, please introduce yourself…

I am originally from the UK and have been in Thailand for over 4 years after working for several years in IT and Finance related positions in London.

After selling just about every thing I owned in the UK I went traveling around the world for a long period and eventually ended up in Thailand.

I have travelled extensively and lived in many places including the US and India, but once you come to Thailand it changes you, so much so that I simply stayed.

What’s the story behind creating Oozou and can you explain what you do?

Oozou builds web and mobile applications for startups all over the world. We focus primarily on Ruby on Rails and iOS development.

After a period of doing almost nothing in Thailand except some travel, I decided I wanted to focus on something new so started doing some coding for a company in the US which a friend referred me to.

One thing led to another and I ended up employing a couple of really great Thai developers, all of us working in my condo.

This quickly grew into a real company, office space and more staff and we have basically never looked back from that point. Also happily we have been profitable since day one.

How’s traction working out so far? Please list any big milestones.

Traction is excellent, with almost zero marketing effort we have managed to collect customers including Twitter and 500 Startups among others.

We have relied solely on word of mouth recommendation to this point and our problem has always been resourcing not lack of work.

Our timing was perfect to ride the startup wave, we specialize in Ruby on Rails web application development which became the defacto standard for startups and given the huge demand for skills (and the high cost of those skills) in Silicon Valley, we found a great opportunity for helping early stage funded startups get their products built with significant cost savings.

It is essentially a win-win-win situation, our customers are very happy because they get the same quality of work as they would with local developers, our staff are happy because the geo-arbitrage nature of our business means we are one of the highest paying employers in the region and as a company we are, of course happy to be profitable.

How did the deals with Twitter and 500 Startups come about?

During the turbulent period of 2009 when the financial crisis happened, myself and a lot of other great tech and finance colleagues left the industry.

Some went and started Hedge Funds or VC firms, some went to Twitter/FB/Google. I ended up with a pretty spectacular rolodex which has been very helpful in getting to the right people.

What challenges did you face when launching, and how did you overcome them?

The main challenges were understanding the Thai business culture and understanding what motivates Thai developers (hint, money is only a small part).

I spent a lot of time looking at other Thai businesses, understanding what they were doing right and wrong with their staff and modeling Oozou on highly successful US companies in the same industry.

Also, managing to obtain a core set of developers at a very early stage helped a great deal in attracting other talent. Now our reputation locally within the community and within educational institutions is so good, a steady stream of resumes flows towards us.

Apart from the money, what else motivates Thai developers?

Environment, Location, Culture, Stability. They are of course things that affect all staff, but the mix is quite different with Thai staff in comparison to Western staff. I can’t tell you what the exact mix is, trade secret 😉

How do you see the startup and investment ecosystem developing in Bangkok?

If I look back 2 years when Bangkok had no co-working spaces, no startup community, no events or meet up groups, it is astonishing to see how things have changed.

Through startup ambassadors such as the guys at Hubba and through availability of mentoring and funding from companies like Ardent Capital, the entire startup ecosystem has blossomed incredibly quickly.

I think the first e27 Echelon event was when I looked around the room and really thought, yes, this is really happening.

What advice can you share with startups who are considering outsourcing the development of their mobile/web app overseas?

Find people that will challenge your ideas. We see many rescue projects from startups that have worked with Indian firms, sadly often the culture in some dev shops is to say yes to everything a customer suggests which is wrong on so many levels.

Make sure you have a clear idea of what you are building, build it lean so you know quickly if you can work with the company you choose.

Don’t go with the cheapest, often you get what you pay for. Ensure they use good tools, collaboration is important and timezones complicate this further. The right tool choices and processes make life much easier. Overall, find somebody you like and can communicate ideas with easily.

What’s next for you and Oozou?

2014 is our year of products. After spending years building products for others, we have experience with almost every combination and permutation of featureset.

Having this knowledge and the toolsets and processes to automate much of what we do, we can now turn to building products with little or no risk.

We are building quite a few products, some will fail and hopefully some will succeed, some are mobile and some are web based SaaS apps.

We are basically throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks and then focussing on that. Of course we are still building great apps for startups all over the world but we are now also becoming our own customer.

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