Developing a Web/Mobile/Marketing Startup in Myanmar with Jouni Helminen, Founder of Myanmar Plus

Jouni, please introduce yourself…

Hi, I’m Jouni. I’m originally from Finland – the home of Linux, Sauna and Santa Claus – but have been based in London for the past 10 years.

My background is in design and development, particularly mobile, for donkeys years – from ad agencies like TWBA to pure tech companies like Nokia, Microsoft and Canonical.

What’s the story behind creating Myanmar Plus?

My wife is originally Burmese and we go to Myanmar every year, so last year I thought it would be cool to do business there.

After about 6 months we had found the right people to do the first hires and Myanmar Plus was born. We have now grown to around 15 staff and expanding rapidly, primarily in Yangon, with a few people remoting from London and Helsinki.

Tell us more about what it is you do…

We have a twofold background – in part hardcore mobile/web engineering – building operating systems (Ubuntu), Android apps, large scale web services.

The second part is a digital agency background – we have past careers in some of the best digital agencies in Europe, crafting digital marketing campaigns for top brands ranging from Nokia to Microsoft to startups – we want to deliver the same quality digital services to our clients in Myanmar.

We really want to push the envelope, so our services are a mix of cool stuff from traditional digital agency services to some high tech engineering with mobile apps, payment services, high end drone aerial videos… Things that excite us and which we feel have commercial potential.

So it’s kind of like a holy trinity of engineering/coding meets design meets marketing. We focus on our own mobile/web products but also work with clients, mainly international brands entering Myanmar too to help them navigate the field – we speak Myanmar language and understand the culture, plus we have the chops to execute campaigns to top international agency standards.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Emails, designing new products, polishing pixels, server infrastructure stuff/DevOps, generating content (we’re particularly big on high quality video – we shoot with Blackmagic and Red Epics), code reviews, talking to staff and clients, daily standup to track progress, doing analytics on social media marketing.

It’s a real mix and keeps me busy!

Did you incorporate a company in Myanmar? If so, what’s the process like for foreigners?

We are in the process of incorporating in Myanmar also, you have to invest $50,000 USD to get a license for 5 years. We have an excellent lawyer (email me for details) and the process is going swimmingly with their help.

How’s traction working out so far?

We’re still in stealth mode on our products but have one test app with around 10,000 installs in the past couple of months.

Getting great traction on social networks as well in the past couple of weeks. A couple of big partnerships with international brands also in the works.

With you in stealth mode, what challenges are you currently facing?

Finding the right people. You just have to network, hustle hard and trust your instinct. I would strongly advice you focus your company in something you know inside out yourself, so that you are able to train your hires and gain their respect.

Co-location is pretty important for moving quickly, if you have remote workers then make sure your communication chain and workflow is tight – HipChat, Hangouts, Trello etc.

What strategies are you using to market Myanmar Plus?

Facebook is working well, it’s really popular in Myanmar. We’ve done a lot of social media marketing in the past for global brands, so we’re taking the learnings from there and utilising them for us an our clients in Myanmar

Beside Facebook, what other web platforms are popular in Myanmar?

Facebook is the main one, YouTube is fairly popular but limited by the slow connections, twitter and LinkedIn have some professional users. That’s about it – not that different to the rest of the world.

How do you see the startup ecosystem developing in Myanmar?

I think there will be more startups like everywhere else in the world. Access to funding is difficult so most startups are self funded.

Investment climate will take a while to develop, foreign investment in Myanmar companies can be tricky in terms of legislation. Local investors tend to sink their money into real estate and other physical investments.

What advice would you give to others considering venturing into Myanmar to do business?

Office and housing costs are very high, work that into your burn rate. Burmese food is great. Internet is slow. Traffic is really bad. People are lovely. Things can take longer than you’d expect.

Finally, treat people as you would like to be treated yourself and you will make a lot of friends.

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