September 27, 2020

Things I learned while building a SaaS company in Thailand

When I went to Thailand almost 2 years ago I didn't think about starting a company there. I was going to enjoy summer all year long and life as a digital nomad.

I had a ton of free time, so I traveled a lot around Thailand and south-east Asia. But after a couple of months into my travels, I was slowly but surely stopping to see any meaning in just traveling.

I wanted to work on something meaningful, on my own... on a project.

After listening to many hours of audiobooks about entrepreneurship I started to look more for opportunities. At first online... but it was quite overwhelming.

One day I was talking to a girl I met there, and I was traveling with for a while. I found that there is an unsolved problem their family's company is struggling with for a long time.

I wanted to help, so I started right away working on a "solution" for a problem I didn't fully understand, and she neither. We both thought it is going to be easy... but we couldn't be more wrong.

1) It is not easy

It seemed easy at first. I thought this is low-hanging fruit, and we will make a crazy amount of money. But it was not as easy as it seemed. If it is easy, somebody would solve it already.

And someone did.

There was a solution already (SPOILER: more than a one). However, the solution was not satisfactory... there was still room for competition.

And we decided to compete and crush them.

2) You have to work fast, and be agile

The work with a problem we were aiming to solve is seasonal, it is done twice a year and we had about 4 months until the work begins.

Although, I was still traveling, my holiday was over... I had to work up to 12 hours a day including weekends to make it on time.

We made it on time... MVP was shit and bearly working, but it was enough for presentation.

I picked up technologies I was comfortable with because there was plenty of other things I had to learn. We started to gather requirements.

The requirements seemed clear, but Thailand is a wild west (wild east?) when it comes to law. After we started to contact other companies, we found out that each company is doing the same process slightly differently.

I had to constantly make changes to a program, but we made it on time. I still remember the night before a seminar when everything seemed to stop working. Anyway, it was enough for our first seminar about two weeks before the work starts.

3) Co-founder matters

I was a tech person and a foreigner ("farang" in Thai). I didn't speak Thai except for a couple of phrases. There would be zero chance to pull this off on my own.

Luckily my co-founder is local, she is a great speaker and complements my skillset. Customers love her.

4) You have to be persistent and proactive

We did several more seminars and webinars and we managed to get up to 20 companies to sign up. It was not bad, because at first people didn't trust us.

We found out that there were more attempts to solve the problem, but they didn't really deliver a good solution... and there are many scammers as well, so companies are cautious.

We had to earn the trust.

Our secret sauce was exceptional customer service. We were available nearly 24/7, and calls around midnight to explain something about the program were not rare.

5) You still need luck

It is not all about execution, nor an idea. You need luck as well.

We had good luck and also bad luck.

The good luck was that I discovered the problem which I was able to solve, that I met a right co-founder with a family which helped to promote us, and that we had enough time to do it.

The bad luck was that the year we started our company, there was much less work to do (not happened in a decade)... so our profit was not as good as we thought will be. We were still profitable though... but it could be much, much better.

COVID didn't help us either. But we noticed one thing... once you have a good service, your customers will do an advertisement for you. Companies now call us, which didn't happen a year ago.

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Copyright © 2020 Drahoslav Zan