19 March, 2013
Tech start-ups inhabit an economic ecosystem in the same way living organisms reside in a natural ecosystem. For an ecosystem to thrive, there has to be the right composition and the right balance of species. For a tech start-up three major species are necessary to complete the ecosystem and start the cycle of life, so to speak.
These three species consist of technologists, tech entrepreneurs and tech investors
Technologists are the people who build technology systems, or engineers, programmers and developers. Tech entrepreneurs are those who build companies around technology systems. The most successful tech entrepreneurs who evolved from technologists include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Larry Page. Tech investors invest in tech firms, and though not always, but many tech investors evolve from tech entrepreneurs or executives in tech firm. Don Valentine, Mike Markkula and Guy Kawasaki are cases in point.
In Silicon Valley, the tech ecosystem was initiated by an investment of Sherman Fairchild, a tech-entrepreneur-turned-tech-investor in Fairchild Semiconductor, a start-up formed by eight technologists from Shockley Semiconductor. From that point on, three species were present and the evolution of the ecosystem was taken care of by mutation and crossbreeding among the species. Technologists became tech entrepreneurs then became tech investors and so on, until it became Silicon Valley, as we know it today.
For a long time in Thailand, we had many capable technologists. However, our environment was not suitable for them to mutate into tech entrepreneurs. The government has no clear and effective policy on creating technology-driven industries. There are few jobs in the industry that can utilise their expertise to the fullest. Capable technologists have had to channel their talents elsewhere, like academia, management, finance, etc. In fact, few actually became tech entrepreneurs, so our tech start-up ecosystem is stuck at the first species.
Due to the recent global tech boom, we are starting to see more and more of the second species - tech entrepreneurs. As foreign companies start diversifying their investment in search of talent and customer base to synergise with their businesses, we have started to witness more young energetic people receiving investments to start their tech start-ups. This is like a spark of light in an otherwise dark and moonless night, as far as the Thai tech industry goes.
It is still too early to celebrate. We have seen booms and busts in the tech industry, the dot com bubble and so on. It is becoming very fashionable among start-ups to get funding, build a company and then sell it. There are so many cases where companies that get sold later wither away and eventually get disbanded.
For the Thai tech industry to have a solid future, young tech entrepreneurs need to start thinking long term. They should set a goal of building a company that lasts, such as Google, Apple and Samsung to name a few. It only after this that we can attract tech investors - the third species - to help perpetuate the ecosystem by putting more money into the industry. Only then can we have a sustainable tech ecosystem that pushes Thailand towards the status of a developed country.
Posted on The Nation