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[Herald Interview] Line pushes Thai startups to scale up

BANGKOK -- Thailand, an ASEAN country with a population of 69 million, is messenger platform Line’s second-largest market after Japan. In fact, 90 percent of the country’s mobile internet users are connected via Line, with the monthly number of active users amounting to 44 million.

However, the company is now shifting from a messenger tool to an all-in-one app that provides various services ranging from e-commerce to contents. This not only corresponds to the increasing demand by customers who want to do everything in one app, but also mobile companies’ efforts to increase the time spent on their apps.

To increase time spent on Line platform which is stood at average 63 minutes a day or one-third of the total time spent on smartphone in Thailand, the company has been betting big on the hyper-localization of its services and operations.

This is why unlike other global internet companies that have a presence in Thailand, Line has hired several hundreds of local employees and created various services ranging from contents including Line TV and Line Today to an online-to-offline service such as delivery service Line MAN to appease local demand and tastes. 


Jayden Kang, executive director of Line Sacleup Son Ji-hyoung/The Investor
Jayden Kang, executive director of Line Sacleup Son Ji-hyoung/The Investor

Time to scale up

Another way of localizing the messenger platforms is to play a significant role in boosting the nation’s startup ecosystem, which is lagging behind other ASEAN nations.

“In the last two years, more and more startups have successfully finished accelerator or incubating programs, which is a positive change,” Jayden Kang, executive director of Line ScaleUp, told The Korea Herald in a recent interview.

Nevertheless, Thailand’s startup scene is still nascent with deal value in 2018 totaling only about US$61 million for 35 deals, according to a report by Techsauce, a Bangkok-based tech media. And 75 percent of those deals were either seed or series A funding from 2017 to 2018. There were only three merger and acquisitions, two of which were bought by Line.

“We identified three pain points that Thailand startups are facing, and how to build a global mobile platform that can help address them,” Kang said.

He said the three main challenges are how to secure additional funding post accelerator phase, how to scale up and how to expand globally. Kang, who oversees Line’s business in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, launched Line ScaleUp last year to help solve these issues.

Line ScaleUp offers Thai startups access to Line messenger platform’s API for free for a year and funding opportunities from Line Ventures, the company’s venture capital arm. Line ScaleUp and Line Ventures will invest up to $20 million Line ScaleUp winners once the program this year finishes in November.

In return, Line eyes long term benefits from ScaleUp as it can cooperate with startups with innovative ideas which could create positive synergy. And also it would give the company an opportunity for handsome financial gain by discovering promising startups.

Much needed unicorns 

Jayden Kang, executive director of Line Sacleup Son Ji-hyoung/The Investor
Jayden Kang, executive director of Line Sacleup Son Ji-hyoung/The Investor

Kang hopes that together with the Thai government, Line can help bring a much-needed success story to the Thai startup scene and help the country be better prepared to build a healthy ecosystem, which has become an important economic pillar for many countries and get ready for a race with its neighbors. Other ASEAN nations particularly Indonesia and Singapore have eight unicorns together and have become global startup hubs.

Kang, who has observed the Thai market for several years as a consultant before joining Line, attributed Thailand’s underdeveloped startup scene to the very low unemployment rate -- standing at 0.9 percent in 2018, according to the Bank of Thailand --, lack of role models or success stories and the belated government policy transition to digitalization. 

“Amid low unemployment, big companies such as banks and telecommunication companies absorbed good talent while the lack of a success story did little to encourage skilled people to join startups,” Kang said. “But if you don’t see a unicorn in three to five years, it’s possible that the country’s startup ecosystem would lose a chance to mature.”

The executive is determined to make that happen under his helm.

“I don’t want to predict when Thailand is likely to see a unicorn, because it would take too long if you simply sit and wait. Rather, I want to help make it happen.”

By Park Ga-young (
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