Computers have always been expensive in the Kingdom as no foreign company has ever manufactured them domestically.
One local entrepreneur is trying to change the game, however, by developing computers in the Kingdom.
The Post’s Kun Kourchettana sat down with Thul Rithy to discuss SmallWorld, the company he co-founded, as well as its “Koompi” project which seeks to make affordable, high-quality devices in the country.
Can you briefly describe the history of this computer project?
SmallWorld, which created the project, was launched in 2011. The idea of the Koompi project emerged in August 2012, but it was in August 2014 that the project was kicked-off.
We started testing hardware and software two years ago.Besides the Koompi project, SmallWorld supports small startups with low capital by providing office spaces with affordable rent.
Tell us about your group.
We are just a small group of about eight members. Among them, two have IT backgrounds. They are responsible for the website and security.
My brother and I who both graduated with English degrees have been trained on software and hardware, and are the system designers. Previously, we also hired experts from Zimbabwe to train us on hardware structures.
What made you want to bring a locally-manufactured computer to the Cambodian market?
We want to change the perception of a computer. Generally, when people talk about computers, they talk about Windows machines or Macs which are Apple products.
We want to change that perception and we want to take this opportunity to provide affordable computers to Cambodians.
If we produce our own operating system (OS), we are able to ship in the hardware and avoid paying licensing fees for big brand names. Our goal is to produce a computer that is affordable, cost-effective, but above all a good computer.
Can you describe your manufacturing process?
We order hardware that is compatible with our system from overseas markets. We use an operating system called Krama OS, then we test our software with hardware components manufactured by companies such as Samsung and Intel.
We opted for Intel chips but we are also in touch with AMD, as they are more powerful for a lower price point since they are less widely used.
As for the hard drives, we use Samsung products, while the case is produced in the same factory that makes cases for Acer, Asus and Dell. Since there aren’t many people in Cambodia who know how to assemble computers we have them assembled in China.
When will you officially start selling Koompi?
Now we are in the pre-sale stage. We will officially launch it in late September or October. The computer costs $360 per unit. So far, we have sold more than 200 units. We are negotiating with universities to sell more to students on instalment plans and with a one-year guaranty.
We have also partnered with Pi Pay and Sambath Finance. Buyers will receive a 15 per cent discount for the first 200 computers when purchasing via Pi Pay, while Sambath Finance will offer instalment loans for the first 2,500 computers with the interest rate paid out by our company.
Have you set a sales target for after the official launch?
In Cambodia, I want to see 500,000 people using Koompis. We want to offer quality computers to those who don’t have lots of money because our main goal is to give youths and high school-aged students a chance to become familiar with computers from an early age. Then, when they reach 18 or 19, they will have good computer skills.
This can lead them into application development and engineering as well.
Recently, Japanese football star, Keisuke Honda, visited your company. Does he intend to invest in your project?
I sent him the details of the Koompi project and SmallWorld. In terms of investment, it will take time, so it is impossible to say anything at this time. On the other hand, we want to use our own capital, to begin with.
There are many others who have shown interest in investing in the project, they are from Qatar, Singapore, Cambodia, China and a large firm in Vietnam. We have not made any decision thus far about bringing in outside investors. What we are doing is still too new. We want to release the first generation computer on our own first.
Have you gotten any encouragement from the government?
We gave a presentation to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, which aims to support new startups. We hope the government will help reduce or even waive our import taxes for the first two years because our selling price is almost equal to production costs since our scale is so small.
What is the future of SmallWorld and which company do you want to style yourselves after?
We want to become an electronics company in Cambodia that produces technological products beyond computers.
As far as our business model is concerned, we manage the company like Tesla and have looked to Apple for design inspiration. As for management, however, we want to create our own model.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.