Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Helping prepare for launch

Helping prepare for launch

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Local angel investor Rithy Thul talks to the Post yesterday at his Smallworld co-working space in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Helping prepare for launch

Cambodian startups are gaining local and international attention. The Post’s Matthieu de Gaudemar sat down with Rithy Thul, the founder of the Smallworld co-working space and an angel investor, to discuss the challenges for startup growth in the Kingdom.

Why do you think Cambodia’s startup scene is behind other countries in the region?
The main thing is the growth of internet usage here. Connectivity to the internet has only grown significantly during the last two or three years, enabling more people to accumulate information related to startups, social media and business.

A lot of young people here have a very entrepreneurial mindset and Cambodia can surpass other countries very easily if there is more knowledge and education about technology and business. However, there isn’t yet a transfer of knowledge from experienced entrepreneurs to the startup community here.
Traditional school systems in Cambodia are also holding people back, but I don’t want to use that as an argument. With the internet, there are no barriers anymore.

What other factors hold back development?
A lot of Cambodians want to start doing business, and that is a big positive because we need more entrepreneurs in this country. But people are sometimes not willing to do the hard work and learn the skills needed for innovation. They often take the easy way out and copy what is already established. But there are a lot more solutions that could be developed.

Who in Cambodia is interested in investing in startups?
There are a lot of people in Cambodia who have a lot of money and want to invest in startups, but the majority of them do not understand the startup culture.
If you buy a majority stake in an early stage startup, which follows a traditional business mindset, the entrepreneurs have less motivation to develop their business.

I’ve worked with early-stage startups before and my experience is to never invest a lot of money too quickly. I try to invest as much as they need for their basic needs, especially for early-stage startups. In Cambodia, startups that can offer a product, like Bookmebus, for example, are very few right now, so more smart investments are needed to push for development.

How much of a role does the government play in shaping the Cambodian startup scene?
At the moment, I don’t think the government is pushing for more startup development. I would like to see a program for startups where they can register with the government and get preferential tax treatment in the early stages of development.

I think the government should also support and assist startups and make investors more comfortable investing. A lot of startups started in the dark, hiding from the government because they can’t get enough revenue stream to be able to pay all the different taxes.

What mistakes do startups often make in Cambodia?
The problem with a lot of startups is that they focus too much on their dreams and think they can reach a multi-million dollar valuation within a year or two. They end up borrowing too much money or they disappoint themselves and ultimately drop the project because they did not achieve their unrealistic goals. The other problem is when they focus too much on their product, they dedicate all their work to that and then forget to pilot their product and develop business strategies.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

MOST VIEWED

  • South Korea’s first lady brings hope to ill boy

    South Korea’s first lady Kim Keon-hee – wife of current president of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol – met with a 14-year-boy with congenital heart disease during her trip to the Kingdom for the ASEAN Summit. After their meeting it was announced that the

  • Hun Sen gets Covid, shuns G20, APEC summits

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said he has tested positive for Covid-19 in Indonesia, where he is slated to attend the G20 summit in his capacity of the ASEAN chair. In a social media post addressing the Cambodian public, he said: “Before leaving Cambodia, I always

  • Moody’s sets outlook rating to ‘negative’ for Cambodia

    US global rating agency Moody’s Investors Service Inc on November 15 announced that it downgraded Cambodia’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” and maintained its B2 local and foreign currency issuer ratings. “The negative outlook reflects a deteriorating external position as illustrated by the severe

  • Korean first lady paves way for ill boy’s surgery

    A 14-year-old boy with congenital heart disease who was lucky enough to meet with South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee may get the chance of a lifetime and receive surgery and treatment at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. After seeing his plight, many

  • Hun Sen’s Covid infection caused by ‘weakened antibody’ after summit

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said exhaustion from heavy workload before and during the recent ASEAN Summit may have led to him contracting Covid-19 due to his weakened immune system, while rejecting speculations that the infection was caused by leaders of some countries who did not

  • Kingdom’s rice crowned world’s No1

    Cambodia’s Phka Rumduol jasmine variety has been crowned the World’s Best Rice for the fifth time at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in Phuket, Thailand on November 17, according to leaders of the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body. Phka Rumduol