#Asia Southeast Asia’s community leaders discuss money and challenges


How do you build a community? These community leaders tell the audience at Echelon Thailand about their visions


L-R: Matt Morrison, Laís de Oliveira, Bobby Liu, Charle Charoenphan, and Bart Medici

They are all leaders in their respective tech startup communities, and have something to do with physical workspaces for young companies.

Matt Morrison started A SPACE, a co-working space in Manila, the Philippines; Laís de Oliveira founded 8spaces, a ‘HotelTonight for spaces’ and is a community ambassador for Malaysia-based MaGIC; Bobby Liu opened Hub.IT, an incubator and co-working space in Hanoi, Vietnam; and Charle Charoenphan is the Co-founder of HUBBA, a Thailand-based co-working space.

“We need the community to come together and actually form something,” says Charoenphan, who began HUBBA with his brother Amarit in 2012.

Initially, the two of them gave startups a place to work out of, when the latter don’t want to go to a Starbucks or work out of home, and later, managed to offer more and more resources like courses and classes where these entrepreneurs can learn more about how they can propel their business ahead.

Charoenphan and the others were panelists in a discussion moderated by Bart Medici, who organises Bangkok Entrepreneurs and WebMob Thailand, two popular networking events in the Thai capital. Held at Echelon Thailand, Medici picked their brains on how people can create a startup culture that can attract the right talent and embrace the community.

For example, how can community leaders attract and retain smart talent? Oliviera says that one way is to look like you’re in love with what you do. “If it looks like you’re having the time of your life,” she adds, noting that this will attract people who are similarly passionate about their work.

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“The way I see it is basically synergy building,” says Liu. “Can they accept my brand of weirdness? Can I accept their brand of weirdness? Out of all these weirdness, something magical can happen.”

Charoenphan echoes his thoughts, acknowledging that “the keyword is culture”. He says, “You have to list out what is the essence of your culture.” People can always improve their skills or learn knowledge, but if they don’t fit in well with your company or community, that will open a whole Pandora’s box. “I would spend two years hiring one person,” he continues.

Does community-building pay?

When asked about what motivates them since community-building comes with little or no monetary incentives, Oliviera replies candidly, “Money comes when value is present.”

Humans have been building communities throughout history, which is something that has helped extend the species’ survival, she adds. Besides, learning how to build a community – and acing at it – will bring in further opportunities.

She references HUBBA’s Series A round, highlighting how there is money in it to be made. That said, cash is not quite the main motivation.

“We all started because there is impact in it,” she continues.

Big challenges

Medici ends the panel discussion with a quick question, asking them to summarise the biggest challenges they face in one word or sentence.

“Government,” says Charoenphan without much hesitation. Liu followed as well, saying, “Government, too, but it’s more having the government open enough and confident enough to open … opportunities and gateways.”

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Oliviera, who’s currently living in Malaysia, says that it’s about retaining the best and smartest people. Humorously, she quips that Malaysia is like the Microsoft of Southeast Asia: While it is doing a good job, people love criticising it. People also enjoy fawning over Apple, which is probably Singapore, she adds.

As for Morrison? Poor Internet, heavy traffic and unnecessary bureaucracy.

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