Starting up in Myanmar is no easy feat, but repatriate Justin Sway is not your average founder in the recruitment space
Southeast Asia offers unique opportunities for entrepreneurs of all stripes. If you want a developed market with tech infrastructure already laid out, Singapore is a surefire fit. For those looking for a blank slate and an uphill battle, you might want to give Myanmar a try.
Having just emerged from its first “free and fair” general election, Myanmar has undergone a whirlwind of change in the past few years. Thanks to telcos arriving on scene, foreign investment flowing in and a promising new government, the latest startup stories emerging from “the final frontier” are likely to come from groups of repatriates who are returning to set up shop.
Serial entrepreneur Justin Sway is one such repatriate. Sway spent the first four years of his life in Myanmar before his family picked up and moved to Australia.
It was there that he would eventually start recruitment software company FastTrack. After running that business for two decades and capturing 40 per cent of the Australian and New Zealand market, Sway sold a majority stake of FastTrack to a private equity firm for US$12 million.
Returning to his birthplace to build a startup
After the sale, Sway took a break from the startup life to travel the world and wound up back in Myanmar in 2012 to reconnect with family that he hadn’t seen in 40 years.
It would be during that visit back to his birthplace that Sway was able to see Myanmar in a different light — once a place under decades of military rule as now a land of opportunity. Intrigued, Sway then returned in March of this year to run his new startup, recruitment portal JobNet.
“I couldn’t believe how much how much has changed since I had been away in two-and-a-half years. There was so much new infrastructure, a lot more foreigners and expats. All of a sudden, everyone was on the Internet to do their jobs and to shop. Thirty-eight per cent of the whole country has mobile phones and Internet penetration has gone through the roof — they’re now predicting that it’ll accelerate by 300 per cent by the end of next year,” said Sway.
The two-month-old JobNet has already seen great success in the Myanmar market, with major clients like Unilever and Coca-Cola using their portal to recruit.
Seven months ahead of their launch, Sway and his team have been laying the ground work and have now brought 200+ employers on board, received over 30,000 applications and clocked 10,000 new job seeker registrations. Traffic-wise, Sway said that they pull in 300,000 visitors a month.
A lot of this growth is thanks to a combination of surging Internet penetration and foreign conglomerates embracing recruitment portal models like JobNet. The big brands then attract job seekers. To put this into perspective, Sway said that when he revisited Myanmar a few years ago, portals would be lucky to get 2,000 online applications but now, there’s on average more than 50,000 applications per month.
JobNet’s demographics also reveal an interesting trend. Repatriates, just like Sway, have been looking to return to their home country and they make up a large chunk of the portal’s job seeker pool.
“It’s interesting because Myanmar was closed for 50 years, so in the past 20 years, a lot of people have left. But there are now a lot of repatriates that are coming back and the demand for repatriates are really high. A lot of people are coming back from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the US and Dubai.”
Angel investor Jonah Levey, who has built and sold the Vietnamese version of JobNet, has backed the venture. While Sway said that his startup is in a strong position, he’d still be interested in bringing on additional investors who have experience in IP and the recruitment scene.
Timing and execution is everything
Many young startups might attribute such early traction to luck, but Sway is a seasoned entrepreneur who has been biding his time and laying groundwork since he first returned to Myanmar. A part of that plan was to buy up Myanmarjobsmarket.com for access to a starter pool of 10,000 CVs. The other was a 2013 investment into real estate portal Shweproperty.com which is now powering the JobNet team via shared services.
“The plan and strategy was always there, but it was just a matter of when we activated it. Two years ago, it was tough — there was hardly any Internet with only 1-2 per cent penetration and no one was making any money online,” said Sway and notes they have Rocket Internet, who is a competitor with their job portal Work.com.mm, to thank for getting in early.
“The good thing is foreign international companies, like Rocket, did a lot of ground work and educated the market. Then we just came in, applied our experience and intellectual property and hit the ground running as fast as we could.”
The post We have Rocket to thank for educating the market: JobNet CEO appeared first on e27.
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