David Henderson the CEO of DRVR | Small Biz Chat


David Mann thank you for taking the time
to come by and chat yeah thanks for having me it’s bad I haven’t seen you no
month or so you know what yeah so how are things with well first tell everyone
what driver is for people who are watching or listening so they know
you’re the CEO of driver founder of the company you started in Australia brought
it to Thailand but tell people what driver does I’ll let you explain it then
I’ll correct you thanks Dana so it drivers a data analytics analytics
company that works with customers you have fleets of vehicles so what we do is
we collect data from those vehicles we analyze that data and we help our
customers reduce things like fuel costs you know we help customers improve their
operations for logistics now in you guys really do have a cutting-edge platform
yeah and in full disclosure I was previously the the chief data scientist
at driver when you guys first came to Thailand and I’m still on the advisory
board for the company so we know each other we work together so full
disclosure for anyone listening but coming to Thailand taking a company from
Australia your background is in logistics right so taking a company from
Australia bringing it to Thailand what was that like just my backgrounds in
telematics and also in banking and finance laundering drug money and moving
the drugs of course well we decided to move the business to Thailand because we
saw some opportunities in the market there was we looked around and we
thought Thailand in Southeast Asia has a big logistic sector
Thailand’s the center of that and we thought it was a good opportunity at the
time to move the business of Thailand considering the automotive industry in
Australia was in its kind of death throes at that time that throws pretty
much yeah exactly Wow well there is some high-end sort of
design there still but there’s not much in the way of
Manufacturing in the 300,000 people who are working in that sector are doing
other things now working at Walmart oh you guys don’t have Walmart well yeah we have
cols colas well worth it so brought it to Thailand Thailand is the the sort of
head of manufacturing in Southeast Asia for automotive correct absolutely yes
without question I mean the other countries are now picking up Malaysia
has had for many years a large sort of automotive sector Indonesia is growing
Philippines well also Malaysia has their own – I think of their own brands that’s
true Padula and proton yeah so one of them which was previously state-owned
and very small cars that’s true they’re kind of cool-looking they do learn Lotus
as well but you’re also small really very cool looking at you know I once
drove aloneness very tough to fit in very first Tesla was a lotus in fact
really oh yeah the prototype before Elon was
involved in the company right correct yeah I remember there’s two guys two
engineers was that correct that started yeah yeah probably one one of them was a
pedo and the other guy there’s a recent court case a non pedo from an English
cave yeah legit legit hero exactly yes a lot of people who are involved in that
rescue actually say that guy was like one of the instrumental people behind
the rescue absolutely and entirely not a pedophile entirely not a pedophile
despite what you are musk will tell you I guarantee he’s not going to buy a
Tesla or book one of those Mars trips or a flamethrower or flames are not a
flamethrower not a flamethrower for sure so manufacturing focus is here right so
he took your Australian startup moved into Thailand what’s that process
like it was well we it wasn’t my issue there was much bled blood sweat and
tears involved that is true it was I mean looking in hindsight that that was
an interesting decision and a decision which probably wouldn’t have taken again
yeah but however at the time we felt it was it was an interesting and good
opportunity what the process was involved with we so Southeast Asia is a
collection of different countries in different markets it’s not exactly like
the European Union or the Sydney not like the u.s. it’s different countries
and a city-state so we explored if we looked at different opportunities we did
some analysis and research about what we thought was the best market so we looked
at the players that we looked at for us for Singapore KL Bangkok Jakarta and
Manila and we looked into different factors like things like the cost of
living the cost of actually hiring a team there available resources the size
of the opportunity in terms of the local market and you know the the potential
growth so we looked at all those factors and Singapore came out on top ease of
doing business these sort of factors but Singapore really scored very poorly for
things like cost costs right so the cost of hiring a team in Singapore was very
high Malaysia was was was a close up there as well but we felt that the
opportunities with the Thai car industry were would would have been greater than
the mean Malaysia although in hindsight would probably say that I wish I hadn’t
chosen Malaysia because of the you know what I know now about what’s
the Thailand I if I’d known that then I would have made a different decision
because I got something that’s sweet 1mdb money that’s old in China now so
you guys are actually you’re what’s called in Thailand a bo I company right
correct yes so can you explain what that is so like many countries Thailand wants
to attract foreign investment in the way that they do so they say they say the
way they try and do that is by encouraging companies that they want to
come to Thailand through various tax breaks so and and it it’s an promotion
office for Thailand and foreign investment coming into Thailand so
basically if you promise to invest X amount of money in Thailand create X
amount of jobs they will give you in return a tech tax breaks and then ease
the burdens of things like word permits and there’s a quota system in Thailand
which people may not be aware of you have to employ X amount of locals for
ties per foreigner yeah exactly and then foreigners have minimum
salaries which i think is waived under bo y as well correct not that I’m aware
of I didn’t yeah we certainly don’t pay under but I think there’s a waiver
there’s some type of exemption similar to the way teachers are exempt from
minimum salary quite possibly yes yeah so but yeah it’s an interesting process
how long did it take you to get Bo I certified well for us it took some time
like I would say I forget the exact length of time but it would have been
somewhere between 15 and 18 months you know what’s crazy is so when I was chief
data scientist for driver I left to start another company and we obviously
remained on good terms it took 14 days for us to clear the Bo I process you had
someone on your team who had connections we did we did so I want to point that
out though there was someone who knew someone in the office and things have
pushed through now me and you went to Bo I together multiple times
during the the driver process and I can’t remember the you had been twice
before me and so I can remember the time we went in together and you’re like oh
you’re gonna love it here it’s the future of Thailand and we walk in and
there’s literally stacks of paper a meter high on the desks like just stacks
of folders like unmarked they just stacked up with everyone wearing
uniforms as well yeah look like generals worth of badges and yeah I’m like what’s
going on here why is this like so crazy and you’re just like oh don’t don’t have
a computer system no exactly it’s it’s there’s a lot of digitization and for
that reason I mean like Thailand has had digitization to some extent like and
that was I mean there’s a lot of you know you’ve got a lot of bluster coming
from politicians everywhere in Thailand they were very keen to promote this
Thailand 4.0 but as it turns out the the reality is quite different from that
yeah for sure I mean it’s uh it’s been a hard process for sure
right going into it and but I thought it was interesting it took you almost two
years almost a year and a half to do the Bo I and you had Bo I when I left and
the process was so much shorter again we did know someone who knew someone but
even the the paperwork was considerably reduced from what it was so they’ve made
changes to that process I know people have gone through it more recently who
did it in like less than six months with no inside track or anything like that so
yeah I think you’re you were one of the I don’t know if you were an early one
but one of the ones that was definitely in that phase where they were kind of
feeling it out right well I mean to be fair to be a Y has been around for a
long time yeah more than thirty years however that said not the Thailand
hasn’t been particularly attractive for tech companies but at the time that we
applied there was a quite a boom in tech startups in Thailand there was a lot of
inbound investment but that’s pretty much dried up now yeah so if you if
you’re a tech startup applying for Bo I status in Thailand you could probably
three to six months worse back then we had a long quite a long queue of people
you know at least three or four companies ahead of us
so you said hindsight Malaysia probably would have been your choice yeah I mean
look Malaysia has a number of advantages over Thailand chief one being a strong
like a lot of english-speaking people in Thailand doesn’t have a huge labor pool
in terms of english-speaking people correct
so in KL it’s probably the primary language of business okay I do a lot of
work in Malaysia and I’d never have a problem with communication now even like
I go to like a street stall street food stall at like 3:00 in the morning to eat
ungodly amounts of naan bread and curry I can still communicate okay nah you’re
right English is not Thailand strong so in fact they have the lowest English
Proficient proficiency in Southeast Asia even lower than Lao and you know that’s
based on what they call a PAC test a si test results and I think that’s one of
the things a lot of people who think about coming here to start a business or
to do business need to think about I think the government needs to think
about how can I get some way to cheat on those results what was that time movie
that was like super popular where they Hollywood even ripped it off where the
kids like cheated on some exam yeah that was a great movie different names
freelancer I think maybe when they pulled it at Hollywood they change the
name of it to something else they went to Australia to take the cast
they were like writing back and forth with the yeah great maybe good
definitely fun definitely a fun flick so you come here yep EOI and the funny
thing is I mean you it changed a little bit but Thailand never really became a
market for you right up until recently Thailand was a like a like was not
really a market for us at all yeah I didn’t really and and part of that was
that Bo I process took so long and we weren’t able to operate
business here in Thailand whilst that was happening all right so you when you
you set up a Thai company but it can’t actually be an operating entity till you
have that that’d be a Y status yeah so that delayed that whole thing and we
had opportunities in Indonesia in other other markets in Myanmar we were getting
set up and so we used Thailand as a kind of development base and hub sort of like
where you were BC had people Eugene was here working on the back end Damien
would bounce back and forth the CFO bounce back and forth from Australia
come here and cook the books and head back joking Damien joking all right
congratulations Damien boy or girl his best friend here Oh congratulations
Damien well done but you know you say you’re operating out of here but the
nice thing about operating out of here is that from Bangkok you have access to
essentially I I did the math deal it is six countries in less than two hours by
an international flight from the Regional Airport so you have over to DOM
young two hours you’re in Malaysia Cambodia
mium are you know four hours four hours you’re in Vietnam Philippines I don’t
know two hours you’re still in Vietnam for hours Philippines Indonesia
yeah China India yeah so all the places you like to go yeah you’ve got a billion
no two billion people with you know like 4-hour flight of here yeah so it’s it’s
a great place to do business from regionally but like you said you
struggled and I know a lot of you guys are not unique in that sense I know a
lot of companies have come here to do business in the region and struggle in
Thailand even though they’re based here yep that’s I think that’s definitely
true even if you look at Thai startups like ones run by ethnic ties I think for
example the price so I mean they’re much bigger in Indonesian
here in Thailand yeah and pomelo is the same you know you’ve got plenty of
examples of startups that launched here in Thailand but a bigger internationally
Indonesia is a huge market I mean you that’s why they have unicorns
domestically 270 million people I think a huge domestic market they’ve had for
unicorns now I think just all domestic all without going international
so something something very special and tricky about that market as well I know
and it’s hard doing business there isn’t it well yeah I mean to set up a company
there was not something you can do for with a few thousand dollars it’s
hundreds of thousands of dollars and it’s a serious amount of investment in
there and a lot of trust in a local partner for sure and yeah I mean it’s
just a difficult place to do business as a foreigner where is like Malaysia
Thailand yeah obviously Singapore are just easier places Singapore you can fly
in them get the morning flight arrive there like 8 a.m. and have your visa and
work permit before lunch and Malaysia’s takes a whole day but pretty much the
same thing you know if you get on there they’re approved
industry list so and there’s a lot of investment domestic investment in
Malaysia and Singapore as well that people need to consider that we don’t
have here so there are government programs that in Malaysia I’m more
familiar with that if you have a startup you’re doing business in Malaysia
there’s cash as grants there’s investment available to you yeah I mean
one of our competitors from Malaysia got 3 million USD and grants from the
government yeah we couldn’t even get a few thousand dollars in grants from the
tiger well talking about money though David I want touch on one thing that is
a really interesting aspect of driver and something that I talk about a lot
and that I’ve done with my businesses is that you bootstrap driver right you
didn’t take investment for years and I’m sure you wanted to it earlier than you
did but I mean you sold a place in London that you owned to the finance
part of the company you took your savings you put your not just your sweat
equity but your actual like life savings into
this business I mean we did have a small family and friends around yeah and we
have had some investors around two years into the business we had a angel
investment fest around in in Hong Kong yeah but to two years in you’re still
you were running off your own cash and I mean that’s one I think that it’s brave
right and it’s notable in an age where everyone trying to get cash and with the
traction in the I think the status that driver had early on when we were
pitching it everywhere and you know I posted the photo today three years ago
today we were we wanted the Google hack fair in Bangkok and you know that was
one of many successes we had when we were working together a driver and the
reputation of driver as a company was so high the technology was so good he was
I’m speaking about then when you were still bootstrapping right early on you
had something really fantastic and obviously the team is diminished since I
left but that’s an I’m just kidding but there is a I think that there is a lot
to be said for the fact that you put up you took so much risk on this company
yeah you had a small friends and family around but it wasn’t huge the vast
majority of the cash and that company came from you and there’s so much to be
said from a risk perspective and from a vision perspective to trust in what
you’re doing and throw everything on the line and walk me through or walk the
listeners through like kind of what what that was like like from you like on a
day-to-day basis cuz he used to have the Mr are number up on the board and you
would update it every time I change the monthly recurring revenue mm-hm and I
don’t know if you still have that up on the board but every time I change you
would go over and make an adjustment but looking at that every day knowing that
like this is my money I’ve got a team I believe in this product I believe in
what we’re doing I believe in the market we’ve chosen
I’m just gonna stick with it until my and make this worth as much as I can
before I raise money what was that like for you and well it was a real time that
was a real struggle but yeah also it’s kind of liberating because you’re not
beholden to third-party investors do you see sitting on your back pushing you to
grow the business as quickly as possible and you can actually take a more
strategic view with that having some banker or you know X Goldman Sachs
didn’t try to tell you tell you how to start up right so and I know this this
industry in this business quite well I could identify a gap in the market and I
knew that there was huge potential here that the that it took quite a while for
us to actually get the business to growing to scale because there’s quite a
bit of tech investment involved yeah building a tech startup especially in
the deep tech space that we were in from scratch I’m from nothing right where
there’s you know you need to invest in you know people resources in AI in
machine learning there’s a lot of investment involved so there was a lot
of effort but fortunately I mean I had some good family support networks a
really awesome team of people yeah and we were you know we’ve brought in new
people into the team we you know and we it’s very important to build that team
morale and to share successes and one of the reasons I updated the board when we
did and we updated frequently and shared it and because we’re a team based in
different countries in fact yeah was to encourage that sense of morale and to
say hey this is what we’re working towards this is a common goal to get
that number up to increase it mmm because we weren’t we didn’t have
millions of dollars sitting in the bank account so we had to to really actually
push to get sales to win to see how the product was going and that meant that we
had to pivot right so if things weren’t working we changed right so we didn’t
say okay I know what’s I know what’s good I know what’s gonna work and I’m
gonna stick with it till it till it till other people realize that I’m right
that’s not what we did we actually you did prove it quite a few times we
pivoted quite a few times in fact so we actually you know launched the first
ever GPS tracking salut in Myanmar and because Myanmar like five
years ago there was no internet Nemean yeah alright so we saw an opportunity
there we launched that product and you know that wasn’t what we intended to
build long term but it’s a product that actually generated a revenue and allowed
us to start growing the business I know you looked at a partner with a car
sharing company in Myanmar at one point or a ride-sharing ride-hailing yes we
did look at doing that it we’ve actually come back to ride ride cheering now or
car sharing in fact full circle exactly so because it’s your money on the line
early on where those pivots easier or harder lately because it’s one or the
other right like you have to divert resources from one to something else to
chase it down so those decisions become easier or harder when it’s your own
money on the line I I mean personally I’ve always treated either whether it’s
my own money or investor money as the same I don’t see a big distinction from
that so in so to me it’s making a pivot is always difficult but not making a
pivot is worse because the cost for doing that is failure and you go out of
business no you know ii-i’ve I’ve made mistakes like many entrepreneurs but
I’ve tried to learn from them and I think by having a good team and good
advisors like yourself Dana I’ve learned from that experience and I think you
know definitely we’ve made a lot of mistakes but we’ve reduced the the
impact of those mistakes by changing course before it became a four it might
have become a complete debacle that’s one of the other things that I
appreciate about drivers that you never grew so rapidly yeah I think a lot of
times even after you get investment that we’ve seen a lot of tech companies
globally I’m not necessarily talking about we work but some companies that
you know they they get money and they go fucking crazy and they just spend and
hire and grow and acquire and you’ve got you’ve always had a lot of constraint in
that regard especially with team look you never like oh we need 75,000 people
you know on the driver staff you know it’s a very slow process for you to grow
or for you to hire I should say to acquire people well what’s that process
like for you I mean I’ve always been a believer too you know
only hire when you know you absolutely have to hmm
when when you’re you know you really it’s like complete desperation time to
fill that gap and to also fire as rapidly as possible so I don’t want to
obviously no one takes pride or pleasure in firing people I’m not a sadist but if
it’s not working out then cut that off as quickly as possible I learned that
like after about two years of having my own startup it’s it’s a difficult thing
to do but like within three months you’ll know whether that person’s yeah
good fit for you and whether it definitely sometimes sooner than that
you know yeah for sure a lot of people say hire slow fire fast and I think
that’s definitely one of the the better mantra is especially when you’re small
right and like each person has such a big impact on morale on culture on you
know the daily operations take your time to hire someone like feel it out like
know what you’re getting yourself into for sure will complete mastery with that
and then you know if they gotta go they gotta go firing squad I’ll back exact
and I would also very strongly recommend having a long long probationary period
yeah once you hire someone here in Thailand trying to get rid of them
outside of that probationary period is nigh on impossible yeah very difficult
expensive well exactly and you’re just not gonna win in the if the thing goes
to courts there’s no way that you’re gonna win yeah employment called zero
charts yeah there’s very very strong laws protecting all types of almost like
like they took a union book and like applied that to their labor law entire
life bizarre like you you can like an employee in Thailand could for example
you know steal from the company could you know cell come customer data to
criminals and then if that person was sack they there’s nothing you can do
about it and they even get compensation yeah this is there’s plenty of cases
like that in Thailand and it’s just an average very very few protections for
employers here for sure absolutely you know it’s it’s it’s a it’s it’s a it’s a
difficult situation yeah it’s not easy and it makes it again that that hire
slow process becomes all that more important mm-hmm as you look at it and
even freelancers how Thai freelancers have a strong amount of protections with
companies they work with it’s not like the u.s. we’re freelance is essentially
at the whim of the employer now they’ve got almost the same protections as
employees here now if you’re a foreigner but if your tie yeah look I’m like when
I was younger I used to be on the used to be in the Communist Party you may not
believe that but I was and I totally believe I am a strong advocate of
workers rights but certainly the way that this is implemented in Thailand
isn’t beneficial to anyone including workers yeah yeah I I’m in the same boat
like I’m definitely very left-of-center to say the least but you know the
implementation the execution is poor yeah of it and I think you could keep
the same spirit of the law and change the execution and have a much better
system for everyone legal system actually operates quickly
yeah occasionally I’ll see something on the Thai news when I’m working on like
improving my tie so I’ll listen to the time news and like a legal case will
come up and I’ll talk to Jim about it and she’s like oh yeah that started like
20 years ago a lot of land rights cases and like specially in southern Thailand
are being decided now and like you’ll hear about it I’m looking in the news
you know like oh what’s that she’s like oh that’s like from when I was in
elementary school well you can still see all these ruined
buildings in Thailand like there’s ghost towers yeah
subject to those legal disputes yeah I had someone here just talking about a
ghost tower the other day he was it’s one of his favorite buildings but the
ghosts are over in a serpent accent okay and that that I think went bankrupt in
1997 and it’s still it’s still just an abandoned building in the middle of a
financial district right that’s not cheap land but then again how do you how
do you demolish a fifty five storey building in the middle of a city I’m
waiting for a Trump Tower in Bangkok such good friends but yeah I mean you
know but to take that down also we’ve seen Thai construction so you got to
think about like how do they actually do that you know I’m actually wondering how
the building’s still standing after 20 30 years 20 years well I mean I think
they built some of those older buildings every now and then you’ll find a dead
four wrong inside the dead foreigner inside a ghost tower yeah it’s just like
in Pattaya somebody people fall out of their fall off their balconies
you know they can’t see the quotation much videos holding up air quotes for
people not watching on a on a video but yeah there’s people who fall off their
balconies in pentia all the time all the time sometimes twice well apparently
there’s a bit of a conspiracy between the boggles and Thai architects
balconies a built two feet high yeah yeah I sorry um I saw one case of a guy
in Isan who was found his house was burned to the ground he was hanging from
his water he was handcuffed and the police deemed
it a suicide right away he obviously handcuffed himself so he couldn’t escape
he was very serious about the suicide but this is quite actually quite an
important we might joke about this is actually quite an important point so
investors and business people want to see a country that has the quality of
law mmm stability and you know some sense of certainty so part of the
problem in Thailand is that there’s never any certainty about particularly
for foreigners and there’s a lot of uncertainty it’s very difficult to to to
know what’s gonna happen in the future right so for example I went to a seminar
recently on but by the Thai and German government jointly hosted on the new
PDPA laws here in Thailand Personal Data Protection Act this is a carbon copy of
the GDP our Arab right yep with some local tiny idiosyncrasies at it yeah
right so for example there’s a labour job creation clause which says that
every company has to hire a privacy privacy officer and I asked the you know
the Privacy Commissioner about that and said so what does that mean does that
mean that if I if I’m selling something on eBay I’ll need to hire a Privacy
Commissioner – yes that would be the case crazy but in the key point that
that was the the reason I raised this was that the Privacy Commissioner said
well you know we were looking to implement the law next year probably
around March or April but if anyone objects we won’t implement it so yeah
that’s not exactly much in the way of certainty and yeah we’re talking about
four months from now what kind of me is a business how am I supposed to plan for
that mm-hmm it’s and it probably isn’t gonna happen but it might happen and it
might be applied to foreign businesses but probably not to tie so you still
need that contingency well exactly yes it that is in again we had a coup in
2014 and we just Federation of law and we just got the first government since
then though the first a lot elected not gonna
do air quotes this time I should but the first elected government since the coup
which is the same government that we had after the coup well essentially yeah but
yeah when you talk about certainty a country that goes through coos twice a
decade isn’t exactly you know the benchmark for stability and certainty
that’s true yeah I’m not gonna comment too much on typology so I’ve said enough
already and I’m sorry my friends are calling they’re waiting for you
downstairs the black SUV with the tinted windows so you know there are those
aspects and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve seen investment struggle
in Thailand as well and I was at an event the other day you know with the
one you didn’t show up to that I invited you to the global tech South event the
platform community thing okay and I was talking to one of the other guys want to
start up there and he was like oh yeah we’re actually we’re a Thai but we’re a
Singaporean company and one of the the Thai Thai guys there was like oh really
that’s strange and I’m like no everyone’s a Singaporean company in
Southeast Asia no one’s gonna give you money otherwise yeah no no no you guys
are a Hong kong-based company right that’s true in that I’m questioning that
now I mean look Hong Kong obviously is part
of China but we made are you sure we made a decision to base ourselves in
Hong Kong because Hong Kong based financially in Hong Kong our investors
are from Hong Kong so that was primarily the reason but
there’s not that much difference being Hong Kong and Singapore from from a you
know financial point of view over a billion action right now yeah I mean it
would have been hard to foresee that four or five years ago yeah impossible
probably but ya know there’s very little different since Hong Kong Singapore
essentially the same thing and you could do one you could do both right that if a
new investor was like oh you need to have a Singapore company and you fly
down in the morning and you have it by the afternoon
mmm-hmm checks in the bank by uh good and you can sell the same equity twice
to do that yeah I’m sure there with all the I SEOs that were popping over here
two years ago they even driver tried Nico right well we looked at it we
didn’t I mean it’s it’s an attractive thing for it for an entrepreneur right
yes she can raise capital without giving away equity hmm which is a good thing
and it could have been done potentially quickly but as I say we we looked at it
but we’d have to execute a significant pivots yeah and what the ice windy what
for what the ice here market was like two three years back and we decided not
to do that so we can have like a telematics coin we could have done
something would have been any insurance coin actually insurance called Emotiv
insurance there was some som which means orange in Thai so there’s five tones in
Thai so each song is a different word so the orange coin the salm coin that’s
what I would have been very fair insurance before yes that’s right
friendship for the idea behind it was this so traditional insurance companies
they take your data and then you have no idea about you know about or access to
that data yeah so what we were saying was you have
this digital driving license where you can store your driving behavior
information in on a secure in the blockchain and then you can ask
insurance companies to insure you for a trip I mean rather than paying for
something you’re not using right so why have car insurance when you’re you’re
ninety percent at the time or 99 percent of the time you’re not using the vehicle
mmm-hmm I mean I think it was a good concept a good idea we mapped it out we
looked at the process of how it would work but we just didn’t have the capital
and it’s one of the how close did you get we talked to lawyers we talked to
Jason it’s illegal her good friend and a interested parties and we looked at it
but we decided that we just didn’t have the bandwidth to do it what was that
gonna cost you if you did it at that time you know setting up a company in
the Cayman Islands and another one in the kits and another one in Gibraltar
that blockchain stuff that that was another thing that just put me off it
just seemed like a real scam right when you when you were setting up a company
in this country closing it down setting it up flipping it over there and you
know just seeing his lawyers draw that sort of stuff from the whiteboard was
just wow that was like there’s something actually we know now that most ICO is
were scams yep especially the ones be based out of
Thailand because what happened China shut down all I SEOs right yeah and they
all moved to Thailand well they moved to Hong Kong mostly a lot of them came here
yeah yeah I feel like Thailand like Bangkok two years ago was the ico center
of the world like everyone I met at an entrepreneur
or startup event or even a small business event had a coin coming out
like oh yeah I feel coming out next week yeah I remember that I remember in space
you’d walk into hubber oh yeah you know the hive and you’d be tripping over
blockchain people there front and center yeah not many of them would develop as
my do a lot of them were using some platform that you could make your own
coin without coding anything yet and then they were just I see owing it I
know a few people who came out on top and the whole ICO craze the whole crypto
craze yeah I can imagine getting like the
tulipmania stuff I know more than a few people who lost everything I’m sure you
do too filipino rum no put the sleeping pills
in there for nothing so I mean it’s an interesting space to play in here in
Thailand right it’s a fun spot for a startup like you said though in
hindsight if you knew that you knew now five years ago right if you
knew five years ago what you know now you wouldn’t have come here true yeah
but that would have been like sitting inside the implausibility of that like
five years ago the thailand startup ecosystem was totally different from
what it is now very much was shell right but five years ago there was some really
interesting startups already entirely like e-commerce for example you know
there was a bunch of startups and there was a lot of investment coming into the
Thai startup ecosystem he had a boy Michael was pumping cash in left right one of the prominent sort of VCS here at
the time but yet I mean Thailand was like number three in Southeast Asia for
in terms of inbound investment so behind Singapore and Malaysia it was
interesting it was an interesting time mmm it’s different now I I actually
could see the change in mood and it happened around early 2016 and there was
an article that was published in tight ATLA which was kind of like a huge red
flag to me and it was just like really nationalistic it was like now is the
time for the Thai startup stopped hi founders to exert themselves and show
that this is Thailand and and it was just a clear red flag had that written
all over it I raised that at the time and I said if this was in if this kind
of article was was published in Europe or North America that the authors would
be shouted down as racist rightfully so yeah and but in time I was at a cliff
Writing Center by foreigners and entice alike now I was so right around that
same time they did that huge startup Expo at Queen’s circuit with the Thai
government funded it was there you know and it was very very telling of what was
going on they kicked out all the foreigners remember yeah
when when when he presented the tap on the shoulder from the security in the
earth escorted out as a dangerous threat I mean maybe you were with I’d like
twice the beard back then twice the hair also it’s going its way but you know I
was there and actually I had a security check my
not my film I yet my photos my SD card my camera I’ve never used the film
camera huh no I was a kid I like little disposables but no you check my I want
to check my SD card when I was leaving so there was but some of the startups
that were there were very I don’t know just not impressive at the time for an
event they put so much money behind yeah and when you think about like some of
the other bigger privately held events that happened in Thailand tak sauce
probably one of the biggest in Southeast Asia
you know cause Bangkok home you know when you look at that compared to like
all the money that the government put into this thing and everything that that
came from it that was around that scene 2006 timeframe and I was like huh 2016
yeah and thank you David and I appreciate that’s why I keep you around
but you know that that was the time I was like oh something shifting I think I
still think this market opportunity I still think there there’s a place for
foreign startups here for foreign companies just not the big windfall it
was prior to that and the other problem with us there was a there was a there
was a lot of corporate CVC activity around that time and and that really
poisoned the well for for in particular that the really good startups of foreign
run startups you then had like a real massive drop-off in foreign like VC’s
from Singapore and other markets stopped investing at that point yeah I mean like
I I spoke to a major Japanese VC and asked him why aren’t you investing in
Thai startups and they gave okay they gave me three reasons right and one of
them was the Thai corporates don’t make any acquisitions or investments in Thai
startups I mean that’s largely true and so you’ve got all these things like
detect accelerate a is the startup I mean not barely handle he’s got ups have
got ever had an engagement with with the parent and those are the most active
Thai corporates right yeah I mean we’ve talked about
this before one of the things we’ve seen is these telecom incubators programs
they take in a start-up give them a little bit of cash take a huge chunk of
equity and then sort of drive them down a path to poverty to bankruptcy and then
acquire what’s left and then fold it into some other product I’ve seen that a
few times now I’ve seen people I’m not a fan of these programs I always when I
talk to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs and they asked me if they should do
these programs I always say no mm-hmm I don’t think it’s worth it yeah and I
know that the the last batch of DTAC they were taking 7% equity in the
company for 500,000 baht which is like fifteen thousand US dollars for seven
percent of a company no matter what stage you’re at well and worse than that
they they they also wanted that’s like that’s why I’ve often called DTAC
accelerate the graveyard of the Thai startup community there’s not many
companies that made it through that now I have friendly my friend Troy from
globish they went through I think batch four mm-hmm they’re doing fantastic but
I don’t want to speak for him what he would say about the program but I would
assume that program had very little to do with their success knowing how that
their senior team and their core team works there and that they’re just super
motivated super driven and they would have been successful with or without
that that program it wouldn’t it probably slowed them down if anything
because it’s a big time commitment from the startups when they’re in that
program look it they put on a good show where we’re both there at a rock concert
well I had a I was at that as well and I was having a mingling with the crowd and
a Singaporean VC happened to come up to me and introduce herself and we started
talking she said what this and foreigners in the Thai startup community
before where are they there was you me Damien from cm cardia let’s see you know
and there was a thousand people in the room yeah
yes Damien was yeah I saw him Arrieta I can’t think of any others that I ran
into Oh your boy Dave Dave shelters or shot yeah yeah well he’s retired is he
retired now making the rounds yeah yeah it’s it’s interesting that you know
Thailand has really changed landscape wise from a tech perspective like I said
I think there’s still opportunity I think you’re seeing a lot of people come
here to set up more of remote companies now as well maybe it’s an American
company but they’re just running it here as a freelancer but with the visa
situation it’s becoming harder and harder for people to do that that’s true
I mean look if you go into it into a co-working space these days most of the
people you’ll find are like dropshippers guys doing digital marketing freelance
guy a software developer there aren’t that many startups that know I mean
there’s some there’s a few here and there but like I we have a great
partnership with Microsoft and they did some research recently into the Thai
startup community and according to them there’s less than 80 active startups in
Thailand Wow according to the Thai government there’s thousands thousands
it’s like t-80 sort of propaganda you know it is it is interesting going I
think of the vibrance of like a hub ah back in the day when we would do events
there remember when we would uh when we would host stuff there with them and you
know the people that if you went in early the people working in there were
working on apps they were working on startups you know their own projects
Thais and foreigners alike last time I went in there was it really did feel
more like dropshippers you know I’m sure there are still people
in there who were developers were working on companies but it didn’t have
the same feel and I was just a union space the other day for that event and
even it was even worse it was kind of like what is this
mmm you know is the cool space and it’s beautiful yeah that’s a nice space yeah
the guys running it pretty cool as well yeah the monster hub was doing something
not that long ago our friends at sneaked work Dada or still work out of but uh I
don’t even think that there are co-working space anymore monster hub I
think they switch to be to do something else I think they’re still keeping that
alive that co-working I mean look they have a pitch night there every Thursday
and they struggling to get people to pitch at it yeah so it’s like it’s like
it’s only one once a month on a Thursday and they not people to attend in terms
of pitching startups to pitch I think you’ll have to go to the next one and
check it out we should do yeah it’s it’s it’s like you know 30 40 people and
nobody well last time we want to do stand-up comedy probably a great pitch that’s a cool
spot good location yeah yeah and it’s a japanese-inspired or run it’s part of
monster labs which is a Japanese game develop a course pot and a cafe there
would we make there that time those rice pancakes yeah yeah really nice well I
mean true digital Park is the home of the I’m doing the new home of the Thai
side up community but as I was we were talking before we spend it we were
spending a couple of hours down there a couple of days down there a week inside
traditional Park but we’ve now moved to a cafe just much for that for that for
those two days in our offices in wretched Emery with our new Japanese
partner nice but um like it was a it’s like not particularly friendly I mean
they were they were like they would do things like they’d changed the internet
login passwords and stuff and at Ruediger at regional so that it was all
in Thai right and then you need to tie ID to register
right they do this sort of stuff just to make it the pain in the ass and
difficult foreigners it’s I don’t get that mentality right Jim and I both have
memberships over at a is DC s Design Center and inside Emporium which is in
prompt own middle of the city it’s 1200 body yeah it’s like 40 US dollars and
great location it’s more really if you’re focused on if you’re a design
professional in some aspect there’s a great library of resources there but
it’s also just if you could be anything and go sit to the desk that for 1200
baht a year mmm your rate your it’s on the same floor as the cinema so you’re a
floor up from the food court right decent food fairly expensive because
it’s an Emporium and why wouldn’t be but there’s tons of street food if you just
walk out onto the street there and you’re in a great part of the city
really centrally located but that said I mean I think one of the big draw cards
of Thailand five years ago was the was it was quite cheap right yeah I mean
again if you believe the Thai government Thai inflation is like 0.1% and but like
I mean we all know that’s nonsense right I mean the Thailand at the moment is
going through something called stagflation which means is stagnation so
there’s no economic growth there’s inflation and inflation is quite rampant
in Thailand so and interesting thing is that the headline economic figures don’t
showing high inflation but the cost of goods on the street like buying street
food like two weeks ago it’s something that cost you forty barque now cost 50
baht yeah right you know so this kind of stuff is increasing dramatically
I think rice is one of the interesting things to look at sticky rice which I
love way too much is one of these items where it is doubled in price the past
year so now we’re used to be 5 baht would get you a little brick now 10 baht
gets you a little brick and so it’s slightly more expensive that’s an
inflation that you talked about and we’re you know noodles might have been
like he said 30 now they’re 40 45 and buying buying a cup of coffee at
Starbucks Starbucks fan but for example buying in coffee it’s
our box is more expensive here than it is in Berlin yes I saw someone posted
that the other day that’s crazy I mean the cost of living in Thailand is
now you know much higher than it was two three years ago and it’s not just a
strong Bart yeah the BART is now what is like 40
it’s crazy strong so the euro since 29 29 bought to a US
dollar yeah where when I first came here was 35
mm-hmm I know the pound it used to be the the two the Sterling like 50 50 baht
to the pound yeah and now it’s like the bot is
incredibly strong at the moment mmm kills me and that’s not good for the a
lot of people in Thailand all the tourism industry for that matter yeah
tourism is really suffering that’s what one of the panelists from Agoda was the
same was saying the other night at the gia GTS event GST yeah yeah really
really struggling especially with the islands where it’s crazy expensive
normally yeah logistics yeah well I mean you made logistics you mean the local
taxi mafia yeah this is a kind of place where you get a taxi in Koh Samui and
it’s more expensive than a taxi in London yeah I mean or you get into a
taxi at the airport in Phuket and it takes you six hours to get to your hotel
because he has to drive your all the suit shops and tourist package places in
town yeah yeah fun fun times absolutely now before we wrap up David I want to
talk about one other thing with you which is agile cuz I know you’re a big
fan and an agile master if you will and I know you’re you live live and die by
the manifesto so talk to me how back became a big part of your your
methodology so I guess it was my experience of working at a small
start-up in the UK called Hotel connect which is one of the earliest booking
engines for like that early generation that was longside Expedia go
finally 1940 was yeah that’s right so we’re talking about the early early
alright yeah so I was involved in a project and we we do the old-fashioned
and this wasn’t my choosing but that was already had been decided they that we
would do this in the old fashioned waterfall sort of way so we we we
selected an outsourced bender which had already been selected by the time we
came along we spent six months riding up a huge business requirements document
just hundreds of pages long we met with the vendor we handed over to them and
they disappeared for a year and they came back and they delivered something
which was not even remotely like what we what we asked for I mean we did have
meetings with him in the meantime yeah but it was always yeah we’re gonna get
something developed for you soon and that led to that business going under
right so that business which could have been an Expedia could have been the
bookings com it could have been an ago der instead it turned into a MySpace and
that was that that’s that issue was the deciding factor on that mhm
I mean there were a number of other problems and mistakes they made but that
was one of the critical things so that and then and then I just at the same
time as that I was happening I just discovered agile and I learned about you
know lean and about Lee manifest the yeah and that for me was it was like a
real and so you know that you implemented agile that you’re I don’t
know if it was your next job but in telematics Australia yeah that was the
last place I worked at yeah what was that directly after the that wasn’t
directly I was a gap of about seven years in fact I spent that hanging out
in the beach and custom movie I work for the world’s largest bank or what RBS
largest bank and by the time I was working in there were there were buckets
to collect the rain roof and pública bang I was part of the
kind of some illegal project rainbow they were selling off a lot of the
bank’s assets due to you know the the collapse of the the nationalization of
the bank and so but then you ended up at in telematics Australia where you
brought your sort of passion for agile there I did yes and actually implemented
agile across the whole company okay and that led into a because I I like the
whole company was organized along these very rigid silos very classic like etc
different different silos of okay this is traffic products in their sales this
is X product Y products all this sort of stuff so what I tried to do and any a
lot of those staff were actually in supportive of this was break down those
silos create cross-functional teams develop products much more quickly but
also eliminate the need to develop products by actually you know validating
them before bringing it to market before spending a lot of the very agile very
lean absolutely and that ran into a
bureaucratic shit show used the Australian parlance know we had
naturally you know the project they very successful and we rolled it out to a lot
of customers and that led into a kind of petty internal rivalries jealousies and
all that sort of stuff and venture I was ousted from the company you sure it was
an entire company there’s a part of the basic human condition yeah but then you
brought you know getting ousted was probably the best thing that could have
happened to you right could have been I mean that provided some of the seed
funding for driver we were you know there was a generous redundancy package
given to me nice so you left there came over you know
star driver and agile from the word go lean from the word go right absolutely
there’s no other way to do business these days I mean we the interesting
thing is we’re working with Japanese partners at the moment and that’s like a
very different mindset in a different way of working on things and which is
crazy because lean actually came from some
some of the Toyota methodology right it did it did absolutely lean as we know of
it now came out of 3m in its popularized by the Mary and they popularized lean in
the 1970s at 3m right but lean originally came from Japan and from from
Toyota yeah as you correctly stay but look Japan I think has actually lost its
way in the last twenty years there’s no doubt about that the economy’s smaller
now that it was twenty years ago and the mindset of happenes partners I will say
the mindset that you know you can’t do you can’t take any risks you can’t
innovate you can’t develop you’ve got to actually wait till you get a purchase
order from the customer before you can actually go and start doing any
development you know means that you’re always behind the get behind the curve
and you’re always playing catch-up you never ahead of the game you just behind
the pack and whining to people who bought that product I know a few
Japanese that live here in Thailand that work for international companies in
Thailand they all have a very similar criticism of Japanese business culture
that it’s behind yeah where it needs to be and a lot of them think that there’s
a renaissance coming they don’t know how far out it is I don’t know where they
get that idea from but well that’s what they’ve told me that they think that you
know Japan is gonna force itself to have to change and adapt and get ahead of the
curve but they said it could be ten years away it could be five years away
they don’t know I think Japan’s growing comfortable right so so what main Japan
great in the 1970s in the 1980s was America always actually look lean comes
out of shortages yeah so Japan was hungry right I’ll give you a good story
like um I’m we’re doing a little bit of recruitment at the moment not a huge
amount but um you know we have there’s a there’s a young kid who I’m actually
keen to recruit as it as a intern he’s still University but III he’s Vietnamese
Thai speaks Thai speaks Vietnamese he’s studying at private university which his
mother’s paying for his mother sells during
jackfruit on underneath the BTS so she does that no seven days a week for like
15 hours a day so her son can go to this private university in Thailand to pay
the fees for that this kid spends he’s studies all day he then goes and spends
his nights working for his mom mmm doing cutting those jackfruits that that’s a
kid who’s got simples right he’s hungry he wants to work yeah sure we’ve I don’t
want name any names that we we’ve got we’ve had an intern working with us for
the last few months he comes from a very privileged background I had a
conversation with her last week about her performance she says look for me I
don’t think it’s gonna work out it’s just too difficult I just find it very
hard and there’s too much effort involved in you know I’m gonna go and
work for a big corporate so she worked for BMW anyway that hunger is important
right you wanna you want to be out there getting it yeah I remember we had an
Internet driver back in the day and similar to the other one you had who’s a
mom came and got her from work and told her you can’t work at this startup you
have to come to work for the family business what are you making and like
came and picked her up at lunch and took her home you never saw her again
yeah and look that’s that’s that’s in like a bit of a tragedy in some ways
right for those young people who might want to work might not want to work at
mom-and-pops cement factory or ain’t shop or whatever it is that they’re
they’re doing right so when you think about that that hunger right you talk
about lean came out of that that hunger right that that shortage and that need
for success right define like so someone like this who you think about hiring as
an intern well he thrived does he understand that a Gillette lean
methodology already or is that something he’ll thrive in well you have to learn
it what’s that learning curve he’s look he’s he’s he’s gonna understand that
because he’s he’s already living that kind of existence where it’s like he
doesn’t have everything he needs right so if you have everything you need you
don’t need to kind of prioritize things you don’t need to make sure that you you
were you know only develop what’s needed you go okay well alright so this is what
we need to do you know you go out and spend twelve months planning for a
project and then you go and build it and they need to do design and you test etc
so that mentality comes from from wasters actually well you’ve got plenty
he’s never he doesn’t have plenty but I’ll teach him I’ll be the next driver
see you just fired our advisory board doesn’t have that happen a long time the
good news is that we have made some very significant progress since you’re in the
company and no like because we’re bootstrap right like a lot of people
they read this all this overnight success so suppose that overnight
success that companies have like it’s basically just which kids getting shit
loads of money right now we see that here quite a bit
that’s that’s I would say there are a handful of Thai founders who are not
high so most of them are rich kids who’ve just been given money by their
parents and the reason they’ve got investment from it see am cement for
example because because their uncles on the board back to agile so what does
that look like in your end driver on a daily basis what does agile look like as
a system inside the company so we have a so like one of the kind of ideas about
agile is a reduce the amount of documentation you do and focus on
building product right so that is something that we do try and do and we
don’t tend to write huge business requirements specifications which are
hundreds of pages long we could go into my new tire detail we use user stories
so for example we would try and like the classic user story format goes something
like this as a gardener I want to grow purple pumpkins so that I can sell them
at the village fair right so that’s an example of a a user story you’re talking
about who it is what they need is and why it is that they’re doing that so
there’s a great book cuttings by Simon cynic cynic yeah it would start with why
that’s probably the only good book yeah probably right that’s I mean like that’s
a good statement in the books reasonable you know start with there’s a good book
why doing this right yeah so and the I always I’ll give you an example today
we’re building a new app we have a we use a platform called intercom for
customer service right it’s got a fake use in it it’s good you know messaging
bots and we use it for communicating with our customs someone leaves a
message on the website of contacts us via the website we communicate with them
there’s also published FA cubes I haven’t I’m not daily involved in the
product development so I don’t necessarily know exactly what’s going on
at the end of the week though I do get to see a demo and I do see the
requirements that for Ghanian so we might have a requirements as a user I
need to be able to get quickly get a response to questions that I might have
or get customer service so in to me we already using this application so the
idea would be just let’s just take this application use the API put it inside
our app and there we go right we have a solution but instead of
doing that we actually started building a new messaging application a new FAQ
system inside our why would we do that right that’s just waste is like and now
we’re gonna have to maintain two lists of fa Q’s you know and that makes no
sense at all so I stopped that before it actually calling to anything more
serious you do daily stand-ups and scrums all of that we do we do have a
daily stand-up and part of the problem is that we have a distributed team so
having a face-to-face daily stand-up is hard it’s difficult
yeah how many time zones you across right now in terms of we are across four
five five five times so difficult indeed it is difficult yeah and there’s nothing
quite as satisfying as being able to move a card
an agile story or a task from in progress to done yeah doesn’t have quite
the same feeling and picking up the paper card it’s tactile you can picking
doing that on Trello is is not quite it doesn’t have the same response just hold
the mouse down no one knows you did it exactly yeah especially when you take
down one of those big tasks and you up to the board and you’re all happy about
it yeah and you know the cheering mob around
the champagne it’s a good feeling and look this is this is one of the reasons
why that works was psychologically agile allows you to get a sense of purpose
hmm so you may be me being an old communist I’m familiar with Marxist
theory of alienation you help them help them come up with it
you’re the one with the big bushy beard hain Armour I keep it down exactly so
this theory goes like something like this so workers become increasingly
alienated from the means of production because they’re like a single little cog
in the wheel so if there’s a Buick working in a factory making cars you’re
bit of that process is to stick a wheel on the car and that’s all that you’re
doing repeated over and over again so you don’t get never get to see the
finished product you don’t ever get to see your you’ll like work become a thing
so for example the way cars were originally made before Henry Ford’s mass
production and Taylorism was that the car makers would gather around the
vehicle and they’d bolt on the wheels and they do make the whole thing right
like in traditional carriage works but the mass production system created this
alienation and it reduced that connection that the worker had with
their finished product so in in in agile is the same so if you’re developing
something you’re spending three months writing business requirements then
you’re throwing that over to someone else who then implements that and then
someone else then goes and tests that you as an individual never get to see
the output of that until like way later and it could be
totally different from what you originally envisioned there in their
requirements so that’s why you have demos and prototypes all along the way
absolutely and you’re you’re breaking the work down into the smallest possible
piece that can add some value to the customer everyone can see a finished
product and we almost immediately absolutely and this means that you can
validate the product with the end customer mmm and what’s even better is
that cycle of development is now much much smaller than it was say ten years
ago or five years ago right so now you can come from a from a like nothing to
finish product literally within a few weeks with low code systems for example
you know we hear out systems fantastic yeah David well thank you very much for
diving into everything with me today I appreciate you coming by always good to
chat if you have time in the next week or so over the holiday aisle I’m more
than happy to come whoop your butt in a game of maneuver flamethrower large
penile shaped rocket exactly you can actually come on to the podcast and
smoke a joint if you like yes medical use all right David thank you again and
I’ll talk to you soon thanks Dana

4 thoughts on “David Henderson the CEO of DRVR | Small Biz Chat

  1. I remember seeing you two around Bangkok at different startup events. I always admired how much hustle you guys had. You really seemed like the perfect team David was always working the room and you had this amazing presentation style where you could articulate ideas so well and engage people. Not many startup teams have that dynamic.

  2. re: BOI – do you have a "list" or URL (not the "marketing" one direct from BOI) that gives the REAL benefits of getting BOI certification? AND are the "Smart Visas" easier? same level of difficulty? to get post BOI? the "we got out BOI in 2 weeks" is there a genuine company that can assist with this for $XX Baht fee? Would you have experience/knowledge of US Amity Treaty certification ? and if so, do you recommend doing that Before or After BOI? GREAT Interview!!!! felt like i was just sitting there at the coffee shop listening to you guys. 😉

  3. re: "Singapore Visa and work permit by Noon" – is that provided you've front-loaded a ton of info up into the Singapore "MOM" website? AND showing a TON of cash/salary?? or is there some simple thing I am missing?? Thanks Again!

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