So in my last post I made two bold predictions on the economy in the coming century, that emerging markets in Asia and Africa will be the driving force of many of the changes we see in the world.
Is a war torn nation that no one knows much about, or has even heard of. The currency of choice here is single American dollars. The country is extremely poor and lacks almost any infrastructure of any kind. Will any entrepreneurs step up and make a difference in this country? Where there are problems, there is opportunity.
I have a friend who recently raised 30 million from the largest telecom in the country after being in the country for just 3 months. They now have the ENTIRE e-commerce marketplace to themselves. They are quite literally; they are the only company doing e-commerce at scale in the entire country. After a few weeks of operation, they eclipsed 101 employees today. Their headliner is a daily deals site / group-on clone: anything.lk
I’ll report back from Myanmar next week, as I’ll be jumping on a plane to head there shortly. For those who are interested in visiting, the visa situation is a pain! I decided to go last minute to attend a conference, and although I qualify for a “visa on arrival” the process is anything but clear. You need a letter from a Burmese business with address IN Myanmar (as well as permission from a ministry). Full details are available at this site. It is much, much easier to arrange a visa in advance at a local embassy.
From what I’ve seen so far from Indonesia, I enjoy this country. However, corruption at the lowest levels, as dealing with police (or the local banjar) can be burdensome for entrepreneurs. As for most places around the world, it’s best to enjoy your time here, follow the rules and don’t make too much noise. Although it is one of the largest emerging markets, if you are going to start a business here, you better have a great understanding of the culture, a well-connected local partner and deep pockets. I’ve written about starting a business in Bali in this post. If you are able to start a business, you’ll find incredible local talent for an inexpensive rate. The workforce is (by and large) more technically skilled than many other countries in the region, and there are great developers and designers.
Korea is a place I don’t know much about. From an outsiders perspective, it’s not an emerging market, it seems expensive and difficult to penetrate as a foreigner without extensive time and effort. Although I have Korean friends who I know and love, it doesn’t attract me from an a macro-economic perspective and I can’t see this economy having the growth potential of others in the region. It is very well developed, and in many ways the polar opposite of its neighbor to the north…
North Korea is the last frontier of Asia – hidden behind a communist veil, much of the society is kept in secrecy. I do know some people who have been able to visit and do business in the country. Believe it or not, they run a consultancy that teaches social skills. I guess that proves that maybe there is a market in NK? Recently it came out that Google is trying to penetrate into the economy here, and bring peace to the people. This is an admirable goal in my mind, and displays how the free market and private business can accomplish something that bureaucracy and governments could never accomplish in the country – freedom, peace and profitability.
China is intimidating. A huge market full of opportunities. Learn more on how to incorporate a company and do business in China.
Hong Kong is amazing, I love spending time in this country and it is just so damn entertaining to go out for a night on the town in this city. Hong Kong has a great culture – its not overbearing with centuries of tradition, but its deep enough to have caught its voice and be able to proudly proclaim: this is what it’s like to be Hongkongnese.
Hong Kong simultaneously both IS and IS NOT China. Technically, it is a “special administrative republic” and Hong Kong S.A.R. is an exemplar for an efficient free market economy, yet for all intents and purposes, is subservient to the centrally controlled Mainland. Although the quality of life, language, way of doing business, food, travel documents, and a lot of other things are completely different – Hong Kong IS china.
The food and the people are great, the city is so much fun, and Hong Kong is the best place to open a bank account. Scratch that, it is the 2nd best place in the world for banking and starting a business, right behind…
Singapore is THE best place in the world to start a business. I’ve written about Singapore city here and also here. I have a deep respect for the ability of the government to spur entrepreneurship and innovation, and raise the quality of life for a society. Living here is a joy, and I love being here for that reason, now if I could only find some interests outside of my work…
I write too much about this country already. I’m redacting my previous statements on the LOS. There is “nothing” to see in Thailand, please move along… My advice to backpacking tourists looking to “find themselves” and “see elephants” and “ladyboys” is to stay for a day, visit Phuket and then get out. We never wanted you here anyway.
For those of you who want to see the real Thailand… I recommend at least a year on the ground. Learning the language, starting a business, getting a multiple entry visa in Thailand through a Thai Company, and living in Bangkok city.
Cambodia is the future rice bowl of SE Asia. Along with Thailand and Vietnam, this is where the bulk of food will be produced in the 21st century. it’s also a very young society, and its developing quickly. I’ve seen ventures fail here (premium beer, commerce) and other succeed (citizenship by investment, property investment, fund management, rice, micro lending) the business field is wide open. Read more about Cambodia here. Read more about Cambodia’s Flag Theory and How to Get Cambodian Citizenship | Frontier Investing | Private Equity
Vietnam has an emerging tech community. You would not believe the talent that comes out of this country in terms of technical ability. The currency is a dong, and the government makes it near impossible to start a business unless you know the right people. Even the locals have to go and stand in a room and be read a number in order to start a company here. I spoke to a young girl that did it herself (instead of pay a company rough $200). From the beginning, you should only pick a venture that the government will LIKE – because if they don’t like you – bye bye. Take for instance Facebook – which saw a countrywide ban when groups starting popping up opposing the incumbent party. Check this article on How to set up a Vietnam LLC for further information.
Ahhh the Philippines. The friendliest people on earth. Despite having one of the lowest GDP per capita, they have one of the highest happiness ratings. The women here are very intelligent. If you want to set up a business here, make sure you have strong females on your side, and great government connections. They are open to foreigners doing business, but all of the guys I know here that have had success know when to show their palms, and when to show their teeth. REAL power rules.
If you are interested in setting up a company in the Philippines, or learning more, check out this post on why it’s more fun in the Philippines…
There is a lot of opportunity here; partially displayed by the fact that Google is setting up a HQ in the Philippines. As a societal whole, you really want to root for them. They have the potential, they could do better, and they even know it themselves (see this commentary called “get real Philippines” or just look at the town slogans “aim high!”
Very good question from a reader. I wrote up a pretty thorough reply, and now I'm recalling a number of times i've been asked this. So, here we go -
You are travelling a lot, so I've been wondering if you feel lonely and if that's the case, how you deal with it. I don't mean to sound too personal, just for the record, so if you do not wish to answer, go ahead (just let me know if that's the case, or point me to some reading, maybe?). I have found that when travelling for extended periods of time in places one does not know people, or when moving, changing location, that a certain lack of close contact with people can occur. This can lead to demotivation (concerning activity in general, work...), paralyzation, distraction causing lack of devotion to work and the like. Well, you are often writing about many friends, and I suppose you mean over the internet? Is that enough, or a temporary substitute? How do you counteract low-states induced by such cirumstances? (If they occur, I don't know if you have the problem, it just seemed a possibility).
Thanks a lot,
Good observation. Yes, you're 100% right - lack of contact with people is a big problem with traveling.
Making your first trip to East or Southeast Asia? Wondering where to go?
Okay, I've spent significant time in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. I can weigh in on those places for you. I haven't been to Macau, Laos, Burma, the Philippines, North Korea, or Indonesia yet - of them, I've heard great things about the Philippines and Indonesia in particular, but I can't comment.
So, some thoughts about every country -
Japan - Still the crown jewel of Asia, Japan has something for everyone. There's ancient and hyper-modern culture mixed all together. There's amazing technology, high levels of development, basically nonexistent crime, ridiculously high standards of quality and hygiene, and the people are friendly and polite. English isn't widely spoken, but the Japanese take being good hosts seriously and you'll be fine in any major city. You can find quite literally anything here - amazing camping and mountains and forests and oceans, or hyper-developed space-age districts in cities.
The downside of Japan - It's fucking expensive. Like, really really expensive. I hate spending money on eating and sleeping - every dollar I put into basic "staying alive" stuff is less money to be invested in commerce or philanthropy, or learning, or having unique experiences that are more interesting than... well, eating and sleeping. Yet, eating and sleeping is brutally expensive here. If you're not a veteran traveler and don't have friends here, you'll be hard pressed to spend less than $100/day in Japan. If you slum it hard, you can maybe get down to $50/day. Everything's ridiculously expensive, ranging from 400% to 2,000% higher than still-developing countries in Asia.