Thailand Land of Entrepreneurs

A Gen Z entrepreneur traces the narrative of digital businesses

          It seems like everyone’s got their own hustle these days. And why wouldn’t they? The pandemic era brought along once-in-a-century problems, needs, opportunities — and a lot of time to think about it all. A period of struggle, reflection, and new perspectives, it was a time that brought out the inner entrepreneur in all of us. The entrepreneurship boom that came out of the lockdown era was a story of both necessity and opportunity. Whether it was out of boredom, passion, a sudden decrease in income, or a sudden increase in spare time, we all had a dabble in starting our own projects. Some of us got a taste of working from home to our own schedules and were not going to turn back. Others were reminded of their interests and hobbies outside of the mind-numbing 9 to 5. And now, here we are in 2023 — everyone’s got their own hustle.

          But the pandemic alone couldn’t give rise to such a tidal wave of new businesses we’re seeing in Thailand. What really skyrocketed the hustle economy was the fact that Covid-19 happened to impact what is possibly the most entrepreneurial-minded generation to date. Generation Z, Gen Z, the Zoomers, the iGeneration, the “born and raised on mobile internet” people. This is the generation that knows how to find solutions and answers on their own. They think in-person meetings are a waste of time. They had their promised education-to-career path majorly disrupted by a virus and watched parents get laid off from companies they worked at for years. So why should they follow a set path if that path is apparently just as uncertain as any independent business venture? With the internet and all the world’s answers at your fingertips, starting your own business seems more secure than working as a regular employee for frustratingly opaque companies. And, for Gen Zers, the internet is life — I mean that both as the commonly used hyperbolic expression and in the literal sense. Gen Z grew up with the internet and never knew a time before it. Being digitally native makes starting and running a business a much simpler process than ever before. In today’s world of lightning-fast communication and infinite information at your fingertips, we can take all the necessary steps to start our own business within 24 hours. Here in Thailand, a large proportion of our population have this Gen Z technological mindset. Thanks to affordable connectivity, one-stop-service apps, and digital payment systems that are almost too convenient, Thais can quite easily live on the internet.

          Last year, our country ranked 8th in the world for the most time spent on social media (we top the list for the most active users of Facebook in the world). This national online presence makes Thailand one of the best countries to start a business. Not only is it easy to set one up online, but it’s also easy to reach most of your customers because you know where to find them. My cousin left her full-time job in venture capital, mid-pandemic, to launch her social media-based news platform, Bitesize BKK. The page offers selected headlines and news “bites” focusing on business, innovation, and tech, all in the familiar format of Instagram carousel posts. The page was a hit, amassing almost 20K followers with the simple explanation that most of her target audience were interested in these topics, spend a lot of time scrolling through social media, and don’t have a long enough attention span to read a full news article. With Bitesize, they can consume 6-7 news stories in about 30 seconds. Online businesses like hers generally have low start-up costs and can reach a global audience, making these ventures extremely attractive to the Thai modern generation.

          As a Bangkok-Based, social media native, somewhat reckless Gen Zer, I too am unsurprisingly part of Thailand’s entrepreneur wave. Taking advantage of the post-pandemic interest in health, diet, and the environment, as well as my own long-accumulated expertise in these topics, I launched ‘Heyday Health Club,’ a brand of organic vegan protein powder at the end of 2021. This had been a passion project in the works for several months throughout lockdown when, like most people during that weird time, I found myself wanting to turn my hobbies and interests into an income source. For minimum cost and maximum target audience engagement, I started off selling exclusively online, using mostly social media for marketing. I decided to create my product not only because of personal interest in using it myself, but also because I felt that we were lacking high quality, locally-produced supplements in Thailand. For me, it seemed unnecessary to continue importing these products when we had the capability to formulate, produce, and market them locally. Whenever we think of leading “health” countries, our minds automatically go to Australia, New Zealand, UK, or the west coast. But with our agricultural prowess, modern mindset, and power of social media influence, what’s to stop Thailand from joining the ranks? That brings me on to my main point. Thailand is a great place to be an entrepreneur not only because it makes it so accessible, but because you can have so much more of an impact on the country as an entrepreneur compared to elsewhere. Ours is a country that is currently re-writing its narrative, emerging out of the pandemic with a new persona to show off to the world.

          Putting a pause on Thailand’s historical image as the land of “Sun, Sea, and Sex,” the global shutdown has given us the opportunity to have a bit of a reset in branding. Today’s entrepreneurs can have a major role in helping to rewrite Thailand’s new narrative and showcase talents and expertise that had previously never been associated with this nation. A clear example of this is the astounding growth of the “plant-based” market in Thailand. As little as four years ago, nobody associated Thailand with being particularly vegan friendly. The market was a rough desert for those who eschewed animal products. Today, thanks to the health industry boost during the pandemic and passionate entrepreneurs in the field, Thailand has become somewhat of a vegan paradise. The past couple of years have seen dozens of new vegan start-ups going to market. Quite suddenly, we now have a multitude of options for vegan milks, meats, supplements, online grocery stores, apps, and restaurants. We’ve emerged from the pandemic as the top destination in South-East Asia for vegan travellers. Again, once we learn to harness our unique strengths in agriculture, innovation, passion, and online connectivity, we see that we have the capacity to become a world leader of any movement we choose.

          Of course, how could we neglect to mention the other example of the mind-boggling Cannabis boom in Thailand? We’re the first country in Asia to decriminalise the earthy substance, which is a sure way to secure our identity as a Cannabis capital. And, boy, are we embracing it. Almost overnight, hundreds of new “Canna-businesses” selling the green have popped up on every street corner as if they were competing with 7-Eleven. Cafes, bars, and even pizzerias have opened with kush-focused menus. Amsterdam, you’d better watch out. Whatever your stance on this Marijuana madness, one undeniably positive impact from the decriminalisation is all the job opportunities it created — for employees and entrepreneurs alike. On a recent weekend trip to Krabi, where I had not been since long before Covid, I came across an incredible amount of newly opened weed cafes, each of them filled with happy, sleepy backpackers. Thailand has always been seen as the ultimate holiday paradise for tourists, but now, we are heaven on earth (which, by the way, was the name of one of the weed cafes in Krabi). “Canna-businesses” don’t even have to actually sell weed at all. A good friend of mine started a business, ‘L’il Buds’, simply selling a soft plush toy shaped like a happy anthropomorphised Cannabis leaf. Capitalising on Thailand’s new weed obsession, he stocks his Marijuana merch at the rapidly multiplying stores all over Thailand. Now weed lovers can smoke it, and cuddle it too.

In a country where anything grows and anything goes, the possibilities for new businesses are endless. What else can Thailand become? Far more than just smiles, we are the land of growth and innovation, of creatives and daredevils, of lovers of the “new.” Best of all, we’re learning to become the land of Thais — and proud.         

I’m glad to see so many new-generation entrepreneurs here embracing their heritage and culture, making a point to label their businesses as unmistakably Thai. One friend of mine, an ex-Google employee, quit his job to pursue his dream of running a music label. Setting up a small studio in the oh-so-trendy Siam Square, he’s dedicated to promoting the musical talents of young Thais. Helping them write their own music in Thai, whilst encouraging them to produce positive-impact music that embraces their culture and heritage. In an age of endless protests and negativity, this is genuinely refreshing. Another friend of mine who spent her lockdown period knitting has turned her hobby into a full-on business, shipping her creations — tops, skirts, bags — all over the world. She names each of the pieces after a Thai dish: noodles to signify the shape of the weave, or desserts that reflect the colour. With international influencers donning her knits, it’s a great way to raise the profile of Thai creativity in a new, relatable, and fashionable way. From vegan foods to cannabis toys, from pop music to trendy knits, Thailand has a lot more to share with the world than just beaches and fake Rolexes. With the rise of its young, modern-thinking entrepreneurs, the country is fast re-writing its narrative and emerging with a new persona we can all have a hand in creating. What exciting times!