Myanmar is not an easy place to do business. Poor infrastructure, a highly unskilled labor pool, and an outdated financial system are only some of the challenges weighing on this once military junta-controlled nation.
However, many investors are willing to overlook the negatives for fear of missing out on the vast opportunities Myanmar offers. The country’s abundant natural resources and its young population of around 51 million (60 million based on other estimates) are largely untapped. Consumers are just starting to get their hands on mobile services. While internet penetration stands at only around one percent of the population, it is expected to grow dramatically over the coming years. That’s the reason people have called this market the last frontier in Southeast Asia. And entrepreneur Soe Lin Myat believes he’s doing the right thing by being the first to build on it.
In February, Lin Myat launched Momolay, a mobile-first entertainment app that’s rapidly gaining a wide audience in Myanmar. It focuses on light content – anything from jokes to social news, fun trivia as well as quizzes.
Today, Momolay told Tech in Asia it raised US$200,000 in seed funding from Singapore-based investors that it’ll spend to grow its team and partnerships with content publishers in the country.
Momolay is basically a 9Gag and Buzzfeed hybrid. Its mission: to provide a source of entertainment and social news other than Facebook. Facebook is one of the few popular sites in Myanmar and it’s used more for consuming content and discussing issues and current events rather than communicating with friends or family.
“When we look at the app landscape in Myanmar, we don’t really have a lot of choices. After Facebook, there is not much venue for Myanmar’s people to get entertainment online. At the international level, there’s 9Gag and Buzzfeed. So we decided to create an app that combines both,” Lin Myat explains, adding that an app makes perfect sense in a mobile-first internet market.
He says Momolay has a first-mover advantage in this landscape, and has no direct competitor at the moment.
Media organisations Yoyarlay, ThitHtooLwin, and Phothutaw, which are offering similar content, are hugely popular on Facebook. They focus on the social network and the web; they’re not really IT companies with platforms, Lin Myat claims.
On the other hand, Bindez, an IT media startup that has the potential to become a competitor of Momolay, is focusing on hard news, not light content.
Two of the largest media companies in Myanmar – Eleven Media and 7Days – are in the business of selling print and digital journals. “They will not become direct competitors to the Momolay platform without abandoning their existing business model or starting a completely new initiative,” Lin Myat notes.
“We see them as partners as we aim to connect traditional content publishers with the new generation of mobile phone users in Myanmar. We have our own content team, but we plan to partner with external publishers to provide users with a wide range of content that they will love.”
Momolay now has almost 340,000 downloads on Android, and more than 100,000 of those are active monthly users, according to Lin Myat. Its Facebook page is also one of the most engaged pages in Myanmar, with 3.4 million reach and one million engagement on average per week.
The funding the company raised brings its valuation to US$1.2 million, and gives it a year of runway to get to the next growth stage.
“Our priority is our Android app. We release updates on a monthly basis to keep improving the functionality and user experience. We want to maintain the good head start we’ve had over potential competitors in terms of mobile app user base,” Lin Myat says.
His team has also just started working on their monetization model. “We are now experimenting on how we can best find revenue for our partnered publishers and ourselves. We currently don’t have much revenue apart from a few hundreds dollars a month we get from Facebook native ads.”
There’s no predicting how the future will play out for Momolay. As internet penetration has a long way to go in Myanmar, consumer behavior and taste are expected to change rapidly.
“The key challenge for us lies in evolving our product to suit the majority of users. We have a sizable volume of early adopters. But we really need to capture the majority of youth aged between 16 and 32, which is our target demographic. We’ll have an opportunity for rapid growth if we can constantly tailor our product to satisfy their needs,” Lin Myat says.
What do you think are the challenges for Momolay moving forward? Tell us in the comments section below.
Source: Techin Asia