In conversation with Krating Poonpol - One of the torchbearers of Thai startup ecosystem
We asked around for startup ecosystem influencers in Thailand and one name that came up constantly was Krating Poonpol. Krating is seasoned executive who worked at places like P&G and Google, studied at Stanford GSB, started his own venture, and finally came back to Thailand, to give back to his country. Despite seeing the world, Krating still has his small town roots intact. He is extremely humble and genuine, and is passionate about helping startups grow in Thailand via many of his initiatives. Let us delve deep into his story.Journey from a small Thai town to Stanford
I was born in a small town in Thailand, and not many people in Thailand can spot it on Google Maps, it is that small. One of my science teachers at junior high school transformed my life. I remember an incident very clearly during my childhood where this particular teacher once took me out to a lake to demonstrate how surface tension works. It was a very geeky way of teaching, and after that I fell in love with science. He changed my life. Post that I went to win the Physics Olympiad at the national level, it was a big deal for a small town guy. Since then, education became my passion. I went to engineering school in Thailand, post that I went to work at P&G. After spending a few years at P&G, I left for business school at Stanford GSB, which was another transformational experience for me. I met many inspiring people there and it changed me forever. We had classes by people like Andy Grove. I have made friends for life there. I worked at Google post Stanford, also ran a startup, and then succumbed to my Thai calling. I decided to come back to Thailand.
Why I quit my job at Google and came back to Thailand?
I was passionate about education and entrepreneurship. I wanted to come back and make a difference here. My mother suffered from severe asthma. Sometimes, she could not breath for a minute. She suffered a lot. She once told me, I fought death six times and succeed each time, what are you scared of? So that fighting spirit is in my DNA. Also, last decade was not a very great decade for Thai people. I really wanted to come back and do something for my country, so I came back. If you ask many young people in Thai, they all want to do something for Thailand.
I loved my time at Google. I did many things at Google. So I felt like it was the time to get back to Thai and do something for my people.
Beating initial Fears and growing Disrupt University
When I started Disrupt University (to educate entrepreneurs and startups) here, during the first class, I got a speaker from Silicon Valley, and there was only one person in the first class. I was very nervous and lonely. I had self-doubts, I was questioning myself if I was doing the right thing. But however, towards the end of that season, we graduated 40 people, and I knew I was up to the right thing. Right now, we are in the middle of the fourth season. We graduated more than 150 students. One of the team’s has just raised a million dollars. And another guy went on to win the first prize at a competition by DTAC (Thai’s second largest telco) - he will go to Silicon Valley for two weeks where he will provided an opportunity to immerse in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Today, these are the stories that keep me going.
At DTAC, I am responsible for product strategy, the whole VAS division, and the international roaming division. I also started and run the DTAC Accelerate which is the accelerator of DTAC. We decided that it is the right time to tap into the innovative mindsets of entrepreneurs in Thai, and we work closely with them. We want to help them grow, and hopefully we will find some cool products that we can leverage off as well. Last year, we have received over 1500 applications for the Top 10 companies spots.
Right now, there is a lot of positive buzz in the Thai startup ecosystem due to some accelerators and co-working spaces. But raising seed money is just the first step. Thai entrepreneurs have to think about how to make sustainable money and grow their businesses. That is the next challenge ahead of us. And also the major telcos are pumping the ecosystem. Entrepreneurs have to figure out how to build real businesses, and move beyond product and startup. To be good business people is the key. We are a new ecosystem, but we are forging ahead. In fact, I recently heard two Thai startups got offers for M&A, but they refused and want to grow and scale their businesses, which is a good thing.
Thailand people are wonderful, they treat you very very well. I invite all foreigners to come to Thailand and help us grow this ecosystem together.
We thank Krating Poonpol for his time, and if you are going to Thailand then do connect with him today!