A Hairy Icecube

Errr, so Bangkok...
  • Written by Gareth
  • July 11th, 2016
  • About Bollocks

Errr, so Bangkok...

Many, many things have changed since my last update. I moved in to a new house with my old flatmate Ewan and away from the hideous maggoty girls. I bought a car, went to a few weddings, said car broke down almost as often as it didn’t. The UK voted to Brexit, sold the car, moved out of the house, I started getting bored of London and oh, I moved abroad. Not somewhere easy like America, Singapore or Australia. Not even somewhere that has the same alphabet as the UK. No, I did it properly and moved to Bangkok.

Yes, yes. I know what you’re all thinking. Soi Nana, happy ending massages and ladyboys. A few cocktails too many, and the suspicious adams apple is no longer a ’thing’. Apart from one particular friend who needn’t be named, but whose name has 5 letters, begins with a J, and ends in son, is 6ft 4 and didn’t have to bend down to kiss he/she - I’ve not witnessed anyone actually make that mistake.

So if I’m not filling the stereotypical expat persona; wandering around 10 Chang deep, fruitfully pursuing 5 o’clock shadows, promises of soapy massages and the choral harmony of ’handsome man’, why am I here?

Well, it’s simple innit? I came here to set up a business. And set up a business I did. Let me take you back a bit. Imagine, if you will. It’s May 1998 and you notice that the West has left in its dust the original CSS1.0 specification and boldly moved onto CSS2 and later to CSS3. You’re stuck in an un-airconditioned local web agency office deciding whether or not to avoid the hassle of having to learn about fixed positioning, the wonderful z-index and bidirectional text. Media queries? They’re presenters that cross-dress right? Nah, if it ain’t broke, why fix it right?

The thing is, the website builders were pretty much right to avoid moving into the naughties. What’s the point in building a website that will seldom be looked at. Who’s going to trust some company with their credit card details when no one else is using it. Even today, in 2016, there is still a sense of ’We don’t want to be the first. Let someone else try it first’. But, and the big country sized but is that that opinion is now part of the minority.

Bangkok is home to some of the worst rush hour traffic in the world, workers commutes can be several hours long. Each. Way. They therefore need their phones in these moments of dire need. In the countryside where traffic is less of an issue, people don’t really own laptops or computers, but they all have the latest Samsung or iPhone - for the boredom presumably. Go to a restaurant and you’ll see not a group of people talking. They’ll all be talking on Line, playing Candy Crush or sending selfies to their friends. That goes maybe 20% towards explain these 2016 stats then:

  • Thailand population: 68.1 million
  • Internet users: 38 million (56%)
  • Mobile users: 83 million (122%)
  • Social media users: 41 million (60%)

And in 2015:

  • 12% of Thai people bought something on their phone
  • Number of e-commerce companies being registered went up 544%
  • The Thai government set aside ฿3 billion to invest into startups

544% sounds like the sort of stat a government will throw out there to encourage foreign investment, but it’s true. So, what happened? Why this sudden explosion in e-commerce and mobile usage? Somewhat accidentally, it’s partly down to the most recent military coup. Whilst the military were out fighting with protesters in Lumpini park, the people were - rather wisely - staying at home and drinking tea. Now, if you can’t go out shopping, but you need the latest supernatural doll where are you gonna go? Online, clearly.

In amongst this, Thailand has been steadily moving away from the classic university taught .NET and license based software engineering curriculum and is moving towards Open Source. This coupled with an increase of people actually using phones = all the startups in the world. Literally, there must be hundred of new startups every day.

I was at a conference in Singapore a few weeks ago - Echelon - designed at bringing together the top 100 startups from Asia and introducing them to VCs from around the globe. Of course, there was a strong display from the Singapore startups, but even more impressive was the turnout from Thailand. Of course, it was mostly comprised of the startups that have been around for a while now, Tineri, a food thing I can’t remember the name of and an accounting thing that I’ve also forgotten the name of. However, there were a lot of ’smaller fish’ there too. It was great to see.

So, it’s 2015, the tech industry is booming in Thailand (and Asia), startups are popping up left, right and center. People were beginning to care, companies were beginning to see the value. What do we do best? Add value. Quid pro quo, there was a market for us, and we knew we could give back. This was the initial ’reasoning’ behind Fluxus moving into Asia.

It’s not all business though. I think there is more of my direct family in Thailand than there isn’t (11:8 - Thailand:Non Thailand), and they’ve been here a bloody long time too. Long before developers had to even think about CSS specifications. I’ve been to Thailand quite a few times. For weddings, family holidays, 1st birthdays, 16th birthdays, 18th birthdays. I’ve seen a curfew, the great floods, a bomb, an airport take over. I’ve borne witness to two coups d’├ętat and of course I’ve done the obligatory island hopping. I even have a plate with a grainy photo of me in Koh Phi Phi circa 1993. Oh, and in 2008 - #gapyaaah.

2 years ago, I had a spare ticket to come to Bangkok - Django tried to take it, but we realised changing the name was more expensive than booking a whole new one. Roll forward a few weeks and all the Fluxus ’lads’ ended up in Bangkok for New Years Eve. They loved Bangkok, they loved the food. They loved the drink, the people and the vibe. The seed was planted. Back in London a few months later we all met one disasterously miserable and rainy evening in a cafe on London’s Southbank. Whilst not verbatim, the conversation went vaguely like this:

"Gareth, do you think you can do it?" "Err, yes? I guess?" "When can you move?" "September, when we finish this project?" "Do it"

So that was that. I was off to Bangkok for a month of exploratory work to see if I thought a) business was possible in Bangkok, b) could we get any interest or meetings, and c) could we get any work signed off in such a short period of time? Thanks to the family, it wasn’t going to be so tough, or so I thought. I’d not done any sales before. I just assumed I had to put on a shiny suit, put in one of those bluetooth headsetty things and talk about something or someone called ROI.

I still remember my first sales rejection. I felt a bit shitty. Maybe the suit wasn’t shiny enough, or my bluetooth headset was a bit too 2012. But as you do, you pick yourself up and go head first into the next one. “Hi, I’m Gareth, errr, I sell softwarey things and we’re very good". You promise them all the Thai baht in the world in increased sales. You promise them that the website will win awards. You promise that the admin interface will wrap their webmins in a warm cuddly embrace every morning and that it will physically replace the CEO’s bum gun.

The bum gun if you didn’t know, is a marvellous little hose that - in a sweaty climate - leaves you with a clean bum. How to use a bum gun.

Somehow, the moons aligned, the clouds parted, the sun came out and shone on my suit in the exact right way. We got a SALE! Not even that small a sale, it was big and juicy. A month later, we had two guys from the UK in Bangkok, myself, Rob, Django and our first local hire. We’d started our first project and we were celebrating our first “Thai” team dinner. This was November 2015, we had a long, long way to go.

You see, we’d come in and done the first project for the UK business. We all had the correct visas and weren’t doing anything wrong but we needed to incorporate here properly. To get the Thai business set up, we had a quite few months to go. Patience was tested on more than one occasion, and I must take this opportunity to apologise to one of our employees who, in the early days had to make many an apology for me to clerical staff. “Oh, ignore him. He’s having a bad day".

I think I’ll spare you in this post, what needs to be done exactly to get a business set up in Thailand. It’s long, it involves swearing. It involves biting ones tongue. I put on weight. I think I got grey hairs. No, I did get grey hairs.

The thing is, I’m not complaining. I love Thailand. I always have. I can’t begin to stress how much I enjoy it here. I’ve been here 10 months almost non-stop now and I don’t plan on going back to the UK any time soon. Except for a trip to the Lincoln Christmas markets in November, my Grandad’s 70th birthday and Christmas in December. They don’t count though, I don’t feel like I live in the UK when I go back anymore. Brexit fucked that up. Cheers to everyone outside of London and Scotland. Wales, what happened? How could you be so foolish and so untrue to your roots? I suppose, you just about clawed back some decency in the Euros though.

I honestly believe that Bangkok is one of the most exciting cities to be in in the world right now. Out with the stuffy corporate lunches, the grey concrete buildings, the 20 man board tables. Gone are the 3 hour long powerpoint meetings, the oversized suits, the unpleasant ties. Free the office workers from their inflexible hours, their meagre holiday allowance. Good riddance too. In with design for the sake of design, internationally acclaimed designers and fashion. Trust the staff to be awesome, and trust me, they are. Give them a 35 hour week and aeons of holiday. Continue finding exciting ways to tart up the city, carry on giving the restaurants of Paris, London, New York and Rome a big middle finger. Poke, jibe and continue to blow raspberries at cocktails bars both east and west of Thailand. Continue to innovate and excite Bangkok, It’s what you’re good at.

I said I was here for business. Yes, originally I was. My former paragraph is why I’m still here now. Okay, yes, the business is blooming and I wouldn’t turn my back on it, but you know what? In the same fashion as the rest of Bangkok - it’s a damn sight more interesting doing business here than back home. I do miss my Fluxus compatriots in London, but they can come here and work from the Bangkok office. We’ve got an awesome team here, I’ve met some awesome people. I’ve made friends in all walks of life. I’ve got drunk with Royals and on the same evening having only just met a lady friend who said ’Oh, you have soft hands’; witnessed a French chef reply with ’and a hard dick’.

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to a Heineken party in the moutains of Chiang Mai. She was beautiful, Chiang Mai was beautiful, it was fun, it was new. I mean, the subtitles in the movie they showed were mostly cut off and I didn’t understand the ending. You know what? Who cares - I had fun making up my own script. Could you imagine that happening at the top of the peak district? No, the fireworks might scare a rare type of bird or the music may offend some near extinct insect. Boo hoo. The subtitles would be in the correct position and I’d be forced to read the British drama students drab script.

I’m sorry Great Britain, but you’ve got a lot to do. Bangkok has stolen my heart - in more ways than one. Like the Brexit vote demographics seem to have proven, out with the old farts, in with the young - the dynamic. Only then, will Britain redeem it’s prefix. Maybe the past decade or so has been Britain ignoring CSS1.0 and it needs to look East. Maybe Britain needs a good old military coup.

Until then though, come join me here. You’ll get fat, you’ll get drunk, you’ll sweat a lot. You’ll get frustrated, you’ll laugh it off. But most importantly; something many people forget to do. Whether you’re the stereotypical expat or not, I guarantee you. You’ll have fun. You won’t want to go back.

The Hairy Icecube
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