The Rise of Early-Stage Start-Ups in the ASEAN Region and the Role AWS Plays in Their Development

“Building a start-up is now a mainstream sport and in a lot of ways it’s like a spectator sport,” says Khailee Ng, managing partner of 500 Startups and the founder of Says.com and Groupsmore, regarding the current ecosystem of global start-up creation. In a sharing session with AWS, Khailee Ng, Eric Cheng, the co-founder and CEO of Carsome, alongside Digbijoy Shukla, the Startup Business Development lead ASEAN at AWS, discussed the rise of early-stage start-ups in Malaysia with relation to the AWS Activate program. 
 

Following significant technological advancements such as cloud computing, the cost and effort to create a start-up has significantly lessened, encouraging more aspiring business owners to go out and start their own companies. This, paired with the normalisation of company creation, has become some of the driving forces in the increasing momentum of start-ups in the ASEAN region.
 
Compared to the start-up landscape in 2015, when Carsome was founded, Eric Cheng says, “The ecosystem has changed a lot in terms of how people view the ecosystem now.” He attributes the vibrancy of the current ecosystem to the up-and-coming entrepreneurs that have benefitted from the growth mindset that unicorns, such as Grab, Sea Limited and GoTo have cultivated.
 
What are the Benefits of the AWS Activate Program?

Behind the development of these new early-stage start-ups, AWS, a leading cloud provider, offers many resources to innovative entrepreneurs interested in beginning their start-ups with AWS’s free Activate program. The free program provides benefits in USD $100,000 worth of free AWS Activate credits, technical support and training for new business creators. Digbijoy explains that AWS enables early-stage start-ups to launch faster with zero start-up costs allowing creators to focus on core business values and the ability to experiment with a lower risk.
 

Eric Cheng attributes the success of Carsome to their partners and the AWS Activate program. Carsome has benefitted from the free Activate credits and the assistance that it has gained from AWS to move the business to a more serverless architecture to scale the company during its time as an early-stage start-up. Now, as the business has grown exponentially, Carsome still utilises AWS, working with Amazon SageMaker in terms of machine-learning to ensure the accuracy and speed of their day-to-day operations. 
 
As an investor, Khailee Ng highly encourages new entrepreneurs to use this resource, stating, “Folks cannot underestimate how valuable the Amazon Activate program is,” concerning the free Activate credits provided by the program. Khailee equates Amazon to an early-stage investor as they provide start-ups with real money to begin building their businesses on the cloud. As for the continued use of AWS past the early stage, Khailee asserts that “They come for the credits, but they stay for the support much like Carsome has done.” 
 
Tips for new Start-Up Founders

The sharing session also brought forth some advice for new, up and coming entrepreneurs ready to begin their businesses. Amazon highlights four important questions for new founders to consider before beginning the development of their start-up.
 
First, “Do you have the skills you need?.” A founder may have the necessary drive, passion and ideas to create a successful business but may not be equipped with the right tools to ensure sustainability. The path to reaching success for a start-up is a winding one that necessitates adaptability to the volatile dynamics of the environment. Therefore, founders must facilitate lifelong learning opportunities supported by the resources found in AWS’s training and certification. 
 
Second, “Do you have the right connections?” With the right connections, start-ups can get funding and important advice from mentors within their industry to navigate the ecosystem. Khailee asserts this point with the recommendation to new founders to “rely on partners that have been there from the start.” He emphasises that tried and tested partners will ensure the longevity of the company. Knowing it would be hard for first-time founders to connect with the right people, AWS has a connections program that will link new founders to the people that are willing to help.

 

Third, “Can you build it the right way?” The support provided by AWS also includes ensuring a start-up’s data security on the cloud. In the interview, AWS emphasised how protection of customer information is a top priority for them. With AWS, founders are made to look at their cloud security at the beginning of development and not as an afterthought. 
 
Finally, “Are you brave enough to try?” This last question ties into one of the pieces of advice given by Khailee during the interview, which is to just do it. “You won’t feel ready but you’ll never feel ready,” says Khailee as he explained that your ambitions will always be ahead of your readiness. If you have the right foundation and tools, the world is waiting for your ideas. 
 
The most important advice from Eric is to ensure that your company caters to the customer and stays true to why the business was created in the first place. A sentiment that Amazon agrees with as they highly prize customer satisfaction. 
 
The Consequences of the Pandemic on Early-Stage Start-Ups

Although the pandemic does not seem to be a significant contributing factor to the uptick of start-up creation as attested by Khailee, it has undoubtedly provided the time and opportunity for people to innovate new and exciting businesses ideas. Eric states that established start-ups have adapted to the pandemic to find new avenues to drive business growth. Carsome, during this time, has branched out and started to sell cars to consumers digitally, which has led to an increase in sales.

With the new normal and the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, even more businesses have migrated online to adapt to customer demands and environmental conditions. Digbijoy states that, “There are totally new customer segments that are going online,” creating opportunities for start-up growth.
 
In the end, with future technological development, online businesses have more space to grow. Digbijoy emphasised, “At AWS, we like to say that we are builders – it’s in our DNA. We believe in supporting other builders as they invent new solutions to old problems and they also solve new problems. For these reasons, we support start-ups, always have and always will.” Early-stage start-ups now have the resources to thrive using cloud computing and the benefits that AWS provides to new up and coming entrepreneurs.

 
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