thailand: a culture of entrepreneurship

They say that everyone is a critic, but in Bangkok everyone seems to be an entrepreneur. While in Canada, a normal person aspires to have a good job, not their own company, I am constantly surprised at how many Thais I know that either own their own business, or have some kind of money-making side project.

One of my teachers rents out two taxicabs to taxi drivers. He uses the money they give him to repay the bank loan, which leaves him with 300$/m from the cars after the loan payment, and soon the cars will be completely paid off. This is on top of his normal salary.

Another teacher raises and sells a rare kind of plant that Chinese people really love. Each plants sells for about 100$, and he has whole fields of them. He enters them into competitions, and people order his seeds from as far away as Indonesia and Malaysia.


Despite the lack of entrepreneurship-encouraging infrastructure like we have in Canada, like Barcamp, startupcamp, government loans for opening up your own business, it seems like more Thais seem to think of themselves as potential entrepreneurs.

Why could this be? Here are my ideas:

  • A short supply chain: Bangkok has a wholesale market for just about everything: flowers, food, live animals, plants, electronics, clothes. There are also a lot of different places to sell things, not just big malls and stores: from stalls in JJ market, to a piece of sidewalk in front of Siam Square, to itinerant vendors that just walk around carrying baskets of stuff.
  • It’s easy to start small: Your typical noodle vendor goes to the market in the early morning, buys enough ingredients for that day, sells noodles all day, then starts all over again. There’s no need to order a week’s worth of ingredients, and store them, which means you don’t need fridges, a fixed address, and all the infrastructure that implies. Easy access to wholesale markets and a place to sell things makes it easy to try out a business idea and see if it works. Will people like your pork buns? Make a few and try to sell them. Are you t-shirts cool? Bring them to Siam Square and see if kids buy them.

As a foreigner, you’re barred from things like selling noodles and clothes on the street, but man, I would so do it if I could!

Of course, we’re not talking about million-dollar high-tech startups, but I think it’s so cool that everyone here thinks of themselves as a potential entrepreneur.

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A blog about culture and technology in South-East Asia.

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