Above: BiT CEO, Ricky Thet (centre) with CTO Soe Khine Win (left) and CMO, Win Hlaing.
This week we interviewed our good friend and EME mentor, Ricky Thet, CEO of Bagan Innovation Technology (BiT) to bring some insights from a Myanmar startup that’s truly succeeded. BiT’s Android keyboards (Bagan Keyboard, Frozen Keyboard) have more than 20m downloads and 15m active users. Their bookstore (Wun Zinn) and fortune-telling app (Min Thien Kha) are both market leaders. From starting in 2012, BIT now has well over 100 staff and is continually bringing new products and services to the mass market.
What was the founding strategy behind starting BiT?
Before BiT, I was a software architect in Singapore specialising in mobile solutions. Most of the projects were not from a mobile-first approach, but rather extensions of existing non-mobile services to mobile. That was back in 2007. After working for a year or so within this new mobile solutions trend, I realised that mobile was going to be big, especially in a country like Myanmar.
So in 2010, I started a small software firm specialised in mobile projects. Then in early 2012, I started BiT with my two co-founders. At the time, there was no clear strategy, just the belief that mobile would be the centre of everything. That shared belief was the beginning of a vision that would drive BIT. We spent the next two years researching the market; at the end of 2013, we set our strategy to focus on building a user-base through cool apps and digital content because we love tech and reading and we saw an opportunity to bring this to Myanmar.
How did you win the android keyboard market?
Bagan Keyboard is the baby of our CTO, Ko Soe. It started as his part-time project and he did all the heavy lifting almost single-handedly. After seeing the product, we decided to back it and put the whole team behind it. The success of Bagan Keyboard mainly comes from our commitment to R&D, constant listening to users’ feedback, and of course timing (first-mover advantage at a time when mobile phones were scaling like crazy). We have released over one hundred versions of Bagan Keyboard. That simply shows our commitment to the product. When talking about a software keyboard, a lot of people only see the UI and UX but there is so much that goes on behind the scenes. We continue to put more resources into our keyboard even today.
What is your secret to customer acquisition?
The key to customer acquisition is the product itself. If the product provides value to users, then it is much easier to achieve massive customer acquisition. Our main strategy for customer acquisition is delivering true value with the product itself and understanding the users’ ever-changing expectations. If people aren’t buying or engaging with your product, you have to ask yourself: is it my go-to-market strategy or is it my product? Lots of founders think their product is great, but it doesn’t matter what they think: it only matters what users think.
What advice would you give new founders today?
I have to repeat a message from Steve Jobs – you’ve got to find what you love, and you have to love what you do. You don’t have to love daily tasks, but you have to love and believe in your product / service / strategy. Don’t start a startup for the sake of starting a startup, if you expect to succeed. Starting something from nothing is hard. If you’re not in love with your startup, how will you justify the sleepless nights and effort required to grow it? Are you ready to spend a decade of your life doing any tasks which you might like or hate every single day to accomplish your startup’s missions? Would-be founders must be able to say “yes” to that before founding the startup.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to founding BiT?
Go for it and dream big. Time is precious so get the most value from it. You’re about to spend the next ten and more years putting everything you have into this business so think about it in the biggest ways possible. If it doesn’t feel too big or unachievable, you’re not thinking big enough.