EME was the first investor into rural eCommerce platform, Ezay, just three months ago. Today, Ezay has raised its second round of USD 200K in order to continue the rapid expansion of its retailer and wholesaler network.
Ezay connects rural mom’n’pop retailers to wholesalers via its platform and provides same day delivery. This is a sea change for these shopkeepers, of which more than 90% are women. Previously they would have to leave the shop to travel to town or convince their spouse to do the same, but with Ezay they receive deliveries to their store and get a wider selection and better prices of products. Starting just three months ago from zero, Ezay has over 1,600 retailers to-date.
Leading this round is Seiji Kurokoshi, the impact investor who pioneered upside social impact bonds for single mothers, and who has a background in direct to consumer (D2C) models. The overwhelming majority of Ezay’s customers are women entrepreneurs and Ezay’s model includes many D2C elements. As such, EME and Ezay are both thrilled to have Seiji’s expertise in both the social and commercial aspects of serving Myanmar’s shopkeepers. This is particularly relevant as Ezay is currently working in partnership with leading Myanmar MFIs to offer finance to these shopkeepers - 75% of which have had no access to finance in the past.
In Myanmar, only around 25% of people have any sort of formal financial services. Ezay is helping provide access to the most rural users and in turn plans to reach out further into communities via these shops in the future. Ezay’s founder and CEO, Kyaw Min Swe, said “I’m pleased to be able to bring people into Ezay that understand and want to support our journey. We’re growing very quickly and having further expertise to aid our growth will help us reach our goals of serving 8,000 retailers by the end of 2020. The current concerns about hygiene and health are also leading to an increase in the need for our services, so we want to ensure we’re there for our customers during these times”.
Seiji said, “I wanted to invest in Ezay as soon as I met the founder, Kyaw Min Swe. His drive to help Myanmar rural communities and his ability to make it happen both struck me immediately. When I looked at the amazing traction that Ezay has had in just three months, my mind was made up. I’m very pleased to be able to support this great company and its mission to improve the lives of rural Myanmar women”.
EME is joining the round and continues to work closely with Ezay as the company expands in geography and services. Ezay was the seventh company to enter EME’s portfolio of eight companies. It is the second company in the portfolio to receive outside investment, following Joosk Studio which raised funds from Nest Tech VN earlier this year. La Woon Yan, EME’s Senior Investment Analyst said, “we couldn’t be happier with the amazing progress that Ezay has made since our investment just a few short months ago. During these turbulent times, it’s especially important for us to support great founders and great missions and Ezay is directly helping with keeping shops stocked and reducing the need for women to travel.”.
Seiji Kurokoshi’s company, Digi Search and Advertising, helps companies to adopt direct to consumer (D2C) models in Japan. He also has COEBI Incubation Office, a AAA incubation centre where he supports and invests in social entrepreneurs. Upside SIBs, mentioned above, are a public private partnership where repayment is made through increased tax revenues.
Above: Nang Mo (4th from left) and Soe Lin Myat (3rd from right) with members of the EME Myanmar team
EME has made its largest investment to-date, investing alongside United Managers Japan Inc. for a combined USD 750,000 into Kyarlay, Myanmar’s leading baby products ecommerce and delivery provider. Kyarlay was co-founded by husband and wife Soe Lin Myat and Nang Mo while expecting their first child. Frustrated with poor choice and availability of well-priced and high-quality baby products, they saw an opportunity in helping make parenting in Yangon safer and more convenient.
Both Soe Lin Myat and Nang Mo previously worked for the tech giant Garena and have been able to apply leading technology to Kyarlay, while maintaining an approach tailored to the Myanmar market. Their stores are open seven days a week and double as fulfilment centres, making Kyarlay the only company able to provide safe and efficient delivery within just a few hours.
Kyarlay has also created a strong community among young Myanmar parents, including with their app and website which include videos and content from Myanmar’s leading paediatricians and obstetricians. By creating a community around their business, Kyarlay is able to continuously learn more about their customers. It’s due to this community that Kyarlay recently started to develop their own branded products for the Myanmar market – meaning they’re able to offer quality items for a lower price to their customers.
EME Director, Hitoshi Ikeya said, “We’ve been watching Kyarlay for a while and we’re so pleased we’re able to support them, especially during this volatile time when others might shy away from new investments. Soe Lin Myat and Nang Mo have proven their ability to develop a leading business and EME is thrilled to join them in their journey. We’ll be helping to bring new and exciting products to market, but right now we’ll be helping to ensure that Kyarlay has everything it needs to help parents stay home and stay healthy.”
Kyarlay marks EME’s eighth investment in Myanmar since launching in October 2018. EME is a VC based in Myanmar and providing significant post-investment support to its portfolio companies to help them scale. EME is backed by private investors as well as the Dutch Good Growth Fund and seeks to contribute to Myanmar’s sustainable economic development by supporting great entrepreneurs who can change markets and deliver true value to consumers and businesses alike.
**Q&A with Nang Mo, Co-founder of Kyarlay**
Why did you start this business?
As a parent you always need certain items, diapers for instance, and you often forget them. In Yangon, forgetting something as simple as milk powder can easily mean a one hour round trip back to the store. We experienced this frustration and saw that we had the skills to address it. We realised that there was a large market of parents just like us and that this market was growing. We each applied our core skills and started Kyarlay, adding the app and 4-hours delivery late last year.
What makes Kyarlay different from regular bricks and mortar baby stores?
Our community-driven approach really helps us to be closer to our customers. We’re able to share with them and in return learn more about their challenges. It’s this community approach that drives our business, whether it's later opening hours so parents can visit one of our shops after work, or competitions and promotion within our app that helps parents engage with one another. We launched our 4-hour delivery because we realised that parents need items on the same day and our community and customer focus helped us to understand that.
Why did you choose EME as investors?
When Kyarlay started, there wasn’t an institutional investor in the Myanmar market that would invest in this type of business. With EME, they’re here in our market and understand our model and approach. While many VCs might think having bricks and mortar stores is a barrier to scale, EME have supported this approach from the start and understand its importance in this market. We’re looking forward to having people close by that we can brainstorm with and depend on.
What’s your vision for Kyarlay and how will EME help you to reach it?
We’ve recently launched our second store and we plan to open lots more in order to serve the whole of Yangon with our 4-hour delivery. As we build our store and delivery network, we’re really looking forward to being able to provide additional products – such as the private brand products we’re producing now. Once we can serve the whole of Yangon with competitively priced high-quality products then we’ll start branching out further. Our plans will require constant adjustment and a lot of operational savvy, so we’re very happy that EME can be nearby to help us with this physical and digital growth.
From left: Thet Paing Kha - Joosk CEO, Soe Moe Kyaw Oo - Nest Tech Managing Partner, Hitoshi Ikeya - EME Investment Director, and Zeyah Htet - Joosk CSO
Nest Tech VN has led a six figure equity investment into Myanmar’s leading animation company, Joosk Studio. EME, who invested into Joosk last year joined the round.
Joosk Studio is a creative digital animation agency founded and run by artists Thet Paing Kha and Zeyar Htet. Joosk has worked with companies including Facebook, CB Bank and Telenor as well as NGOs, UN agencies and the World Bank Group. In September 2019, Joosk’s proprietary animation series, Sassy Bound ("BeBee and friends"), won the company the Myanmar Influencer of the Year Award for Art and Design. Joosk is doubling down on its popular comic series and producing BeBee The Animated Movie, while continuing to grow its core agency business. Joosk’s debut into cinema will bring Myanmar’s first feature length animation to viewers across the country.
Nest Tech VN’s Managing Partner, Soe Moe said, “Joosk have created a great business, serving high profile brands with their unique and funny animation. We’re excited to be a part of this movie, as well as helping Joosk to continue to build their creative agency”.
EME Myanmar joined this round, marking our second investment into Joosk Studio. EME’s Investment Director, Hitoshi Ikeya, said, “we’ve loved working with Joosk and we’re pleased to be able to continue to help them innovate and bring creative content to Myanmar companies and consumers alike.”
Q&A with Thet Paing Kha, CEO of Joosk Studio
What does this latest round of investment mean to Joosk Studio?
At Joosk, we use humour and illustration to reach audiences and share messages. We’ve been running our Facebook comic series alongside our agency work for a while now and this latest investment lets us develop that side of the company to bring our audience something bigger than they’ve ever seen before.
While everyone is very excited and already working very hard on the movie, we’re also continuing to find exciting new ways to serve our business customers. We’re fortunate enough to work on interesting projects - both for NGOs and private companies and we see a lot of synergy between the movie and our core business.
Creativity seems to be such an important part of what Joosk does, how does taking on new investment affect that?
We’re very lucky that our current investors, EME, have always given us 100% freedom when it comes to any remotely creative decisions. When we met with Ko Soe Moe from Nest Tech VN we got the same feeling and had many casual meetings to make sure that we were a fit for each other. We also see that Nest Tech have a lot of digital skills that could help Joosk with digital merchandising and discovering new ways to entertain our audience outside of traditional approaches.
When’s the film coming out and what’s it going to be about?
BeBee The Animated Movie will be in theatres nationwide sometime in 2021. For now that’s all the information we’re sharing I’m afraid, but we’ll be releasing some clues and hints in the coming months! One thing is for certain, if you’ve ever enjoyed anything we’ve made before, we’ve got a very good feeling you’re going to love what we’ve got coming!
Above: Ezay Founder and CEO (centre) with EME Investment Analysts Hla Win New (left) and La Woon Yan.
EME-Myanmar has led a six-digit seed round in Ezay, a Yangon-based rural ecommerce startup for rural Myanmar retails outlets, together with one of the most influential startup founders in Myanmar.
Founded in August 2019 by ex-Oway employee, Kyaw Min Swe, Ezay is helping to revolutionise commerce for rural retailers. Ezay provides a mobile platform that connects rural ‘mom and pop’ shops with wholesalers and provides delivery for all goods. Previously retailers would have to visit multiple wholesalers several times throughout the month, with no remuneration for that lost time. From today, retailers can re-stock at the click of a button.
EME’s Investment Director, Hitoshi Ikeya said, “We often hear people talking about ‘digital leapfrog’ in Myanmar but this investment really represents the value that mobile solutions can bring to rural communities across the country. Kyaw Min Swe is a great founder and we’re very excited to support him with his mission”.
Kyaw Min Swe at a recent Ezay retailer townhall event
Q&A with Kyaw Min Swe, Founder and CEO of Ezay
How did you come up with the idea for Ezay?
My sister has a small shop in rural Myanmar and each week her and her husband need to drive to the various warehouses to restock. This is a real burden and it’s common across Myanmar; often the husband will go to the wholesaler but must take time off work to do so. Choice is also limited by the common fact that most people will buy from only one or two wholesalers. I saw an opportunity to address this issue and connect wholesalers and retailers through a mobile platform - providing delivery to make life easier for retailers.
What impact does Ezay create for companies and users?
Retailers love Ezay because for the first-time ever they’re able to buy online for the regular shop stock needs and get the products on delivery the next day - all for the same price they’re currently paying to shop offline and fetch their own goods.
Wholesalers are thrilled to have more frequent orders and have regular collections from a wider-rage of customers. They’re able to think about their promotions through the app and really become more efficient throughout their business.
Why did you select EME as investors?
EME’s directors and staff have been really supportive of my vision and have helped Ezay even before their investment. For an early-stage business like Ezay I think it’s vital to have people behind you that understand your vision and can contribute to making it a success. With EME I felt they were very interested to support Ezay, but also that they trusted me to execute my ideas.
What is your vision for Ezay in the next 5 years? How will Ezay help change rural retail landscape in Myanmar?
Ezay is just getting started. Right now we’re onboarding new retailers all the time and we’re upgrading our platform to make logistics, payments, and commerce faster and easier. We plan to expand rapidly across Myanmar once we’ve proven this model across our key villages. Our expansion will be both in area and also in services: as we develop a closer understanding of the retail supply chain and customer’s preferences we can adapt to serve those needs in new and exciting ways. We’ve got a few ideas of how this could develop. For now we’ll just say that we intend to continue to offer real value to people that others have struggled to serve and create new opportunities for them while doing so.
About Kyaw Min Swe
Kyaw Min Swe is a committed and experienced professional with a proven track record. He was born and raised Nattalin, a township in Tharrawaddy District of Bago. He worked in Dubai and Singapore for five years and came back to work as the COO at Hello Cabs, and later at Oway as the Business Head. He stared Ezay based on his first-hand experience of the problems facing rural retailers and because of a passion to help rural communities embrace the benefits that technology offers.
Above, from left EME's Team: La Woon Yan, Hitoshi Ikea, Hla Win Nwe, Matt Viner, May Phoo Maung Maung, Claire Lim.
On Wednesday, 20th November EME celebrated it’s 1st anniversary and announced two new investments it has made into Myanmar-based and Myanmar-led startups: Natural Farm Fresh and Yangon Broom.
EME invested a six figure amount into Natural Farm Fresh, along with co-investor United Managers Japan Inc. (UMJ). Natural Farm Fresh produces high quality chilli and other dried food products at competitive prices, using locally produced solar dryers to increase yield value and produce products without dangerous aflatoxins. EME’s investment will help Natural Farm Fresh to scale up, develop new products for other markets and start to introduce digital technologies throughout the supply chain.
Founder and CEO of Natural Farm Fresh, Nay Oo said, “This investment is very rewarding, not just because it will help us to grow but because EME really shared our vision to help bring quality products to the Myanmar market, improving health while providing more income to farmers across the country”. EME Director, Hitoshi Ikeya said, “We’re thrilled to make this investment. We’ve been building a great relationship with Ko Nay Oo over the past months, love his vision and have already seen his ability to execute. The chilli market in Myanmar is well over $100m and growing; regionally, the numbers are even higher and together we’re very well placed to take advantage of this huge market potential.”
Above: Nay Oo, Co-Founder and CEO of Natural Farm Fresh
EME, along with co-investor NestTech VN (a Vietnam-based VC), invested a five figure sum into Yangon Broom, a Myanmar home-services startup. Yangon Broom provides on-demand services to home and businesses across Myanmar’s bustling Yangon. Currently, services include cleaning and ironing, but the company has more verticals to roll out in 2020. Founders Kyi Min Han and Kyaw Min Tun come from backgrounds in recruitment and building maintenance, a winning formula for high-growth businesses that contract hundreds of staff. Co-founder and CEO, Kyi Min Han, said, “The whole team is very excited to have two great investors behind us to help take Yangon Broom to the next level. We’ve built our business around people as we aim to provide safer jobs for women in Myanmar, and these two investors will help us protect that while we grow.”.
EME’s investment philosophy includes providing significant hands-on support post-investment, operating a full-time team who work closely with companies to help them scale. Matt Viner, EME Investment Manager said, “We’re so fortunate in Myanmar to have such passionate founders. Kyi Min Han and Kyaw Min Tun pay close attention to their most valuable assets - their staff - and in turn, they’re building a strong business. We’re looking forward to helping Yangon Broom quickly reach 10X growth in total bookings, bring in new tech with help from NestTech VN and add more services.” Nest Tech founder, Soe Moe Oo added, “Nest Tech is delighted to be investing into Broom. The two Founders truly care about making a difference in people’s lives, especially those amongst the more vulnerable in society. Not only are jobs being created, but a caring community culture is being developed too”.
Above: Yangon Broom's Team including CEO Kyi Min Han and COO Kyaw Min Tun
EME Myanmar has invested an undisclosed amount in local call center Lan Thit Masterpiece Limited (LML), marking EME’s fourth investment to date.
La Woon Yan (Senior Investment Analyst at EME Myanmar) with Hpauje Kai Hkawng (CEO at LML)
LML offers a range of outsourcing services, including inbound and outbound customer service, sales, data entry and ground marketing. The company started operations in May 2018, and already serves several large multinational clients with significant customer bases.
LML draws on the support and expertise of its founding investors: Masterpiece Group, a large Japanese outsourcing company, and Bagan Innovation Technology, a local tech giant famous for its keyboards and e-book store. The company is based in MICT Park and headed by Hpauje Kai Hkawng, a Myanmar national who ran one of Masterpiece Group’s call centers in Japan for 9 years.
EME’s Investment Director Hitoshi Ikeya commented, “The time is right for a new call center in Myanmar. Companies are spending more on customer support as competition heats up, and consumers want better service. While hiring entry-level staff to handle customer service is cheap, LML offers a robust solution that saves money over the long term through better reporting, reduced overheads and fewer complaints.”
EME will provide LML with sales training, mentorship and introductions as part of its active investment philosophy.
EME’s Q&A with Hpauje Kai Hkawng (CEO of LML)
What kinds of services does LML offer to companies?
LML provides business process outsourcing, focusing on call center services, alongside market research, customer surveys, ground marketing, and social media management.
Why should companies choose to outsource their customer service and sales to LML?
It can be difficult for companies to build good customer service teams in-house, and knowledge is often lost when employees leave the company. By using LML, companies can focus solely on their main business, without worrying about customer service. As a specialist in customer service, LML knows customers' requirements better, listens effectively and can analyze the customer trend based on customers' feedback.
How will EME help LML to grow?
EME will help with general market awareness and economic analysis, so that LML knows which industries to target for potential clients. In addition, EME will help oversee the sales process, providing connections to international business. and potential clients.
What is your vision for LML in the next 5 years?
We aim to be the leading call center in Myanmar, known for our quality guaranteed customer service. We want to fill 200 seats, and provide high living standards for our employees.
How will LML change the customer service / outsourcing landscape in Myanmar?
Currently call centers in Myanmar are mostly one-way; they don’t prioritize listening to customers. LML will put the customer first, making sure that customers always receive friendly and trustworthy service.
About Masterpiece Group
Masterpiece Group, Inc., originally established in Japan, has over 25 years experience in BPO services. Since 2000, they have expanded throughout China and Southeast Asia; totalling 12 operating centers across 7 countries, supporting 10 languages and over 200 clients worldwide. They focus on the development of specialized BPO services in Asia centered on the world’s major languages: English, Chinese and Spanish.
Matt Viner (Investment Manager at EME) with Loring Harkness (CEO of Mote Poh) showcasing the Mote Poh booklets
We’re excited to announce our lead investment in the seed round of Mote Poh, a Yangon-based employee-benefits-as-a-service startup for Myanmar companies, together with Nest Tech of Vietnam.
Founded in May 2018 by serial entrepreneur Loring Harkness, Mote Poh has grown quickly and now serves over 60 clients, including Yoma Strategic Holdings and MyJobs.com.mm. The company’s mission is to help companies ‘surprise and delight’ their employees through an exclusive rewards book that can stretch employees’ paychecks by hundreds of dollars a month.
As an investment firm, we’ve seen high employee churn rates across many industries in Myanmar, and it’s exciting to see Mote Poh tackling the problem head-on. We expect to help Mote Poh grow by consulting on technology and finance, as well as helping them partner with our mentors and companies in our network.
Currently based out of the Phandeeyar coworking space in downtown Yangon, Mote Poh is developing a mobile app, and expanding to other types of loyalty programs. It seeks to transform the HR industry by partnering with companies to recognise and reward employees.
EME's Q&A with Loring Harkness, CEO of Mote Poh
How did you come up with the idea for Mote Poh?
Mote Poh is a localised version of employee benefits programs that leading companies in Singapore, the United States and other countries have been using for decades.
Many companies in Myanmar provide employees with limited compensation packages: salary, personal income tax, social security contributions, and occasional ad hoc benefits like team dinners. At the same time, many companies have difficulty recruiting, recognising and rewarding, and retaining top talent.
I spoke to dozens of company owners, CEOs and HR Managers. I asked them why they didn't provide better benefits to their employees. Their answers were nearly all the same: they fear that implementing an employee benefits program will be time consuming and expensive - and that employees wouldn't appreciate it.
So I created Mote Poh - a small book full of 100% FREE items and exclusive discounts at favourite shops, restaurants and activities across Myanmar - to help companies surprise and delight their employees every month. Mote Poh makes employee benefits easy - just great benefits employees love, with no hassle and no big price tag.
What impact does Mote Poh create for companies and users?
Employees love Mote Poh because the benefits top up their salaries by MMK 50,000 - 100,000 (USD $30 - $60) every month and also help them to discover new events, shops, restaurants and experiences. Mote Poh has benefits for every taste and budget - there really is something for everyone. It’s so much fun to watch employees get their Mote Poh books, flip through all the free and deeply discounted items, and start exclaiming "Thwar meh!" ("Let's go there!”) or "Sar chin dae!" ("I want to eat it!").
Companies also love Mote Poh because it's an effective tool to surprise and delight employees - which makes it easier and cheaper to recruit, recognise and reward, and retain staff. Leading companies know that they need to offer employees a range of benefits to stay competitive and build the best teams. But they can't do it alone - they need partners like Mote Poh who can do the hard work of creating and servicing benefits.
Why did you select EME and Nest Tech as investors?
EME and Nest Tech aren't your typical "spray and pray" early stage investors. Both firms invest in just a few startups per year, and then leverage their experience, skills and connections to help startups like Mote Poh grow in the years ahead. EME will be providing us with mentoring in financial modelling and data analytics, as well as making some valuable introductions. Nest Tech is seconding us their tech lead to help us build our upcoming mobile app and create our digital strategy. These investors share our vision for exponential growth and offer support to help us reach it.
What is your vision for Mote Poh in the next 5 years? How will Mote Poh help change the HR landscape in Myanmar?
Mote Poh is currently helping companies surprise and delight their employees every month. In the years ahead, I see us partnering with leading employers to help them build truly inspiring places to work - which promote health, happiness and productivity - and then recognise and reward employees for great performance.
Thank you to everyone who came to EME's official launch on October 31 at the Penthouse and helped make it such a success! Over 80 of you came for an evening of networking and celebrating the founding story of EME. We’re excited to be announcing our two initial investments:
Joosk Studio is the leading animation and illustration company in Myanmar. Their sticker packs have been downloaded millions of times, and their weekly animation series have regular audiences in the thousands. With a roster of international clients including Facebook, UN agencies and leading corporates, as well as a talented team of young designers, Joosk is defining the new wave of digital entertainment in Myanmar.
CarsDB is the #1 online platform for buying and selling cars in Myanmar. Founded in 2012 by an experienced team of local repatriates, CarsDB has grown into the undisputed leader of a rapidly growing market. With a wide range of services including classifieds, offline auto shows and product listings, and plans to expand into insurance and car rentals, CarsDB is the hub of everything automobile-related in Myanmar.
It’s been a long road since our founding investors met in 2015 and decided to launch a new Myanmar-focused fund. After much hard work, the partners have developed a compelling vision and set of resources for supporting young Myanmar entrepreneurs to build transformational companies. We’ve met over 100 companies and organisations since commencing operations at the beginning of 2018, and will continue to engage actively with the community through meetings, events and workshops.
As part of our launch, we’re also kicking off our official blog and monthly newsletter (subscribe here). With a mix of opinion, data analysis and curated news articles, we hope these will become valuable resources for the startup and investor communities in Myanmar. As always, we are very open to feedback and requests so tell us what you’d like to hear more about.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to know more about EME or the startup ecosystem in Myanmar, or want to discuss opportunities to collaborate.
All the best,