Thai start-up has high hopes

Tech October 14, 2015 13:41

By Asina Pornwasin
The Nation

8,527 Viewed

Developed by CP Group heir, Eko targets "unicorn" status by next year

Eko Communications, a start-up founded in 2012 by a Thai student at Columbia University in New York, ambitiously aims to be a “unicorn start-up” – that is, one whose valuation has exceeded US$1 billion – by next year. 
Korawad Chearavanont, chief executive officer and founder of the Bangkok- and New York-based company, said he had the passion to build a Thailand-based tech company that is competitive at the global level. 
“We want to see a Thai tech company become a market leader in several parts of the world such as Europe, the United States and Africa,” he said.
He started the forebear of Eko Communications in 2010 when he was a high-school student. Originally, Eko was designed to be a messaging service for consumers, targeted students in his own school. After spending two years developing Eko, he found that its key features would have more value for corporate users than consumers. 
Therefore, in 2012, he established Eko Communications and turned its focus from consumers to corporates. 
“Eko is now a communication platform for corporates that is almost totally customisable according to customers’ requirements,” Korawad said.
Eko now has many customers in several markets including Thailand, China, the US, and European countries. This year’s target is about $1.2 million (Bt42 billion) in annual recurring revenue (ARR), mostly from China. 
Companies representing over $30 billion in market value are already using Eko.
Eko raised $5.7 million in a Series A financing round, led by Asia-based venture-capital firm Gobi Partners, which focuses on early-stage digital media, information technology and TMT (telecom, media and technology) companies. 
Several previous investors also participated in the round. Eko will use this investment to expand into key markets, enhance marketing efforts and bring on new talent. 
Korawad is still a student at Columbia University but has taken leave for a while to focus on his company. Even though he is an heir of a large conglomerate, Charoen Pokphand Group, he said he began his own start-up without any assistance from his family. 
“One of the most important advantages I think we have is a psychological one. That is, the firm belief that we can get to our goal, but that it’s not going to be easy,” Korawad said. 
Early last year, Eko Communications received its initial $1 million in seed financing. Before that, the company received pre-seed funding from Tigerlabs Ventures, as part of an accelerator programme. 
“Our first funding was about $20,000 from a business accelerator programme in New Jersey, where more than 200 companies pitched. We were among seven firms that received the funding,” Korawad said.
He explained that Eko was specifically designed for workplace communications. It combines the organisational power of e-mail with the simplicity and speed of mobile messaging. 
“Messages can be arranged by topic, thread or group, while Eko [has] easy-to-use search features and cross-device synchronisation. Each employee is automatically added to a company-wide directory, which allows users to learn more about their colleagues, including title, function, status and more.” 
Other signature app features include enterprise-grade encryption and security, a broadcast system to send out mass messages to specific groups and an in-chat “gamified” peer-to-peer recognition system that allows employees to praise and reward colleagues for their efforts. 
“It is customisable, allowing customers to use their own colour schemes, logos, icons and added features in the app interface. Data can be hosted at the customer’s server or at our server, on the Amazon Cloud. We believe there is ample room for enterprise-grade mobile communication platforms like Eko to thrive in the connected workplace,” Korawad said.
Eko is available for iOS, Android and the Web. It costs between $1 and $10 per user per month depending on features. It also offers free trials for between 60 and 90 days, as it wants to spread the platform and scale up the number of users.
He said his dream was to build Eko Communications to be a unicorn start-up by next year. 
“Eko Communications is not built for sale. We think only about how to scale it to be larger over the next 10 years. The possible option is to do an initial public offering rather than sell it.” 
By next year, he said, it aims to have ARR of between $6 million and $7 million. 
“It is ambitious but it is possible.” 
Eko is set to be the platform for enterprises that can be connected with other software systems, and communication will be only one module under the Eko platform. 
Eko Communications is led by a team of young, ambitious business professionals and experienced enterprise-solution experts. Apart from Korawad as founder and CEO, it also has David Zhang as chief technology officer and Bernie Tay as the chief operating officer and chief marketing officer.
Eko now plans to expand operations in Southeast and East Asia, with a particular focus on China. The company will also look to hire new employees, as well as enhance its business development and marketing efforts.
Korawad is still a student at Columbia University but has taken leave for a while to focus on his company. Even though he is an heir of a large conglomerate, Charoen Pokphand Group, he said he began his start-up without any assistance from his family. 
“Nothing great comes easily. And so in that sense, no matter how hard it gets, we can’t give up. Thai start-ups need to believe they can go global, fight for it, and recognise it will take time and work, but they shouldn’t give up,” Korawad said.