In front of a flat on a quiet street in Phnom Penh, 24 year old Kong Soliya (known as Jay) is giving instructions to another man, who leaves quickly on his green motorbike. Behind him is a row of several green motor bikes equipped with big storage boxes behind the drivers’ seat. This is the “office” of a startup company ‘Joonaak’, meaning Deliver To You in Khmer, where Jay is the CEO and a co-founder. Joonaak Delivery offers services to small and medium enterprises and online businesses to deliver products to their customers.
Jay is one of a growing number of young CEOs his age in Cambodia. While looking up client data to facilitate a delivery, Jay said it was not easy reaching this point. He describes how he and three cousins came up with the business idea, saying, “We were on trip with the big family and the other members were playing a card game. ¬We went away to talk about anything we could think of. At one point we came across a common challenge faced by us as well as other online stores — product delivery.”
“Without Startup weekend, we could not have reached this point,” Jay explains. “Either the idea could have moved forward slowly because there would be no family and finance support, or the idea could be scrapped away.”
Startup Weekend, known by the tagline “No Talk, All Action”, is a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities and provide a space where anyone can come to share ideas, form teams to identify business needs, and launch startup businesses. In 2014, Kong Jay teamed up with his cousins to pitch their business idea at Startup Weekend, held at USAID’s Development Innovations. The idea won the second place award, beating out more than ten others.
With above 7% economic growth annually according to World Bank, Cambodia is considered as one of the fast-growing economies in South-East Asia. Most young people in the kingdom only dream of finding good jobs in the future, and decent employment is a challenge as 17.7 of Cambodia’s 15 million people are making less than $1.25 per day (2012). Economic experts suggests small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs are key to solve the problem, but most Cambodian youth do not learn about how to run business unless they grow up in business families. Seeing that gap and in hopes of supporting the next generation of ICT-enabled start-ups, USAID’s Development Innovations project provided both financial and technical support to the last two Startup Weekends.
“Startup Weekend mainly helps break an old perception that young people just need to go to school and work; [that is the only way] they can make a change or a difference. The win helped break our family barrier by proving that the idea could work [outside the traditional structures]. It also encouraged us that the idea has a strong potential of success and allowed us to meet an investor to back us financially. With initial investment of $30,000, Joonaak was launched in early 2015 and received an additional $15,000 in investment as the company grew.” Jay said. He added, “Our investor decided to invest after hearing about the project from his staff who had joined Startup Weekend.”
Joonaak is now growing faster than Jay’s expectation with more than 10 staff and ever increasing demand serving 48 stores and companies with an average of 50 deliveries per day. As internet access and smartphone use expands across Cambodia, young people will continue to turn to online businesses for cheaper, more agile business investments. What will happen at the next Startup Weekend? Check out the program for January 2016 at Cambodia Startup Weekend.