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The Numbers Behind Starting A Business In Thailand


I’ve spent the past year and a half of my life in Thailand, and the past 2 and a half years in different parts of SE Asia.

Coming from the UK, I’ve spent at least a small amount of time in Indonesia (Bali), Phillipines, Vietnam and most recently, Thailand.

The International Entrepreneurs Mission

My modus oporendi in a new foreign land usually involves meeting up with other travellers and entrepreneurs, scoping out the startup scenes, getting a feel for where market opportunities lie and generally just soaking in the vibe of each place.

The question I’m left with after travelling most of SE Asia with an ‘entrepreneurial eye‘ is simply:

Why Would You Start A Business Anywhere Else?

MergePay is a Thailand based business. Beyond the lifestyle benefits for a foreigner living here, which is what most people assume people head to SE Asia for, the financial numbers behind starting a business in this part of the world makes it pretty close to a no-brainer.

As a team or an individual trying to build or grow something valuable, which I assume is the intention of most entrepreneurs and business owners, a large barrier to growth is what’s commonly known as lifestyle overhead.

Lifestyle Overhead

This is the personal cost –in time, energy, and hard cash– of simply existing on a day to day basis. Buying and preparing daily meals, access to social circles, life maintenance tasks like mowing the lawn and keeping your house tidy/in order – these are all tasks that can take up a siginificant amount of time, energy and of course cash.

If you use MergePay to track your personal income and outgoings (bills and expenses) then the ‘burn number’ shown on your dashboard partially shows your monetary lifestyle overhead, or at least what disposable income your overhead leaves you with at the end of the day/month/year.

But your burn number only shows a small part of the picture. The real overhead that comes with your lifestyle is your energy and time. I’m talking about your executive energy and those precious hours of flow that we experience from time to time. Combined, these elements are what lead to real change: in your life and those around you, in your business, for your plans and projects and so much more.

A 2-3 hour commute to the office would be considered expensive in terms of lifestyle overhead. It’s essentially down time, with an added dose of energy depletion thrown in.

Where The Real Value Lies In Starting A SE Asia Based Business

The real value in running a business from SE Asia does not really come from saving cash, although that is pretty easy for a western minded individual to do here. If you’re arriving from a city like San Fransisco, the comparative costs of accomodation and food in Thailand will blow your mind.

In many parts of SE Asia, the money you save on major costs like accomodation and food are often spent on convenience instead. It is the sheer availability of convenience that makes running a business in Thailand so appealing. Two quick examples from MergePay HQs location:

  • Twice a week house cleaner – $80 to $100 a month
  • Full time cook (2/3 delicious meals a day) – $150-$200 a month

One area in particular makes SE Asia a complete no-brainer for start up and small businesses: availability and access to extremely affordable work space, offices and co-working spaces.

Stay tuned for part two, where we break down the numbers behind work spaces and offices in Asia.


Business Fires


Business, at any level, can be likened to running around constantly putting out fires, trying to keep a metaphorical ball rolling.

This analogy can be tied to the act of financial awareness and pro-activeness; often the biggest fire of all for most businesses but the one most businesses way under-priortize and have the least time for.

When running your businesses, there are the vital fires and the “oh, hey there” constantly occurring mini-fires. The latter will take up most of your energy and time as you try to put them out. The former are key to your business running smoothly, but can often go forgotten as the business focuses on the constantly occurring mini-fires.

Mini-fires include:

  • Manufacturing issues
  • Customer complaints
  • New business/department development
  • Networking
  • “Research”
  • Staff management

While these things are important, in that they come together to form the cogs and pulleys powering a business forward, it is common for entrepreneurs to fall into a constant trap of busyness, not really progressing but working their proverbial butts off to just keep everything running.

I have personally fallen prey to this trap both in and outside my work for MergePay, and I still do. It was a poster that proudly hangs on our walls at MergePay HQ, made by the fine folks over at StartupVitamins, that made me reconsider this “headless chicken” approach to operating a business.

In it, Jack Dersey, co-founder of Twitter states:

“You have to make every single detail perfect and you have to limit the number of details”

It’s the 80/20 approach to business operations: establish what the vital fires are in your business and become an expert at extinguishing those bad boys.

Vital fires include:

  • Financial management
  • Sales
  • Listening to customers

It is extremely easy to let the day-to-day operations of a business cloud the reality that all businesses are built on simple principles: providing value, selling and not going broke.

A panel we carried out at MergePay, where we asked entrepreneurs what separates businesses that fail from businesses that succeed, confirmed this; successful business owners told us that if you can just provide enough value to a market, get your product in front of people who will buy and survive long enough as a company/entrepreneur… you just might succeed!

Perfecting The Fire Extinguishing Process

At MergePay, our goal is to make the process of financial management and awareness as frictionless as possible. If we could, we’d arrange for a personal minion to follow you around, record every transaction, bill and expense you received and whisper key metrics in your ear whenever the question of “how is my business doing” even crossed your mind. But personal minions are expensive, and arranging suitable living conditions is a messy process, so we decided to offer the next best thing.

We make everything from recording the expense of your business dinner and setting up upcoming payment notices for monthly bills, through to viewing all your key financial numbers, as simple as possible.

As Jack Dorsey says, “limit the number of details

This is the secret to becoming an expert fire extinguisher. You have to do whatever you can to make the processes as simple, easy and seamless as possible.

peer to peer money lending

Peer To Peer Lending


The last in our series of banking system alternative posts is on peer to peer money lending, a popular solution to borrowers unable to use traditional lending methods and lenders looking for non-traditional investment avenues.

Prosper and Lending Club

Prosper wants to “connect people who want to invest money with people who want to borrow money”. They, and a slew of new peer-to-peer money lending services like Lending Club and Zopa, are doing this through of money lending marketplaces where you can lend money to individuals around the world without going through a financial intermediary such as a bank or other traditional financial institution.

Borrowers, who might need money to buy a car or for mortgage payments, complete an online application, and their creditworthiness determines the interest rate of any potential loan. Most of the time, the interest rates offered are generally lower than those of credit cards. The P2P companies then match the borrowers with lenders willing to risk funding the loan.

As a borrower, P2P lending sites offer a great alternative to traditional banks, and often offer better rates and repayment terms. For lenders, P2P lending is becoming a pretty solid investment vehicle, which can be a lot more profitable and secure (as long as you manage risk properly) then traditional long term investment vehicles like 401k’s.

There is some great information available about lending on these peer to peer markets for fun and profit, check out Mr Money Mustache for one of my personal favourites.

The Alternative Currency


We’ve been following a ‘traditional banking alternatives’ trend here on the MergePay blog, you can see our previous posts on Simple banking, our new favorite bank, and the cheaper alternative to international currency transfers TransferWire in our archives.

Today, we want to cover the very popular topic of BitCoin – a digital currency that has been gaining a lot of traction recently.

The Digital Currency: Bitcoin

The subject of a lot of controversy over the past year or so, Bitcoin is a new kind of money. Essentially, it’s a decentralised electronic currency that’s not controlled by a single organization or government.

As a digital currency, Bitcoin is completely distributed. The network of users is made up of users like yourself so no bank or payment processor is required between you and whoever you’re trading with. This decentralization is the basis for Bitcoin’s security and freedom.

With it’s focus on anonymity, security and independence from government or regulatory organisations, Bitcoin is becoming (in)famous for it’s suspected usage in illegal, narcotics and black market purchases.

Bitcoin is also being heralded as the saviour for dying economies and currencies on the verge of seeing massive fluctuations in value. Europeans, Cypriots in particular, are well aware of the ongoing financial crisis and we have all been given a stark reminder that governments, as well as banks, can fail (as if the recession wasn’t enough). Talks of the worlds first Bitcoin ATM being set up in Cyrus suggests the currency becoming a shield against bank shutdowns and Government cotastraphies that previously would have destroyed the common man financially.

For businesses, especially online companies that operate in areas where payment providers are known to steer clear, leaving the company without no way accept payments, Bitcoin is now proven enough to be used as a payment method. Because Bitcoin conducts transactions peer-to-peer, there’s no intermediary to prevent the funds from rolling in.

For more information on Bitcoin, visit WeUseCoins.com and LifeHacker’s excellent summary of the currency. An up & coming, and fairly easy to use bitcoin wallet is Coin Base.

Foreign Currency Transfer Alternatives

Cheaper Foreign Currency Transfers


Following on from the previous post on alternatives to traditional banking systems highlighting simple.com and their high tech, service-based approach to banking; today’s post covers a cheaper and easier alternative to a major profit center for the banks of old – international money transfers.


I hated sending money abroad through bank transfers, it would always cost more then I expected, especially when I factored in the banks skewed exchange rate and quirky fees. So I was relieved to come across TransferWise, who aim to revolutionise the way we transfer money abroad.

Started by Skype’s first employee Taavet Hinrikus and his partner Kristo Kaarmann, Transferwise is a platform that gives anyone access to the same mid-market exchange rates that banks get on their interbank market, with TransferWise charging a flat fee of £1 for each transaction regardless of the amount being exchanged.

Keep in mind that traditionally, consumers pay between 3-6% for foreign currency payments through their bank. Transferwise highest fees are way below that, and they have a simple, online interface to manage it all.

It is definitely worth looking at Transferwise as a an alternative to expensive foreign currency transfers offered by traditional banks. Check them out at TransferWise.com

Simple Banking VISA Card

Alternatives to Traditional Banking Systems


Here at MergePay, we’re all about simple and frictionless solutions to everyday problems. Collaborating on various documents through Google Docs, quickly sharing interface screenshots for our new iOS app through Dropbox (just a heads up, the new app looks awesome!) and instantly clipping relevant notes we find to evernote; there’s no better feeling then finding new workflows and systems that save you time and just make your life easier.

I’m starting to find, and you might have noticed this as well, that innovation outside of the tech space is all about simplifying, clarifying and removing friction. Instant, digital delivery of pretty much any type of media. Automated taxi systems that make use of the GPS functionality of your phone to find the nearest cab. 2 minute Coffee Lattes. Building relationships through 140 character messages on Twitter. Everything we do nowadays is quick and seamless.

Most people have everything they need, as working men and women, most of our base needs are covered. What we don’t have a lot of, however, is time (and subsequently, patience). If the American dream of old was built upon the pursuit of happiness and security, the new American dream is focused on building upon strong foundations and optimisation.

With all of this streamlining of previously clunky processes, why has the banking system remained so stale?

A flurry of new businesses and platforms have entered the scene as of late, aiming to change the way we look at and handle money. Over a series of insightful posts, we are going to cover a few of our favourite bank and financial system alternatives. First up, Simple:

Simple Banking

Billed as the “worry-free alternative to traditional banking”, Simple has a goal of providing features you care about and excellent customer support… in other words: the things most banks do terribly.

Simple aims to remove worries about fees, always keep you aware of how much money you have, and alert you about changes instantly. They do this by offering customers free checking accounts and data-rich analysis of their transactions and spending habits.

You sign up, receive a Simple VISA card that you can use to withdraw cash from an ATM or make purchases like you would with any bank debit card.

The real fun starts when you begin to see instant updates and alerts on your iPhone or Android. The mobile apps also has features like ‘Safe to Spend’, which tells you exactly how much money you can spend right now, Photo Check Deposit which allows you to deposit checks using your smartphone’s camera and Smart Transaction History which tags where, on what and if any tips or fees where added to your transactions. Simple’s web app offers a powerful search tool which ties into this to locate any transaction based on several factors.

The best part about Simple; it integrates seamlessly with MergePay to track and monitor all of your bills and expenses. Request an invitation at http://simple.com