Matt Meets Asia: Bangkok Edition
When you first arrive into Bangkok, you will experience a few things: Heat, hustle, and humanity. Oh, and a huge language barrier of course. (You’ll find yourself pointing to a map on your mobile phone quite often.)
With these differences in cultural norms, one might assume the tech scene in Bangkok, Thailand could be nothing short of endangered. To many’s surprise, mainly my own, the industry is BOOMING, and creating more than just noise.
To get to our event I caught a ride on the back of a local motorcycle taxi to avoid the bumper-to-bumper traffic. We hummed between “parked” cars, and pedestrians without fear. I eventually arrived to the venue, paid the extraordinarily kind driver, and grabbed a quick bite beforehand; fried chicken from a street vendor and a can of juice to wash it down. This was a culture much different than my own, but I was prepared to put another AngelHack hackathon under my belt. More importantly, I was prepared to engage my curiosity, and open up my eyes to the startup scene Bangkok had created from scratch.
As these young, and passionate individuals stepped into the main room where our event was being held, their eyes lit up with images of startup success stories they have read about on Facebook or saw on Youtube. Their chance at leaving the economic gap that existed here, to turn their ideas into something tangible, was the engine that could introduce them to a whole new world. A world I knew something about.
At our event, I began to speak with programmers, designers, and developers at AngelHack Bangkok. I heard stories of startups that already had influence in the community, I heard stories of kids with parents who were farmers and pushed their way to the city, I heard stories of young teenagers with dreams to influence their local community with the slight chance to impact a global audience. Knowing that AngelHack, the company I was here with, had an opportunity to change lives with startup culture, here, was something else. I was able to witness the difference between the fancy tech ecosystem I’m a part of in Los Angeles, with this Thai version. It made me think, and this new culture was teasing my mind with opportunity.
On Saturday, developers, designers, and entrepreneurs began to line up outside the door. They entered one by one as the morning dragged through humidity and streetside chaos. Individuals began taking their seats for the opening ceremony that would take place. By 10:30am, the room was packed with 150 hackers…
The ceremony went on, and the hacking began. Many stayed all day and what was most surprising, overnight. At most hackathons, teams go home and come back in the morning. Here, we had almost every single team stay and push through the night. The heat from warm computers and programmers turned the room into a sauna. Teams continued to push through until the sun began to peer into the windows, which signaled it was nap time.
On Sunday, the heat was immense, but our hackers kept working their way down to the final hours of the competition. Once the clock struck 1:00, the room roared in relief that projects had been completed before the well known “code freeze”. Teams lounged and began to drink anything cool they could find until judges took their seats, and demos began.
Teams came onto stage one by one, fiddled with the AV, and gave their all to excite the crowd about their innovation that they had worked on all weekend. After all the teams had given their two minute pitches, the judges took refuge in glass room away from the eager “AngelHackers”.
I could ramble about the excitement that occurred at this time, but there was little of that being that all of our attendees were standing on pins and needles awaiting the judges’ decisions.
The judges exited the room with the winners in their minds, as the crowd got back to their seats once more. The first prize was a local sponsor prize, an iPad air provided by SCB, to Stock2Day for their fintech application. Third place, the winner of two tickets to Hubba, a local co-working space, was SplitTrip. Second place, and the proud winner of IBM Bluemix cloud credit was Farmasia; an app that sought to become the Etrade for local farmers and their organic crops. Last but definitely not least, was the winner of the competition, Parsley!! A new approach on creating personalized blogs such as Strikingly, and built on the notorious programming language Scala. The team’s astonishing duo, Peerapat Asoktummarungsri and Vee Trairattanapa, took the win by complete surprise and were thrilled for the win in true hacker fashion as he leaves us with this:
“I just wanted to make something cool. I didn’t come here to win…”
How to sum up this kind of an experience is beyond what I can type on my keyboard for you all to see. I was able to learn that Bangkok has become an influencer in South-East Asia with the help of its ex-pat friendly town, and overwhelmingly accepting culture. I learned about the Westerners that are bringing ideas into these borders, and Thai natives who are taking it further by creating solutions and collaborating for the sake of their local communities. I found more than a new culture here, I found a revitalizing passion for startups that I hadn’t seen in awhile.