Serving all sectors of society through entrepreneurship

While it’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to dip their toes into different pools, Tribodi Arunanondchai’s entrepreneurship journey has been somewhat unusual.

Early in his career, when he was primarily engaged in private equity investments, he was on the lookout for promising F&B and hospitality ventures, before striking gold with ChowHaus Restaurant, a high-end Thai eatery in Shanghai that proved popular among local businesspeople.

Arunanondchai said, “I’ve always had strong professional and personal passions. My professional passions lie in the financial services and technology sector, while my personal passions have traditionally included food and travel — the latter possibly stemming from the fact that my family has enjoyed success in the hospitality and real estate industries.”

It was in fact his family’s success amid Thailand’s 2010 tourism boom that spurred him to launch Privépass , an online luxury travel club designed as a one-stop shop for flight and hotel bookings, as well as concierge services, private tours and other amenities.

Seeing the light

After running ChowHaus and Privépass for about two years, Arunanondchai moved back to Bangkok to became a venture partner — alongside Lightnet co-founder Chatchaval Jiavaranon — at Kejora Venture, one of the region’s leading venture capital funds, known for its profitable investments in fintech.

“I was particularly intrigued and impressed by one investment it had made in the digital lending space, which enabled people to take an advance on their salaries. Lots of migrant workers took advantage of this service to send money to their families in their home countries and this piqued my interest in the wider money transfer and remittance industry,” he said.

“With the aim of being a trailblazer in the future of international payments, I eventually entered a joint venture with CP Group, Stellar Foundation and Interstellar to form Lightnet. The company was able to attract backing from several world-class conglomerates and Lightnet as we know it today was born.”

He added that Lightnet aims to utilize blockchain to remove middlemen while executing real-time transactions, leverage the notions of decentralized exchange and digital fiat to provide people with access to the most competitive exchange rates, and develop a truly interoperable network capable of connecting to money in any form, touch-points in any location, and financial networks of any kind.

“Lightnet’s vision is to break barriers and eliminate any distinction between cross-border payments and domestic payments.

“When someone sends an email to recipients located overseas, we simply consider it an email, and not an ‘international’ email. I feel payments should be treated the same way, and our goal for Lightnet is to enable frictionless cross-border transactions,” said Arunanondchai.

Filling the innovation gap

He also believes that Lightnet can help put in motion a “revolutionary disruption” of APAC’s financial services industry after a long innovative drought in the sector due to large organizations being stuck in a rut.

Prior to blockchain, he noted, the last significant innovation in the industry was SWIFT. Since then, however, blockchain has highlighted the need to remove intermediaries in financial services.

He said, “Middlemen account for much of the costs in the industry, making financial services less inclusive than they should be. Additionally, while financial services are complex by nature, no platform has managed to create a unifying network capable of moving money in its many forms across multiple networks.

“However, after only 10 years, blockchain in trade finance is making strides, with increasing usage by corporations and governments. Many banks are now talking about blockchain, and several large institutions are adopting the concept of cryptocurrency.

“It is just a matter of time before the industry reaches an inflection point and blockchain enters into mainstream use. I firmly believe that fintech / blockchain will disrupt the status quo, much like how e-commerce disrupted the traditional retail space.”

Best practices for best results

Arunanondchai credits his entrepreneurial success so far to his “five-prong approach”, which begins with identifying a role model “with the right character traits to inspire you with regards to the goals you’d like to achieve”.

Next, he said, it is vital to formulate an actionable, long-term plan outlining how to reach one’s goal. “An action plan will provide you with a clear idea of how to achieve your personal goals. To be effective, your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.”

The third step is to find the right mentor by making connections with those who can steer one in the right direction: “With the right mentor, you can maximize your potential to reach your goals more quickly while learning from your mentor’s successes and failures.”

Fourthly, one should build trust and protect his reputation: “Building trust should be a strategic goal, especially in the early stages of entrepreneurship. When you succeed in building trust, you will quickly attract more customers who will spread the word about your business.”

Last but not least, the ability to take control is paramount.All entrepreneurs need to be able to control their financial resources, team and company. Passion alone is not enough as leadership is defined by execution. To control your destiny, you need to be able to manage your tasks and your team efficiently.”

The future of fintech

 

Arunanondchai believes the size of the tech market in Southeast Asia will eventually match that of China’s. Already, the region’s mobile phone and Internet access penetration is almost 100%, which will continue as its population keeps rising, with nearly one billion people at present.

Southeast Asia’s interconnectivity also means migrant workers are expected to make up almost 30% of the region’s population in the near future. By this token, Southeast Asia will function as a bridge between China / India and the West.

Arunanondchai said, “With the region’s increasingly robust and integrated infrastructure, we will witness an increase in up-and-coming entrepreneurs. In fact, fintech has the potential to become the biggest sector and to trigger the next wave of growth in SEA.

“In Thailand alone, the banking sector is valued at approximately US$100 billion, while the unbanked sector is likely valued at twice that amount. If anyone can control both these sectors, they will be able to create a US$300 billion market cap.”

Even amid the COVID-19 crisis, Arunanondchai is confident Lightnet — and fintech in general — will remain resilient.

“In every crisis lies an opportunity. In 1997, the Asian economic crisis saw Thailand come out stronger. In 2008, Thailand once again prevailed amid the financial crisis brought about by the Lehman Brothers’ collapse,” he said.

Though COVID-19 has reduced international consumption in the region, people have responded by boosting domestic consumption, spurring entrepreneurs to innovate in new ways to keep serving the market.

Arunanondchai concluded: “Driven by a strong desire to stay afloat, I’m convinced we will witness many new entrepreneurs thrive post-COVID-19. They will benefit from stronger domestic consumption and create innovative solutions to improve peoples’ lives.

“I believe the future of fintech in SEA generally and Thailand specifically is incredibly bright, despite the current bleak economy.”

Helena Ma brings with her a wealth of experience and a truly cosmopolitan perspective, having lived and worked in Shanghai, China; Gothenburg, Sweden; and London, UK. Her stints in Europe and China has armed Helena with a potent blend of ancient Chinese wisdom and contemporary Western knowledge which she incorporates into business management and client project