Myanmar’s first social network to launch

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Rita Nguyen, SQUAR’s CEO and co-counder

Myanmar will get a glimpse at a pioneer Burmese-language social media platform on July 1 when SQUAR, a social network built for local consumers, officially goes live on the web and for mobile devices.

Initially targeted at urbanites in Yangon and other city centers, the new social network is being envisioned as an online marketplace for Myanmar, a country in which about 70 per cent of its citizens subsist from the agricultural sector.

“SQUAR is probably closer to a Google plus community than anything else,” CEO and co-founder Rita Nguyen told Inside Investor in a phone interview, giving a comparison.

“Facebook is really great if you have a lot friends online, but we are trying to build a destination. If you are a parent and you want to find diapers, for example, this will be a place to do it and share it with each other,” Nguyen, a Canadian citizen, added.

With no existing equivalent in the Myanmar market, SQUAR has already gathered a passionate following. The social network’s Facebook page hit nearly 18,000 likes just one week after it was created.  A beta version of SQUAR was released on June 15 for the Google Play store, with around 350 Burmese-language testers already at work.

In the rush to tap the oft-touted 60 million potential consumers of the former pariah nation, SQUAR’s launch has been conveniently scheduled for a date just after the Myanmar government is expected to announce the winner of highly coveted telecommunications licenses, for which some of the world’s largest operators have lined up to spend billions.

The forthcoming extension of the operators’ contracts is no menial moment in the Southeast Asian country’s transformational campaign either – its already interminable raft of political and business reform notwithstanding.

The winner will play an overarching role in boosting Myanmar’s current mobile penetration rate of about 9 per cent, accounting for 5.44 million mobile-phone subscribers as of January, to catch up with its neighbors Cambodia at 70 per cent and Thailand with over 100 per cent.

“With the awarding of the telco licenses at the end of this week, people in rural regions will be able to get SIM cards for the first time,” Nguyen noted. Most pointedly, the occasion will then give her social network the bridge needed to reach the majority of the country’s population.

“We are planning to get to rural areas with a local conglomerate, which we cannot name yet. They are planning to release 40 million SIM cards.”

SquarBehind the curtain

In Myanmar, the telecommunications sector is still run by the government, which in 2011, spearheaded by President Thein Sein, went through an epiphany that started a torrent of measures to liberalise the country.

However, the embedded military junta still holds swing from behind the curtains in Naypyidaw’s upper echelons of power, the country’s secluded capital, built in its remoteness on whims that pander to ostentation and apprehension of the outside world.

When dealing with business on the ground level at the rural level in Myanmar, interactions with the military are near unavoidable.

But such has been the “top-down evolution” of Thein Sein’s reforms that SQUAR remains confident that the country will remain committed. Perhaps most tellingly, Myanmar, the poorest country in ASEAN, has already stepped ahead of its neighbours in terms of easing censorship.

“Censorship laws in Vietnam are stricter than what you are seeing in Myanmar today,” Nguyen observed.

If there is anything worth touting about Myanmar’s consumer potential, perhaps this is it.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rita Nguyen, SQUAR’s CEO and co-counder

Myanmar will get a glimpse at a pioneer Burmese-language social media platform on July 1 when SQUAR, a social network built for local consumers, officially goes live on the web and for mobile devices.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

rita ngyuen1
Rita Nguyen, SQUAR’s CEO and co-counder

Myanmar will get a glimpse at a pioneer Burmese-language social media platform on July 1 when SQUAR, a social network built for local consumers, officially goes live on the web and for mobile devices.

Initially targeted at urbanites in Yangon and other city centers, the new social network is being envisioned as an online marketplace for Myanmar, a country in which about 70 per cent of its citizens subsist from the agricultural sector.

“SQUAR is probably closer to a Google plus community than anything else,” CEO and co-founder Rita Nguyen told Inside Investor in a phone interview, giving a comparison.

“Facebook is really great if you have a lot friends online, but we are trying to build a destination. If you are a parent and you want to find diapers, for example, this will be a place to do it and share it with each other,” Nguyen, a Canadian citizen, added.

With no existing equivalent in the Myanmar market, SQUAR has already gathered a passionate following. The social network’s Facebook page hit nearly 18,000 likes just one week after it was created.  A beta version of SQUAR was released on June 15 for the Google Play store, with around 350 Burmese-language testers already at work.

In the rush to tap the oft-touted 60 million potential consumers of the former pariah nation, SQUAR’s launch has been conveniently scheduled for a date just after the Myanmar government is expected to announce the winner of highly coveted telecommunications licenses, for which some of the world’s largest operators have lined up to spend billions.

The forthcoming extension of the operators’ contracts is no menial moment in the Southeast Asian country’s transformational campaign either – its already interminable raft of political and business reform notwithstanding.

The winner will play an overarching role in boosting Myanmar’s current mobile penetration rate of about 9 per cent, accounting for 5.44 million mobile-phone subscribers as of January, to catch up with its neighbors Cambodia at 70 per cent and Thailand with over 100 per cent.

“With the awarding of the telco licenses at the end of this week, people in rural regions will be able to get SIM cards for the first time,” Nguyen noted. Most pointedly, the occasion will then give her social network the bridge needed to reach the majority of the country’s population.

“We are planning to get to rural areas with a local conglomerate, which we cannot name yet. They are planning to release 40 million SIM cards.”

SquarBehind the curtain

In Myanmar, the telecommunications sector is still run by the government, which in 2011, spearheaded by President Thein Sein, went through an epiphany that started a torrent of measures to liberalise the country.

However, the embedded military junta still holds swing from behind the curtains in Naypyidaw’s upper echelons of power, the country’s secluded capital, built in its remoteness on whims that pander to ostentation and apprehension of the outside world.

When dealing with business on the ground level at the rural level in Myanmar, interactions with the military are near unavoidable.

But such has been the “top-down evolution” of Thein Sein’s reforms that SQUAR remains confident that the country will remain committed. Perhaps most tellingly, Myanmar, the poorest country in ASEAN, has already stepped ahead of its neighbours in terms of easing censorship.

“Censorship laws in Vietnam are stricter than what you are seeing in Myanmar today,” Nguyen observed.

If there is anything worth touting about Myanmar’s consumer potential, perhaps this is it.

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