Why Laos? With Benjamin Soo
Laos is a country that does not attract much attention globally, so I grabbed Benjamin Soo (based in Vientiane) to hear more about life in Laos and the opportunities & challenges for foreign startups and businesses in Laos.
From a macro point of view, Laos has several challenges, the main ones being a small population of 7 million people and the landlocked nature of the country preventing ease of international trade.
Although it has a reputation for being one of the poorest countries in Asia, it was one of the fastest growing nations in the world pre-COVID, with a growth rate of ~7% annually since 2000.
Surrounded by some of the fastest growing countries in the world, Laos has an opportunity to position itself to take advantage of this. Recent infrastructure projects like the new China-Laos railway will help improve connectivity and trade.
About Benjamin Soo & Why He Returned to Laos
Born in Malaysia, Ben moved to his mother’s home country of Laos in high school and got inspired to bring about positive change after seeing so much poverty. He went through a long soul searching journey to figure out what he could do to bring about the most impact to create jobs and opportunities for locals.
Based in Vientiane, Ben eventually pursued entrepreneurship and co-founded an upscale construction business, Modern Lao Homes and a SE Asian import/export business for Australian goods called Bunnasia. Websites here:
- Bunnasia: bunnasia.com
- Bunnasia FB Page: facebook.com/bunnasialaos
- Modern Lao Homes: modernlaohomes.com
- Moden Lao Homes FB Page: facebook.com/modernlaohomes
In this podcast episode (timestamps below), we chat about:
- Taking over a failing French restaurant in Laos
- Starting a premium construction business with limited experience
- Selling Australian goods in Laos & Thailand
- The current startup ecosystem in Laos
- The attraction of Laos for foreigners, investors & startups.
Timestamps & Topics
I hope you enjoy the episode and learn a little more about Laos in the process! I enjoyed hearing about Ben’s convoluted journey and his altruistic reasons for becoming an entrepreneur.
Feel free to follow him on Instagram or any of his company profiles like LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/bensoo/
- 0:00 Intro
- 1:36: Ben’s Intro
Benjamin Soo’s Laos Journey – Starting a business / startup
- 3:53: Why entrepreneurship in Laos? Ben’s entrepreneurial journey from Malaysia to Laos.
- 11:05: How did Modern Lao Homes start?
- 14:30: How did Bunnasia (Australian import/export business) start?
- 17:14: What’s the attraction of Laos for startups or investors (if any)?
What to expect as a foreigner?
- 20:45: What sort of expats / foreigners move to Laos? What to expect as a foreigner?
- 26:30: What is the startup ecosystem like in Laos? Chinese & Thai investors?
- 28:45: Do many overseas Laotians or Laotian diaspora move back to Laos?
- 31:30: Ben’s background growing up half Laotian / half Chinese Malaysian
- 33:50: Can you navigate Laos just speaking English?
- 35:50: Major challenges for Laos regarding business and its economy?
- 38:55: What is the nightlife like in Laos? Ben’s day to day life?
Ben’s future & conclusion
- 43:00: Would Ben go back to Malaysia?
- 46:00: Advice for young people & aspiring entrepreneurs
- 50:30: Ben’s personal goals in Laos for the next 5-10 years & conclusion