Revolution of Necessity | Doing Development Different: Koe Koe Tech
EPISODE FOUR

DOING DEVELOPMENT DIFFERENTLY - TRANSCRIPT

"It doesn't feel like work. It's just this really interesting, rewarding, complicated set of problems that I chip away at"

—Yarzar Minn Htoo
& Michael Lwin

Listen to the episode on:

Michael Lwin: We literally would have had a million downloads by now, which would have been a really nice success story from Myanmar.

David Madden: How many downloads you have now?

Michael Lwin: I think it’s 40,000. So, Google's gotta fix this. It would be close to a revolution for Myanmar if Google added Burmese language support, eliminated the email requirement, you just had to enter your phone number and that would be a game changer.

David Madden: Silicon Valley likes to say that it’s making the world a better place, but that’s mostly bullshit.

 

The problems that most famous tech companies are solving aren’t real “problems”.

 

But in other parts of the world there are entrepreneurs who are building things that are actually changing people’s lives in very practical ways.

 

That’s what this podcast is about.

 

I’m David Madden. Welcome to the “Revolution of Necessity”.

 

On this podcast we share the stories of tech entrepreneurs in developing countries. These are people who are innovating in places where technology could genuinely make the world a better place.

 

This podcast is supported by Omidyar Network. Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm set up by the guy who created eBay, Pierre Omidyar, and his wife Pam.

 

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Each week, nearly 6,000 women die during childbirth or from complications with their pregnancies - all over the world.

 

In Myanmar the situation is really bad.

 

One of Myanmar's most successful startups is tackling the problem head on. Their popular app Maymay provides pregnant women with health updates, reminds them about appointments, connects them with local doctors and also with other pregnant women in their communities.

 

The two cousins behind Maymay have an unusual back story. We’ll get to that in a second.

 

Now, myanmar in 2018 has a long way to go. after nearly five decades of inept military rule, the country is impoverished and the infrastructure is a mess.

 

Mike Lwin, one of the co-founders of Koe Koe tech - that‘s the company behind this popular app- explains it like this:

Michael Lwin: All these little things right? So. When Myanmar, I have five friends who've fallen into holes in the ground and they've fallen into live sewage, right, this is not like a…

David Madden: Just walking around the city.

Michael Lwin: Just walking around. So, you have to constantly look at the ground because Lord knows what's going to happen to you (laughs). And then every year and it's really tragic, every year a few people die because they get electrocuted during rainy season when there's standing water and then there's exposed power cables just dipped into the water puddle and you know, this year, there was like a couple teenagers and an older person died, they just stepped in the puddle.

David Madden: Just walking on the street.

Michael Lwin: Just walking on the street.

David Madden: Mike grew up in the US. His parents were doctors and immigrated from Myanmar in the 1970's. He had a comfortable life, went to a prestigious law school and landed a job at a corporate law firm.

 

His cousin Yar Zar Minn Htoo had a very different life growing up in Myanmar. He loved electronics, wanted to be an engineer, but computers in Myanmar were …. expensive and hard to get. Because he was smart, Yar Zar was encouraged to go to medical school. He became a doctor, but on the side, he taught himself how to code. Found books, borrowed computers.

 

He had big dreams.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: I wanted to live in the US and I went to get a good job in the US, but the dream is totally reversed. (Laugh)

David Madden: That dream he says... totally reversed.

So in 2009 Mike and Yar Zar meet for the very first time, in Myanmar. The two hit it off, and thought “Hey! maybe we should do something together here in Myanmar”. It was kind of a crazy idea, after all, Myanmar was a isolated military dictatorship. But then, in 2010, the military held an election. It wasn’t free, it wasn’t fair and no one really expected much of anything to change, but then, the government released democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and all of a sudden it seemed like things might change.

 

Nothing was guaranteed, but for Mike, it was enough. He quit his job.

Michael Lwin: So I had no idea what I was doing. I remember a phone call with a close friend, who's like, like “you don't have any plan? This is it? You just have some like you know like vague idea that you want to do something in Myanmar?” I was like yeah it's all I got.

David Madden: What did your parents think?

Michael Lwin: So, my mother, who, um, I love very much, is crazy. I mean Yar Zar can attest to this. She's totally nuts, she's incredibly bright, incredibly dynamic but she's a bull in a china shop. She's not interested in like toeing the line. She's not like obedient, and, so it’s my mother and this is, this is great, right? And so I know other first generation Americans who have immigrant parents and their immigrant friends are usually dead set against them doing something like, um, but my mother is like “yes!”.

And probably on the deepest level that's probably why I've thought I'm mostly proud do these things because I was raised by a very strong willed woman who was always interested in bucking the status quo. And my mother like is kind of trolling me today saying “wow, we were so completely nuts to just feel like -oh this is a great idea, just give up your six figure job and just, and just go and do this ridiculous thing”.

David Madden: You don't come to Yangon straight away. Still, the US still has sanctions on Myanmar, it's still very very difficult environment for setting up a business and, and you actually go to, you actually go to China and set yourself up there, teaching English classes and so, what was the moment when you like “Ok, I can go to Yangon”?

Michael Lwin: Yeah so we got lucky, we were always plotting and working hard but we basically got lucky, so (laughs). So..in… I might, I might get it kind of off, but I think it was in March 2012, Coca Cola issued a press release on a website, you know, I had like a Google alert for Myanmar, saying that we really like where the US government stands on, on Myanmar’s going… and that was pretty clear signal that sanctions were going to get suspended. And then in July 2012 the Obama administration issued two general licenses, suspending general economic sanctions. That was very lucky. And then, you know, I don't know the exact date stamp but I got on a plane to Yangon either the next day or the same week, and plopped down and then Yaz and I, um, basically fumbled around for sixth months having incredibly dumb ideas on what to do.

David Madden: And so because of Yar Zar’s background in medicine, they started pitching hospitals, a lot of different ideas… They started pitching in 2012, and in 2014, they were still pitching.

Michael Lwin: We're failing a lot. And we probably met, maybe 50 is too big a number, but we met with lot of hospitals and clinics, but I think the, one of the big differences is, we're constantly learning doing this. We were taking online courses, I mean you were always reading books on computer science and programming, I took 20 courses to certificate in programming, data science and business. So he and I were always constantly learning, so I think that's really important. So whatever all the failures, we were incrementally advancing a little bit, and I think the other thing is, we have the courage of our convictions so it’s probably just like a biochemical imbalance we have. – laugh- Um, so it's not like something like we had to train, but that kept us going.

David Madden: Was there no moment, Mike, when you were like “we got nothing here...we’re.."

Michael Lwin: No. I mean there were moments...

David Madden: You were getting a lot of no's though, right?

Michael Lwin: Yeah, we were getting no's all the time. Maybe fortune favors the prepared, like that’s kind of one way of putting it… you know, our big break was developing Maymay.

David Madden: How does this break come about?

 

Michael Lwin: I mean we weren’t thinking about mobile apps at all. And the reason we weren’t thinking about mobile apps was because who had phones? <Laugh>

 

David Madden: Mike can you just explain to people what the situation was with the mobile networks in, in early 2014?

Michael Lwin: Yeah. So so, yeah, think of it this way: there was only one mobile network provider and that was the ministry of post telecommunications that was government run, and probably for various reasons they didn't have enough towers, they couldn't cover their costs, they were charging, I think back then, $300 for a SIM card, and then like a year before it was $1000 for a SIM card and a year before it was $2000 for a SIM card. You know a SIM card costs less than a dollar to produce, so it's to artificially, you know, limit supply.

And so only rich people were on it, BUT! You know, late 2013, early 2014 they were starting to liberalize market and so the government had issued two operating licenses to Norwegian telco called Telenor, and a Quatar telco called Ooredoo. They would wind up launching the networks in September 2014 but Oredoo was thinking “oh when we launch we should have some, um, mobile apps out there” and, and basically the way we got a deal was, I was sitting, I was at a restaurant and sitting next to me was like the Ooredoo Digital Services person.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yep.

Michael Lwin: That was the connection. And then I met with Julian Gorman who was the head of Digital Services for Ooredoo back then I think. Basically Julian put me through his grinder of asking like it was kind of like an investor conversation. And I guess he was interested enough in my responses he asked me to prepare like a pitch and then that was for me... I wrote a 70 page document in three days and caught a cold. [laughs]  

David Madden: So, you've got your break. You’ve got this opportunity, but you guys had never built an app before.

 

Michael Lwin: Nope!

David Madden: So, so you’ve made a decision to build a native Android app. You don't know how to do that, but you're doing a lot of googling, spending a lot of time on stack overflow. How long did you have to do this project? How long did they give you?

 

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Uh, I think uh, we, we deliver, like three months, three or four months?

Michael Lwin: Yeah, four months I think.

David Madden: So tell me about that first release. How was it?

Michael Lwin: If, if we looked at, huh, Maymay 1.0 today, it would be like laughably bad by our current standards, but for the time it was an alright serviceable app that had issues but it kind of sort of worked, but there actually wasn’t, there wasn't any particular problems with that because Ooredoo, unfortunately, had a bad launch. So when they, when Ooredoo launched the first out of, out of, Ooredoo and Telenor had the new telco networks, and unfortunately the system didn't quite work, you know, phone calls didn't work, SMS didn't work, data, data would drop a lot for, I don't know, the first quarter, maybe?

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yeah.

Michael Lwin: And so they received a large backlash. Initially Maymay was exclusive only on Ooredoo for the first year I think, and actually the app suffered a lot from that, and so we learnt all these kind of…

David Madden: Because people who were on the other network couldn’t, huh, use it.

Michael Lwin: Yeah, they couldn’t use the app, so, I think we quantified it once, it was something like 90% of complaints about Maymay was “Why are you only on Ooredoo?”

David Madden: Because it was exclusive to this one network.

Michael Lwin: Right, and so for Ooredoo, it was a series of failures and we all learnt from it and I think, the way we think importantly at that is one, we got a great partner to this day out of it: PSI -Population Services International- two, we created an app, Maymay, where we could focus our efforts on making it better and then as a company we started to have an identity.

David Madden: One thing that's very important to the Koekoe tech story is that, you didn't build this maternal health app as a sort of service project.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yeah.

David Madden: So, in a lot of these circumstances, a company like Koe Koe Tech is engaged to build a product, they build it, first release is, however it is, but the job is done.

Michael Lwin: Yeah, yeah no, it's a really important part. So, so, so I think one of the few things we got right in the beginning is that we were not only going to be some subcontractor for services, tech company that's, that’s very common in the developing world. Um and it's understandable why it's common because that's a good way to get kind of like solid incomes and kind of just survive as doing like contract work. We wanted to be a product company and so, we made sure we owned all IP rights to the Maymay app and…

David Madden: Was that difficult to get? Was that a difficult negotiation?

Michael Lwin: It wasn’t a difficult negotiation because we were willing to work for free.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yeah.

David Madden: So you made a bold move here right? so you've been working  together for a year and a half.

Michael Lwin: Yeah.

David Madden: Um, you haven't really got any money. You're living off Mike's savings.

Michael Lwin: Right.

David Madden: And here, you get your first big break and you could, you could take it as a payday, but actually you make this decision “No, I'll trade…

Michael Lwin: Right.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Sure.

David Madden: ... I'll trade the, the money for owning the app”

Michael Lwin: You know, I think where, where, where we've been aligned on this is that we always try to think of the long term. What implications does this have five to ten years down the road.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yeah.

Michael Lwin: That's why we don't pay ourselves particularly much. That why we didn't pay ourselves anything for the first two years. There's lots of reasons why we're careful in, um, in hiring foreigners but one of the reasons is, foreigners have expecta... inflated salary expectations, and so for this we thought “Ok, we would have gotten a nice pay today or back in 2014” but that's what really limits the kind of company we can become, and so why not, bite the bullet and try and...

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yeah.

Michael Lwin: Try and be something bigger.

David Madden: Around this time, Koe Koe Tech also got their second big break. They won some prestigious fellowships, even one whose past winners include people like Michelle Obama, and those fellowships they say were huge: They gave them money, credibility, confidence. it also gave them some influential mentors from Google and other big companies and those mentors taught them about user testing and human centered design. And they put these new skills to work. For example, one time they tested Maymay at an annual training for midwives, there were 700 in the room.

Michael Lwin: They were getting lectured at by these, by these older people for hours and they're all in their early 20s, so what do you do when someone’s just kind of giving you this boring lecture for hours? they're all on their smartphones! So then on a presentation, I just was funny, I said: “well uh (slurs) you know your days have really been riveting, hasn't it?” uh and, you know, they were all laughing and then I had, I think five of them come up onstage and we did testing.and we found that there's a whole bunch of stuff wrong with the app! Like the, the onboarding process, there are too many screens. So to get through all those screens, to finally get to the actual features of the app, people, you know, got confused and dropped out.

So, you know, stuff like, we created this very fancy google maps, um, interface, showing pin drops of all the PSI doctors, about 1000 of them you can find in the app. Myanmar people don't know how to read maps. So, people had no idea what, what maps were and they had no idea what search queries were so we just changed it to a list.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yeah.

David Madden: And so you really incorporated these ideas of human centered design and rapid prototyping into development processes. How many user interviews do you think you've conducted now, with, for, for Maymay? Take a guess.

Michael Lwin: I mean, I think it's 1000s, it's hard to know exactly. It's probably like 5000.

David Madden: Where is Maymay at today?

Michael Lwin: Yeah so we have 100,000 users, we’ve got, I think it’s a million and a half. User engage is monthly it's 115,000 quizzes taken, monthly.

David Madden: And how many users a month?

Michael Lwin: 100,000.

David Madden: Active Users.

Michael Lwin: Right, so active users are I think it's around half that that we can track. The problem is people use it in offline mode so we don't know. So one big story about the smartphones that's important, is that Myanmar people, um, don't turn on their data a lot, especially once you get out of urban city centers.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Sure.

Michael Lwin: So, they'll leave their phone data off for months so then we can't track KPIs. We call it dark data.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yep.

Michael Lwin: In qualitative interviews we find that’s out there, but we don't know...

David Madden: But you can, you can still use most of the app, when it's in airplane mode, right?

Michael Lwin: Yeah, so the app works in offline mode.

David Madden: Offline.

Michael Lwin: So basically we have a lot of use in offline mode but we can’t track it and so we don't know what's going on. Actually, this is important, the biggest bottleneck on growth is the Google Play app store. That’s what google is but, um, so there's been over a million attempted downloads of Maymay. The problem is there's a conversion rate of about five percent, out of those those downloads, which match data on number in Myanmar people who have no e-mail address, because the Google Play app store requires an e-mail login. Requires it.

David Madden: Why is that a problem?

Michael Lwin: So when, we've seen this over and over again in user testing, so when you try and download the MayMay app you immediately pulled up all in English, the google window is saying “you need to create an email account to use Google Play”. And Myanmar people have leapfrogged email, people use chat apps instead of emails, so it’s Viber largely, but also Whatsapp and WeChat and those apps don't require an email login.

David Madden: Myanmar was mostly offline really until this opening up of the mobile networks. Um, and so, a lot of people just don't have an email address.

Michael Lwin: Most people don't and most people probably won't for a really long time. So um, so this is the biggest constraint on growth. And I've actually talked with people at Google about it and they admit it. The problem is each of Google's divisions are siloed, so until we get the head of Google Play, APAC, in front of us...it's all in English, there's about four on-boarding screens to create a new email address which are all in English so no Myanmar person goes through that, and this is a huge constraint on growth, whereas Facebook has a phone number login now. We literally would have had a million downloads by now, which would have been a really nice success story from Myanmar.

David Madden: How many downloads you have now?

Michael Lwin: I think it’s 40,000, it’s around there.

David Madden: Ok, so how have you tackled this big problem?

Michael Lwin: Myanmar people are smart and they use a popular Bluetooth file sharing app called Zapya. It creates a Bluetooth connection between phones so you can transfer media using a Bluetooth connection. So of course you have to be in the same room or, or same area as each other if you're outside to transfer media. Like, we had to hire a bunch of marketing people to go out to the field and do Zapya transfers. One, to meet other humans and do Bluetooth transfers is much slower than zeros and ones being emitted from a cell tower that are moving close the speed of light. So of course our acquisition right is going to be a lot slower, and then because of all that people had to travel, right? people...

David Madden: Have you done a lot of that though?

Michael Lwin: Yeah, we've done a good amount of it, we're trying to scale it up. But it's aaaaaaall slower, right? Which is why we have got a million attempted MayMay downloads off Facebook ads and we have I think 40,000 Zapya transfers or I guess probably 60,000. So it’s just going to be so much slower and a lot more expensive. So, Google's gotta fix this. It would be close to a revolution for Myanmar if Google added Burmese language support, eliminated the email requirement, you just had to enter your phone number and that would be a game changer.

David Madden: How would you describe the vision for Koe Koe Tech?

Michael Lwin: I think that we would like to present a new and innovative model to do both development aid and social enterprise. So, if you look at development aid, it's very top down, it's very like Western actor-dominated, they bring in a bunch of very expensive experts and consultants and the overhead is through the roof and they kind of parachute into the country, they spend maybe a few years at the most and then they're out, and, they're really expensive! I think, you know, we are very partial to kind of the Bill Easterly arguments about development that bottom up development by people who have skin in the game, meaning people who are from and of the developing world, are trying to figure out solutions that they care about long term because that's where they live, it's their lives, are much more likely to be effective and longer lasting.

And something that may be also difficult for people from rich countries to come to grips with is there's a lot of developing world people who are as smart and lot of them are smarter and more resourceful and industrious than a lot of people from rich countries, like, Yar Zar here and most of our team -because you know over 90 percent of our team are Myanmar people- and that's a very different model for development aid or social enterprise that these people are equals or maybe superior in a lot of ways and there's a lot less waste because we all cost much less than consultants and experts.

We think that this is a model that results in greater impact and that's more sustainable and, and I think that's what we're trying to have Koe Koe Tech represent long run.

David Madden: Do you think Maymay could be useful outside Myanmar?

Michael Lwin: Yeah I mean we've been, introduced Maymay to other countries in the region, um...

David Madden: Is that something you're excited to do?

Michael Lwin: Yeah we're very excited. So we think this is scalable in other countries in the region and to the point about developing rich countries, Australia is interested in introducing MayMay, so it’s not just a whole poor country non-poor country dichotomy is one that needs to be reconsidered.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yeah.

David Madden: So one thing that's important to note is that Koe Koe Tech has a big vision actually for the way in which technology could improve lives in Myanmar, and it's not just limited to the health field actually and...what else are you working on that could make a difference, Mike?

Michael Lwin: Yeah, so we're working on, um, municipal tax software right? So, in Myanmar, you know, municipal tax offices they are entirely paper based and so in four pilot townships we've digitized their existing tax records, so...

David Madden: Why does tax matter? Mike, this doesn't, this doesn’t sound ... this doesn’t... it sounds very dry. Why is tax important?

Michael Lwin: The government doesn't collect enough revenues in order to provide services, so Myanmar collects the lowest amount of property tax I think tax across the board and the region and thus government department ministries across the border are defunded, so, so, you know, there's a big reason why all the roads are poorly done, um, all the bridges are poorly done, the power goes out all the time, there's lack of access to quality health care. It's because the government's underfunded. And so if we're going to try and change that, well then improving tax collection is, um, quite important and also being with, with a mind to where we want to increase taxes is for the wealthy, um, and so we've been working with the Asia Foundation digitising municipal tax collection so it saves them a lot of time. And then, um, it’s increased tax revenues I think fifteen percent I think per Township just in the first year, just because a software is better at calculating, to which point one of the tax clerks who had to prepare all these, she slammed her fist on the desk when I asked her if this software is useful and she said “yes it's useful, I hate writing!”

David Madden: Are there other big challenges that people in other places maybe wouldn't recognize?  

Michael Lwin: There's not just one challenge, there’s always a whole bunch of challenges that have to do with lack of infrastructure, lack of low purchasing power from citizens, lack of rule of law… so I always like tell it like this: the adoption curves for like tech looks awesome in Myanmar, it’s almost vertical, right, for SIM cards and smartphones. One step below that, all the curves are flat so, so...

David Madden: What you mean by that Mike, is that, there’s now more active SIM cards than people in Myanmar and most people who want to have a smartphone, have a smartphone.

Michael Lwin: Right, which is fantastic, but then, mobile money uptakes... very low. Mobile banking uptakes a little bit better, but again that's only the very small percentage of population who's wealthy, and then people don't have email and don't know how to use it and, and introducing any kind of new tech to them is confusing for them. It’s like imagine your parents or grandparents using tech.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Sure.

Michael Lwin: It’s like my wonder...  

David Madden: Giving your parents Snapchat.

Michael Lwin: Yeah. Exactly. Laughs. like my wonderful mother clicks on some bad link in an email every year and gets a virus because she just doesn't know she's not supposed to do that. Right? And so, um, just imagine like a whole country of you know 52 million people where most of the people are like that, and so, you know, all of these, um, problems and that's why it's extremely challenging for tech in Myanmar, not to mention, you know, tech startups.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Yeah.

David Madden: That sounds like a really, really tough environment to do what you're doing. Why, why do it?

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Because we believe what we are doing, and that we love what we are doing.

Michael Lwin: If we pull it off we'll have impacted many many people in a pretty profound way and that's pretty exciting, and we think we'll get there. And so for us this is a long haul and, um, we are deeply invested in it.

David Madden: Do you think Maymay has already had an impact?

Michael Lwin: Oh yeah, it's, it's, it's, it already, it already has… so, so, rigorously, we won't know until, um I think the end of next year because we're going to have a randomized control trial done. I mean the numbers we have are all great, it's um, I think it’s like ninety, ninety eight percent of users would recommend it.

David Madden: So users love the product.

Michael Lwin: Yeah and then over ninety percent have said they believe it's either improved or saved the lives of mothers or baby, right, or their children, um and then I think, what what was the other one? it's like seventy percent of users use it every day. So, so this is why the Google Play thing is really irritating for us because of the users we can track they're using it all the time.

David Madden: I know you've, I know you've had venture capitalists and impact investors knocking on your door. Tell us about how you've structured the organization financially.

Michael Lwin: So, you know, we're we're definitely not against taking investor capital, or venture capital, I mean...

David Madden: But you haven't taken any right?

Michael Lwin: We haven't taken any, and that's intentional...

David Madden: But you’ve had people asking.

Michael Lwin: Yeah, I mean we walked away from term sheets and things like that.

David Madden: Is Koe Koe Tech a for-profit?

Michael Lwin: We are a for-profit. We're actually setting up a nonprofit and going to try and hybrid but um, we are for-profit, because if you look at most of the tech companies at scale on Facebook, Twitter, etc they're for- profit companies and we think it's because when they’re eagerious, you know, uh, pursuing, huh, you know equity investment is, huh, you get much larger ticket sizes and when the time comes we are more than interested in doing that. However, I think it's become almost a religion and, huh, we think that a lot of people would confuse this is all for the steak, an argument we get a lot, you know, especially around smart people, um, are: “Oh well this would look really good if you had this investor, um, with you. It would look really good and that could attract other money” And we've heard other founders say that. Like I need to do a round because then that signals to other investors that I've got, you know, this investor on and then I'll get another round. One, we think that's not the reason why you should seek investment, you should seek investment because putting that money in will, you know, will jumpstart the growth or, you know, result in exponential growth for the company which increases are alright. We think of it much more like, "why are investors giving us money?” They're giving us money cause they expect a return, ideally for them some sort of exit or the seminator IPO or a dividend. We think Myanmar's too early for that.  So, so we think it's a very long game for Myanmar, and why start that cycle of investor expectations, until we think Myanmar's ready, we're ready, and we have investors who understand the Myanmar context closely and are not only, like, for the investor, investee like hype cycle.

David Madden: So you're playing a long game?

Michael Lwin: Yeah.

David Madden: But how are you keeping the lights on while you play that game?

Michael Lwin: I mean, we can earn revenue. I mean we’ve, we have, we have contracts, we have grants, um, and we also run lean so, we, we may do an investment round soon, we may not. And we're not sort of categorically against, um, investors. In fact we would love to have an investor understands what we're after and believes in us and provide their expertise as well as their capital but huh, it's not an ending on itself it's a means to an end the end is to grow corporate tech into, a, you know, successful organization that helps lots of people.

David Madden: Mike you talked about going to a place where you can have big impact, I mean, how does it feel when you hear personal stories?

Michael Lwin: It's really rewarding, it feels fulfilling, I um, you know, I don't regret leaving, huh, Amer... you know, the U.S. corporate world at all and it doesn't feel like work. Like I don't feel like I have a job. It's just this really interesting, rewarding, complicated set of problems that, you know, I chip away at in this partnership with Yar Zar and this...like incredibly good team we have.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: It’s like, very rewarding and then I'm really really lucky we have the same vision, same belief. It’s like working through learning at the same time that, that helps a lot of peoples.

David Madden: So, if we start the clock in 2012, where is Koe Koe Tech in 2022?

Michael Lwin: We’ll be in a thousand clinics, perhaps being a thousand clinics nationwide. Maymay ideally would capture most of the… um, so captures a significant percentage of the five million um, mothers and, uh, will be using Maymay.

David Madden: That's just in Myanmar, though, right? You've got bigger dreams than that.

Michael Lwin: Yeah, and then Maymay and or other, you know, software products and services expand in the region. I think that's totally reasonable. It will be hard but again you know the famous ‘League of Their Own’ line, huh, “if it weren't hard then everybody would do it”. It will be hard but that's why we're in this, so  yeah!

David Madden: Thanks for listening to the Revolution of Necessity.

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This episode was produced by Naomi Gingold with editing help from Julia Alsop. Our engineer is William Smith. Special thanks to Clean Cuts Studios in DC and Symphony Creative Art studios in Yangon. We’ll have another tech story that matters for you next week. See you then.

 

For two years, Mike and Yar Zar were pitching ideas and not having any success. Yar Zar says they survived financially ….. because...

 

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Mostly we paid the bills by the Mike money.

Michael Lwin: Yeah, yeah, so basically we bootstrapped… so, so another thing that we all have to, to thank the 2008 financial crisis for, that was back when I was, you know, I started earning a lot of money at the law firm, right after the crisis dropped, like, and so, the price of equities were extremely low, they had nowhere to go but up. So I just dumped all my money in equities, spare money, and then that plus quantitative easing resulted in just giant year over year return, ROI, um, to generally the S&P 500 and so that was like the seed capital for the company.

David Madden: Ok, so you’ve, you’ve been bootstrapping Koe Koe Tech, Koe Koe Tech off the, off the back of the, the American financial rebound.

Michael Lwin: Yeah, it’s … that was...

David Madden: Cause you're not making any money locally, right?

Michael Lwin: Yeah no no no. No money.

David Madden: Ok, were you, were you worried at all? Or uh... I guess the economy continued to go up so the, so the equity prices were probably, probably...

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Huh, literally, we, we don’t get paid for like two years.

Michael Lwin: Yep, two years.

Yar Zar Minn Htoo: Huh, Still, still we get paid very low and we…

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