Just six years ago, only North Korea had fewer mobile phones than Myanmar. Now, almost everyone in Southeast Asia’s poorest country is connected.
Outside the offices of an internet startup called nexlabs, a snarl of honking cars and rickshaws grinds to a standstill on a trash-strewn street lined with crumbling buildings. Inside, though, the scene could be straight out of Silicon Valley.
Programmers in t-shirts and jeans tap away at laptops beneath posters exhorting them to “Innovate” and “Dance Like Crazy.” Local demand for their smartphone apps and websites is exploding, and in the last 12 months they’ve inked marketing contracts with multi-nationals like Samsung Electronics Co. and Nestle SA.
“It’s in the air,” says the company’s 25-year-old chief executive officer, Ye Myat Min. “Yesterday, I was in a cafe and the guys next to me were talking about building an app.”