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Why One CEO Believes Myanmar Will Become A Tech Leader In Southeast Asia

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When Jes Kaliebe Petersen interviewed for his current role as the accelerator director at Phandeeyar, he received a crash course in the practical challenges of working in Myanmar. Phandeeyar CEO David Madden recalls that the power went out during each of Petersen's meetings with the team. He had to walk up 11 flights of stairs in sweltering heat, and then sit for an interview without so much as a whiff of air conditioning. Yet Petersen's enthusiasm never dimmed.
"That's known as the Jes test," Madden said. "If you come in for a job interview and you have to walk up 11 flights of stairs and you're still cheerful, and you're still excited to be there, it's probably a pretty good sign that you're well-suited to working in Myanmar and working at Phandeeyar."
It's fitting that the man for whom the test was named will soon take over from Madden as Phandeeyar's CEO. Petersen was selected after a six-month search, and he'll officially start on July 1. Petersen landed in Myanmar in 2015 as a self-described "trailing spouse." He had founded companies in India and Afghanistan, and initially continued to work remotely on a social network he had co-founded in the latter. But as he learned about Myanmar's burgeoning tech startup community, he decided it was time for a shift.
"There were so many interesting things happening in Myanmar, that it was too good not to get involved in," he said. As Phandeeyar's accelerator director, Petersen was responsible not only for that program but for managing the organization's Founder Institute, coding courses, nine-day startup challenge and maker space as well. Myanmar's startup scene has grown rapidly since the country's first hackathon was held in Yangon in 2014. Phandeeyar has been at the forefront of this growth since its opening in 2015, creating events, programs and resources to help entrepreneurs and civic activists use technology to realize their ideas.
"The mission of Phandeeyar is to harness the potential of technology to accelerate change and development in Myanmar. Jes is as passionate about that mission as I am, or anyone else on the Phandeeyar team or board," said Madden, who will continue as Phandeeyar's president and chairman of the board. "Over the past year plus, Jes has demonstrated how effective he is at enacting that mission. People in the community love him, and I think he's going to do a tremendous job as CEO."
Petersen spoke with me about Phandeeyar's role in Myanmar's tech community and how the country's startup scene will likely evolve in the next several years. The conversation has been edited and condensed for publication.

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