David Henderson is the co-founder of DRVR – a software that monitors key analytical data for fleet such as fuel usage, temperature, route tracking, and driver behaviour metrics.
Human Asia had the opportunity to conduct this exclusive interview with David.
Tell us how it all started for DRVR. Why did you decide to go into telematics?
David: Five years ago I was General Manager of Telematics at Intelematics Australia (IA) – the leading provider in Australia for the auto OEM. We had the then mayor of Jakarta Mr. Jokowi visit our office and beg us to set up in Indonesia. Every week I had calls from businesses and even governments across Asia requesting the same sort of thing. Clearly there was huge demand.
Several times I took opportunities to the IA board but they were not interested – too risky! I had introduced a hungry startup mentality to IA, and myself and some colleagues decided we can do this ourselves. We left and formed DRVR to solve the big problems.
How developed are Southeast Asian companies when it comes to analyzing telematic data or data science in general?
David: Very few companies have any in-house capability in this space. That’s why DRVR exists. Often they have too much data for their internal systems to be able to cope with. The key to be able to convince people that our system can help them is through solving real world problems. When we on-board a customer it takes time for them to be able to see the changes, we work closely with them to help them improve their processes.
What type of businesses would benefit from using DRVR and why? What about governments?
David: Many different types of businesses use DRVR’s products. Generally speaking they tend to be companies which are growing and offer a quality product or service. DRVR allows a company to have end-to-end visibility of its supply chain and logistics. Sometimes what companies find out through using DRVR is uncomfortable for them to face.
For instance we are working with a company in Myanmar that manages infrastructure. They use third parties to check and monitor their pipeline. Contractually these third parties were meant to supply a certain number of vehicle and people to cover every 50 kilometers segment of pipe. We were able to identify that only a small fraction of these vehicles actually existed.
DRVR is a clean business. From our experience government contracts in this part of the world are rarely won by the best or even best value for money product. If we are involved in any government opportunities, it will be with third parties such as JICA or the Asian Development Bank.
What’s the biggest challenge for DRVR right now?
David: We have built out a product and we now find ourselves in a position where we have huge demand. We have many different opportunities and different path we could follow. We now find that we sometimes have to say no to opportunities. Our preferred approach and growth model is partnership. Finding the right partners in different countries is a challenge. We have made mistakes and learned from them.
What expansion plans do you have going forward for DRVR?
David: Key expansion plans for us are two-fold. Geographic expansion. We have now firmly established ourselves in our home markets of Myanmar and Thailand. This year our key focus is the island nations of Philippines and Indonesia. Our second key strategy is to grow our OEM practice. If any of Human Asia‘s readers work for the big Japanese auto OEMS, we’d love to hear from you.
David, tell us a bit about yourself and your family background. Any fond memories growing up?
David: I was born in the Seychelles. It’s a small group of tropical islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I fondly remember the crystal clear water and the squeaky white sand. It was an ideal place to grow. Like myself my father is an entrepreneur. He set up his own tea factory in the Seychelles. My brother Craig has a business making and selling high end jewelry from pearls and lives across the road from me in Bangkok. I have a beautiful and understanding wife Ana. I love playing strategy board games and watching movies.
How did you end up in Thailand? And do you recommend Thailand as a place to build a startup business?
David: It was a deliberate decision to move the business to Thailand. I’m often asked if it was a lifestyle choice – this question seems quite absurd to me. To think that anyone would leave the world’s most livable city and move to the pollution and crowds of Bangkok for lifestyle reasons is unlikely.
We chose Bangkok primarily because of the large automotive sector – our target customers. Thailand has several advantages which make it an attractive place to launch a startup:
1. It’s cheap – so bootstrapping is a real option
2. Thailand has a large digital nomad scene – the co-working space such as the Hive and Punspace are full of expatriate developers.
3. The country has a large internal market and is a bridge between the developed and developing world.
4. It has first world infrastructure – the internet speeds are much higher than Australia for instance – public transport and accommodation is of a good standard.
5. There is a good pool of talented freelancers, especially in the front end and design space.
On the debit side of the ledger:
1. All Thai startups have their parent company in either Singapore or Hong Kong because intellectual property protection is non-existent in Thailand.
2. There are a huge number of hurdles you need to jump over to get going in Thailand – the government’s role seems to be to make life as difficult as they can for startups, especially foreign ones.
3. Local funding is almost impossible – if you are not ethnic Thai there are very limited funding options in Thailand.
4. There are onerous audit and taxation requirements which add significantly to the cost of business.
5. Forget about importing anything into the country because Thai customs are almost impossible to deal with. Use a freight agent and expect a lot of inconsistency and high cost.
6. Thais are deeply religious so don’t expect to find many heavy lifting back-end developers or scientists. Importing essential staff like back-end developers is very onerous and difficult – there are quotas in place and you need to maintain ratios of Thais to foreign workers.
7. The ghosts of the past hang over Thailand like a nightmare on the living brain. There is a deeply ingrained culture of rent seeking which permeates everyday life.
What’s the one thing that’s driving you each day to achieve success ?
David: It’s hard to identify a single thing. To me it’s a combination of things. Wanting to make the world a better place. Every year thousands of people die on the roads in Thailand. DRVR can help to make a difference in this area. I’m committed to and heavily invested in DRVR – both in terms of my own money, time, and emotionally. DRVR also has an awesome team of people both at the founder level but at the broader team level too. We support each other to make a difference every day.
What regrets did you have in your entrepreneurial journey?
David: Being an entrepreneur is hard. Myself and our other co-founders have made huge sacrifices. Leaving behind family and friend has been the most difficult thing. The other thing I have regretted is leaving it too late to make decisions. If someone is not working out in the team it’s better for you to cut them as soon as possible.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
David: Being an entrepreneur is difficult. Don’t give up. Use data to drive decisions and do not be afraid to make tough calls. You cannot do everything alone, a good founder team is critical to success. Trying to do everything yourself is a sure path to failure. Delegate responsibility and decision making to the people closest to make the decision. Encourage people to take responsibility and make calls. It’s rare that decisions cannot be undone. Take risks, be quick but be good.
You can visit DRVR website on http://www.drvr.co/