Why the next place to build your start-up might be a mall

Chiang Mai’s newest shopping destination is better for people building startups than you’d think. 

Living practically next door to a new mall wasn’t exactly where I wanted to live. Our choice of apartments to lease for six months put us right along one of the trendier streets in Chiang Mai, Thailand — and a stone’s throw away from the city’s newest mall.

In any case, we headed in on the first day of its grand opening, expecting to find little different from the other malls in town. Western fashion brand names, Japanese restaurants, drugstores, a movie theater, all nice to have close to home, but nothing really different.

Then one place offered a different perspective.

It’s called CAMP (Creative And Meeting Place), and to be clear I’m neither part of its creation nor familiar with those that are. I can say it’s changed my perspective on the entire mall, though. Much like the other start-up office spaces in town (the excellent Punspace and the emerging Guru’s Box), there’s plenty of wifi and seating. The coffee’s cheap (30-60 Thai baht, or about $1-$2 USD), and with the drink comes 2 hours of wifi. Unlike the others, though, they don’t charge for membership, so it’s easy to drop in when you need someplace other than home.

But why a mall for your start-up?

Think of your typical start-up needs: computers, internet connection, coffee. Now go beyond that — what do you want / need access to on a regular, but not constant basis? Food. A place to play some games. Some people to bounce ideas off of. A store to get a new headset because your old one broke.

Done —all of them — without ever having to go outside.

Food? In this particular mall, the choices include several Thai options, several Japanese options, and a couple of Western options. I’ll ignore the bakeries and other empty calories as best as I can, but a few of them are around as well.

A place to play some games. The arcade, baby! Right next to the theater and CAMP itself.

Some people to bounce ideas off of. There are enough English-speaking visitors on the weekends to do a little survey, or you can get a local to help you if you want the Thai market. Whether you’re looking for a focus group or a solution to that widget on your website, there’s probably someone around. Being a space for entrepreneurs and students, the standard unspoken rules on approaching in a workspace apply. That said, I’ve found most to be approachable and open about what they do.

A store to get a new headset because your old one broke. Third floor. A few places, actually.

Certainly not every mall is set up to be as conductive to start-ups, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to hear of a small start-up making use of the space to begin making their idea a reality. It’s also a reminder that sometimes, one little thing makes a place go from meh to magnificent.

Getting there

CAMP is located in the Maya (pronounced ‘May-yah’) mall / shopping center at the corner of Huay Kaew and Nimmanhaemin in Chiang Mai, Thailand (GPS: 18.802237,98.967369). Head up to the fifth floor and look across from the theater’s concession stand.

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