Meet GES Delegate: Michael Lwin
Name: Michael Lwin
Twitter Handle: @KoeKoeTech
Instagram Handle: www.instagram.com/koekoetech
Country of Origin: Myanmar-American, born and raised in the United States, living in Myanmar for the past four years. :)
Organization Name: Koe Koe Tech
Organization Website: www.koekoetech.com
Brief Description of Organization: Koe Koe Tech was founded by two cousins: Yarzar Minn Htoo, a Myanmar citizen, doctor, and programmer; and myself, a Myanmar-American former corporate lawyer. Today, Koe Koe Tech consists of 20 people, who are all Myanmar nationals except for me— half are women, and many religions and ethnicities are represented. Koe Koe Tech has created Myanmar’s first maternal and child health app called maymay and will soon release Myanmar’s first doctor registry, where users can rate, review, and engage in telemedicine with 10,000 doctors located nationwide.
We’ve won the Echoing Green, GSBI, Cordes, and Unreasonable Institute Fellowships. Our partners include USAID, Population Services International (PSI), the University of Sydney, UCLA, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), and the International Growth Centre (IGC).
What inspired you to start this organization? Myanmar has among the worst maternal and under-5 mortality rates in the world: 200 women die per every 100,000 live births, and 52 children die per every 1,000 live births before they reach the age of five. Comparatively, in the United States only 14 women die per every 100,000 live births and only 7 under-five children die per every 1,000 live births. The WHO ranked Myanmar second to last in the world, 190 out of 191 countries, in health indicators. My co-founder, Yarzar, has Hepatitis B, an incurable disease, because a quack doctor reused a dirty needle to treat him. By dint of being born in the United States, which was through no effort of my own but through the hard work and risk-taking of my parents, who left the country they called home to try to achieve the American Dream in a foreign land, I had a remarkably easy life. This “geographic lottery” struck me as fundamentally unfair and Yarzar and I have been driven to try and balance the scales ever since.
What’s the next big step you hope to help your organization reach? We hope to reach 100,000 pregnant women and their partners to improve their health outcomes and the health of their unborn and born babies through our maymay app. Currently about 30,000 pregnant women are monthly active users of the maymay app, receiving vital information about their pregnancy, safe delivery, and the importance of breastfeeding for their baby. Our health INGO partner, PSI, has 1,500 telemedicine consultations per month via the maymay app. We want to scale up telemedicine and app users. But the barriers to adoption are high in Myanmar (as I’ll explain in the next section!).
What has been your biggest obstacle as an entrepreneur? Despite the fact that millions of Myanmar people use Android smartphones, obstacles abound. Google Play requires an email login even though people in the Global South do not use email. Google Play only has English language support when many people in the Global South don’t read English. Despite Android having 80% market share in the Global South, people cannot download Android apps from Google Play. Facebook just launched its Free Basics website in Myanmar, which has exciting potential, but received questions from Myanmar people not knowing what websites or web browsers are. There is truly a huge opportunity for tech in Myanmar — people are using smartphones and out of $6 monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) about half of that is from data use — but tech behemoths like Google and Facebook need to be attuned to and respond to the local challenges on the ground so that tech entrepreneurs like us can succeed in places that don’t have the infrastructure wealthy countries do.
What advice would you give other emerging entrepreneurs? Always be willing to learn from other people — there are a lot of skills I don’t have and a lot of things I’ve had and have yet to learn, and I rely on the support of some really smart and talented mentors. Being an entrepreneur means continuously learning. The other important thing is to ignore the hype when it comes to running your core business. Hype is important for entrepreneurs as we need to build brand and product and service awareness. But extending hype to financing, hiring, and your product and services itself is very dangerous. All the prestigious fellowships, titles, and jargon mean nothing if you don’t create a sustainable product or service that benefits people. Don’t confuse the sizzle for the steak, basically.