Business

Banking on Bytes


Natavudh Pungcharoenpong reinvents the digital economy through the use of blockchain

Among its various products and services, SIX Network’s offerings include a platform for crypto currency trading, its own crypto currency known as SIX, and a decentralized financial service (DeFi) called Definix that works like a digital bank. Launched only three years ago, it has a client base that is steadily growing, despite – or perhaps even because of – the Covid situation. The Definix subsidiary, launched in early 2021, already manages a portfolio of several billion baht of crypto currency for clients in Thailand, Korea and other countries.

Natavudh Pungcharoenpong is a tech entrepreneur with over 18 years of experience in founding, funding and managing tech companies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering and a master’s in industrial engineering but since graduating high school his sideline was to develop computer programmes for clients, which he continued to do under his own first company called IT Works. 

When he became involved in an e-book store project, he decided to launch his own startup called Ookbee with the help of investors such as Intouch Holding and later China’s Tencent. Today Ookbee is known nationwide as much more than an online bookstore, offering platforms for entertainment and a forum for writers, composers and musicians to create and share content. The site’s popularity garners around 3 billion page views per month.

Realising the need for funding to help young startups like himself grow and succeed, Natavudh eventually launched 500 TukTuks, which has funded up to 80% of all startups in Thailand to date, including the likes of the Pomelo fashion brand and the Omise online payment service. Another is Favstay, which is similar to Airbnb and has some 30,000 houses and hotels in Thailand on its inventory. 

Despite his astronomical success, the man better known as Moo admits to some failed ventures such as the Ookbee Mall e-commerce platform, which folded after a year. Now though, as he outlines to The Futurist, the startup guru is fully focused on SIX Network and getting to grips with crypto currencies.

First of all, how do you see the economic environment of both Thailand and the world right now? Is it only the result of Covid-19, or do you see other factors involved?

The Thai and the global economy is growing at a slower pace, but there are different growth rates for different industries. Covid has definitely affected tourism – hotels, travel, hospitality. Prediction for GDP is only 2%, so definitely the economy is in regression. But the technology platform continues to show steady growth with some businesses deriving an advantage from the pandemic, food delivery companies and e-commerce operators being examples. In the stock and crypto online market there has been huge growth, especially since last year when it became a trend. Because of lockdowns people have worked from home and have had more time to take advantage of online platforms to trade stocks. Some people no longer have a regular job as a result of Covid, so you see new traders who are small players looking for new opportunities. 

Why do you think that the crypto investment platform is the direction to go for the future? How do you rate it in terms of stability and returns, compared to traditional investment platforms?

There are many different crypto currencies, each one with a different story. Let’s take Bitcoin, the big player. It’s like digital gold, an asset that looks set to increase. And since it is limited to only 21 million coins, with a greater number of investors interested in holding Bitcoin, the price will surely go up. Compared with gold, it’s much easier to store and trade – no physical space needed. Then there are others such as Ethereum, Cardano and Dodgecoin. Each has a different background. Some, like Ethereum, require a smart contract where the programmer has introduced DeFi (Decentralised Finance), which essentially replicates the finance world in the world of blockchain – where you can put savings, get loans etc, just as in the real financial world. 

In terms of stability compared to traditional investments, crypto currency fluctuates wildly. In a single day a 5% change is quite normal. Sometimes it even goes up 10% within a single day, and drops 10-15% in a single day. So it fluctuates a lot more than the stock market. It can’t compare with other forms of investment like government bonds. So there are high returns, but high risks involved. I’d advise not putting all your eggs in one basket though and only invest an amount you’re willing to lose, or prepare for long-term investment – the trend is for crypto currency to increase steadily over a 2-4 year period. Just remember, its high risk with steep fluctuations in the short-term.

What does SIX Network do? What has it achieved so far?

Six Network is a company that has its own crypto currency called SIX, which is currently being traded in several markets. In Thailand it is available in the Bitkup exchange and in Zipmex and also overseas. From the connection to Ookbee, several artists have made use of the SIX platforms, including musicians, writers, composers, videographers and cartoonists. When paying for products and services you use a digital currency, using baht to buy coins which are used for payment (like buying tokens to play games). In the process of exchanging back and forth (writers get paid in coins, which they revert back to baht) there’s usually a fee, like Apple charges 30% and credit cards are subject to a 3-5% fee. So I thought if we had our own coins to use in the circle of content creators, then in the long term it would be an advantage. So we have these products on offer at SIX Network. One such product, which is part of DeFi, is called Definix (www.definix.com). People can deposit their crypto currency with us and earn interest. And when there is trading on our platform, our clients will benefit from the trade too.

We are also introducing a new product similar to a mutual fund, with an experienced fund manager charging a fee to manage our money in different crypto currency portfolios so that we don’t have to handle it ourselves. And we continue to develop such products.

Who are your prospective clients and what qualifies them? What is the most important thing you tell them? 

If you are computer literate and have invested in other assets such as stocks or mutual funds then it’s not so difficult to begin trading crypto currency. But you have to be aware that crypto currency is an asset class with high fluctuation, so if you’re thinking of daily trading or short term trading, chances are high that you’ll lose. You have to look at it as a long term investment, and not invest all your savings – in fact you shouldn’t invest more than 10-20% of your investment portfolio as a form of risk management. But if you have the knowledge and have an interest in technology, then crypto currency trading is definitely an interesting area to check out because it is a growing industry. It’s like the Internet in the year 2000 when so many new websites were launched. The various crypto currencies are like the websites of the dot com boom of that era. As time passes, they will become more mainstream and more widely used. We are already beginning to see different businesses like Tesla announce they will accept crypto payments. So new investors should be aware of the risks, but if you have an opportunity then you should give it a go in small amounts. Educate yourself and be a part of this growing industry.

But if you’re thinking of investing in SIX currency, I have to explain that SIX Network is what they call “alt coin” (alternative coin), with a small market cap when compared to the big players like Bitcoin or Ethereum. So we would like to attract investors who understand the risks. I also wouldn’t recommend trading only SIX Network; you should diversity and trade the main currencies too – Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ada – and set aside a small portion, maybe 5- 10%, of your crypto portfolio for SIX Network. And your crypto portfolio should be only 10-20% of your entire investment portfolio, whether savings, stocks, mutual funds, government bonds etc. 

What is your ultimate goal for the company?

Our goal is that our DeFi project and SIX Network will continue to grow and attract more users. Hopefully one day we will be the most recognised crypto currency in Thailand. At the moment there aren’t that many, so when you look at the list SIX is probably up among the top. I’d like more people to know about it and use it. At the moment we have users in Thailand and Korea and I hope that expansion will be worldwide. When the day comes that crypto currencies are seen as the norm, I hope SIX will be among the top.

Finally, what is your working day like? 

My day is very flexible. Work and leisure time is all mixed up at the moment. As I record this clip for The Futurist it’s almost 2am. I like to work on my own at night because it’s quiet and I plough through the work that doesn’t require meetings or conference calls. During the day I collaborate with others but nighttime is for my own work, answering emails or simply thinking about business issues. I get enough sleep because if I go to bed late I wake up late. I also try to schedule meetings at sensible intervals throughout the day. 

I used to think I could work anywhere. I didn’t go to the office every day before Covid anyway – I’d be out attending meetings, visiting clients and so on. But to sit and concentrate on work, I most like being at home. I use a standing desk, which I also have at the office. Under the desk is a treadmill, so I walk as I work. Not only does it help me stay in shape, it’s also a boon to concentration.