The Young Entrepreneur Putting Myanmar’s Food Industry on the Fast Track
By Marie Starr 20 October 2018
YANGON — May Thin Kyu wakes at five in the morning and goes for a run or a session in the gym. It sets her up for a day as executive director of her company, Kreate Food, and its international food court serving 2-3,000 diners each day and more at the weekend. May Thin Kyu is just 25 years old.
On a quiet weekday morning at Food City, The Irrawaddy met May Thin Kyu, a calm and simply-dressed young lady with an American accent. We were in Yangon’s first international food court, the first major project May Thin Kyu established through Kreate Food, which is a service provider for businesses in the food and hospitality industry.
Food City is located on the third floor of Myanmar Plaza, one of Yangon’s largest shopping malls. There are 12 “vendors” selling dishes from Vietnam, China, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Japan as well as Mon and Shan ethnic food and Burmese street food fare. Operating the city’s first top-up card payment system where customers put cash on their Food City card wasn’t easy and for the first two years, May Thin Kyu spent a lot of time on the ground.
“Kreate Food encompasses a lot of services. Food City provides multi-cuisine food to customers with a card system. We also work with a lot of chain restaurants and [fast-moving consumer goods] companies from America and Europe to give them market research results before they come into the market,” said May Thin Kyu.
On returning to Myanmar during summer vacation from her studies in information systems in Australia, she recognized the infrastructure and support business services that Yangon lacked. She noticed there were few providers of technology for food and hospitality businesses and a limited talent pool.
In 2015, after two years of study, she moved back to Myanmar, began another online course through a UK university and set about starting her own business. Yangon had few shopping malls and no food courts, but lots of commercial development projects in the planning and construction stage. She recognized the imminent demand for business support services.
“I wanted to combine what I learned from my studies with a more tangible project so that’s when I started the food court.”
With neither business partner nor co-founder, the 22-year-old entrepreneur launched Kreate Food and soon after, with abundant fresh ambition and drive, launched the brand’s first major project, Food City in 2016. Today, May Thin Kyu leads a team of 50 individuals from different fields and professions who combine their skills and work on growing the business.
What Does it Take to Be an Entrepreneur?
Though May Thin Kyu appears to work with the audacity of a veteran businesswoman, she does admit that going it alone at the beginning of her business career resulted in some bad decisions and that a second opinion may have helped. Now, she has learned to recognize her own strengths and to optimize them by combining them with the strengths of others.
“What I’m good at is service management, providing support systems and other back-end office support. Meanwhile, my vendors are good at providing a consistent quality of food. So we rely on each other’s strengths.”
Of course, coming from a family with a successful property development company and having the opportunity to study abroad surely puts her ahead of many other young women in Myanmar but she wouldn’t be where she is today without drive and a vision for what Yangon’s food industry could be. When asked whether being a woman in business ever held her back, it’s as if the thought had never occurred to her.
“It’s better if you don’t impose any limitations on yourself with a label or because of your gender. Just focus on the purpose. What can you bring to the industry? What abilities can you work with? If you focus on that rather than your gender, you can go a long way in dominating any industry.”
Being ambitious and active from a young age, May Thin Kyu was 21 years old when she competed in her first marathon placing 17th and two years later, in the middle of setting up Food City, placed 15th in her second full marathon, running two more half-marathons since then. In the founding years of her business when she had little time to spare, she maintained her running and exercising regime. It fueled her mind and body, giving her the motivation and energy needed to steer a large team of employees. She is now in training for her third full marathon in 2019.
To maintain momentum in herself and her work, she sets milestones and registers achievements she accomplishes along the way. After three years of hard work, she realizes it’s time to step back, delegate more to others and follow her personal commitment to making more trips out of Yangon and out of the country.
“There’s this thing about work-life balance. For the first two, three years I didn’t get to go anywhere. I focused on getting this started, trying to get it up and running. This year, I have set a goal to travel every month to places I haven’t been to get more inspiration and to learn new things.”
Despite having achieved far more than the average 25-year-old, May Thin Kyu won’t stop there. She continues to nurture and grow her business with plans to expand her food court locations and to start a stand-alone food court concept. “Mont,” the next food brand by Kreate Food is to be launched the end of the year and will focus on producing high quality, healthy Burmese food with a fast food concept in an upscale location.
“For me, success is having a business with longevity that you can pass on to the next generation and generations to come. If you’re able to pass a business on, it means you have added a long-lasting value to the market and you’re contributing something to the economy.”