Meet the Icelandic website developer who made a digital comeback in Thailand
Thordur Adalsteinsson is among very few Icelanders in Thailand. What brought him here? Not the hot weather nor the spicy food – but a chance to start a business creating top quality websites for companies all around the world.
Thordur certainly has experience: When the internet was exploding in popularity in 1995, he was among the brave men tapping the business opportunities. He started a company, Icon Media Lab, with his partners in Denmark.
“There was a lot of internet hype and it was expensive to have a homepage at the time. And our company grew to be quite big,” says Thordur.
How it all began
Leaving Iceland aged 21 to study Arts and Graphic Design in Denmark, Thordur is fluent in Danish and well integrated with the Danish culture.
After school he worked at an advertising agency and later learned to create website designs. And Icon Media Lab Company was established following the hype. From five staff in 1995, the company grew to include over 200 staff in 2002. It expanded to serve a large number of clients in Scandinavia.
However, the heyday came to an end for Thordur in 2002 when the dotcom collapse hit the internet industry badly, leaving thousands of people unemployed.
According to Thordur, prices collapsed “big time.” The company could not market a homepage for a million baht like before as the price came down to just about 100,000 baht.
“My company also collapsed. I lost everything at the time. I went bankrupt and had to sell my apartments and two boats,” says Thordur
A new start in Asia
With extensive experience in the industry, Thordur and his Swedish friends whom he worked with in Denmark met in Chiang Mai in 2007 to discuss possible business opportunities. We needed to rethink the price concept, he says.
“We still wanted to produce quality web designs and graphic designs but we couldn’t compete with the price. It was and still is so costly to produce in Denmark. And we got an idea we wanted to come to Southeast Asia,” says Thordur.
Area Digital was then established in 2007 in Chiang Mai with a team of three Scandinavian friends. Instead of outsourcing Thais, Indians, Asians from Denmark, they came to outsource these talents in Asia. Nevertheless, the three partners continued to serve clients in Denmark, Sweden and Iceland.
“We can still deliver the services and quality designs like when we were in Scandinavia but at the Asian prices. That’s what established our edge and brought us up again,” says Thordur.
Moving to Bangkok
Soon after setting up their office in Chiang Mai in 2007, Area Digital decided to temporarily relocate their operations to Bangkok because the air pollution in Chiang Mai caused by a yearly crop burning became unbearable to Thordur and his team.
“The fire took us here. We were planning to go back but we met a lot of interesting people in Bangkok and decided to move our base here permanently,” says Thordur.
Since 2008, Area Digital has been located at BB Building in Asoke, one of the central business districts in Bangkok.
Specialising in providing homepages and content management system (CMS), Area Digital offers graphic designs, web designs, and online branding/marketing consultancy services.
Thordur says that for a homepage to be successful on the internet, it needs to be maintained and updated on a regular basis, and thus most Scandinavian clients request for CMS. The system also provides security that there is very small chance for a website to be hacked.
The company can also create websites which require advanced systems such as API Connection – the communication between two systems. With the API connection, for example, a hotel booking website can link users’ requests to the booking system of participating hotels instantly.
According to Thordur, prices depend on complexity, different demands in designs and functionalities. The company’s prices are considered very competitive in Scandinavia. However, they are considered expensive for many Thai-Thai companies.
“We have clients in Thailand but they are western-owned companies. Thai-Thai companies tend to have different understandings in regard to designs and price,” says Thordur.
Apart from clients in Scandinavia, the company has expanded to include high profile clients in the region such as Medeguide, Sunway Healthcare and one of the biggest companies in Malaysia, Sime Darby.
“We target high-profile clients but we also serve small clients who want quality websites and are OK with our prices and most of them are westerners,” says Thordur.
Sime Darby is one of the largest companies listed on Bursa Malaysia and, according to its website, has a market capitalisation of RM57.63 billion (USD19.13 billion). Area Digital has created a website for Sime Darby healthcare and its colleges.
“We deliver outstanding Scandinavian graphic designs and outstanding programming capabilities. Our quality is at such level that we have attracted clients like Sime Darby,” says Thordur.
According to Thordur, Area Digital also provides consultancy services to Sime Darby.
The company also serves a number of Scandinavian companies in Thailand such as Hyde and Seek – a stylish gastro bar owned by two Swedish brothers – an Icelandic-owned travel agency called Oriental and a Danish-owned travel website called Visit Beyond which features six destinations including Thailand, Vietnam, China, India, Nepal, and the Philippines.
After the economic collapsed in Iceland in 2008, Thordur says that he lost all of his clients there and the company has changed its focus to the markets in Denmark and Sweden.
And since markets in Asia are now growing very fast, Area Digital also aims to expand its client base to more countries in the region.
“It’s clearly happening in Asia. We are looking for sales representatives and opportunities to set up offices in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong,” says Thordur.
Even though Thordur visits Sime Darby and Sunway healthcare frequently in Malaysia, he says it’d be valuable to have an office in KL where his clients could just walk into and have a cup of coffee and discussion together.
“In this ever more digital climate, we want to offer a personal touch that clients can come in to shake our hands and talk to us on a personal level,” says Thordur.
Though most of Area Digital’s clients are western-owned companies, Thordur says that he can see changes in the perception of website quality in Asia.
“Awareness is growing in Asia in regards to quality web designs and programming including CMS and security,” says Thordur.
When asked about his views on the future of the internet and web design industry, the experienced Icelander reckons that the desktop computer is going to be disappearing.
“Right now it has been evolving a lot. Everything is going to come down to iPhone, Android phones, Tablets and so forth. So now it is about creating a website that is responsive,” says Thordur.
“Responsive design is the hype now. At the moment, most of our clients request for the website designs that are responsive to different media platforms,” he adds.
Thordur says that he also wants to create more awareness about Green hosting because traditional hosting methods require lots of energy, generate a lot of heat, and have a detrimental impact on the environment.
“Now we are working on a partnership with GreenQloud, the Icelandic company which offers a public compute cloud and data storage services that are hosted at renewable energy-powered facilities. We see a great opportunity in utilizing Iceland’s abundant 100 per cent renewable geothermal and hydro energy infrastructure, naturally cool climate and strategic location as a means to clean up IT and greatly reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. We, therefore, offer our clients a choice to host their websites on this truly green and 100 per cent renewable energy server,” he says.
The company is looking to expand in Asia and hope to raise awareness of Green hosting and its effects on global warming among Asian companies.
“I’m excited about the expansion and I have great hopes for it. However, if this doesn’t work with Area Digital, I’d become a captain sailing a boat,” he says with a smile.