Local entrepreneur Rithy Thul dreamt up the concept of the “Koompi” laptop project several years ago with the aim of bringing high-rate technology to the Cambodian market. Through his Smallworld venture, a local coworking space he launched in 2011, Rithy was able to begin testing hardware for the product as early as August 2014.
“We wanted to build this laptop as a tool for local engineers, problem solvers and discoverers,” Rithy said. “The world needs more discoverers, more innovators – not just copycats. That is what we hope we are working toward with this product.”
With 200 laptops already preordered, the Koompi project will see more than 2,000 units go on sale beginning 10 October. As the most expensive Koompi laptop is priced at $369, Rithy and his fellow engineers will be making under $50 in profit per laptop sold – and plan to reinvest all profits back into the company.
“We sell at the market price, and we don’t want the computer to go higher than that,” said Rithy. “Of course we have to make money to reinvest into what we believe and scale up the impact, but that’s not the primary purpose.”
His team’s main goal, Rithy explained, has long been to market their product to Cambodian teenagers and young professionals who could greatly benefit from access to an affordable, powerful computer.
“The primary goal is to help build the next generation of engineers by giving them access to this kind of technology,” he said. “They’re the ones who are going to heal us. They’re the ones who are going to discover new ways to solve problems. So that’s what our success is.”
The laptop is light, weighing in at just over a kilogramme, and is available in both a light grey and a rose gold colour. While buyers are able to choose their preferred keyboard at the time of their purchase – whether that be English or Khmer – they are especially encouraged to try out a new, updated version of the Khmer keyboard that Rithy and his team have been perfecting.
Most notably, each laptop runs on a Linux operating system, which is open-source and therefore freely distributable. Rather than purchase a Windows operating system – which could be priced anywhere up to $200 per laptop – Rithy hopes to see more people shift toward use of Linux systems, which can be harder to learn at first but which offer free applications, take up less storage, and do not force users to constantly update.
“The reason we can make these laptops affordable is because we don’t have to pay for software licences to big companies, since we make our own – but the biggest thing is that we don’t need to make too much profit, because that’s not our goal,” Rithy said. “One of our goals is to see 500 million people using our operating system in the next five years. So if more people are using Linux, then that is how we measure our success – not in money.”
Though the Koompi team is made up of only eight members, Rithy has big plans for the future of the project.
“We started out wanting to help Cambodians find access to a good, durable laptop for less,” he said. “But now we’re seeing that this project could help people in other Asean nations, as we’ve already had potential partners in Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines express their interest in the computer.”
“It seems a lot of people want a good computer for a low cost,” he added, chuckling.