Three young entrepreneurs branch out into start-ups of their own.
By Caron Lau
Are they mad, super visionary or just plain pig-headed? Masala investigates why these three individuals are leaving all the comforts of daddy’s business in preference for a life of stress, lack of sleep and the risk of failure.
How do they get on in a world so different to that in which their fathers first set up shop, where opportunities are lacking, the pace is faster than ever, and start-ups are failing daily? Read on for an inside look at three individuals whose experiences are as different as their choices in business. These are three young men who have dared to make it on their own with little or no regrets.
Financially independent since college, Harprem Doowa launched his start-up to prove himself and tells us the best ideas aren’t original, but rather the best executed.
How well do you get on with dad?
Perfectly fine and honestly even if I didn’t, there’s no way I’d be pouring my heart out in an Indian society targeted magazine. Imagine what the gossips would say! I have no issues working with dad. When working in a family business however, you’re not just working with your father, you’re working with the whole family. They’ve been there for the last 50 years, so naturally they expect you to prove yourself, and this is where things get tricky. This is one of the reasons I ventured out. I wanted to prove that I’m capable of taking over the family business.
What’s the family business?
Fabric trading. That business remains, but over the years, we’ve also ventured out in to manufacturing, property and restaurants.
Tell us about yourself?
I’m the first son of the first son, so people expect a lot of me. When I was young I enjoyed the attention, but as I got older I realised the attention comes with responsibility, so I had to get my act together. I graduated from Monash University with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and finance, and worked while I was studying for two and a half years to pay for all my living expenses. This was my first real job and since then I’ve been hooked on financial independence. I came back to Thailand and became an equities and derivatives broker for about two years, before doing my MBA at Sasin. It was during my final term when I started venturing in to the start-up world. Within a few months, I found myself at the head of an e-commerce company funded by Ardent Capital. After three years of founding and running Moxy/Orami, I decided that it was time to leave the e-commerce game and go somewhere I could make a bigger impact. That’s when I started Frank.co.th.
Did you ever actually join dad’s business?
No, I was always sure I could make it on my own. Once I had proven myself, I was sure I could join the family business when I was ready.
Was the family’s reaction something like ‘best get all that out of his system while he’s young’ or ‘what on earth is he thinking?’
My family was very happy actually. They told me they hadn’t spent all that money on my education just so I could do something I could have picked up with experience.
Wasn’t it the family in the end who had to sponsor this whole big idea of yours — your start-up?
No, I was lucky enough to find investors who believed in me.
What is the start-up?
Frank.co.th is an online insurance company. Our goal is to make buying insurance faster, simpler and more customisable to customers’ needs. We’ve been running for a little over a year now and recently we were awarded the most innovative start-up award from Bangkok Insurance for all of our efforts in digitising insurance, and received wide press coverage, including TV interviews.
Any regrets and challenges?
Plenty of challenges, no regrets. Obstacles aren’t supposed to stop you from moving forward, they are there to teach you ways to get around them. The more I look at things that way, the more fun and enjoyable every challenge in life becomes.
Would you recommend other businessmen’s kids to do it alone?
Definitely. Our families are used to doing things a certain way. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s worked for them. It’s our job to venture out and test the waters. If we fail, no harm done; there’ll be many other opportunities to redeem ourselves. If, on the other hand, our parents were to fail, they’d be risking the livelihoods of their children and grandchildren, and that’s a much bigger risk.
What advice do you have for them?
Don’t be afraid to try something. It doesn’t have to be different. The best ideas aren’t original, but rather the ones best executed. Facebook came way after My Space and iPhones came out way after other phones in the market. Focus on the execution of your idea. Work smart and test as many things as you can with real customers.
Would you say this experience has changed you?
Managing 50-plus people changes you in many ways. Not only have I learned about a completely new industry, I’ve also learned about the responsibility I have to my staff and stakeholders. It’s like I’ve become the big brother all over again. I guess this is my destiny after all and, come to think of it, I’m really happy about that.
Sahil Rattanaphas says his dad is his greatest fan, and has been financially supportive throughout, despite his sometimes dodgy dreams. Today, he enjoys eating for free and is trying to lose some kilos.
How close are you and dad?
Very close. Although he is a man of few words, his actions speak louder than anything most people have to say. He is a good man and he gave my brother and I the foundation that we needed to become who we are today. My brother is older than I, so he takes on a lot of the responsibilities given to us. I honestly couldn’t have achieved what I did without his support, guidance and criticism. He‘s more than a brother.
Dad is my number one fan. I get calls from him on an hourly basis, asking about new clients, new ideas and, of course, when our next dinner outing will be. I’m so lucky to have him.
What’s your dad’s business?
Like most Indians coming to Thailand at the time, my family business (my mum plays a huge part in it, so I wouldn’t call it my dad’s business) is textile trading.
Tell us a little about your background?
I had a great upbringing with lots of love and respect from everyone in my family and extended family. We are extremely close to all of our bhuas, masis and mamus (uncle and aunties) as well as my cousins who are actually more like sisters. I can’t remember a time when I needed guidance and didn’t have multiple people giving me advice. My parents valued education above most other things so I was lucky enough to go to one of the best schools in Asia. Oh, and there was also a lot of food involved in my upbringing, a lot of food. That might be the reason I gravitate towards hospitality.
How long were you with dad’s business before you felt like fleeing the nest?
I really enjoyed working alongside my brother, mum and dad. It was challenging and rewarding at the same time. In all honesty, my parents always encouraged me to do other things while performing my duties for the family business. I’ve had several start-ups succeed and fail through the years and I could not have done it without their support and understanding.
Did your family have to finance your most recent start-up, Below the Line (BTL) Media?
Not just this one, they’ve supported every single dream I’ve had! Whether that was being a rock-star, a chef, a mobile phone case developer (I know, weird), or a social media strategist, there is always abundant support, both monetarily and emotionally.
I hear your start-up is creating social media for the hospitality industry, why did you pick that?
Like I said, food is life! We were lucky enough to eat very, very well growing up. We also travelled a lot as a family so I feel like I know the industry pretty well. Did I mention that we get to eat for free? Anyone who tells you they don’t like free food is a liar.
Have you managed to turn a profit yet?
My business partner Gaurav Sehgal and I don’t like to talk about that kind of stuff, but we can tell you it’s been an extremely rewarding experience and we’re not stopping any time soon. A lot of my success comes from him. He pushes me to excel and if that’s not profit enough, then I don’t know what is.
Would you recommend others to break out and do it alone? Any tips for them?
If it’s what they want, of course! Follow your heart and you can’t go wrong. If you feel like you’re stuck and can’t break out, talk to your mum and dad; they will support you. The last thing your parents want is for you to be unhappy.
How has this venture changed you personally?
In every way imaginable. I’m more confident, more independent, kinder, happier and, of course, a little overweight. I’m working on fixing that too. Maybe BTL Media should change its focus to gyms and fitness centres instead.
High school drop-out Sudhant Chand regrets not continuing his studies, but has every reason to be happy with his memories of dad and his successful start-up.
What did you learn most from your dad?
I lost my dad seven years ago, and I miss him in good times and bad. He taught me what a man should be like — responsible, full of compassion, strength, love, understanding and, above all, a man of value. We were best friends and, as a child, I would always hold his hand and follow in his footsteps.
I’m so blessed, he always taught my elder brother and I how to face problems and challenges with a positive attitude and strong will. I will never forget him, and he will always be a lifetime influence.
What business did your dad set up?
A newspaper agency with distribution all over Thailand, as well as a real estate business involved in the construction of condos and apartments.
Was education a priority for you?
I was a weak student and eventually dropped out. I had nothing against education, but I found it uninteresting and felt unable to apply myself, so one day I went home and told my parents that I wanted to quit and start working.
What was it like, working for the family business?
I never really worked there, but every time I had any free time, I would spend a few hours helping dad at work. I always had a basic understanding of his work and business strategies, but deep inside I wanted to do something else on my own, something I was interested in.
My family was happy and supportive, and allowed me to pursue my desire to work. I think they thought I would go back to university after a few weeks of work, but I never did as I loved it. It was challenging and fun.
Who financed your seafood and logistics start-up?
My family always supported me throughout. At the age of 15, I started work at a German logistics company called ABX (Logistics) Thailand Co., Ltd. They paid me just B6,500 because I had no qualifications. However, the manager recognised my potential and could see how motivated I was and doubled by salary within two years. Altogether, I stayed with the company for seven years. It was a great experience for me and enabled me to create the foundation of my future dreams.
At the age of 22, I decided to quit the job and start up my own business. My dad was completely supportive, and sponsored the seafood and logistics start-up with USD60,000.
I once met a person who asked me, “If you had B100 in your pocket, what would you buy, clothes or food?” “Food,” I replied, and that is how I got into the seafood business. We also hold a brand franchisee called Patanjali & Divya Products from Haridwar, India, for which the Brand Ambassador is Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev.
When did you launch and how is it going?
I launched Siam Seafood Industries Limited seven years ago in 2010, and we opened Patanjali & Divya Products in Bangkok in 2013. Both are doing really well!
What are your greatest regrets?
Only one regret — that I left my studies! I wish I could go back in time. As for challenges, there are many in every business because it is highly competitive.
Would you recommend others to follow their dreams?
Yes, of course. Do something that interests you. Dream big and don’t be afraid of the outcome; life is for learning.
Have you changed since you launched your start-up?
It’s the people you meet and experiences you encounter that change you. I’ve been meeting loads of people around the world, exploring new ideas and places, and learning new things every day.