By Srisamorn Phoosuphanusorn
Bangkok Post, Thailand
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Korawad Chearavanont, the scion of one of Thailand’s most powerful business families shares his interesting and unique perspective on the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
Bangkok Post, Thailand
An old, and perhaps not entirely optimistic Chinese saying, goes something like this: the first generation starts the business, the second makes it flourish, but the third tends to wreck it.
But Korawad Chearavanont, the scion of one of Thailand’s most powerful business families behind the CP Group empire, is determined to prove that adage wrong.
As the eldest son of True Corp chief executive Suphachai Chearavanont, Mr Korawad has not only vowed to preserve the family’s stature, but has every intention of building on the foundations laid down by them.
“Grandfather has made it clear that the third generation must strive to find success in the business world that is both distinct and independent from the family’s known core enterprises,” says Mr Korawad, referring to Dhanin Chearavanont, the CP patriarch listed by Forbes as Thailand’s richest man.
Nicknamed Phu, Mr Korawad is the chief executive of Eko Communications, a startup he founded last year to develop mobile messaging apps for the workplace.
The 21-year-old decided to drop out of Columbia University, where he was studying history until August last year, as it dawned on him that getting a university degree did not necessarily guarantee one’s future success.
Mr Korawad believes there are greater lessons to be learned in the real world and pursuing a new business was a good start.
Question: How did you get Eko Communications up and running?
A: The business did not require a lot of capital to start. Initially there were only three of us and we coded it in-house. Most of it was written by our chief technology officer, David Zhang.
After we received our first significant funding from 500 Startups and Siemer Ventures, we were able to begin hiring more engineers to scale up the business.
Originally we worked out of my dorm room in New Jersey before moving to a small, windowless room in New York.
Eko first came to life at my boarding school dorm in New York when I was 17. The main product office remains in New York, and the startup operates an office in Bangkok.
The relocation of Eko’s main office to Bangkok was motivated by the need to be close to our major clients, as well as expand across Southeast Asia.
Question: Where do you find inspiration?
A: The truth is I love what I do, and I look forward to heading into the office every day. There is just something that I find extremely exciting about trying to build an incredible product that real people use.
I’m inspired every day by the enjoyment which comes from building and growing this business.
Question: Who is your role model?
A: My parents. I grew up watching my dad work so hard every day to build and expand his telecom projects and business.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from him is not giving up even when everything seems impossible. Building a business is not like in the movies or on TV — it’s not glamorous and easy. It’s about years or even decades of hard work and learning, which also comes with failure.
Understanding this is what has allowed me to not give up, even during the hardest moments.
My mum’s global perspective also helped to drive me in the same direction.
Ever since I was young, she always taught me about the world beyond Thailand, and this is very much the reason we kept the broader world in mind when building our business. That is also why we are able to compete and derive the majority of our business from overseas expansion.
She made me see everything from a more open viewpoint. My mum also helped inspire me to work hard to achieve things through my own efforts. Without her, I would not be so driven to work and create.
Question: How has your grandfather [Mr Dhanin] inspired you in doing business?
A: My grandfather inspires me through his humility — no matter how successful and experienced he is, he continues to respect and listen to everyone’s opinion and is always trying to learn from everyone, even those much younger than him.
It is this drive to learn that constantly really reminds me of how much more I have to see and how important being grounded is.
As long as you are grounded, you can always learn more and improve yourself.
Question: Were there any significant turning points in your life?
A: There were two major events — the first was when I was very young. I was just like every other kid, I enjoyed playing and was pretty attached to video games.
Then my dad and I went to live as monks for two weeks, and this was a truly transformative and inspirational experience. It really opened my eyes to things around me and made me realize that the scope of the world was so much broader than that of my games.
After that, I began to work on projects and charity initiatives as I felt the drive and desire to do something that could affect real lives in the real world.
The second turning point came about two years into the process of building up Eko, towards the end of 2012. It was a very hard time, we had tried launching the original product twice, and it failed both times. We were also out of money and couldn’t pay our team anymore.
It was at this point that I was going to give up and stop working on the business, but one evening my dad gave me a talk that changed my perspective on business and everything I was working towards. After that, I have not looked back twice and was driven forward, unencumbered by doubt, by the vision and the product.
It also made me realize that it is times of crisis and hardship that often provide the greatest motivation and opportunity to bounce back from the bottom stronger than ever before.
Question: What’s your management style?
A: I believe that building a successful organization is about building something that doesn’t need you to thrive. Similarly, I want each team leader to build a team that can thrive even without them.
In other words, an organization where responsibility is decentralized and divided between everyone.
To achieve this, I entrust a lot of decisions to my team, and they to their respective teams. I try to be hands off in order to give them the space to make decisions, learn and grow.
I believe in giving responsibility to our leaders and staff and trusting them to be able to do it. No micromanaging. I always try to give everyone space to do things themselves, make mistakes, learn on their own, and thus grow and be able to express their ideas.
When you trust your staff, they know they own that piece of the business and try to do their best.
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Even when I’m away, things will run smoothly because decisions are still being made autonomously on all levels.
Similarly, I expect my team leaders to give their team members the space and power to make decisions on their own and trust in those decisions — it’s all about giving space.
In addition, Eko’s employment policies have been set out to suit the nature of the company’s business. There’s no maximum or minimum period of paid annual leave an Eko employee can take.
We have no set working hours, no dress code and no vacation policy. We provide travel programmes where staff can go on holiday for free as many times as they wish.
We offer free Thai massages and free lunches on some days at the office.
Question: What do you envision Eko becoming over the next 3-5 years?
A: I hope to develop Eko into a Thai-based technology firm that produces innovative and world-first solutions that meet the needs of customers all around the world.
Now Eko has 60 staff, 40% of them foreigners. The company plans to recruit 240 more employees by 2017 to serve its expansion plans.
I hope Eko becomes a unicorn by 2017, a startup company valued at over US$1 billion.
Our ultimate goal is to become a global player competing with the likes of Microsoft over the next 10 to 20 years.
Question: How do you spend your day?
A: Normally, I wake up, head to my office, go to the gym, then head into work.
I generally get out of work around 7 or 8pm and head home for dinner with my family. I also spend a lot of time travelling abroad, seeing partners and customers.
Question: How do you escape from daily pressures?
A: I think the key for me is to ensure that I always figure out, even roughly, plans to fix whatever issues I may be stressed about.
By the time I get home, or go to bed, I will at least be able to tell myself everything will be fine because I am ready to take action.
I also try to spend weekends away with friends, when I stay away from my phone.
Question: What sports or hobbies do you like to do?
A: I used to swim competitively for more than 10 years before stopping when I was 18. I swam in Thailand, around the region, as well as for my high school in the US.
In my last year, my relay team finished with All-American status (top 50 ranked in the US), and also finished in the top 10 for some individual events at major regional US meets.
Here’s a fun fact. I actually swam against Joseph Schooling [a Singaporean swimmer who won the gold medal in the 100 metres butterfly at the 2016 Olympics]. I even beat him in some events!
Question: What is next for your career?
A: I am committed towards building and developing Eko. I’m having the time of my life at the helm of the business and for the foreseeable future I would love to be able to continue growing it into the organisation I believe it can be.