On Being Creative and Confident: Pavni

The fashion industry, glamorous as it may seem to outsiders is actually a highly competitive, tough and challenging business. Thriving in such an environment demands excellence, authenticity and an intuitive understanding of that sweet spot between quality and price. 

Enter Pavni.

Not afraid of being different and taking risks, she is known for her unique, elegant, trendsetting and sophisticated creations. Attend any Indian social event today in Bangkok,  and chances are that more than a few women (and some men) will be spotted in outfits designed by her.

Commanding such a loyal following is obviously no easy feat, but this designer managed to do so by combining her outstanding talent with the necessary entrepreneurial ingredients of focus, perseverance and a strong point of view, to become the impressive force that she is today.


WhatsApp Image 2018-09-13 at 15.27.55


GenUp: Tell us about yourself.

Pavni : I’m a fashion designer. I make one of a kind Indian-western clothing for a very niche Thai Indian market in Bangkok. That’s like 85% of my work. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and South Asian Studies from the University of Chicago and another Bachelors in Fashion Design. When I finished my first Bachelors  (Economics) I realized that it wasn’t my calling and I had been fighting against what I truly wanted because I thought it sounded better. And so I did another three years in fashion. I went in a totally new direction and I don’t regret my path at all because the four years that I initially spent studying Economics and South Asian studies helped me think not just as a fashion designer. A lot of designers are about pretty things and fads but I also think about other things. I think about where we fit into it in terms of fashion history, because I think about how the economics of the world and the political atmosphere affects what we want to wear. For example, during the women’s lib movement in the 1920s, the clothes and body types that were preferred were flat chested women with no hips, because the women did not want to appear too womanly. So the clothes they wore in those days were these straight dresses that hid their curves. And then there was this whole thing about hemlines and stock markets and how shorter hemlines correlated to rising stock prices because women were more daring. And then hemlines went back down again after the crash in 1929.  And like in the 1950s right after the second World War, clothes became really feminine again, and women began to ever wear corsets again because after the shock of the war they did not want any more drama and wanted to go back to an older way of life. Their waists became really tiny and the 50s were the time of really curvy women. And today because of the proliferation fo the internet and social media, there’s like over stimulation and too much information and so because of that when you ask what’s in fashion today, you can’t really say because there’s just too much. Everything is in fashion! So you can look like a woman from the 1930s, or dress retro or whatever, there are just so many niches. So when I make clothes, I think about all these things.

So fashion is not as superficial as everyone seems to think. What you want to wear is actually symbolic of what is happening around you. And even the material that you want to wear, for example there is so much awareness about the environment so there is a return to things like linens and cottons and other natural fabrics.


GenUp: What was your initial spark? Why did you decide to go on your own rather than work for a fashion company?

Pavni: I want to be free. Like I need to be able to do what I want. I have been blessed with the means and a business reputation that my mother had already started and so I was able to do what I wanted.


WhatsApp Image 2018-09-13 at 15.23.45


GenUp: Did your family support you in your decision?

Pavni: Yes, everyone is really supportive of me. If I come home late or whether I need to go off on a trip to look at fabrics, there is no issue from anyone.  If I need to do a fashion show every week, they are there with me helping set things up and supporting me backstage. So I’m very blessed. 


GenUp: Tell us a little bit about your business.

Pavni: I work very closely with my customers. I do have some ready made clothes but usually they call for an appointment and we work together to create an outfit that they like, and which is also my creation. In this way every customer gets an outfit that is unique from what is out in the market and with my label on them. My brand is “Pavni” which means pure. The idea is to have this principle be a part of the all the clothes. You are one of a kind and should stand out but within reason. I mean you shouldn’t have to look so outlandish and should still look like your own person. So that’s the idea.


GenUp: How do people know where to find you?

Pavni : I wish I could say something cool like ‘online’ or something, but really it’s mostly word of mouth. Once a customer is happy and they tell their friends and cousins and so that’s how they find out about me.  And sometimes I get people who know about me from instagram but not too much. I use social media to stay prevalent and relevant. Because today everyone is on instagram everyday and they’re seeing all these other big designers like Versace and Anamika and so they need to be reminded that you exist and so you need to be around. And obviously it is also a platform to attract a new market which is happening but not too much. And also to keep the customer impressed by showcasing your stuff. Because when you have a customer who’s wearing your clothes it isn’t the same as having model wearing them. The model will be 100% the my creation. So yes, instagram is something that I use quite a bit.


WhatsApp Image 2018-09-13 at 15.23.44


GenUp: What was the biggest hurdle you faced when you started your business? What mistakes did you make?

Pavni: The biggest mistake I made was that I was too nice! I learned that the mentality of customers is such that you must be a little “snobby”, and they will want you more. I mean of course I have to be super attentive too but it took me a while to realize that I cannot agree to everything. I would work my entire schedule around someone, for example they would tell me that they work all day and cannot come to see me before 6 pm, and I would stay at work late for them, And that actually drove my demand down. It took me a while and when I did gain more confidence, I would say no to them. My store stayed open until 6 and they would just have to take the time off from whatever life it was that they were leading to come to see me. It made them feel my product was more “worth it”. So I think you have to have confidence, you have to believe in your product and believe that they want it enough. In the early days I would do many things where I would bend over backwards. I mean I was new and I really wanted them to like my clothes. So I would say things like “Come in, please look at my stuff”, and I would show them, and the way I did that made them feel like I was begging. So that translated into desperation. It’s a bit strange but the kind of people that would wear my clothes at parties, it was like they almost wanted me to be snobby. But I’m not good at being the right kind of snobby to certain types of people, so I just thought that all I needed to do was be confident in myself and my creations. You try hard, but not too hard and someone doesn’t like your stuff, then someone else will. 


GenUp: Is your business self funded? Are there outside investors? Do you plan to raise money and maybe go international?

Pavni: I am self funded. I would like to go international but I feel like I have a lot of obstacles to overcome before I can do so.


GenUp: Have you experienced failure? How did you bounce back?

Pavni: Yes. In the early days, I wanted to sell clothes to non-Indians too and so I rented a store in Siam Square which is a retail place for fashion. And it was just terrible. I realized that I hadn’t thought it through, in terms of the clothes I wanted to sell. There was no cohesion in anything I did. I was also so ridiculously ambitious, I mean I hadn’t even finished my fashion school yet, I hadn’t even done my fashion school collection. I was just all over the place and I kinda did it all wrong. And that was a big failure and I shut down. It made me stronger and I realized that you’ve got to really know what you want to do, there’s a lot of competition out there and you must always have your A game. So you have to have a plan. I don’t have a formal business plan or anything, and I do a lot of things by instinct but I still do have to have some sort a of a plan.


WhatsApp Image 2018-09-13 at 15.23.42


GenUp: What drives you? How do you stay motivated?

Pavni: If you asked me that when I was just starting out, I would have said something like, “That’s just who I am. I love clothes and this is what I do”. But after all these years, I have to say that it is harder to stay motivated. Things become a little less exciting as time goes on. So what really keeps me going is when I get those messages from customers, telling me how much they love my outfits, and how good they feel in them, things like that make me feel good and I know that I’m doing the right thing. And also when I do a fashion show, and I have to do a whole new collection and I feel like I can do something totally new and unique, something that isn’t specifically for a particular customer it feels good. Because when you do something for a particular customer, you’re always thinking how she would look, how her body would look, how she would carry it off etc. But while doing a fashion show, all I’m thinking is what do I want to make? I have the freedom to create. And that keeps me motivated. 


GenUp: Who do you admire?

Pavni: I admire a lot of Indian designers, among them Anamika. But that is also because I have seen her process closely. When I see her create, I’m amazed. I’m also really inspired by my mom, who started doing this more than 20 years go at a time when women weren’t working and she didn’t have half the support that I did when I started. And her creativity. Like even today when she pretends she doesn’t like fashion, she still just knows what to do. So she has this instinct and is sometimes years ahead of the curve. So when I watch her, I’m absolutely amazed. 

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-13 at 15.23.46

GenUp: What don’t you like about being an entrepreneur?

Pavni: So many things. I don’t like that I don’t get real holidays. Because other people get to simply go away and leave it with their boss or their colleague or whomever. But I will constantly get calls and messages from customers and I usually have to reply. But funnily enough that’s also what I love about my job. That it’s flexible enough to let me go on holiday whenever I want. Another thing that I dislike is that it has made me have this love hate relationship with my clothes, because we are living at time when we are a little too connected to each other. Like this how my customers sometimes order clothes, “Hey I really like that one, can you make it for me in pink?” And then 20 minutes later, they’re like, “No! In green”. And then 20 minutes later they want to change it back to pink. And then the next day to they want to change that to long sleeves and then back to bell sleeves or something. And that can be a bit frustrating.


GenUp: What does success in life mean to you?

Pavni: Success to me means being happy and fulfilled. And because we live in a world where money is important, it is about doing what you love that can also brings in money. Not necessarily billions or something but just enough to support your lifestyle. So you love what you do and do what you love.


WhatsApp Image 2018-09-13 at 15.23.47


GenUp: What advice would you give someone who is considering the entrepreneurial path?

Pavni: Well I do have specific advice for someone considering fashion design: You know when someone sees you at your boutique they think it’s all so glamorous. Well it’s not. Being a fashion designer is the exact opposite of glamor. The person I hang out with the most, after my husband, aren’t models or actors. They are my seamstresses. The production line. And I spend all day and everyday with them. The other thing is that you are walking around all day, sweating in the heat in the fabric markets. You aren’t wearing any fancy clothes or jewelry.  You don’t draw an outfit and it magically gets made. You have to source the fabric, get it made, do quality control. All very messy and much harder than it seems. So really think about it. Are you ready for that? If you simply love fashion, perhaps you should go into something like fashion merchandising. Just be a buyer. This fashion designing and production is a whole different ball game. And then you go to parties and people are constantly judging what you’re wearing. After all you’re a fashion person but after you make clothes all day, after looking at clothes all day and after you fit people all day, all you want to do is wear a pair of jeans and t shirt.  So do think carefully.

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-13 at 15.30.52


GenUp: Thank you so much Pavni, it’s been a pleasure.

Pavni: Thank you!!


The Secret of Success : Panupong Tejapaibul

Striking the right chord in the marketplace is about luck and timing.
But It is also about kinetic energy and strong work ethic, confidence and determination, laser sharp focus and being in sync with trends, all traits that Panupong has in abundance.
Event attendees and Organizers today cannot imagine a world without Ticketmelon, the company he founded two years ago which today is one of the top ticketing and event platforms in Thailand.
Ticketmelon provides solutions for events of all types and sizes, equipped with analytical insights, end-to-end solutions and customized marketing support to amplify user experience.
And they’re just starting out. With the company spreading its branches to neighbouring countries, we can be sure that International Live Events will never be the same.
This interview is a treat for any aspiring or even an experienced entrepreneur, and is peppered with gems of inspiration, practical lessons and philosophy from a young man mature beyond his years.

Ticketmelon can be found at ticketmelon.com





GenUp : Hi, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Panupong: I’m 25 years old, and I finished my high school from Ruam Rudee International school in Bangkok and studied finance at Chula University. I have been studying in Thailand my whole life. I’m dyslexic and was diagnosed when I was very young. I struggled to read for a long time, and fortunately they caught it early and I went through a program and learned to read.

GenUp: What was your initial spark ? What motivated you to go the entrepreneurial path?
Panupong: I started to be interested in business probably when I was 15. At that time, I became very fascinated with the idea of value discrepancy and gap of what one can achieve, say in the States and here in Thailand. For instance, let’s say DTAC, which by Thai standards is a very successful company here and makes about 7 Billion baht per year. But if you look at a company like Amazon, which I understand is a completely different company as far as market size etc, but still, the difference is such that it makes like 700 trillion baht per quarter. So what fascinates me is that both Jeff Bezos and the CEO of DTAC have 24 hours in a day but the value gap is huge. And so I became absolutely fascinated with this at a very early age. I was always reading about Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk and Peter Thiel and they were totally amazing to me. They were my idols. And so that was something that I wanted to experience, because most of the people I talked to assumed that being like them was a completely impossible dream. Too big of a dream, totally impossible to even contemplate doing it. So I really wanted to know what it would be like to achieve that. So that was and is definitely my obsession. And the only way to experience this is would be to do it myself.

GenUp: And did your family support you in your decision?
Panupong: Well our family history was such that we had started out being entrepreneurial and then all that changed with the new generation. But despite this, my father has continued to be very supportive of me. He always said, yes, you go ahead and do what you want to do. My mother on the other hand, always told me to get a job. Until Ticketmelon were featured on Forbes, she continued to tell me to get a real job with a stable company like McKinsey or something, and then when we were featured she said ok, my son is not wasting his time. I still remember when I first started, I was doing something called Clicktalad which was this website that I never launched but which laid the foundation for Ticketmelon. And I was staying late after school to work on this site and my mother was always upset that I was staying late in school with my friends.
In my third year of college I founded Precise Media, which was funded by a guest lecturer in Chula. It focuses on niche media solutions and has a full time CEO and is self sustaining. I’m still a director there. Our latest product is called Pet care TV, which if you go to a vet there’s an advertising screen in the waiting room and shows dog and pet food brands. Right now we have 8 brands running on the display and there is a network of 400 clinics using the system.

GenUp: What was Clicktalad?
Panupong : Clicktalad was our project that never launched. In 2010 or 2011, there were these websites with terrible user interfaces and we saw the opportunity to create a beautiful, easy to use website and offer that customer experience that we knew was a winning formula in the States. But as we were doing it, Lazada and Zamora came along and all of a sudden people knew how to make successful E Commerce companies. So it just became a battle about money and how long one could stay in the game. For instance, Zalora came in with a marketing budget of 800 million baht and it became a matter of aggressive scaling and so we made the decision to not do Clicktalad. Which in retrospect was a good thing because the companies that were popular before Lazada and Zamora like “talad.com” and “weloveshopping.com” are now nowhere to be found and the survivors are the companies that had all this money to burn.


GenUp: Talk to us about Ticketmelon.
Panupong: Right, sure. Ticketmelon is an Event Technology company, which includes Ticketing solutions, In-event solutions such as cashless payments, and Data Analytics. We provide a full suite of solutions that help event marketers optimize their event marketing initiatives. Their event operations aspect is streamlined with cashless payment as well as ticketing experiences for the ticket buyers. Parallel to that we also have a place where visitors can discover events. So we have a lot of visitors coming to the site to discover events. Before this, there hasn’t been a platform to reach out to the public.
Our ideal customers are event organizers, whether they are their own brand or whether they are organizing agencies who do organizing services for their clients.
On the front end, the Ticketmelon brand is well knows to ticket buyers, which is the B2C aspect.
What we focus on is any activity that requires the physical gathering of people, so that means that it can be any sort of event. When we talk about events, people think, oh it needs to be some big concert or trade show, but actually what we want to be is a part of any sort of physical gathering of people. And we want technology to help facilitate those interactions, bring people together easily, and improve the client experience. So that’s the core concept around which everything is based. So when you look at the website you see a wide variety of events like a small 8 people wine tasting event all the way up to a full scale concert with 20,000 people. So where people gather is where we are.

GenUp : How do people find you? What is the marketing channel that you use?
Panupong: Social media is one of our biggest drivers of traffic. Events are a very social experience since you go to an event because your friend is going to an event and so on and so forth. So social media becomes very key in sharing events.
As far as organizer acquisition goes, it is largely a direct sales process. We email or call them to set up a meeting. Recently though it has been very heavy on word of mouth, like maybe 70 to 80% of the time. We launched in August 2015 so it’s been about 2 years and 4 months and people tend to know about us now. Objectively, we are the largest event platform for entertainment, based on the number of events that we’ve achieved, and we’re in the top 3 based on the number of tickets sold.


GenUp: Did you follow your business plan strictly or did you have to adapt along the way?
Panupong: Well, up to this day, our business plan largely remains the same. The changes were more on the tactical and strategic level. We’ve had to fine tune them. I had the idea for Ticketmelon since high school, since grade 12, and the market has changed quite a bit since then and so we’ve adapted to optimise our chances of success. But the vision remains largely the same. We wanted to be the destination for the discovery of events and that continues to be so. The fact that we are in the top three largest ticketing vendor category in Thailand is evidence that we are still moving towards that vision.

GenUp: What was the biggest hurdle you faced? Did you make any mistakes along the way?
Panupong: Oh yes, of course! We make mistakes all the time! But it’s the way you recover. Being an entrepreneur means making very important decisions based on very little information and data, so there are prone to be mistakes. So adaptability and speed becomes very crucial, so that you don’t get driven away from your end goal. On of our biggest hurdles was definitely fund raising. It’s very challenging. Hiring is very challenging. Despite this though, we are very much unfazed by it. I knew what I was signing up for, and the mentality of failure and giving up, is very different from the way other people may think about it. What is mostly troubling for me in business, is when things take longer than I want. The stress aspect is fine. If you’re an entrepreneur and you can’t handle the stress then maybe you’re mentally not made for this. So when I define something that is a hurdle for me, I mean time. Things often just take too long, and it distracts us from the things that we want to achieve.

GenUp: When you talk about how long it takes, are you referring to funding?
Panupong: Yes. Funding takes a long time. The previous two equity rounds were largely friends and family. We had amazing Angel investors who believed in us and are still on the board today. Besides that there was another Angel investor, and a family member who really supported us. Going forward, we want to focus on raising VC funding.


GenUp: With the way your business is going and the support from the various people you know, why do you need VC funding?
Panupong: The most important reason is Professionalism. At the end of the day it is very important that we don’t get too complacent about our success. I’m not saying we’ve arrived or anything, but we have made progress and it is important to make sure that I am my team continue to be pressured, so as to bring out the best in us that we can achieve. Having professional board meetings, being absolutely strict on KPI’s, Reporting etc., we want that. We want to create an environment where we’re absolutely professional. We want to make it clear that this is not in any way a hobby or a side project that we want to do. We want to build a long lasting organisation, a brand that our generation can be proud of. During every generation, iconic brands are created and we want Ticketmelon to be that iconic brand. This takes a lot of focus, it takes a lot of dedication and so having VC money helps create the environment that would force us to always remain at optimal efficiency. During the VC meetings we had, some of them told us that they were more relaxed with regards to board meetings etc, and some told us that they needed monthly board meetings. We said great, actually preferring the latter types who are more strict and formal. It pushes us and challenges us and makes us move very quickly and that’s the kind of environment that’s needed to get us where we want to be. I just like the intensity and thrive on it. Oftentimes, the best solutions that I come up with is when I’m desperate and I’m in a corner. Asking very tough questions and stretching to find the answers is something very useful for the company. And sometimes, it’s ok to not have the answer. It’s totally ok. That’s the whole point, because you now know that you don’t have all the answers and so now what are you going to do about it? So it definitely pushes me out of my comfort zone. I was funded for Ticketmelon when I was in my 4th year of college and we were doing the shareholder agreements at the exact time that my final exams were going on. I was going to the lawyers and then pulling out my books right after that. And for the first time in my life I went through like, two anxiety attacks. I had never experienced them before. But doing that pushed the boundary of my comfort zone and now I have a much bigger comfort zone.The old stuff will not stress me anymore. My capacity to suffer increased and that helped a lot. So moving forward, our struggles with business, our challenges, competition, all of the stuff is pushing us. And then suddenly in retrospect you realize that something that used to be a big deal for us, like our regular board meetings is now easy. So when we look at a potential VC, I wan to know if they’re going to push me forward. For example, we do everything on a local level and I want to start doing things on a regional or international level. We’re talking about scaling and dealing with culture and marketing on an international level, and these are going to be huge challenges and I am absolutely excited about them. I want to make my mistakes, learn and figure out all this and then look back and say, oh wow, now I know how to do all this internationally. All this is so exciting.

GenUp: Have you ever experienced failure? How did you bounce back?
Panupong: Depends on how you define failure. A lot of people think failure as this uncontrollable thing, like an act from God or some outside force. But I view failure as a choice. Look, a company is only as good as its people, and you have the power to decide if you want it to work or not. I you look at the mortality rate of startups, it’s like 90-95%. And if you look at their reasons for failure, for instance funding, product issues, bad market fit, insufficient cash flow etc, the problem with that is those aren’t the reasons for failure. Those are problems that you have the job to solve. It is what you are in business to do. But you make that decision to not do those things, or not solve those problems and so you in fact decided to fail. If you can’t get the right product market fit, then fix the damn product. You decided not to take the time to go study the market, interview the people, fix the product, go interview them again and see if customer feedback is better. You decided to not do it and so you decided to fail. So you ran out of money and couldn’t fundraise. Why couldn’t you fund raise? You didn’t have enough traction. So fix it. But if you don’t then you made a very rational decision to fail. When I think about failure, I never think that failure is this uncontrollable factor. And what’s terrible is that the startup community and the media is able to somehow allocate this failure responsibility to this thing that is outside your control. And this gave entrepreneurs an excuse, oh because of this or because of that. So the way I look at failure is very different.
So on that note, have we failed? Perhaps the only thing that we fail at is timing. We wish things would go faster. We have a very clear picture on where we want to be 5 years from now and 8 years from now and whenever it takes longer, it adds months to our timeline. That’s part of our learning experience, I guess.


GenUp: What do you do to stay motivated? What drives you?
Panupong: Probably my biggest motivator is that I want to minimize regret. There are times, in the fatigue of things like say, fundraising, when we feel a bit low. But the only thing that reminds me to keeps me going is that I know for a fact that if I didn’t do this, and I’m on my death bed and have a week left to live or something, and I look back at my life and remember that when I was 20 and had a good education, good health, had everything and all the tools I needed and I didn’t do it, I would never forgive myself. Never. So the concept of death is my biggest foundational driver. I was asked once what if someone wanted to buy my company for $500 million, I probably wouldn’t sell it because I would have to do all this again from scratch. I’m totally obsessed with the process of making $2Billion and I want to see what it would take to be someone like Jeff Bezos. I just want to see what it would take and that for me is a life that is worth experiencing. Whether I get there or not doesn’t matter.

GenUp: Who do you admire? Any books or people that have motivated or continue to motivate you?
Panupong: There are a lot of people I admire and I admire different people for different reasons. Different aspects of people appeal to me. From a business side, there are a lot of people. Off the top of my head, there’s Elon Musk. The amount of dedication of this man and the amount of risk that he took is amazing. He put the company way beyond himself. When he started Space X and Tesla, he had to go sleep at his friend’s place at some point since he had no money. Because after he sold Paypal, he put all his money into the new company and that is the level of dedication that I admire. And there’s Masayoshi Son, the founder of SoftBank. You may know this story. At 16, he was so obsessed with Den Fujita, the founder of McDonald’s Japan, that he called repeatedly to try to meet with him but he kept getting rejected. So the teenager flew to Tokyo and just showed up at Fujita’s office just so he could see his face. He told the receptionist that all he wanted to do was see Mr. Fujita’s face for 3 minutes. The receptionist finally relented and he was allowed up to the offices. Son and Fujita spoke for 15 minutes and Son asked Fujita what business he should do, what industry he should be involved in, and Fujita told him to look to the future and be involved in the computer business. And today the world has Softbank. His persistency is absolutely fascinating. And so my admiration for people like this is that we all talk about luck and how lucky some people are and yes, luck does play a role. But the persistency of these people, the drive to achieve is amazing. Like what’s going to stop them? Nothing. And so it comes as no surprise that they are where they are today. We want to absorb that culture and persistency, be obsessed with continuous learning, continuous acquisition of knowledge and most importantly, doing something about it. Because the best practices are very well documented. All that needs to be done is to do it. One must do it.

GenUp: What don’t you like about being an entrepreneur ? What would you tell your younger self about the path he was about to take?
Panupong: I keep going back to the concept of time. Things always take longer than you hope. I prepared myself when I was young and read a lot of business books starting from when I was in high school. I prepared with the knowledge that the foundation of everything is mental temperament. It is extremely mentally straining. I knew what to expect. But there are these things that are annoying to me that I didn’t realize, which is the long time that processes and bureaucracy takes.
One thing that I would tell my younger self is that adults aren’t what they make out to be. They show themselves to be a certain way to kids. They create this image and you expect that adults would have the discipline thing all figured out but then you see that they don’t and that is directly reflected in their status in life. If anything, it is probably very encouraging, because you see that if they did only this much and they could achieve this, how much more I would achieve if I could do better. So the actual reality isn’t the age, but the character, the discipline, the dedication that differentiates people for human success.

Christmas Party-1

GenUp: What does success in life mean to you?
Panupong: Doing what you love. Sure you can’t expect to get what you want every day, there are definitely challenges. But at the core I am working towards a 2 Billion dollar company and all these things are stepping stones. So you keep your focus on each progressive step at a time. Obsess about each individual step and one day you look back and you’ve come a long way. So we soldier on. Money has nothing to do with it except as a focusing point for doing what you love. So yes we have a number but doing what I love is success. What’s extremely exciting is that once I break through to the $2 billion dollar hurdle, and I’m in my 40’s then I can break through to bigger numbers. Just look at what Google has done and continue to do everyday. People do themselves a disservice by not aiming high. When we say that we want to be a $2 Billion company, we look at the number and extrapolate what needs to be done and the time that it takes to do it. We keep going smaller until we now know exactly what needs to be done this quarter to stay on track to get to that $2 billion mark. And that’s what I present to the board. So if you want to be a $2 billion company, you break down those steps and you just execute. It’s a goal, a target and we break it down and compress it into bite sized targets. Marketing and sales KPI’s are quarterly and we keep at it. Break down what we have to achieve to get there. Why wouldn’t you that ? What would you get from not doing so, other than emotional comfort.
So success is doing what you love and the goal is just the goal.

GenUp: What advice would you give someone who’s considering the entrepreneurial path?
Panupong: There are two key pieces of advice. The first is Mental temperament. You really need to have the right mental temperament. Let’s say you want to be a Billion dollar company vs a 10 million baht company, it’s very, very different. The procedure to get to each is very different. So you have to have the right mental temperament to match your goal. So as we mentioned earlier, regarding failure. Someone says, oh I couldn’t fund raise and then they give up, or they were too fatigued or too lazy to the product market test, and they gave up. So you have to have the right mental temperament to get to your goals. So if you’re targeting Billion dollars, it’s your life’s work and you’d better be totally committed to it. If it’s a 10 million baht then maybe it’s a 5 or 8 year project for you. The character and discipline must match your target.
The other aspect is that there is a huge difference between building a product and building an organisation. Most companies start with building a product and then when they grow, they have to acquire skills of organization building. And that’s where many people start running into problems. Because it’s a totally different skill set. Building an organization means you have to have strong depth and access to 7 areas. Product development, sales, marketing legal, tax, finance and HR. Those are the things that drive the company and as a manager you have to have depth in all these areas, since this is what is going to make this into a business. So you can develop a great product and you can problem solve but if you want to maintain your position as Executive CEO, knowledge of organization is absolutely the driver. Most people think that because they started this, they have to run it. That is a big mistake. There are some people with both, like Bill Gates who was a coder and also did well building a business; and Mark Zuckerberg who was a product developer and had organisational knowledge. Or Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. So if you are good at product and creativity, and not at business building, realize that you have to fill that gap. Be aware of your limitations so that the product and the company both have a place in the world in a sustainable way.

GenUp: Great talking to you, Panupong, Thank you very much!
Panupong: You’re very welcome!

How to Make a Positive Impact : Rei Matusda

Rei Matsuda, the soft spoken CEO of Newlegacy Hospitality, is a man with big dreams. He wants to open a thousand Kokotels, his unique hotel concept, in South East Asia. Not far out at all when you realize that he has managed to open 3 alone in the last quarter of 2017.
Kokotel blends Japanese hospitality and efficiency with European design and American standardisation To enter a Kokotel is to walk into an eclectic bistro/cafe with people mingling and children playing on slides, right next to the huge ‘Koko’ sheep mascots. You check in at the bar and choose a single or a double room like in most hotels but more than that, you have the choice of a 3 person room, or a family room complete with bunk beds for the kids. The atmosphere is convivial, comfortable, safe, high quality and easy on your wallet.
It’s no wonder that Rei’s flock of Kokos is rapidly multiplying.

Rei Matsuda can be reached at development@kokotel.com. Also, check out Kokotel’s website at kokotel.com .




GenUp: Hi, Rei. Could you tell us something about yourself?
Rei: Yes, sure, I was born in Japan and the environment of my childhood was not really entrepreneurial. My father is an independent, leadership coach. He worked for a professional firm and then he became independent in 1985, when he was about 42 or 43. My mom was a kindergarten teacher, and so is my sister. In fact they are in the same school. So teaching and education is what my parents and sisters do. My brother is a therapist for professional athletes, and also intends to go independent soon.

GenUp: So going at it alone seems to very much be a part of your family tradition.
Rei: Yes, that’s true. Not so much business but self employed and not working for a large company. My first job was working for NEC, a large company that I left nine months later which was a big deal at the time, but my parents said that’s okay, if this is what you do, it’s okay for us.

GenUp: And is this your first foray into your own business?
Rei: Well, yes this is my first business but before this, I opened and ran a small office in Singapore for a Japanese consulting firm, called Dream Incubator. That may be considered to be about three and a half years of pre-entrepreneurial experience, in the sense that I did it all myself. Opened a new office, hired the people and ran the business.

GenUp: You mentioned to me earlier that you’ve also had some experience with Venture Capital?
Rei: Right, that was with Dream Incubator, 10 years before coming to Singapore and yes, I was exposed to a lot of entrepreneurs at the time. With my office in Singapore, though, it was more private equity investment and we consulted and helped Japanese corporations set up joint venture and do business with India, and vice versa helping Indian corporations like the Tata group do business with Japanese companies. So that is the reason that I still like to do business with India.




GenUp: What was the initial spark for Kokotel? How did you arrive at this idea and niche?
Rei: So two things happened together. First is that I met this investor, Mr. Morofuji. I don’t quite remember the details but I talked to him about hotels business in general and some time later he sent me an email saying that he would be interested in investing in the hotel business, and told me to come up with an idea. So it was actually him that got me started. At the same time, I learned the business model of the Chinese style economy hotel which is very different from what I learned in hotel school in the US, or from my brief time at the Intercontinental Hotel in Singapore. It was a five star luxury concept vs the three star budget mindset in China. So I was very impressed by their business model and the growth path.

GenUp: So you were more impressed with the Chinese model rather than the conventional Western model?
Rei: Yes, I often joke that I am a Japanese guy copying a Chinese business. In China there are 5 hotel chains with more than a thousand hotels. All of them happened in the last 10 years. So it was crazy fast, like 100 or 200 hotels every year. This expansion could not happen for a Marriott or a Hilton or any five star. Then I found that it was due to their small size and very centralized and standardized operation.  And so that gave me the idea that I wanted to do something like that. Since then our business model has shifted to something a little more different, more design oriented, more family with a food and beverage component. The reason I wanted to go to hotel school was because I felt that the hotel is a form of entertainment business. I was actually interested in the movie and film business before and I even went to Hollywood to try to get into the business. I was also interested in sports in terms of sports management. And then I thought about hotels and decided that it was a form of entertainment and so decided to go to hotel school. I wanted to apply my ‘hotel as entertainment’ idea to the Chinese economy hotel model. I still wanted their scalability but I wanted to add design elements like a European hotel, and the efficiency of a Japanese hotel. So I’m greedy, I want everything. Scalability, Design and Efficiency.

GenUp: So I guess that your business is Venture capital funded?
Rei:  I did invest some money but it is a minor investment. More than 90% is funded by REAPRA. It’s almost like the owner’s personal fund so he can own different businesses. The name REAPRA comes from “Research and Practice”, so he invests and of course he needs to get a return, but at the same time this is his learning process. He is interested to understand what types of businesses work, and what kinds of entrepreneurs will be successful. I wouldn’t quite say it is his hobby but it is definitely his learning process.

GenUp: Rei, talk to us about Kokotel. It has made a name for itself in a very short time.
Rei: Kokotel is a family oriented economy hotel. We have two sets of customers. One set is the hotel guest. The other is the hotel or property owner. We provide solutions to hotel guests who have a difficult time finding a good hotel for families to stay, so targeting females and families and provide them an affordable, clean, fun accommodation. So that’s one side of the business, the front end. The other side is a solution for hotel and property owners who own small hotels. They want to keep the asset as it is but do not want to operate the hotel by themselves. And there are lot of them. If you are big, there are many choices of finding a hotel operator but if you are small, like say less than 150 rooms it is very difficult to find a good operator. So we provide a solution to operate on behalf of the owner, under a leasing or a management contract. The owner is able to relax and enjoy cash flow from the property.

GenUp: How are you able to find the properties to run?
Rei: In many cases, property agents bring us proposals, we have referrals from owners to their friends and so on. It is very much about relationship. At times, a hotel guest may come to the front office to say that they like the concept and they have a hotel for us to run.

GenUp: And going back to the first side, the front end of your business. Can you tell us a bit more about them?
Rei: Yes, I feel that female travelers definitely overpay for hotels, since safety is important for them and so they choose to stay in branded hotels. Of course, they would rather stay in a cheaper place and spend their budget on other things. I feel that there is a nice niche if the female and family tourists can stay in a cheaper place but still feel a sense of security and comfort.

GenUp: How do guests find you? What is your marketing channel?
Rei: We don’t spend too much on marketing, honestly. People find us from all over the world through online travel agencies like Agoda, Expedia and Booking. Agoda is popular in Asia, Booking is popular in Europe and Expedia in the USA. So they look at our reviews, comments and scores and they make the decision.
Our website has many languages too and it helps when guests search in their own language. We also provide answers to their reviews in their own language, so we answer in Chinese, Russian, Japanese and so on. It is important to respond, especially to negative reviews.

GenUp: Why did you choose Thailand as your main and first market?
Rei: I picked Thailand because I noticed many potential properties that we could operate. Because of the transit system in Bangkok, there are a lot of hotels in their vicinity but poorly managed. So I actually picked Bangkok rather than Thailand. Before this I was in Singapore and I did a lot of business there and in India and in Jakarta. But Jakarta, there wasn’t a good public transportation and it was hard to know which location was good. And India, I thought to set up a brand new business there would be tough. I shortlisted KL and Bangkok and picked Bangkok. Also, of course, Bangkok is well known among travellers and the numbers have growing. And it is an easy place to do business.

GenUp: After facing the reality on the ground, has it matched what you expected in your business plan? Or have you had to be flexible and deviate and pivot?
Rei: I think there were many deviations. One was that I was focusing on Bangkok so much in the beginning and I expected to have at least 10 hotels or more in Bangkok before moving on to other places. But many good opportunities presented themselves from outside, like in Krabi and Phuket. We are also right now working on projects in Chiangmai and Koh Samui. And so we look and continue to be open to take advantage of those opportunities. The other thing is I realized that I need a lot more people to operate, much more than I originally expected.

GenUp: What were your hurdles and how hard was it for you to actually start and get the business off the ground? 
Rei: Yes, oh boy, many mistakes. The biggest of which I feel was our over reliance on outside professional companies and depending on them too much without looking at the issues closely ourselves. Especially having to do with choosing and operating a property. The process just took much longer and costs were very high. For me, it is always a tough balance between respecting a professional and intervening as a business owner. It was challenging for me since I was new to business and new to Thailand with no specific skills in any field, like IT and Accounting, or Engineering.

GenUp: So would you be more hands on in future?
Rei: Not totally hands on, but definitely more questions, more updates and more follow throughs and follow ups. For example, ask them questions about why would they do things a certain way, or if they give a timeline of a month, I would break it down to weekly and make them accountable for that. So it’s a big learning experience, also for when we move to other markets like Myanmar, Vietnam or the Philippines.

GenUp: How do you handle setbacks and stay motivated? Any tips or strategies?
Rei: One thing definitely is my peers and colleagues. If I did this all myself, I don’t think I would be strong enough. If I do it like my father did, everything on his own, I would feel too isolated and not connected. But I have a lot of people to work with, and since I initiated everything I feel that I must constantly do better. That is big motivator for me. I’m not at all a controlling person. In fact we did a psychological test in our company the other day and I got the lowest score in independency. So apparently I am a very dependent personality, perhaps because of being the youngest in my family. So I’m a CEO who is dependent on his people. So my main motivators are my colleagues and my customers and the positive impact I can have on both of them. That’s my raison d’être and that drives me. So for example, when I visit one of our properties and I see a child happily playing on a slide, I feel good about that. My colleagues, my customers and I have come together to make that positive impact for that child.



GenUp: Who do you admire?
Rei: I really like the story of Honda motors, and how it started. There are two partners, Mr. Honda and Mr. Fujisawa. Honda was the engineer and Fujisawa was the business person. When they started they were around 40 years old, my age, and they worked together for 25 years after that. So it was my impression from a young age that this period after 40 to 65 was prime time. So everything until now seemed like preparation for this time of my life, and I’ve finally started. So as an entrepreneur it may seem like I’m quite old, but for me, I feel that it is just right. If had started at 25 say, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. So their story is very inspiring, always thinking about the benefit of the society and not so much on the short term interest of the company. For example they focused on the safety of the car and doing right by their staff, their customers. So they had strong principles ingrained into their corporate culture. They had a very good DNA.

GenUp: What don’t you like about being an entrepreneur?
Rei: Well, that’s an easy question for me. There is a lot I like but the one thing that I don’t is that it is very difficult to get feedback on my own performance. For example, in a corporate setting there are annual performance reviews done and there is feedback from your boss. I mean, in my company we do this between the COO and CEO but as time goes on it is getting very tough to do. As the company gets bigger, it feels like I’m getting further away from my people to be able to get an accurate feedback. When I was young, and there was a small comment that my boss made about my performance and I still remember that. Any feedback is important and now I’m the one giving most of the feedback and I don’t know if I’m doing enough to help them. I often wonder where’s my feedback. We do have a mechanism for upward feedback but it is not so easy.

GenUp: What does success in life mean to you?
Rei: To me, success is creating a legacy for the next generation. Creating something new and long term that lasts until my great grand son’s age. I’m not really a trend chaser, going after the next big thing, make money and cash out. I want do something that is long term. Like Disney, still relevant, like Kurosawa’s films from 50 years ago are still enjoyed, or like Honda from more than 70 years ago.

GenUp: Thank you so much, it was wonderful talking with you, Rei. 

Rei: My pleasure !





Welcome to Generation Upstart

It starts with an idea — a fusion of thoughts and experiences, a blending of desires and dreams. Electrical bursts fuelled with faith, love and creativity leap across synapses generating the necessary expression to give it real form and substance.

Sometimes, an entrepreneur’s call to adventure is a labor of love. A ship sets sail towards a known destination, but destiny often has other ideas and calm waters are not the norm. So maps are consulted,  plans redrawn and the course re-charted.  You may never make it and have to decide between moving forward or giving up.

But sometimes it is a joyful, exhilarating and an incredibly rewarding ride. The sun shines while you are happily in Flow, navigating expertly towards Success. You have discovered the secret to eternal happiness.

It’s all in the journey, and we want to hear your unique version.  Young and Old, Experienced or New, running a Traditional, Social or Tech business, what was your spark and how do you nurture the flame? What is the next chapter? What part of business do you love and what are your challenges?

Do you doubt yourself or were you born for this?

Tell us your story.