Serial Entrepreneur Parith Rungsimanond On What He's Learned From His Successes And Failures
Starting a business requires courage, patience and motivation, as well as a clear value proposition and an idea of how to deliver it. But to set up several businesses and run them at the same time requires much greater drive. Bangkok-based Gen.T honouree Parith Rungsimanond would know. A serial entrepreneur, Rungsimanond currently runs three businesses, all in vastly different sectors.
His first venture, Parich Fertilizer, manufactures, trades and supplies a range of industrial chemicals and high-quality fertilisers. In 2009, at the age of 30, he took over his family’s fertiliser business from his father, gave the company a name and shifted its focus from solely importing and exporting fertilisers to also producing its own.
“When I first started out 11 years ago, no one cared about technology or innovation in this industry,” Rungsimanond says. “I’m someone who believes technology can improve lives, so I decided that we needed to develop our own fertilisers and use technology to improve the traditional formulas, to make them last longer, more efficient in being absorbed and less quick to evaporate.”
He adds that changing how things have been run in the traditional fertiliser industry has paid off, as customers now closely associate Parich Fertilizers with specialty fertilisers.
Exploring an unfamiliar route for social and environmental good
As his fertilisers give life, his second venture, Carenation, is in the business of death. Having supported charities for a long time, Rungsimanond started the social enterprise in 2019 in order to address the environmental impact of the funeral wreath sector as well as help those most impacted by Thailand’s slow economy.
Most traditional funeral wreaths are made from real flowers, which are usually imported from overseas, wrapped in individual plastic bags to keep their freshness, and stuck into a styrofoam base. For Rungsimanond, considering the average number of deaths in Bangkok and the average number of wreaths sent to a funeral, the sector is both highly wasteful and promising in terms of profit generation.
In response, he and his co-founder decided to provide paper-made alternatives to traditional funeral wreaths, using a mix of recycled, regular and corrugated paper.
With each wreath sold, up to 40 percent of the proceeds is donated to charity, with the receipt given to the buyer. Since it started two years ago, Carenation has donated about US$250,000 to local causes, from cancer research funds to associations supporting young victims of political violence.
“I think Carenation has been able to grow so quickly because my co-founder and I don’t see it as a profit centre, and our customers can see that,” Rungsimanond says. “We’re very transparent about what we do—how much we will donate from each wreath sold and where we channel that money to. Our customers are also given the donation receipt, so they are aware of how they’ve helped.”
If we want to offer a product or service, we need to identify what our niche is and build a competitive advantage
Using technology to help others
Last year, Rungsimanond started his third venture with an old friend, whom he met while working as an investment associate at the San Francisco branch of GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund. Looloo Technology offers AI, data science consulting and data security services, and has worked with large organisations and corporations in sectors such as healthcare, finance and transportation. It’s also working on creating its own products, such as a software similar to Apple’s Siri to enable people living in rural areas to use and learn English.
Running three companies at the same time has sometimes allowed Rungsimanond to cross-promote his businesses across different platforms and to different audiences. “As a serial entrepreneur, it’s important to find synergies between your companies. How can they support each other?” he says.
Besides being hired to develop Carenation’s website and creating an AI-driven measuring system for Parich Fertilizers, Looloo is also helping to revamp the online donations platform of a large public hospital, which happens to be one of Carenation’s partners. “In this specific case, Looloo is building the technology and Carenation is providing the funds, which is from the donations it received for the hospital,” he explains.
Rungsimanond has carved a niche for each of his businesses, something he says entrepreneurs often overlook. “If we want to offer a product or service, we need to identify what our niche is and build a competitive advantage,” he says. “The question is, how can we prevent others from copying our product and entering the same space as us?”
Building the right team
In addition to building a competitive product that people want, research also tells us that not having the right team in place is one of the most common reasons why startups fail.
For Carenation and Looloo, Rungsimanond says finding the right co-founders has been key to the stability of both businesses. “They are people who aren’t too much like me,” he says. “When you look for a co-founder, the person should be strong in areas that you’re not, but be able to see and believe in the same vision as you.”
Rungsimanond speaks from experience, having gone through a few failed business ventures. Once, he invested in a friend’s property management company, which later shut down due to “market reasons” that he didn’t want to elaborate.
Another example was a restaurant he set up with other friends that closed down after two years. “We were young and as friends, we just wanted to work together,” he says. “But we didn’t know anything about running a restaurant. We also had such similar mindsets and skills that we weren’t able to think of different ways to tackle our problems.”
Rather than shy away from discussing his past failures, Rungsimanond thinks entrepreneurs should talk more about their own too. “People tend to overlook the lessons that can be gained from those times of failure,” he says. “In my case, people mostly know me for the businesses that I’m still running today, but they don’t know what I had to go through to get here.”
“It was through my failures that I realised many things about myself and about running businesses. All this has contributed to helping me create better businesses and make better decisions today.”
See more honourees from the Social Entrepreneurship category of the Gen.T List 2020.