May 2016
Flying high with 20/20 vision

Travel, petrochemicals, online shopping, charity, food and more… you name it and Mike Than Tun Win has a finger in that particular slice of pie.

After all, the serial entrepreneur has started as many companies as he has spent years (around eight) in the business world. Today, he owns eight companies across Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar with a total valuation of S$40 million and total headcount of about 700.

Most recently, he made headlines around the region when his online travel portal flymya.com took flight. Launched last June, flymya.com touts itself as the first one-stop site that allows travelers to compare flight schedules and fares across Myanmar's 10 domestic airlines. Flight bookings can be made to virtually every destination in the country, be it popular locales like Yangon or remote ones such as Tachileik.

His secret? A good nose for sniffing out opportunities, which gives him first-mover advantage. This comes from being equipped with the best knowledge. Says the 30-year-old: "To be a good entrepreneur, you need to be in constant pursuit of new knowledge – speak to people around you, travel around, and read as much as possible."

Of course, vision is nothing without hard work. Mike spends a lot of time to learn about the product, industry and market – this involves countless sleepless nights and hands-on effort, especially at the initial phase of a start-up.

With flymya.com, he bet on his belief that Myanmar's tourism industry would continue to boom following the opening-up of its economy at the start of this decade.

This bet is paying off handsomely so far – in just half a year, flymya.com is already processing one to two thousand bookings monthly, with Mike boldly setting a revenue target of US$2 million in 2016.

Always ambitious, he does not intend to stop there and hopes to achieve annual revenue of at least US$20 million by 2020. To do so, he is working towards capturing at least ten percent of Myanmar's total flight and travel industry bookings and thirty percent of online bookings.

 

To support his goals, Mike plans to increase flymya.com from its current strength of 25 operations and five IT staff to a headcount of 50 so that the company can make the push into mobile applications and a 24/7 call center to support travelers.

Born in Myanmar, Mike moved to Singapore aged eight, developing a fondness for Loy Kee chicken rice and the famous Long Beach Seafood Restaurant chili crab. He went on to major in marketing at the Nanyang Business School, where he experienced his formative years as an entrepreneur: there, he had an early taste of running his own business – an eBay store selling Myanmar gems and jewelry – and also completed a Minor in Entrepreneurship.

He says: "The school equipped me with the full set of skills needed to be an entrepreneur – accounting, finance, HR, business Information Technology (IT) and marketing."

He interned with the global Swiss private bank Julius Baer Group as an undergrad, but his heart was always set on being his own boss when he graduated. Mike explains: "Mainly, I wanted to be able to execute my business ideas and strategies at a faster pace. Working for corporations would not allow me to do so since there would always be many stakeholders to answer to."

He took the plunge shortly after completing his degree in 2008, when he returned to his motherland and founded trading company Eternal Co. Ltd.

He grew the company from 30 to 170 employees and managed to achieve a return on his investment in just three years. But it did not come easy, with Mike initially finding it difficult to recruit capable managers to help him run the company.

 

He says: "Myanmar's talent pool is seriously lacking due to the weak education system. To solve this problem, we introduced internal training for current staff, offered scholarships to capable ones and also enticed Burmese expatriates in Japan, Singapore and Malaysia to come back to work for us."

Mike's initiatives paid off and he eventually built Eternal, reaping recognition and profits, as well as a human resources network to tap on. It was, essentially, his "first pot of gold".

With Myanmar's economy opening up, Mike saw the time was ripe to use these newly-acquired resources to expand into other industries. He started more trading companies including Synergy Truck Pte. Ltd., which distributes commercial vehicles in Myanmar, Viva Energia Pte Ltd, which distributes motorcycles parts, motor oils and other accessories in Thailand, and Que Holdings Pte. Ltd., which deals in lubricant products and petroleum fuels.

His foresight paid off handsomely. For instance, barely a year after its incorporation in 2012, Que Holdings earned the right to be global oil and gas giant Shell's first distributor in Myanmar.

"It was a 'wow' moment for me to be Shell's first partner following the lifting of prohibitions on US investment in Myanmar (in 2012 by the Obama administration). Shell has a very stringent selection process so I was very proud," says Mike.

His trading companies flourished and Singapore mainboard-listed company TA Corporation Ltd would later invest in them. He says: "TA Corporation brought in expertise in business management, Singapore Exchange (SGX) accounting standards, and financial resources from internationals banks to further empower our growth."

But not every company started by Mike is a success story. He graduated from the entrepreneurs' school of hard knocks – paying 'tuition fees' of more than half-a-million dollars – when a start-up in Vietnam, Khang Nguyen Synergy Co. Ltd., failed.

"I was too aggressive in a new market that I was not very familiar with. We gave too much credit to customers and couldn't get back the money when the Vietnamese economy was suffering," says Mike.

Still, the setback failed to dampen his entrepreneurial passions.

Ever the first-mover, Mike has today shifted his focus to the IT scene in Myanmar. Besides flymya.com, he is currently involved in a luxury shopping site (Shopmyar), charity and crowd-funding portal (Onemya), and an online food delivery service (Yangon Door2Door).

He says: "As the IT start-up scene in Myanmar is in its infancy, I am spending more of my time to groom my staff at these companies.  I hope that, one day, Myanmar's IT start-ups can make an impact at the regional level at least."

But while he is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of his trading companies, Mike still insists on meeting the respective firms' key heads of departments at least once a week for a business update.

Indeed, success has only made him hungrier. He says: "A great man is not one with the greatest idea but one who can execute the greatest idea. If you really want to do something in your life, pursue it aggressively. It is better to fail trying, than live your life regretting."

By Christopher Ong