"Inspiration can come from anywhere"
The life of Rithy is a perfect example of it.
During our Junior Consultant Experience (JCE) trip, we interacted with many locals including Cambodian students, workers, and businessmen. Besides working on interesting business cases with the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), we also had a chance to visit two Cambodian start-ups (KOMPI and First Cambodia) to gain insights into Cambodia’s many industries (good to specify which industries).
One of the most interesting experiences was meeting Rithy Thul, the co-founder of KOMPI. He was an unconventional entrepreneur and his life story helped us understand that there are many different ways to achieving success.
After dropping out of high school, he started cycling so he could explore the world. What started out as a short plan, ended up being two years. He found it a good escape from the fast-paced world of today. He wanted to stay true to what he loved, and held several jobs juggling between cycling, being a tour guide, a real-estate agent and other jobs. However, the desire to achieve something meaningful in life pushed him to look into entrepreneurship and by 2011, he co-founded Cambodia's first co-working space. He thus built his first company "Small World", a manufacturing company that creates laptops at a low cost.
Rithy also began to focus on tech startups which were booming at that period. His venture capital company, KOMPI, currently has vested interests in multiple startups.
Since climate change and deforestation are also topics that Rithy is interested in, KOMPI recently purchased 100 hectares of land outside Phnom Penh for reforestation, driven by two technical ideas:
- A seed bomb would be dropped by a drone to sow seeds on a piece of land to encourage growth by natural selection.
- Direct air capture: First-generation CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) used a technology called Point Source Capture to take CO2 directly from smokestacks and pump it into the ground for permanent sequestration.
Both projects are currently in the R&D phase and Rithy is very optimistic about them.
His numerous ventures and achievements are commendable and Rithy's view on life is refreshingly unique. He is enthusiastic and hardworking. He trusts his intuitions and takes risks. When we asked him what would happen if things don't work out (e.g., “what if reforestation doesn't go as planned”), his reply was, "Well, someone should try to make a change and we are ready for it.".
Below is a Q&A session with Rithy on what entrepreneurship means to him:
What was the inspiration behind Small World?
When I was a camp coach in Vermont, I often see teens playing online games. I wanted to create an online game similar to what I taught as a coach. Once I came back to Cambodia, I wanted to put it to action – only to know that it already existed. But while researching it, I learned a lot about computers. That somehow helped me land in the Small World with a few of my friends.
How do you choose the start-ups you fund?
It is actually a very long process. We don't decide on one meeting or presentation. We walk along with them to understand their ideas and needs. We initially provide them space to work and test their adaptability and how well they suit the business model of KOMPI. Intuition also helps a lot in decision-making.
How did the idea of reforestation come into play?
Within two decades, the number of trees in Cambodia dropped from 70% to less than 20%. Thisis shocking. The same thing happened in Vermont too. The volume of carbon footprints kept increasing.
Being a nature lover, this is something that I dread. At the same time, there are business opportunities as industries are trying to minimize effects of the damage they have created.
What is it like to be an entrepreneur in a developing country like Cambodia?
More and more young adults want to start their own business. The Cambodian government does give some level of support, and being an entrepreneur gives you some space to work things in your own way. Of course, not all ventures are successful. But we strive hard to make things work.
Master in Management Student Cohort 2019/2020