A Myanmar Entrepreneur’s Journey
How I Grew Revo Tech Into Myanmar’s Largest Digital Agency — In 5 Years
HOW MY JOURNEY STARTED
I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. When I was in middle school I sold cokes, chips and sodas to my classmates. After spending time with my tutor after school, I’d rent my Sony PlayStation to my friends and charge them by the hour (that was a lot of money for me in those days!). And that’s how I grew up — constantly looking for ways to be my own boss and take control of my future.
After high school, I decided not to attend the local university in Myanmar, knowing that my mum would have no choice but to send me to the UK for my higher education. I decided to attend some English and computer programming classes and fell in love with programming, so I chose Computer Science as my major.
LIFE IN THE UK
“SOMETIMES LIFE IS GOING TO HIT YOU IN THE HEAD WITH A BRICK. DON’T LOSE FAITH.” — STEVE JOBS
I worked at Starbucks as a part-time barista to help pay my way through school.
While I was at university, I also sold Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 games on Ebay. On top of that, I wrote programming assignments for classmates and that was a nice source of additional income.
I fell in love with London and I didn’t want to go back. I embarked on an ambitious job search and my persistence paid off: I landed a job at a local law firm as a junior programmer and worked my way up to Project Leader to implement a case management system.
Little did I know my life was about to change. In 2008 my work visa expired just after Lehman Brothers (the global financial services firm) went under. To make matters worse, I couldn’t renew my visa either so I had to come back home to Myanmar.
I’d worked hard to stay in London, so this was a major disappointment. I felt depressed. I felt like a failure. But the most difficult part was the uncertainty over my future.
Life in Singapore
After spending 6 years in London, I was forced to make a drastic lifestyle adjustment. Back in 2009, Yangon was not the same place that it is today. Job opportunities were scarce, so I decided to head to Singapore. Luckily, I was able to find a job as a Software Engineer after only 4 days. I worked there from 2009–2012, but after 3 years I found the work so dull and boring that I started to itch for a new challenge.
One day I watched “The Social Network” movie (if you haven’t seen it, you MUST watch it!) and felt so inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s story that I taught myself web design, PHP, Linux and iOS programming.
MY FIRST BUSINESS…FAILURE
While I was in Singapore I started hatching a plan where I’d quit my job and move back to Myanmar to start my own company, a job portal.
I met a potential co-founder through my housemate and we started the grueling task of working long weekends to launch the site for a Myanmar audience.
We agreed on the company name — IMPAAQ (a unique spelling tied to the idea that we’d make a huge impact in Myanmar), bought the domain, and agreed on the equity split. I took the CEO role to focus on the business end of things while he assumed the role of CTO.
I thought we were on track to hit our goals — I was wrong.
So I resigned from my job. It was one of the scariest moments I’ve had to face. I wrote my resignation letter, deleted it, wrote it again, and kept it in the draft folder — just sitting there.
Another week passed. After writing the letter, I couldn’t send the email for about one week. Finally, I sent it to my manager and he tried to talk me out of it because he knew I’d be difficult to replace. My work ethic was unparalleled and I was leading the company’s most important project.
He asked me to stay another two months to help with the transition and I agreed. I left on good terms and he said I could come back anytime if I ever wanted my old job back, but I let him know I was dead set on starting my own company.
You know that feeling you get when you start something new — a job, a workout, a relationship — and you’re just OVERFLOWING with excitement? That was me. And I made sure everyone knew it. EVERYONE knew I was starting my own company and I couldn’t be happier.
2 weeks before my last day at the office, my co-founder dropped a BOMB on me. He told me that he couldn’t be my partner anymore because his wife wouldn’t let him resign from his current job and join me in Myanmar. I was DEVASTATED, to say the least. To make matters worse, I didn’t know what to do when you lose your co-founder (who also happens to be your CTO).
THE IMPORTANCE OF VISUALIZATION
My parents still didn’t know about my plans to resign and return to Myanmar to start my own business.
My parents were skeptical about my business venture (my father called me stupid and crazy). But you need to understand: I grew up in a traditional family from Myanmar. My parents were risk-averse and didn’t want to see their son lose his shirt in an internet business. They preferred the “security” of a regular office job. I didn’t care. I was committed to my vision and eventually, after seeing that I was taking steps to make my dreams a reality, they warmed up to the idea.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: You might think that this is the part of the story where everything works out great and I become an overnight success. Nope. The truth is that I faced some unexpected failures along the way. But don’t worry — this story has a happy ending. Keep reading to find out…
Back in Myanmar, I was excited to start my own business and get to work, but after only one week reality kicked in — HARD.
I was used to my lifestyle in London and Singapore, but Myanmar couldn’t compare in terms of modern comforts:
NO fast internet, NO Starbucks, NO McDonald’s, NO KFC, NO reliable mass transit system. And forget about air conditioning in taxis! That was a luxury 3rd world, tropical (read: HUMID) countries like Myanmar didn’t have access to.
After spending 10 years in the UK and Singapore, I’d lost most of my contacts back in Myanmar. My savings had been decimated by this point, and I was starving for start-up capital (this was before the days of VCs, angel investors, and tech incubators).
So here I was…low on cash and trying to start a tech company in a country that didn’t even have basic things that were common elsewhere. What would YOU do in my situation?
One thing was clear: I did NOT want to go back to my old job. Especially after telling everyone how I’d be a successful business owner in less than two years.
Now I know I wasn’t the first struggling startup founder to experience that dreadful feeling of staring at a dwindling bank account, but it still hurt. I was used to seeing a nice, steady paycheck at the end of every month. No more.
And the reality, as much as I didn’t want to accept it, was that I needed money…FAST. So I went back to Singapore to look for a full-time job.
Luckily, I found inspiration in this video interview with Jeff Bezos. This interview was before he started Amazon, and he talks about a simple visualization exercise he called the Regret Minimization Framework, which gave me the courage to pursue my goals.
MY SECOND BUSINESS…AND FAILURE
An iOS app development training school seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe it was, but the execution failed.
One month later after settling in Singapore, I was back in Yangon. AGAIN. Are you getting tired of seeing me move back and forth? Well, so was I!
My savings were evaporating and I had no viable product or business idea. The only thing I could think of was to open an app development training school to teach iOS Programming.
In theory, you would think it’s easy to start, right? Just post ads on Facebook, other social channels and local journals. You get students sign up. You teach. You collect fees.
I thought I could take the pre-registration fees and use them for rent and setting up the class.
In reality, it was the opposite. I bought the half page ads in an Internet journal and got a few calls, but I ran into two problems: either they didn’t want to pay my fees or they wanted me to teach web development. So I gave up again before I even started.
HOW REVO TECH WAS BORN
Desperate to start my own business, I have an idea for a Web Development company which would later become Revo Tech.
I partnered with three friends who could help me get capital to start the company, pay the office rent, and hire the staff, even though they lacked work experience.
So we started the Web Development agency and hired two staff without any work. I was the only one who understood the business and technology side of things, so I ended up doing pretty much everything while my friends slacked off. My partners didn’t treat the staff very well so that didn’t help either. Sounds fun, right? It was obvious that we didn’t share the same vision so the partnership was dissolved after only 27 days.
MY SECOND PARTNER JOINED AND LEFT AFTER ONLY 4 MONTHS
As soon as I parted ways with my partners, I reached out to one of my high school friends about joining forces. He was a freelance web designer and already had a few clients. He agreed to handle the design and web development while I focused on operations and business development.
Our first client was Luminous Journeys Travel Agency, an American client based in Bangkok. And guess what? The website we built became THE standard for travel websites in Southeast Asia. Word of our great work spread and many companies became clients by word of mouth.
Our success was short-lived; it wasn’t long until we started losing money because of operating costs. 4 months later my partner left Revo Tech because he didn’t think we’d survive, but I persisted.
Revo Tech was running out of cash fast so I borrowed $4000 from my grandmother to keep the company afloat — not my proudest moment. The real reason we were struggling, even though we had plenty of client work, was because we didn’t have the resources in place to be able to finish projects up to my standards.
I aggressively invested in internet lines, hired additional staff and bought a generator to fight frequent power outages (remember, this was in Yangon, a country still grappling with Third World living standards at the time). These investments paid off — BIG TIME — and we started making money, attracting clients, and getting busier than ever.
THE DAY THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
Photographer from NY Times — taking pictures at our office.
In July 2014, the New York Times wrote a story about app development and Telco in Myanmar and they featured Revo Tech. Once the NY Times featured us, we became a media darling: journalists wanted to interview me, ask me about my thoughts on the Myanmar startup scene and hear the Revo Tech story. We had arrived!!
Tech Crunch, Tech In Asia, Myanmar Times and all the top tech blogs began covering us and we started to attract Angel Investors and Venture Capital firms.
But I didn’t want to take the easy route. I came this far on my own and I wanted to grow the company organically without taking any outside investment.
People want what they can’t have, they chase what moves away from them, and they only value that which they pay for.” — Oren Klaff
One of the big turning points for Revo came after I watched Oren Klaff’s “Pitch Anything” video. Because of that video I ended up changing my sales technique, which meant charging premium prices to big companies — a departure from our pricing model at the time
The 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle) Applied to Client Work
If you’re not familiar with the 80/20 rule, it’s the idea that 80% of your output come from 20% of your input. For example, 20% of your customers will generally represent 80% of your sales. And 20% of your time produces 80% of your results. And so on.
We were lucky to get a few fantastic clients who paid us upfront (which in turn helped our cash flow), and the result was that their financial commitment helped us spend more time on quality work instead of chasing lackluster clients. As the quality of our work continued to improve, we landed the account for City Mart Holding Company (the biggest retail supermarket in the country) and KBZ Bank (the biggest bank in Myanmar). Focusing our efforts on those key clients made a HUGE difference in our ability to attract the kinds of big brands we’d always wanted.
GO BIG or GO HOME
“THE BIGGEST RISK YOU TAKE IS NOT TAKING ANY RISK” — Mark Zuckerberg
My vision for Revo Tech is to become the biggest and best creative digital agency in Myanmar and eventually be seen as a major player at the international level. I have low tolerance for mediocrity; I’m always striving for something better.
As a service agency, people are the most important asset we have and attracting top talent is and will continue to be a priority.
Revo Tech is the first Myanmar startup to hire a foreign expat (a Designer from the UK). It was a risk, but it’s one of the reasons why big companies and brands who want the best quality come to us.
From 2012–2015 we only did web and app development. In April 2015 April, we expanded to social media and the company took off.
In October 2015, Revo was accepted into the Fbstart program (www.fbstart.com) and we managed to attracted a lot of industry talent.
In 2016, I accepted an investment from Anthem Asia to grow the business even faster and make us the biggest agency in Myanmar.
With the help of outside investment, we’re growing at an unprecedented pace (as of today, we currently staff 70 employees). In addition, we’ve expanded our services to include social media, content creation, video production, e-commerce, digital marketing, advertising, TVC and so much more!
I’m excited about the future of Revo Tech, but it’s also important to acknowledge the failures that led us here. It’s been a difficult journey and I know that as we strive to become the biggest creative agency in the world we’ll be faced with even greater challenges.
As a business owner, I hope that this post has inspired you to face your own challenges. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or calculated risks because it’s how we grow as people and companies.
Lastly, entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Are you mentally and emotionally prepared for the possibility that you could be completely broke for a couple years — with no end in sight? Are you prepared to sacrifice your life outside of work to make your vision come true?
If you are, remember my story if it helps you push ahead, and I’ll leave you with these three words:
Don’t give up!
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