Kotchakorn (Ollie) Techaphonphol

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Ollie is the founder and managing director of O-SPA International, a Thai social enterprise that makes premium natural skincare products for the whole family. Launched in 2012 in Bangkok, her company now exports throughout Southeast and East Asia and is looking at expanding to Europe, Latin America, and Southern Africa. Deeply committed to community development, Ollie is also a strong supporter of a number of initiatives that promote education and children’s wellbeing.

“Act like a tiger, even though you are just a cat.”

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“When I was young, I liked arts and wanted to be an artist but my mom said, ‘That’s not a career’. My dad was a businessman so I decided to study international business. In 2003, I was in the US to study and had many Korean classmates. Once we went to Times Square, they showed me the big LG billboard and said, ‘That’s a Korean brand’. They were so proud of it. That really inspired me to create something that can make that moment happen for Thai people too. So that’s been my goal and my dream – to create a high-quality Thai brand recognized internationally that will stand the test of time.”
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“I started O-SPA all on my own. My family and particularly my dad didn’t encourage me. Many people here find more suitable for a woman to find a stable job in a large corporate or in the diplomatic sector. My dad said, ‘As a business owner you are standing on a cliff at all times. If you are not standing solid enough, if you relax a little, or if the wind is too strong, you might fall down. And you have to fight all the time, you never get a break.’ He didn’t want any of his daughters to experience that.”
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“It took me six years of research and development to launch O-SPA. When I create a new product, I obsess over it. I used to work for an international company that employs a lot of international staff. I tested my products on them and kept improving until I got only positive feedback. My mom has very allergic skin so when she said that the product was ready, that’s when we launched. It was version 6 of SPA ME.”
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“From the beginning my strategy was focused on exporting. In 2012, I called all department stores in Singapore but could not get through. So I packed all products in my bags and went there. When you quit your job and invest all the money you have in your business, there is no turning back. I was not going to come back without an order so I got a local SIM card and started calling. I often would call from right outside the department stores so if they said they didn’t have any time, I would say ‘I am right outside, I just need 3 minutes of your time’. I would explain what the products are about, leave some samples, and ask them to try them. Once back in Thailand, I got a call from Isetan Singapore inviting me to join a Thai fair they were going to host. So I went back for another 3 weeks and since I didn’t have a promoter, I was at the Fair every day from 9am to 8pm selling to everyone that walked by. In the end Isetan Singapore decided to carry our products and referred us to Isetan in other countries.”
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“I introduce myself as O-SPA ‘Overseas Business Development Manager’, not as its founder and managing director. We have expanded to Singapore, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Korea. The business sector in most of these countries is quite male-dominated and I deal with large companies. They see me first as a woman and on top of that, I look young. I am considered too young to be a founder of an exporting company so it’s better for me to keep a low profile. Also, a lot of the people I do business with are employees and older than me so they feel more comfortable and open up more if they think that I am not the owner. I use my mom as the face of the company and people believe my parents own the business.”
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  “In each country O-SPA exports to, we first target supermarkets. I have been told that selling in supermarkets is not good and that can damage my brand but I’ve always wanted to do things differently. I want everyone to experience the brand. In a luxury beauty store people can feel intimidated but in a supermarket you feel free and can smell the products as you please. If the products sell in supermarkets, it means the products work. The second step will be to add department stores because of the higher image attached to it.”
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“What’s been the biggest struggle on the Thai market?” “People rely heavily on the media and it’s difficult to compete with other brands that can afford to spend more on marketing. Instead of spending in marketing and promotion, we put it in our products. We have very loyal customers. They are typically people that don’t have much time, can spend a bit, are knowledgeable about products, and care for others.”    

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