Keo Kounila: “It is easy to spot the success of someone, but people don’t know the failure behind the success.”
Focus spoke with Keo Kounila, co-founder of Mekhala Radiant Communications, about her business, digital systems in the workplace, and women’s roles in business.
What is Mekhala Radiant Communications?
Mekhala Radiant Communications is a company providing public relations (PR) services, commercial video production, and, recently, training services in corporate learning. We have trained many CEO’s on media landscape in the country and Cambodians’ cultural characteristics. Before founding the company, I was involved in many institutions including the press, commercial companies, and consulting companies.
How did you switch from a reporter to entrepreneur?
I achieved my childhood dream to become a teacher, as I have taught both in Cambodia and overseas in Singapore, Myanmar (Burma), and other Asian countries. Once I reached 17 years of age, I started a reporting career for around five to six years. I had no desire to become an entrepreneur back then, but I enjoyed teaching and writing to share information. After my 2017 graduation from Singapore, I planned to apply for a job or stay as a freelance consultant, but then I grabbed an opportunity to set up and manage a small business.
When did you start to be an entrepreneur? Why?
Everyone should ask him/herself where his/her passion is. Since a young age, I have always liked to teach and write, which are the greatest ways to share information and knowledge in my opinion. Because of the business mindset in Singaporean society, entrepreneurial thoughts began to form. I would say it is a long-term process of realization leading to grabbing any entrepreneurial opportunities, as my priorities then were new experiences and self-development.
What is the biggest inspiration for your current career?
My mother, as a multitasking person with five children managing a household and a small business, is my biggest inspiration. I learned how to manage family finances from my mother and I tell myself that I only manage a company and don’t have any children, so I definitely can do this. In spite of difficulties, she always encourages me and tells me to take a break if things become overwhelming.
Being your own boss is a trend in Cambodian society and many startups are emerging everyday. What can you tell to people who intend to start their own business?
I am happy to know that many youth have the ambition and thoughts to be their own boss. However, many startups have failed and it comes down to the question of why they fail. They need to understand the criteria to be your own boss.
I began my journey as an employee to experience difficulties in the workplace, as starting a company is not an overnight task. My advice is to meticulously learn the details A to Z from other people or companies that are relevant to your field of business interest. I have seen many young entrepreneurs fail, as they have never undergone any challenges or difficulties in the past. They might have many successful businesses and want to follow.
It’s like an iceberg, whose tip can be spotted; under the water, its biggest unseen part contains countless past challenges and struggles. Overall, it is very easy to see someone’s successes, but people might have forgotten that before success, there are many countless failures. I strongly support people with big dreams and inspirations, but remember this it takes time to polish your knowledge and excel at certain tasks.
My final advice to young entrepreneurs is to understand and absorb necessary skills for entrepreneurship, and I believe working for a company is good experience, as employees have to be self-driven in order to complete assigned tasks.
What do you like and dislike about your business?
What I like about the business is when the company satisfies customers and gains complete trust from the customers, which are our values. Also, the fact that we have provided skills to full-time employees and interns.
However, once the company has many projects, it requires every employee’s leadership, as our team consists of five to six workers. So, we focus on leadership and accountability in the workplace. I don’t interpret the situation to be a negative side of my work, but it definitely is an obstacle we have to tackle. I also believe that work without challenges and obstacles might not have value. As the founder of a small company in Cambodia, I give value to and thrive with the obstacles.
Do you think gender is a barrier to achieving a dream?
Young people should not let gender define who they are, as it is an absolutely traditional mindset, but instead define your interest and passion. If we take a look at other countries, career isn’t defined by gender, and everyone can do whatever they dream of. For instance, the press workforce was mainly male; now, women have been integrating into the industry. I acknowledge that Cambodia’s society still has social stigma about women, but this cannot be a barrier for women to have and fulfill their own dream.
What do you think about the growth of women in entrepreneurship in Cambodia?
I’m happy to have many fellow women entrepreneurs in the country. I have read a report on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) saying that there are many women who own SMEs, of which I am proud to be part of. Also, women have broken countless social barriers to reach this point, which is a great message to the young generation that gender is no longer defining your role in social development.
Do you think gender issues have been improving in Cambodia?
Based on my observation, both Cambodian youth and parents are not strict with gender now, compared to the previous generations saying that women are only capable of taking care of the house and kitchen while only men bring food to the table. In the 21st century, there is less and less social stigma on women, and spouses are both working to support the family. In some families, men are assisting with houseworks and they both make an equal decision on family issues. In addition, if we take a look at education and work, both genders are playing equal roles.
What is success to you?
I want to point out that I am not a very successful woman entrepreneur, but I am happy the company is providing satisfying services to customers and skills to employees. I personally believe that success is a process of delivering satisfaction and happiness. As of now, providing value to customers is my definition of success. I would say “It is not a destination, it is a journey, and failure and success are walking hand in hand.” People always talk to me about my success, which I personally do not see, but I know that I am happy and satisfied with my job.
Do you think Covid-19 is a threat to your business? What have you learned from the situation as an entrepreneur?
The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation in our generation. Indeed, it has affected my company, as well as other companies, so we have to develop an urgent response to keep businesses for the company. It is normal to focus on the profits; however, the company has considered the value of profits compared to employees’ safety, which was the company’s top priority. Covid-19 provides the company an opportunity to strategize on a new business model, focusing on our existing PR digital business. During the outbreak, the company has organized corporate teaching online through available platforms, and it has helped me experience the necessity to make an urgent decision in order to respond to the negative impacts of the pandemic.
Some of the lessons I’ve learned during the pandemic crisis include:
- We must develop a new strategy for the business model focusing on flexibility
- We must understand the crisis and opportunity of Covid-19. For instance, the expansion of delivery service. We needed to think about how to keep the company alive.
- We must create a new and efficient way of working (work from home). I believe that everyone is not accustomed to work from home, so it affects productivity. However, I think we have created a new normal of work from home and improved the working efficiency.
What are the challenges of work from home in terms of digital literacy? What are the company’s strengths, weaknesses, and threats?
It is common to increase work efficiency with the skills and knowledge of digital tools. In the past, I started my writing diary and moved to a blog to share information. Work today mostly involves computers and some programs, which has provided the company some advanced benefits. There are more advantages, but some disadvantages would be the time consumption and safety of the computer programs. Also, employees may be distracted from other digital platforms’ notifications during work, so it requires self control and balance.
You have mentioned that there are more advantages over disadvantages on digital systems. Do you think Cambodians have taken sufficient advantage of the digital systems? Do you think Cambodians have used it in the right way?
I believe Cambodians are well equipped with the internet, as well as literacy on digital tools, and the number of internet users is exponentially increasing. However, everything has its pros and cons. The benefits of the internet are the unlimited sources of information, which can be part of decision making. Some people utilize digital platforms for self and professional development while some workers use them to boost work productivity and efficiency, so there is room for improvement as many programs are currently available.
I have personally been using programs with which I am more familiar, and I think we should create a routine to explore other programs. For instance, my blog has taken me to various places around the globe and reached many people, leading to many requests from companies for collaboration. The India’s tourism ministry and the Russia’s ministry of education contacted me to promote their countries through her blog. Thus, I want to point out that either blogs or other programs can provide us many surprising benefits, and the internet does not refer to only Facebook.
What are the proper ways of using the internet?
For me, the proper ways are when we use it for self development and useful information. Some people use Youtube for entertainment and some use Netflix, which is not wrong. The importance is balance and time control. Everyone has an equal 24 hours per day, and we can take seven to eight hours sleeping, so the remaining time is for school, work, and the internet to collect further information and search for opportunities to build local and global networks.
How do you see yourself in the next five years?
In the next five years, I will continue my business and maybe start another business. I will keep delivering my skills in the form of service to the customers and providing some important skills I have to Cambodian youth. I might have some new business ideas to meet societal demands if I have the capacity to do that.
Five tips from Keo Kounila to women in entrepreneurship
- Understand your strengths and weaknesses by conducting SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis for personal and business purposes.
- Keep work-life balance: We must divide time for work, social life, and family, which might be difficult for some people as sometimes we might prioritize one thing over another. However, we should keep balance in the three areas in your life.
- Find strategies for stress relief and entertainment : I personally use sports, such as jogging and boxing, to distract myself from work, which actually helps with stress and increases work productivity. We must rest in order to continue to work, and extra activities/hobbies will help us explore ourselves.
- Motivate yourself: Women should not let other people’s opinions affect their business. I say, “Don’t let men let you down.” We must hold a firm stance on our goals and stay determined.
- Show up with integrity: Integrity is crucial to both women and men entrepreneurs, as it is a priceless characteristic to human beings. This shows a clear judgement based on proof and integrity leads to fair decision making.
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