Wearing denim shorts along with a dark shirt and clean white Converse All-Stars, Derek Pan sat leisurely in a bright green chair. Lean and tanned, in casual clothes that would not be out of the ordinary anywhere in Phnom Penh nowadays, he did not look like the CEO of an online media company that saw more than two million readers per month.
Having immigrated to the United States in the winter of 1984, Mr Pan spent more than two decades in the United States until he returned in August 2005. Since then, he has been back and forth between Phnom Penh and the US. He spoke with Khmer Times Samithi Sok.
KT Can you briefly tell us about yourself?
Derek Pan: My name is Phatry Derek Pan, I go by Derek. I am a media entrepreneur, currently based in Phnom Penh. I have an office in Long Beach, California.
KT Why did you start Khmerican?
Derek Pan: Khmerican was created for two purposes, one to give balanced representation of Cambodian-Americans in the US and Canada. The second reason was I felt Cambodian-Americans in general felt that they were always disconnected.
There were pockets of Cambodian communities in different areas of the US and Canada and even then, within their own city, they were kind of disconnected.
KT What was it like, after two decades, retur-ning to Cambodia?
Derek Pan: I was 25 when I first set foot on Cambodian soil. I was very excited to be back to my mum and dad’s roots. Before coming, you already have this fantasy, this image of what the country is going through. But the feeling was much different from today. I always felt the country was welcoming overseas Cambodians and they’ve always welcomed us back then, but it was not as strong as it is today and the last few years.
KT What were some experiences that set you on the path to starting up Khmerican?
Derek Pan: It was a very serendipitous moment when Khmerican was started. When I lived here, my first real job was actually with The Phnom Penh Post. And there, I experimented with what I wanted to write.
I felt that Cambodian-Americans were underrepresented in Cambodia, A lot of those stories on deportees were on and were very negative. So I did a lot of stories on deportees, but in a more uplifting, more empowering tone. So, my Post-days were really the foundation in what I wanted to do to give voice and representation to the diaspora population of Cambodians.
KT What plans are there for the future of Khmerican?
Derek Pan: We have expansion plans in Europe and Australia as well. Khmeropean, which is going to be for our Khmer-Europe audience.
The third one is going to be based in Oceania. And the fourth brand that we’re going to be creating for Cambodia, but we don’t foresee that happening for another 12-18 more months.
KT What were some of the major challenges when you were setting up Khmerican? And how did you overcome them?
Derek Pan: One of the biggest challenges was to build loyalty, was to build a following. We’re paperless, we’re young, we don’t have that many resources, we’ve been paying out of our own pockets.
We wanted to build a steady, loyal following that will continue to follow us on Facebook and Instagram and all the other social media. We used a lot of unconventional methods to do that.
KT How successful do you feel Khmerican has been?
Derek Pan: It’s not where I want it to be. If you look at it profits-wise, we’re not there where we want it to be. Readership-wise, we want to be 10 million readers per month by 2020. But we’re still in the early stages. We still have to think this is a success because we haven’t given up, we haven’t quit.
In many ways, we’re successful because we get tons of email from young, old, Cambodians, not-Cambodians, parents who adopted Cambodians – sharing positive feedback about the content we share and what we do and what we stand for.
To us, those are the biggest successes. To me, if my nephew reads it and he finds out his uncle did it, to me that’s a level of personal success that has been achieved.