Koung Sorita is well known in the business scene in Cambodia. At a young age, she has already accomplished so much – businesses here and there, social work, and affiliations with established organisations. But like all other stories of success, the 31-year-old businesswoman went through hurdles. Ironically, she really didn’t plan to be an entrepreneur at all and pursued International Relations at Pannasastra University of Cambodia with dreams of becoming a diplomat.
But what made her change her mind? What pushed her to go beyond her comfort zone and dive into entrepreneurship? Eileen McCormick and Say Tola talk with Koung Sorita, a firmly established female entrepreneur who defied her own limitations and paved her way to success.
GoodTimes2: After obtaining a degree in International Relations, what made you decide to venture into business and entrepreneurship? How did you start your first business?
Ms Sorita: After I got married, my husband kept pushing me to run my own business. We had arguments about it because I really thought that I couldn’t handle the pressure and work of managing my own business. Back then, I thought it’s just for people who want to fulfil their own interests. However, I also realised that I already have a family of my own – people whose future I have to always consider. That’s how I changed my perspective on establishing my own business. I told myself that I had to do it for my family.
So, I thought of something that’s unique. I studied business lines that aren’t too common in Cambodia yet, or the kinds that have been overlooked by business owners. I decided to run “Ocean Technology”, which provides GPS tracking products and services. It was quite new to Cambodia when it opened eight years ago. It was a challenge because I invested all the money I got from my wedding into that business. I put strong commitment to it and worked really hard to make it successful. I didn’t want to become a plain housewife. I wanted to be more. I wanted to prove that I can do it even without prior experiences and knowledge on technology and business.
GoodTimes2: Putting up your own business was surely tough. How did you get through all the obstacles? What drove you to continue investing into other businesses?
Ms Sorita: It was tough, definitely. But it was also where and how I learned so many things about businesses and about my own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned the ropes of marketing, managing people and effectively operating the business processes. I have my former workplace, Raffles International College, to thank for that. It pushed me to do multiple roles. In the end, I learned a lot. Aside from that, I also got interested in doing research and attending short course trainings for business owners.
After Ocean Technology, I built another company “Mother Plus”. It’s a store that sells dresses for pregnant women. I was pregnant when I built the company, so it was very timely for me. I thought that women need beautiful dresses when they’re pregnant as they still have to work in offices. I did a lot of research and marketing analysis for such investment. I studied all the opportunities and risks the business entails, and I think I made the right decision. Right after that, I expanded to infant wardrobe. I built “Camomile Spring Cambodia” as I think that many of the baby stuff here in Cambodia got so much chemicals in them that might harm the babies. I ran the business to help middle-class parents. They don’t have to fly overseas anymore just to buy good quality things for their infants.
And then, I franchised BlueBird British International School. It’s going to open a new branch soon. I took the risk of putting a big share into it because I firmly believed in the quality of education and environment it provides to kids.
I also have a share in a mineral water company, Anotta Mineral Water. For all my business ventures, I always make sure that they all have ethics as their core foundation. I think that’s what made these businesses successful.
GoodTimes2: Do you do other things aside from running your businesses?
Ms Sorita: I used to be a very negative person. But after doing some social work and being the fourth president of the Pannasastra Student Senate (PASS) at the Pannasastra University of Cambodia, there were some dramatic changes in me. I learned leadership skills and became fond of sharing my experiences to the public, to the young ones especially. I also mentored for SheInvestment and became the board adviser/soft skills trainer for Koonsoor Kampuchea Training Academy. I also created the Be Your Own Hero (B-YooH) for young women in Cambodia. We recruit around 20 people per course. These endeavours were inspired from my experiences when I joined a study tour for outstanding women from 43 countries. I was an awardee of the Cambodian Young Entrepreneur Awards and was among the ten outstanding Cambodia Women Entrepreneurs for 2017.
GoodTimes2: What were the biggest challenges you faced in the field that you have chosen?
Ms Sorita: Being a woman. Yes, that’s the biggest challenge for me. Many people limit my capabilities and knowledge to my gender. I get less respect and trust than my male counterparts. It is hard to start a business when you’re a woman. Getting financial partners and sponsors is also a big problem. I had to balance everything and make sure all things worked smoothly. Sometimes, I got more part time jobs. It was really challenging but I always gave value to positive thinking and self-confidence. That’s what got me through.
GoodTimes2: With everything that’s in your plate right now, how do you manage your time? How did you make all your businesses grow?
Ms Sorita: I think business owners have to be smart. Meaning, they have to acknowledge that they can’t do all the work alone, especially if they have multiple businesses. It is important that business owners know how to select the people who are going to manage their businesses and assets. Choose the people you trust, and those who have knowledge in the field. It is also important to create a good environment for the staff so that they’d be motivated to work for the success of your companies. More than anything, you have to focus on completing the job perfectly without delay.
Aside from these businesses that I am working on, I am also currently pursuing my master’s degree at PUC in the evening. So, I always make sure that I spend quality time with my family and take good care of my son on weekends and on my free days. There are just so many things I need to do every day, but I am lucky to have found smart people who make the load easier to bear. I have found balance in everything. You know, it’s about learning as you go through the process.
GoodTimes2: Is your success an issue between you and your husband?
Ms Sorita: Many people have come to ask me and my husband about that, too. They love to compare our statuses and our individual success. But that doesn’t matter to us at all. I feel so lucky that my husband supports and motivates me in everything that I do. He wants me to be a role model for women in this society. So, it’s not an issue whether I get more successful or not. We always discuss things. Aside from being a good husband, he is also my consultant and definitely my partner in all my success.