Learning Jungle is a franchised international school using the same curriculum as its parent company in Canada. Ly Virak, the school’s chairman, recently spoke to Khmer Times’ May Kunmakara and offered tips to aspiring young entrepreneurs, based on his own learning experiences.
KT: You are a promising young entrepreneur and majored in finance in university. What made you want to start up an education business?
Mr Virak: I got a scholarship to pursue my MBA in Thailand and France. During my stay in Canada, I did a second masters’ in finance.
When I returned to Cambodia, I decided to run my own business in the education sector. I love studying and I believe education never stops in a person’s life. For that reason, I wanted to contribute to the development of the education sector in Cambodia.
KT: With your talents and qualifications, why didn’t you choose to work in the public sector?
Mr Virak: Well for me, I don’t really mind whether I work in the public or private sector as long as it benefits our society.
It has always been my dream to run a good international school and when we offer high quality education, it contributes to the development of our country. Education starts at a young age and when we nurture Cambodian children early they tend to be better citizens with a bright future.
KT: What challenges did you face in setting up your international school?
Mr Virak: I had three major challenges to overcome when I started my education business. First, I needed to find a way to set affordable school fees. The second was to recruit qualified staff and teachers and the third was to build up the brand of the school.
On school fees, we had to find a balance. If we had set it too low, we would have been cutting corners in providing quality education. On the other hand if it was set too high, parents wouldn’t have enrolled their children and it would have been difficult for us to expand.
Human resources are important for an international school. We needed to find qualified teachers and experienced staff that fitted in our school fees’ structure.
We also had to work hard to build our brand. When we started in 2014, no one knew about Learning Jungle International School. Now, three years later we are among the top 10 schools in the country.
KT: It seems you have come a long way on the road to success. What can you share with other young entrepreneurs, in helping them overcome their challenges?
Mr Virak: First they must acknowledge that there will be challenges and obstacles. It is important for them to know their market and also have a clear business plan.
We are in a globalised world and young entrepreneurs must not close themselves up to global developments. They should stay up to date with international news and also develop a habit of reading, especially economics and finance publications. This is vital because they would be able to relate to what’s happening overseas to their own businesses.
Also they need to follow their passion. It’s no use starting a business if they don’t feel very strongly about it.
Finally, they must be ready to first start small and build the business as they go along. They also must be open minded and willing to learn from others. In this globalised world, everything changes so fast and they should be ready to adapt – if they have to.
KT: There is a saying that if we were to start a business, we should not take out a bank loan. What do you think about that?
Mr Virak: Frankly speaking, I dare to say that in any business one has to borrow money from a bank. What’s important is that the loan must be used in a right way for the business. Also the entrepreneur should first determine whether he or she can make the loan repayments and whether they can generate enough profits to recoup their investment.
KT: If you look at the requirements of banks, they always ask for non-movable collaterals as loan guarantees. Most of the time, young entrepreneurs can’t meet these requirements. In such cases, how will it affect their business plans?
Mr Virak: Sure, it is a problem for all of us. In the US we have “angel investors” – rich people who want to invest in businesses or startups because it resonates with their vision of what society should be. Unfortunately, we don’t have such kind of investors here. So for the time being, it seems that the only way is to take out loans from financial institutions that require fixed collaterals as guarantees.
KT: Digitalisation seems to be the buzz word now. Is Learning Jungle going down that same path?
Mr Virak: As you know my school is franchised from Canada, so our curriculum starts from Grade One. In addition, we also offer science and technology subjects and have computer labs for our students. At the same time, we have an academic team that works on research on new apps. Our students can now learn Khmer using apps on their iPad or iPhone. They have the basics and now we can easily train them to be technologically savvy.
KT: What are your future plans for the school? Do you plan to diversify your business to other sectors?
Mr Virak: I was born into a business family, so I guess I’m lucky. I can clearly see my school growing and I want to maintain the quality of education in Learning Jungle. At the same time, we also have plans to partner with international universities – in the field of higher education.