Fireside Chat with Chatri Sityodtong, founder of ONE Championship
Chatri Sityodtong, founder of ONE Championship, a sports media property rapidly approaching US $1-billion valuation. “You have to start at the place where you want to help change the world.”
Startup IO’s founder Bill Yuen and ONE Championship’s founder Chatri Sityodtong have a unique conversation about values, passion, and personal beliefs that fuel the emergence of Asia’s first multi-billion dollar sports media property.
Bill: What got you interested in launching your own company?
Chatri: Martial arts has been my greatest passion from my whole life. I think it’s Asia’s greatest cultural treasure. I’ve been doing it for about 30 years. With all these coming in together, I believe it’s a multi-billion dollar opportunity and that’s why I created ONE Championship.
Bill: What’s the biggest surprise for you when you learned about this industry? Of course, you’ve been living in this industry for a long time but being a business person is a little bit different right?
Chatri: There were a few things that surprised me. One was how quickly we’ve grown. When we started, I’ve sent emails and calls and nobody wanted to talk to me. If they did, it would only be around two minutes. So I literally had to convince my sponsors, broadcasters, employees, partners, or vendors that this is going to happen. I was rejected many times and the first two or three years have been very hard but now we’re Asia’s largest sports media property. And I feel very grateful and blessed about that.
Bill: If you had a chance to do it again, what would you do differently?
Chatri: I make so many mistakes every day: wrong hires, wrong decisions. I’ve fail so many times I lost count already. But I wouldn’t want to change anything because those mistakes have allowed for ONE Championship to go as far as six years later. I never thought we would be in 128 countries in a potential 1-billion homes. I never thought that we’d become Asia’s largest sports media property. My vision of ONE Championship becoming Asia’s first multi-billion dollar sports media property is getting closer and closer to being achieved every day and I really believe it’s going to happen. For me, the journey of making all my mistakes, of failing these last six years, has brought ONE Championship to where it is today and I think all those valuable learnings is why ONE Championship is poised to succeed in the future. You have to fail many times so you’ll learn. You have to make mistakes so you’ll learn. And all those learnings you can apply for future success.
Bill: Let’s talk about risk taking. The “f-word” in startup — failure — holds different meaning in East and West. In your opinion, what is the fundamental difference between the startup mentality in Asia compared to the U.S.?
Chatri: I’m Asian and have Asian values incorporated in my lifestyle but I also lived 18 years in America. Asians have a low tolerance for failure but in America or Silicon Valley, failure is like a badge of learning — it means you were able to do something. You’ve taken a risk. It means you have learned something. So, this is the kind of mindset that I agree with you. Entrepreneurship is not as widely accepted in Asia yet. People would rather you go be a doctor or an accountant or an engineer or something — a safe job. But you know, I feel that it’s time for entrepreneurship in Asia to rise. 57% of the world’s population lives in Asia. Yet, only 9% of the world’s global brands come from Asia. So, that means massive opportunity to create global brands for Asians.
Bill: What is your company’s mission?
Chatri: We want to unleash superheroes who ignite the world with inspiration, hope, strength and dreams. Most of the time, professional fighters become that way because they were born in the lowest in society, their parents were rice farmers, no opportunity for education. Look at Manny Pacquiao, he was on the streets begging and he became a ten-time world champion. There’s so many amazing lessons and beautiful stories from that life experience, from that life journey that inspires all Filipinos. That’s exactly what ONE Championship is all about. We want to create heroes who inspire everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re poor or rich. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student. When you watch one of our heroes, you can be inspired yourself. If Manny Pacquiao was a street kid and he made it, you can do something with your life too. This is what Asians need; we need this to take us to the next level.
Bill: In your opinion, what are the three things that matter most when launching a startup?
Chatri: I think the number one is having the right values. Values are the engines of great performance for any company. It will create the right culture and the right culture will create extraordinary performance in the company. It’s important when you lay your foundation to have those values, especially when you start hiring people. Your culture becomes integrated into their life. Eventually, if you have a great vision and a mission and then on top of that a strategic plan, then everything is in-line. So having the right values is number one. Second is passion. You need passion as an entrepreneur for your concept. That’s how you’re going to make the money. When you make the world better, that’s how the world will pay for your services or your product. So, you really have to have that passion for your concept. The third is, you need the value proposition. The value proposition of your company has to be significantly greater than anything that exists in the world today. Steve Jobs’ value proposition was so far greater than anything that existed during his time, but if you ask Steve Jobs, why did you do it? Did you do it because you want to make billions of dollars? I don’t think so. He did it because he wanted to change the world. He wanted to make the world a better place. Of course he became a multi-billionaire as a result but you have to start at the place where you want to help change the world. Do something good for the world. Then, you’re going to make the money.
Bill: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that want to enter your industry?
Chatri: You have to find your audience because ultimately, sports entertainment is about what the fans love. So, you have to make sure that whatever you create, it’s something that resonates with the fans. It’s not easy. You can create a show but no one will like it or care about it or become a fan. You need to create something that everyone wants to see and watch. That’s the secret sauce of the sports entertainment industry. It’s hard to do but it’s not impossible.
Each week, Billy Yuen talks with top executives about startups. Follow him on http://blog.startupio.com. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.