Supachai Parchariyanon’s parents nicknamed him “Kid,” which he says means “Think” in his native Thai language.
They didn’t know then, of course, that their son would by age 19 develop the first mobile stock-trading app for the Thai stock exchange, then by his mid-20s earn a medical degree, start a healthcare IT consulting company, launch a digital advertising company, and cofound a corporate consulting business he hopes will someday help drive 1% of Southeast Asia’s GDP. Oh, and in his spare time he trains for and runs marathons all over the world. Now 36 and the father of a 4-year-old daughter, Bangkok-based Parchariyanon’s extraordinary career path led him to the Stanford Executive Program in 2018.
You worked as a general practitioner for only three years before becoming what you describe as a “serial entrepreneur.” Did that decision reflect any dissatisfaction or disillusionment with medicine?
No. I was quite lucky with the success early on and was doing that in parallel with medicine. It’s not that hard to do both. And I had seen the power of technology.
You’re referring to 2005, when you developed and sold Thailand’s first mobile stock-trading app. Then a few years into your medical career, you started a healthcare IT consulting company. Then in 2011 you started a digital advertising company. Explain those surprising transitions.
Before I started my career in business, I was a medical doctor. I served a hundred patients a day. My patients averaged about 60 years old. Patients that age often have multiple medical issues, and every day I needed to write down prescriptions. The average patient was taking 10 drugs every day. It was so annoying. Rather than spending time with the patient, I was spending time doing these repetitive tasks. One day I told the hospital director to give me three months to develop a program to solve that problem. He said yes, and that yes changed my life.
And that success digitizing the hospital’s medical records process wasn’t the first time you used technology to disrupt, right?
When I was in med school I was investing in the stock market. That was around 2000, and everyone was using a Nokia phone with a black-and-white screen. One of the best features of that phone was that it could connect to the internet. In my second year of med school, my teachers kept asking me why I kept making phone calls to the brokerage firm to buy and sell stock during class. So I talked to an engineer friend about developing software so we could trade stock on the Nokia while we were in class. That was the first time people in Thailand could trade stock via mobile.
And by the time you were 22 you sold that app to the Stock Exchange of Thailand.
Right. So that was my first job, not as a doctor but as an entrepreneur.
But an ad agency? That was a third parallel career track.
The dots that connect them all is tech. What industries could I disrupt by using technologies? When I started digital marketing about 10 years ago, it was really just starting to take off in Thailand. I was lucky to become the first agency to bring it to the country for the very first time. We were the first reseller for the Twitter advertising platform.
Later you went on to study biomedical informatics. Because?
I was trying to find a bridge between IT and healthcare. This is the best bridge to date I have found. The good thing about the field is that most of the people who join have backgrounds in either medicine or IT. They’re very special people because they can speak both the medical and tech languages. That’s what this field is all about — managing data and people. And in the end, technology isn’t hard to manage. People are hard to manage.
You describe your company, RISE, as a “corporate innovation powerhouse.” Explain that concept.
The bigger a corporation gets, the slower it becomes. Our job is to help you become the big fish that still moves fast. For example, let’s say you’re an energy company and you have a problem sourcing new technology to reduce energy consumption at a plant. On our accelerator program, we can help you find the right technology from anywhere in the world to help you solve that problem. Or we can find an AI company that will do what we call “predictive maintenance” to predict when the factory might break down or when they should stop the factory for repairs. It might take years to develop that technology themselves, but we can bring experts from anywhere in the world to Thailand to build prototype AI that can help, for a fee. Then if it works they might become partners, or become a client, or be acquired. We can speed up that whole process and make it happen in three months.
What are some of the other things you do to accelerate growth?
We have what we call “Intrapreneur School” focusing on building new products and services, not just training to get a certificate. We target three tiers. The first tier is C-suite executives, the second is middle management, and the third is top talent. Let’s say we’re working with a $40 billion-a-year energy company with 10,000 employees. We’ll have 50 of their top people join our program, and we break them into 10 teams for six months. It’s super hands-on, no lectures. Their task is to build a new startup that will generate $1 billion in revenue in the next five years. Our promise is that at the end of six months these people will have a solid prototype to pitch to their board and the C-suite, who can decide if they want to invest.
Why is it important to bring that kind of entrepreneurship into a corporate setting?
In the U.S. entrepreneurs try to disrupt the big corporations, right? In Asia, things are different because of all the networks and tight relationships. So the only way is collaboration. We have this notion here that big fish eats the small fish. But it’s also that the fast fish eats the slow fish.
Your goal for RISE is to drive 1% of the gross domestic product for Southeast Asia through corporate innovation. In a best-case scenario, how long do you think it will take to reach that goal?
The idea is very simple. You can bring one startup from the U.S. to Thailand to work with a big corporation, and plug into the business and generate a new revenue stream. One of the 10 teams can create a new idea, and that idea can become a new spinoff company, and that company can get more revenue. And we count that new revenue toward the GDP, too. That’s how I want to have impact here — by starting from my home country first, then expanding to the whole region. I think we can do that in 10 years. Last year we hit 0.1% of GDP of Thailand. This year we’re on track to hit 0.25%. Because Thailand’s GDP is around $400 billion, that means that 1% is $4 billion. GDP per capita for Thai people is $4,000 to $5,000, so if you hit 1% percent of GDP, that increases a million jobs for the country.
And you’ve recently begun SeaX Ventures, a VC firm in the Bay Area.
The main goal of the fund is to help find technologies from anywhere in the world and bring them back to Southeast Asia and connect with corporations. Making money is a second priority. The reason I started it was to help smaller companies. If you’re one of the five largest companies in any country in Southeast Asia, you can invest anywhere in the world. But if you’re company No. 6 to No. 100, you’re maybe too small to set up a corporate venture capital fund yourself. But those companies still need technology. That’s why we decided to set up a fund for those corporations, because we see the gap.
In addition to raising your young daughter, you run marathons. Where do you find the time to train, and why?
I wake up early. Yesterday I woke up at 4 a.m. because it’s getting hotter here, and by 6 or 7 it’s super hot. It’s a little bit crazy, but it helps me keep up with early meetings and late dinners. But I get to bed quite early, like 8 or 9, so I get enough sleep. You need to be physically fit and have mental mindfulness to change the world. I’m going to run my fourth full marathon in Berlin at the end of September.
One of my goals is to complete what we call the World Marathon Majors. There are six of them worldwide — Tokyo, Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, and Boston. I did Tokyo and New York already, and for Berlin I will challenge myself to beat my record.
Was there a specific need or gap in your education that brought you to SEP?
First, I never studied for my MBA. Stanford gave me a chance to come to learn from the same world-class faculty as an MBA student. The second reason was the network. I travel quite a lot; now I can find friends in every country in the world. I was able to set up SeaX Ventures using my network from Stanford in the month after the program ended. The third thing was to be in Silicon Valley.
Any one thing you learned in the Stanford program that has proven to be particularly useful?
I like to learn fast and fail fast, and when I learn it I want to test it right away. I was able to apply that to the VC fund immediately. I was able to meet up after the classes and meet some of the professors at their homes. After that we applied the theory to setting up the real fund. I’m able to learn and apply it in real time, and it’s now profitable. That’s super impactful.
Photos courtesy of Supachai Parchariyanon