How One Fish Enthusiast Turned his Hobby into a Successful Business

Fighting_fish_bettaAfter more than two decades as an office worker, Mr. Napat Tantanapon, a man in his 40s, made the bold decision to turn his love for betta fish (often known as Siamese fighting fish) into a business. Recognizing the growth of e-commerce and the large number of betta breeders in his home province of Nakhon Pathom, Mr. Napat had the bright idea of buying the most beautiful fish from breeders and selling them in foreign markets. However, his fellow breeders and sellers in Nakhon Pathom were skeptical of this idea—reminding him that he didn’t have a channel to access these markets and, furthermore, wouldn’t be able to communicate with buyers if he did; after all, he knew little English.

Despite other sellers’ doubts, Mr. Napat believed that by only targeting Thai customers, he would never be able to create a sustainable business and make a living doing what he loves. Because bettas are native to Thailand, there is a huge supply for limited customers. In this saturated market, sellers have to reduce their prices constantly to attract customers.

Betta fish are from the Mekong region but their luminous, majestic colors attract the interest of fish enthusiasts the world over. In what speaks to their unique beauty, the technology company Apple used photos of betta fish as the featured wallpaper when it launched the iPhone 6. While beautiful, male bettas are also known for their aggressive behavior, which forces males to be kept apart to avoid fighting, which is the reason bettas are commonly called Siamese fighting fish.

Determined to overcome the obstacles of building his business, Bettaberry Thailand, Mr. Napat enrolled in Kenan Foundation Asia’s training about online marketing and business planning for betta sellers in hopes of improving his business skills and learning more about channels to reach foreign customers. During the training, supported by Thailand’s Office of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion (OSMEP), Kenan’s experts helped the sellers understand business planning, pricing, the digital landscape and the value of using digital channels to sell fish.

“It was an excellent workshop,” Mr. Napat said. “Instead of thinking about selling at lower prices, we learned how to use digital channels to reach new, promising markets. This really matched our needs.”

Although Mr. Napat had begun using Facebook for his business a few months before Kenan’s May workshop, the experts’ advice on how to effectively target international markets gave him the confidence and tools to accelerate his dream. As he became more sophisticated in his use of online channels, messages started rolling into his inbox from betta lovers around the world. More and more, Mr. Napat found himself using Google Translate to communicate with his giddy customers and then shipping his fish globally. Interestingly, bettas are a strong species that can be shipped safely in a small container through regular mail. This makes it possible for Mr. Napat to send his fish to the United States, Canada and Europe, his three largest markets.

Mr. Napat has already received recognition for his business success. In fact, Thailand’s Department of Fisheries invited him to join its roadshow to inspire and teach other fish farmers and sellers about the new business opportunities available in the digital era. Pleasantly surprised by his own success, Mr. Napat said that “Looking back, I never imagined I would make it this far today.”

When asked to provide advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Mr. Napat says that “you should do what makes you happy. Whatever you are crazy about, you may be surprised how it can generate money for you. If you just keep posting about your passion on social media, people will eventually find out who you are and what you do. From my experience, I finally found my customers and, even more than that, I found Kenan Foundation Asia which provided great support in teaching me about business. Eventually, you will find a good coach too, so just keep going.”

For more than 20 years, Kenan has helped small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs like Mr. Napat develop sustainable business plans, reach new markets and achieve their own ideas of success. To learn more about our work to empower entrepreneurs and small business owners, click here.

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