My Business Asia: Selling Thai fitness online

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Media captionWootinun Sungong: 'I think entrepreneurship is a really difficult path but it is the path that you can create'

What makes an entrepreneur? The BBC hears from Wootinun Sungong about the challenges of starting an online business and how success came from his favourite sport.

"Muay Thai teaches me to respect people," says 34-year-old Wootinun Sungong.

It might be a surprising observation for some, given that he is talking about a combat sport. Muay Thai is a centuries-old martial art, where points are scored for striking your opponent with your fists, feet, knees and elbows.

But as he explains, "I think Muay Thai is not just a sport. I think it's Thai culture."

But after putting his body on the line and sustaining a knee injury practising the sport, he started to take even bigger risks.

The biggest, he says, was deciding to build a business designing and selling specialist exercise and training gear for the sport he loves.

Starting out

In 2003, putting his freshly earned degree in engineering to one side and turning down job offers, Wootinun Sungong started his own e-commerce enterprise developing and selling Muay Thai equipment online - a new business model at the time and one which did not necessitate a large capital investment.

Learning about the world of business from scratch proved difficult as logistical and technological restraints presented themselves - he had to go to Hong Kong to open an online bank account and online payment services were in their infancy.

Watching him struggle, his family had their reservations about the young TUFF company, but seeing his passion, they provided full support.

And family and friends are still an important part of the business - many of them are now in his 50-strong workforce.

"I feel comfortable to work with them," he says. "They are a very big part of this company's success."

Changing online markets

What started as an online retail store with specially designed shorts, gloves and t-shirts has expanded to incorporate a series of brands, training facilities, Muay Thai camps and a small factory.

Now with competition from other online retailers, Wootinun Sungong's emphasis is on developing further technological innovation for his sites as well as the continual improvement and development of his products.

"My business philosophy is that of creativity and continuous improvement. When I do anything I think of these two aspects first."

Taking inspiration from water sports, his research and development team used quick-dry features in their designs, as Muay Thai is a sport which demands a lot of sweat.

And in the 10 years since he started TUFF Company, the sport's popularity has grown - both in professional and fitness arenas.

His online clients come from the United States, South America and Europe. His training camps see people flocking from around the world to Bangkok to learn and train.

Wootinun Sungong's aim is to take Muay Thai - and Thai culture - proudly to the rest of the world.

"This sport is what Thai people are made of," he says.

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