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Mike Chu: On a Long But Fruitful Entrepreneurial Journey

At the age of only 34, Mike Chu has already spent half of his life in business. The zoologist graduate, born and bred in Ipoh, recalls having the desire to explore his creativity and maximise his potential since he was young. Perhaps his business mindset was influenced by his background, as his dad owned and managed a car accessories shop in town.

And so, his first foray into business was as a second-hand trader during his student days, buying items online and reselling them online too, via platforms such as Mudah.my. “I flipped electronics like mobile phones and PlayStations, because those could be resold for a good price,” he reminisced.

Mike transportation service
Mike’s transportation service

Pursuing his tertiary education at Universiti Sains Malaysia Penang, Mike came up with a brilliant business opportunity: to fetch fellow students around for a fee. “You can say it was like an in-house Grab service,” he said. At the point in life, when most students did not have personal transport, they didn’t mind paying for convenience and comfort. His investment in a second-hand green Proton Iswara which was bought using the saved-up salary as a camera salesman at Yik Foong Shopping Complex, was bearing fruit.

One can’t be blamed for wondering if Mike actually studied at all, with the many enterprising ideas that popped into his head, including setting up a kacang putih stall at one of the university cafés. Mike recollected the hassle of selling perishables. “I definitely had a hard time keeping my kacang putih crunchy all the time. There must be a trick to the trade, so that they remained crunchy even when the unsold snacks had to be kept overnight. As you can see, this didn’t go too well for me,” he laughed.

PTT Outdoor AmBank Biz RACE Season 2 (AmBank Business of the Year 2019)
PTT Outdoor is declared AmBank Biz RACE Season 2 (AmBank Business of the Year 2019)

Today, as the owner of PTT Outdoor, the winner of AmBank Biz RACE Season 2 (AmBank Business of the Year 2019), Mike can look back on the long entrepreneurial journey that he has undertaken and acknowledge the ups and downs that had moulded him as quite the hardened businessperson. PTT Outdoor is an e-commerce store that offers premium-quality outdoor gears for adventurers, at a pocket-friendly price.

PTT Outdoor, which is an acronym for the company’s core values of ‘Persistence, Tenacity, Toughness’ is not Mike’s first attempt at e-commerce, though. “I ran an e-commerce business selling second-hand books. Although the business failed, admittedly due to poor execution of my plan, I still feel that selling second-hand books online is a good idea,” he mused.

Starting PTT Outdoor in 2016
PTT Outdoor was established in 2016 with a capital of RM8,000 from his pocket. Mike’s parents, like most Asian parents, would rather their son be a professional and earned a stable income, instead of being a businessman. “They weren’t keen on the idea, but they allowed me to proceed with my venture. As you can imagine, I had to work doubly hard to prove myself.

In the beginning, it was common for me to work 16 hours a day. I recall one particular evening, I was so stressed out with all the impending tasks that I had to settle by the end of a long day, that my mom quietly came into my office, which was actually a house that I rented, to help me with packing the orders. She told me that although she couldn’t help me with administrative work on the computer, due to a lack of education, she could assist me with the packing. That moment is imprinted in my heart. I will remember it forever,” he confided.

The growth of PTT Outdoor caught Mike by surprise and before long, two pairs of hands, his and his mom’s, were no longer sufficient. One of the lessons he learnt was the importance of building a strong team. “Business owners might try to do everything themselves like a superhero, but this approach isn’t scalable, especially as the business grows. One person certainly cannot do everything or be everywhere at the same time. This is why PTT Outdoor is a team of 12 now, and I no longer have to pull 16-hour workdays,” according to Mike.

Branching off from retailing by sourcing premium-quality outdoor gear to cater for the discerning local market, the then 4-year-old PTT Outdoor established its very own outdoor brand, TAHAN, which currently boasts 20 SKUs.

On why the name TAHAN, Mike explained, “Gunung Tahan is the tallest peak in Peninsular Malaysia. At the same time, it is a symbol of durability. Hence, we find it an aptly fitting description for our gears. We are looking to grow the brand to 50 SKUs by the end of this year.”

Mike believes that growing a business is one of the most challenging aspects of entrepreneurship. Indeed, many budding business owners have found themselves at a plateau, unable to scale. “Without a doubt, I have much to be thankful for the opportunity to learn from these people whom I consider my business mentors, including Shanker Joyrama, founder of Orion, and Daniel Cerventus Lim, who runs the largest entrepreneur Facebook community group in Malaysia. We get to throw ideas around and talk about different challenges faced, without being judged. It’s during these times that we challenge our perception. Somehow, entrepreneurs are perception biased, so it is good to break our biases and look at the situation from another perspective. Whenever opportunities arise, I connect with entrepreneurs and startups and talk about business, helping each other out. While I do not actively mentor others, I share when I can, particularly with younger startups related to e-commerce. I am open to questions and make myself available when they reach out to me.”

Mental strength is the key
Expressing his thoughts, “Taking up the entrepreneurial challenge may not be suitable for everyone. Therefore, anyone who decides to take this path should be mentally prepared to tough it out.” If Mike has the chance to choose again to be an employer or an employee, he will still choose to be an employer, undeniably. “It is a rocky road, requires plenty of mental strength, and many sacrifices have to be made, so I consider it my personal achievement to reach where I am today, awards notwithstanding, although there’s still plenty of room to grow.”

Sloth Weighted Blanket
Sloth Weighted Blanket

Besides PTT Outdoor and its TAHAN brand, Mike started another business that is 180 degrees opposite that of an active lifestyle. It is the Sloth Weighted Blanket, which promotes sleep. The idea came about when he was searching for such a blanket from a Malaysian company but found none. Thus, to satisfy his personal requirement, he made one. “Although Sloth Weighted Blanket was more of a hobby to scratch my itch, so to speak, demand for the blanket has been growing steadily and so, I continued with the business. In the blink of an eye, it’s been two years already. Similar to PTT Outdoor, we utilise all the social media channels that are available to us, such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Google, to promote our blanket,” he disclosed.

Mike Chu Gunung Irau Mossy Forest
Mike Chu treks Gunung Irau, Mossy Forest

Mike, who is currently single, may have graduated as a zoologist but never been employed for a day as one, has come a full circle in life. The experienced gain while undertaking the Zoology course led him to fall in love with the outdoors, which is extremely related to the business of PTT Outdoor. With his capable team running the daily show, he has plenty of excuses to not clock in at the office, but rather spend his workdays in the great outdoors, putting it down to product testing. Luckily, to be a trendsetter in the outdoor industry, it is not solely work for Mike, but playtime as well. “There is so much more that one can do to provide for the outdoor market. I am very keen to explore these opportunities,” he stated. There you go, another reason for Mike to tackle one more trail. 

With love


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