IF you’ve worked for a couple of famous start-ups and had gone on to work for an agency designed to foster start-ups, it’s probably just a matter of time before you, yourself, catch the start-up bug. That’s certainly what happened to Ken Lau, founder of online adventure tour package firm, Adventoro.
A graduate in Computer Science, Lau worked for Zalora and MYSALE in their early days, and later for MaGIC (Malaysia Global Innovation & Creativity Centre) before he founded his own venture. With over 500 tour packages and counting, Adventoro is today unquestionably the biggest adventure tour company in the country, if not the region.
It offers a range of activities, including canoeing river rapids, spelunking, paragliding, and even activities such as learning a new language or taking part in educational programmes. “I wanted to create a business that would enhance adventure travellers’ experiences,” confides Lau. And that, he has certainly done.
WERE YOU ALWAYS AN ADVENTURE BUFF?
Yes! I’ve climbed Mount Kinabalu, visited many national parks, done a lot of caving, participated in many water-sports activities and have embarked on many culinary adventures! Adventure travel is something I’m very passionate about. I feel it enriches my life.
HOW DOES ADVENTURE TRAVEL ENRICH ONE’S LIFE?
When we travel, we’re exposed to different cultures, ways of life, strata of society, etc. It definitely broadens our horizons. It also teaches us resilience. We’re challenging ourselves when we come across something that we have never done before. It’s good to get out of our comfort zones.
WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO START YOUR OWN ADVENTURE COMPANY?
Many successful entrepreneurs built their companies based on what they personally felt was missing from the market place. That’s my story too. As an adventure seeker, I noticed that there was a gap in the market. I personally found it challenging to research, book and experience adventures in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.
In general, the adventure tourism industry is highly fragmented. There are many suppliers but each is focused on a particular area or type of tour. Our job was to aggregate these different tours into a single platform so that adventure seekers can find everything in one place.
DO YOU HAVE COMPETITORS IN MALAYSIA?
I started Adventoro because there was no established player in adventure tourism in Malaysia, or Southeast Asia for that matter. Within less than a year, we’re already the largest online adventure tour provider in the country with over 500 options in Malaysia alone.
HAVING ACHIEVED YOUR TARGETS, WHAT’S YOUR MISSION FOR THE REST OF THIS YEAR?
Our mission is to continually unearth and promote exciting adventures in Malaysia and Southeast Asia for adventure travellers around the world. We’re never satisfied and I feel that our range of tour offerings is still not enough. There’s still room for improvement.
WHAT WERE THE FIRST THINGS YOU DID WHEN START ING THIS COMPANY?
We set an objective to sign up 250 tours and activities as a start. We succeeded in achieving this within four months. After that, we set a target of 500, which we achieved before the end of last year.
HOW DO YOU AND YOUR TEAM GO ABOUT CREATING THESE PACKAGES?
We start by identifying a destination or activity that we would like to have on Adventoro. We then search for suitable suppliers. We curate them by researching about them online on TripAdvisor, online forums and feedback from our existing suppliers. We only want to work with the best to ensure our customers have a great experience. We also sometimes create our own tours if no suppliers exist for certain packages we want to have, for example, like certain types of food tours.
IS THE FOCUS RIGHT NOW ON MALAYSIA? DO YOU PLAN TO EXPAND?
We will still focus on expanding our offerings in Malaysia as this is our key market. Our mission for this year is to spread throughout Southeast Asia. This is a mammoth task — achievable but requires a lot of hard work. We have just launched in Singapore and Indonesia. Other countries in Southeast Asia will follow suit very quickly.
NOW THAT YOU’RE AN ENTREPRENEUR, DO YOU HAVE MUCH TIME TO TRAVEL YOURSELF?
No matter how busy I am, I always make time to travel. It helps that my business is travel-related because I have to visit the suppliers in various places and experience their tours to ensure that their service level is satisfactory. It’s a pretty good job, I’d say!
HOW HAS THE GROWTH BEEN SO FAR?
It’s been really good. We have been growing more than 30 per cent on month-on-month basis since we started. Our new launches in Singapore and Indonesia should help with our growth this year.
WHAT’S YOUR MOST MEMORABLE ADVENTURE TO DATE?
I’d say spending a few days trekking down the Grand Canyon. That spectacular gorge is a sight to behold and it puts you in awe to witness the sheer grandiosity of Mother Nature. But closer to home, I’d say exploring the temples of Siem Reap — Angkor Wat — was a wonderful experience. Hundreds of temples, each one unique and can be traced back and connected to a larger story.
IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND JUST ONE TRIP TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER BEEN ON AN ADVENTURE TOUR BEFORE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Scale Mount Kinabalu. It’s one of our bestsellers and adventurer explorers recognise it as one of the “Must Do” bucket list adventures in Southeast Asia. Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in the region and the view from its peak during sunrise is magnificent.
WHAT’S THE ONE ADVENTURE TRIP YOU’D LIKE TO TAKE BUT HAVEN ’T DONE SO YET?
Sipadan and the islands around Tun Marine Sakaran Park, which are world famous. The biodiversity of the marine life there is on par with the Great Barrier Reef. I kid you not!