The Story Behind Khongsittha, Meet the Creators of Our Muay Thai Gym
The story of Khongsittha is the tale of two brothers with a shared passion. After experiencing the flaws of training Muay Thai in Bangkok, from unwelcoming trainers, intimidating training atmosphere, to dirty showers, Khongsittha was envisioned and born.
Our names are Matt and Dunk, a celebrity and entrepreneur duo. "Back in 2011, there was no gym in Bangkok that was suitable for our needs. We had to travel to Pattaya or Phuket to get the retreat experience." Wanting to make that experience available in Bangkok, we purchased an old seafood restaurant and turned it into a Muay Thai playground. The mission of the business will be simple: mixing the traditional vibe of open-air training with some authentic, Thai hospitality service.
Fast forward to the present day, Khongsittha is a renowned one-of-a-kind Muay Thai gym that is popular amongst locals and tourists. Our training camp consists of over 1000 sqm of training space, 80 private, air-conditioned rooms, and a professionally equipped kitchen. Better yet, Khongsittha is now famous for welcoming beginners but is truly adept at building professional fighters as well. Some rising stars we have built include Richi Khongsittha and Black Tiger Khongsittha.
But, How Exactly We Do It?
That was the ethos we lived by. Although we both were beginners to the sport, have never had a professional fight before (still haven’t till this present day), and have never launched a business before, we were committed to seeing Khongsittha born. With minimum funding from friends and family, we renovated the seafood restaurant, installed the boxing equipment, and climbed up ladders to paint the roofs ourselves! Dunk says, “I remember blasting away the cement using a jackhammer...and I never used a jackhammer before.” It was bootstrapping 101.
Matt adds, “A professional fighter’s gym is quite intimidating. Even though I knew the champions of each gym, I gotta admit it felt scary to train. But through these trainings at different camps, we learned what was missing from them and decided to develop our own program guidelines for Khongsittha. Dunk himself is a certified group fitness instructor by the Bootcamp Alliance, where he broke down the training program minute by minute to ensure that customers get an entertaining and effective workout for each and every session. As for myself, I have practiced martial arts since I was a kid, where I earned a black belt in Shoto-Kai Karate! Using our previous knowledge and experiences, we combined bits and pieces of different aspects that we liked from other gyms and sports and applied them all to Khongsittha. In 2015, we also earned our Teacher’s Licence (“Kru”) for Muay Thai from the Sports Authority of Thailand and Ministry of Education Thailand.”
Khongsittha has reached a respectable level of success, from training dominant public figures such as Tony Fernandes (Group CEO of Airasia) to climbing the ranks of TripAdvisor to reach the Top 10 things to do in Bangkok. But to every success, there were countless setbacks along the way. Dunk admits, “Truth be told, my parents didn’t even support the idea of the business. My father mocked that I’m wasting my time to become a Nak Muay fighter.” But it wasn’t fighting that we were after. We wanted to preserve and promote the martial art of Muay Thai so that others can experience the joy of training.
Despite some banter from the family, the opening date arrived; and zero customers showed up. “We were super pumped for the opening day. We had planned out the class schedule, figured out our membership prices, and have even hired Superbon Banchamek as our founding team of trainers.” Several weeks had passed before customers started to give Khongsittha a visit. It took us around one month to reach our critical mass, where 30 customers showed up in one hour’s session and we couldn’t train them! We recalled that the customers were extremely pissed for the waiting time and demanded a refund. Feeling embarrassed, we restructured the training program to suit large groups, where we now have become reputable in hosting massive sessions for corporate clients and Spartan Community workouts.
Keys to Success
Although we had no experience in running a Muay Thai business before, we can share our five keys to success in running a martial arts studio:
Most people complain about working a 9-5 pace, but in building a business, expect to work 9-9 pace! Dunk had just graduated from Babson College and gave up a corporate job in order to build Khongsittha. Matt works full-time as a TV show host and meets with Dunk every night and every free minute to build the business. In year one, we didn’t even take a single month’s wage.
It’s your own business, so do experiment! Although Muay Thai has existed for thousands of years, what has been done in the past and at other gyms may not work for your business. For instance, although the traditional training routine for Muay Thai includes clinching and sparring, we found out that local Thai customers are not into those aspects of training. When we included clinching and sparring to the training, customers were afraid.
Networking and choosing the correct partners helped Khongsittha strive. we give a big shoutout to Sean Fagan from Muay Thai Guy and Nak Muay Nation, whom helped us establish Fight Camps. “All it took was a simple email to Sean. We just wrote to him and asked him if he wanted to host his fans at Khongsittha.” Couple months later, Sean arrived in Bangkok. Moral of the story? If you never ask, the answer will always be no.
Business schools will teach you about the 4 Ps (Product, Price, Placement, and Promotion). This marketing principle is crucial to the success of a business because you need to figure out why customers are buying (or not buying) your product. Is it the product itself? Is it the pricing? Or is the placement and promotion not attractive enough? This links to success factor Number 2 because you should really test, record, and measure everything.
Every year, we host a company retreat for the trainers, bringing them to beachside resorts around Thailand or even flying them off to neighboring countries such as Vietnam. The trainers feel that they are appreciated and cared for, which is why our employee retention is incredibly high. This team culture is then reflected back into the trainers’ work, where they treat customers with the utmost care. After all, employees are the brand of the company; they go face to face with your customers on a daily basis so an employee’s health should be well taken cared for.
Future of Khongsittha
Statistics have stated that “50% of small businesses fail after five years in business.” Khongsittha is now entering its sixth year. The business doesn’t make us billionaires, but it gives us the lifestyle and freedom we seek. As of 2019, we have never been fitter or healthier. As for the future, we want to become a full retreat destination with more offerings available for customers. Expect a swimming pool, an organic vegetable garden, yoga classes, and obstacle training course to be installed.