A Tenacious Entrepreneurial Spirit

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Edmund Chan Seng Kee is more than just the co-founder of Animasia Studio which produces globally-recognized animation series like Supa Strikas, ABC Monsters and Bola Kampung. The 36-year-old gentleman is also a devoted marathon runner who has found success in applying the same dynamic of the active sport into his main passion in business. Recently, Top 10 of Malaysia gets to speak with the visionary Managing Director about his entrepreneurial pursuit and the challenges he faced.

Edmund Chan started Animasia Studio 10 years ago with two other partners when he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Prior to that, Chan spent a few years importing children learning programmes and books to cater to local demands. Seeing growth in numbers, Chan decided to start his own brand which allows him to do more by exporting and creating merchandise.

With a double degree, in marketing and international trade, from Victoria University in Melbourne, Chan put it to good use when he began scouting for local partners to start his animation business. “We have always wanted to export and create our own global icon. I managed to make it happen with the help of my two co-founders that I look up to. Raye Lee is my university mate who handles the business side of things while Ah Loong, who heads the creative team, comes up with direction, storyline and concept to our projects. We understand each other very well and work beautifully together”, says Chan.

Chan and his team are always on the lookout for market intelligence. They always seek opinions and try to gather as much feedbacks as possible on their new projects. When Bola Kampung: The Movie did not reach the expected success it intended for in 2013, Chan and his team re-strategized and moved forward to another project. “We learn from experience. Even when we first brought ABC Monsters to our clients abroad, they rejected the idea simply because the characters looked too Asian with their black hair. It was hard for their children to identify with the characters. We came back, changed it and now ABC Monsters is on the shelves of major retail chains in the United States,” recalls Chan of the studio’s earlier global market venture.

With a lot of difficult challenges faced at the earlier stage of his business, Chan treated the entire process like running a marathon. It is a long journey with a lot of uphill and downhill climbs which demands for a lot of strength and stamina to push through. Chan has managed to stay strong to continue the ‘race’ but at the beginning, the biggest challenge for him was finding the talent. According to Chan, it has a lot to do with perception on career in animation back then when it was almost unheard of.

Training these talents was another hurdle as there were not many animation courses during those days. Together with his team, Chan invested a lot of time in training and retaining them. Today, Animasia Studio has some 150 animators from just six when it first started. It also has a lot to do with Chan’s leadership style. He manages his company like he would a big family with minimal restrictions which earned him even a higher level of respect from his employees.

“Everything was self-funded and it was particularly difficult for us when we were turned down for the first couple of years. We hardly know people in the industry. It was almost impossible to even get a meeting. But times have changed. Our government listened and began offering financial assistance specifically for this industry in 2007. From a small presence at MIPCOM (International Market of Communications Programmes) in Cannes, France to promote our locally produced animation, we now have an entire Malaysia pavilion dedicated for us,” says Chan recalling on how far the animation industry has come.

Chan’s equally deep interest in marathon running shows when he finished a 53-kilometre ultra-marathon earlier this year. The result is an ankle injury that took him four months to recover. For Chan, finishing the marathon is an achievement on personal level similar to milestones achieved by his company. “ABC Monsters became one of the most requested programmes when we brought the trailer to France in 2007. It was later given the green light for production and was partly funded by the government. Supa Strikas is another big achievement for us. We outbid 11 other studios to bring the popular South African comic series onto the small screen and we are now currently in our fifth season,” says Chan.

There is no doubt that Edmund Chan plans to continue with his ‘race’ with much tenacity. Ten years from now, his hope for Animasia Studio is that it will mark a strong presence all over Asia with the introduction of more global icons. He also looks to marketing market more of the studio’s products globally and training more hopeful local talents to become world-class animation experts.

Issue 21/2015