“Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail.” This quote from inventor Charles Kettering is the life and business motto of Anouconcept Founder and Owner, Anou Khanijou.
“I believe that nothing is impossible. The word in itself says, 'I'm possible',” the “powerhouse” business owner said. Her entrepreneurial story is one of courage and determination that helped her shape her space in the business world as she started her ventures on her own, regardless of the odds.
Anou’s business journey exhibited a boldness that propelled her forward. It also showed the entrepreneurial spirit she inherited from her parents, who made their living through tailor-making garments. Her father used to sell newspapers on the streets and worked hard to build his empire. Coming from an Indian-Thai ancestry, the family arranged her for marriage at the age of fifteen, something which Anou opposed. Wanting to escape such predicament, Anou ran away from home, came to work in Club Med Cherating Beach when she was only 16 years old and continued working at Club Med across the world.
Despite being a minor, as it was prohibited to hire one, she was still provided with work because she easily proved her impressive value to the company, given her ability to speak fluent English as a great advantage. Among her tasks was to teach people how to do basic computer programming, which was one of her strong suits. Coding was something she enjoyed when she was young, something she learned from the courses she attended in her spare time. Anou quickly learned the ropes of the trade and exhibited her sharp understanding of people and how the fabric of society is put together through her constant interaction and engagement with them.
“In another bold move, I met some wonderful families holidaying from Australia who offered me some great opportunities in their country,” she revealed. She grabbed the chance and decided to go to Australia. As a young girl travelling on her own, without any parents, she went through an intensive interview with the Immigration Department. “I was very lucky that I encountered these great people during my Club Med experience. They vouched for me to the Immigration Department. Through their generosity, I was able to come to Australia,” she added.
Because of her proficiency in various languages – English, Thai, Japanese, French, Hindi – she got a job at the duty-free shops as she could communicate well with various international tourists. “At that time, tourism was booming. And this was going back to 1987. So, I did very well out of that and saved money with the aspiration to start my own business one day,” explained the resolute business owner.
With the help of a close friend who she later married, Anou got the opportunity to start a business of her own. Not knowing what business that would be, he suggested a Thai restaurant so she could share her talent for cooking delicious Thai food. Nearing the age of 18, she opened her business, amidst many feelings of nervousness and fear. “I had no money the day I opened the doors. I had only $49 in my bank account when I opened the restaurant,” Anou shared.
As it turned out, the restaurant was a big hit. On top of that, the stock market crashed in the 1980’s that kept people from travelling, adding a boost to the restaurant’s performance. From what she accumulated from that venture, she opened another business with a group of people that she had met through owning the restaurant. “It was part of Melbourne's very exciting nightclub called The Carousel in Albert Park. I met a lot of people through that again, people in the music and the entertainment industry, and established myself in that space,” Anou recalled.
This venture introduced Anou into the world of entertainment. It led her to her next business, an advertising agency, which she opened when she was about 25 years old. Through that agency, she handled large clients, including energy companies that helped her carve a niche in that sector. One day, while at the advertising agency, a close friend she had made in the nightclub industry approached her, asking her help for a film opening. This opportunity paved the way for the birth of Anouconcept, which is her experiential PR and events agency.
Alongside her creative agency, she also went into the manufacturing trade, providing uniforms for schools and corporations. Anou knew that segment very well from growing up with her family’s business in the garments industry.
While Anou found the entrepreneurial world a comfortable space for her, her journey, however, was not a trouble-free start. When she began her first venture, not having enough capital was a huge risk that got on her nerves. “I was very scared when I was young. But now, I think that with the creative work that I do, money follows. It is not the biggest motivating factor in my life because I love creating businesses and building them well. I work very hard to ensure that we're always innovative and different and ahead of the game,” she disclosed.
The business environment was full of challenges, but Anou felt there were no hurdles too high for her to overcome. “I've never found any difficulty starting a business. I just wanted to do it. I jumped with my two feet in, put the best foot forward, and was able to convert them. So, my difficulty was being scared. It is being scared of not being successful. The fear of not achieving. The fear of not having money. The fear of not getting there. If you believe in what you're doing and have extreme self-belief, it overrides everything. That's the case for me. I truly believe in what I do and am very focused on it. That's been the reason why I’ve always been able to drive myself and whatever business I carry forward,” admitted the serial entrepreneur.
Running several businesses and starting a family was also not easy for Anou. Still, she was able to find a solution to her situation. “When I had children, my biggest thing was that I felt I was disconnected. To overcome this, I made sure I worked very, very close to home. Currently, my large offices are less than a hundred meters walk from my house, so I can be connected to my two beautiful daughters as well as keep my businesses going,” she quipped.
Nonetheless, her entrepreneurial journey also had heartbreaks. “I went through a very scary patch when I had the advertising agency, and I broke away to do the fabrics,” she intimated. She thought it was a fantastic idea to be doing children’s clothing. However, she lost a lot of money, which scared Anou, yet made her even more determined to change the business into something meaningful. “Business is about passion and understanding the market, then connecting your client’s vision with their customer to create a lasting memory,” Anou imparted.
She also had to contend with the changing landscape of the industries where her businesses belong. Even in the manufacturing sector, she has to be innovative and dynamic because of market shifts. To be ahead of the changes, Anou continues to be responsive when the market is changing or when there are disruptors. For example, they have not only converted their plastics into biodegradable plastics, they have also set up a virtual fitting room for customers and clients.
Anou believes that the learnings never stop and that she will always be a student of life. One of the avenues that helped nurture her capabilities is EO Melbourne. Apart from the interesting people she met in the organisation, the learning events also opened her eyes to different directions. Listening to the inspiring stories of other business owners helped expand her thoughts. From what she has picked from the experiences of others, she then brought them to her businesses and applied the lessons accordingly.
Those lessons also moulded her to become an effective leader. Now, with a large number of people in her employ, Anou has been motivating her team based on their varying needs. For her staff in Asia, she provides language sessions, often inviting celebrity teachers to teach them English. Even her team in Australia, she grows them through continuous learning. There are spaces in their office for children and pets, who are always welcome. She cares for her people and, in turn, for their families, being a wife and mother herself. Anou shared, “Whether it’s a film, an event, a product or a garment, the same care and love since we established Anou Thai still live within our team. We love what we do, and our culture truly embraces our family values.”
When it comes to the drive, the passion, the vision, and the ability to see something and create it, Anou is a role model for the younger entrepreneurs. “If you believe in yourself, the courage comes. If you do the right thing in your business, money comes. It's all a byproduct of your doing. And it all starts with you, as an individual. Always,” she conveyed.
Continuing with her entrepreneurial journey, Anou looks ahead to the future full of positivism, determination and benevolence. “I want my businesses to be meaningful. In the growth sector that we're doing, we'll dominate the space. It's not always about how many millions each business may make. It's about leaving a legacy,” the dynamic businesswoman imparted.