Seven years ago, Soraj Asavaprapa left his investment-banking career to launch a multitude of dot.com ventures with Pete Bodharamik, the only son of Jasmine International's founder, Adisai Bodharamik. Their dream was to discover a "digital" gold mine.
Although seven years have gone by, the Internet bubble has burst and several hundred millions of baht have been spent, their Mono Group is still not producing a profit. However, Soraj says he is now "more confident than ever" that his digital vision will soon be realised.
"It's been harder and longer than I thought," said Soraj, 41, "but today I'm even more confident."
After receiving a doctoral degree in business administration from the International University in San Diego, Soraj joined Thai finance company Phatra Thanakit, now known as Phatra Finance.
As an assistant vice president for investment banking, Soraj was instrumental in achieving many mega-deals, including a public offering by PTT Exploration and Production Plc, the initial public offering of Thai Petrochemical Industry, and project financing for the Nam Theun hydroelectric project in Laos.
However, the 1997 economic crisis brought an end to his career after only two years. Soraj resigned from Phatra to help his uncle set up and run V Conglomerate, which was one of only two Thai firms that remained financially healthy enough to bid for bankrupted assets later auctioned by the Financial Sector Restructuring Authority.
But after making two successful bids, Soraj felt he'd had enough of investment banking.
"I didn't like that kind of luxury lifestyle; making overseas trips almost every month, meeting all the high-flyers - prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, business owners and top executives. I didn't want to wear a tie every day.
"More importantly, I left [investment banking] because I believed the dot.com business would prosper. And it was challenging," he said.
Among his inspirations was a book entitled "Being Digital", written by a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"I read it and I believed it was true," Soraj said.
He discussed his ideas with Pete Bodharamik, who was his younger colleague at Phatra, and found they shared the same aspiration. Oddly, though, their first venture was not a dot.com firm, but a TV drama production company, Maya Entertainment. It produced only one drama for Channel 7. The ratings were poor so they renamed the business Mono Generation and set out to pursue dot.com business instead, riding on the dot.com boom of the time.
Soraj and Pete also formed Jasmine Cyberworks, a venture capital company, and their first website Jakfree.com, which offered give-aways. Neither venture succeeded.
"The timing was not right and we were innocent; we thought the world had only a bright side," Soraj said. "We tried to grab every emerging technology, hoping it would become the next goldmine."
After learning their lessons, their company, Mono Group, has moved ahead, venturing into several online and offline businesses. The group has set an aggressive target of Bt1 billion in sales revenue this year, a big jump from the Bt400 million it made last year.
Its e-travel business - running through many websites, including passionasia.com and hotelthailand.com - contributes the biggest chunk of revenue, with sales of Bt400 million expected this year.
"Passionasia's sales revenue is now one million daily, and some days it's even Bt2 million. I think it's the largest e-commerce site in Thailand," Soraj said.
"As a group, we will turn out a profit this year, or next year at the latest."
At present, most e-travel customers are international tourists. Many Thai tourists visit the websites in search of information, but they still prefer to talk with real people before making a hotel booking decision, he said.
Similarly, Mono Group has many community websites, including mthai.com, the fourth most popular website in Thailand, and yenta4.com, but most of their content is offered free to Internet users.
"Today we're giving away our information products free to consumers. But this is a first step. Eventually, it's unavoidable that they will have to pay," Soraj said.
The Mono Group divides its businesses into three major elements: digital media and content, e-commerce, and entertainment.
The entertainment business includes printed magazines, which contribute content to the websites, as well as film-making for the big screen. The group has produced two movies, has three more in post-production and one is currently being shot. The Mono Group employs about 400 people and is planning to open Internet radio and TV channels later this year.
While pursuing his dot.com dream, Soraj's leisure time is spent visiting good temples and monks, as well as playing soccer. He also practises meditation every day, and is a collector of swords. Perhaps this is because his mother is Japanese, because he explains: "I like collecting swords because I like the samurai; they were gentlemen and men of honour."