In our latest SUP Company Spotlight interview, we had a chance to catch up with Tony Yeung, founder of the newly-launched Aztron paddle board brand…
How were you initially introduced to the sport of stand up paddleboarding?
In 2011, I came across stand up paddleboarding in Vancouver, Canada, where I grew up and married my wife, Fiona Wang. Both of us grew up in Vancouver and love water sports and boating, so we had our wedding ceremony and banquet on a chartered cruise ship. During our cruise with more a hundred guests from Coal Harbor to Vancouver Island, I saw someone in the middle of the sea standing up and paddling, and this was the first time I came across stand up paddleboarding.
What ignited the spark in you to get involved in the industry?
In 2010 one year before my wedding and learning about SUP, I left North America where I grew up, studied, and worked in my previous profession, and I took a senior management role at a struggling inflatable toy and boat company in Shanghai, China. As the company was having trouble making ends meet, my main task at that time was to increase revenue and look for the next new product innovations. Fortunately, in 2011 year-end, I was able to turn the company around and make a profit, so I started to explore the possibility of making new and innovative inflatable products. Hence, I turned to the best wedding gift given to me by God, stand up paddleboarding, and I twisted it a little bit to innovate things by focusing on inflatable SUPs.
I remember at that time that most people in the world had no clue what a stand up paddle board was, and needless to say there weren't many buyers or customers for inflatable paddle boards. In the first year, I founded and spearheaded the complete new product line for my previous company and the entire sales team headed by myself only sold 300 pieces of boards. My direct superior who was the owner of the company, had suggested that I forget about inflatable SUPs and discontinue the project as he believed it was too labor intensive and little barrier to entry. I refused and convinced him to give me another year to educate and develop the market for iSUPs, and I subsequently sold more than 10,000 pieces of boards in the second year, 60,000 in the third year, 100,000 in the fourth year, and more than 140,000 in the fifth year. By the end of 2017, I left the SUP brand that I grew from zero to the most sold SUP brand in the world and co-founded Aztron with my wife, Fiona Wang.
All companies in the world were born to make as much money or sell as much product/service as possible. With my previous success of achieving the top-selling brand, Aztron was founded with a different mission — to offer the safest watersport products in the world. As you might know, before Aztron was founded, 99.9% of the inflatable SUP boards in the world were single chamber structured, and this seem to be a perfectly acceptable norm for everyone in the industry.
Over the years of making and selling single chambered inflatable paddle boards, I always asked myself why all other inflatable water sport products must have at least 2 air chambers and not iSUPs. The answer I finally came up with was, the inflatable SUP industry grew too quickly over the last 5 years with a primary focus of making as much SUPs and money as possible, and no one paid any attention to user safety and the what-ifs. Hence, Fiona and I founded Aztron, to make what we are best at, inflatable SUPs, but we will only make double-chamber inflatables. We want everyone in the world to be able to afford a double-chamber iSUP at a price similar to single chamber ones, so price will no longer be the determining factor for being safe or not.
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How important have good employees been to your success?
Good employees have been paramount to Aztron’s success just like all other companies and they're the most valuable assets to me. It is because of my team of good employees that Aztron was able to achieve so many impossible things in such a short time frame, where many other companies couldn’t even achieve these milestones for decades. My team and I were able to overcome all the technical challenges in designing and making the safest inflatable SUP in the world, by making all Aztron iSUP with double-chambered construction. In just two years, Aztron has established itself as the best-selling double-chamber iSUP brand in the world, with a distribution network covering 37 countries.
If you had a chance to start your company over again, what would you do differently?
No. Even if I had a chance to start Aztron all over again, I would have done it exactly the same way I did. As Aztron is the second SUP brand I started and managed, I have already learned from all my mistakes with the previous brand and I have already designed and executed Aztron's business, marketing, and production plan in the very best way. I am very satisfied with what Aztron has achieved so far with our signature double-chamber iSUP, and the future is also looking very bright for our hard board line up which was officially launched last year.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
One of the failures I have made with my previous brand was that I decided not to make double-chamber iSUPs four years ago. At that time, I thought about making double-chamber boards for my previous brand, but at that time the brand and I were too focused on selling volume and hitting price points, so I didn’t pursue a double-chamber iSUP. If I did pursue a double-chamber iSUP design four years ago with my previous brand, I believe it would be much more difficult for Aztron to exploit the double-chamber niche, and there might not even be an Aztron at all. Hence, I have made innovation and execution the top priorities for everyone at Aztron, where we don’t just think about innovations, but most importantly converting innovative ideas into new products on a timely basis.
How many hours a day do you work on average, and what does your typical day look like?
Normally, I arrive to my office at 9 in the morning and I always try to leave my office before 7pm. Since my daughter was born, I want to have dinner and spend time with her every day before she goes to bed. If I have something time-sensitive that I haven’t finish and it can’t wait until tomorrow, I will go back to the office to work on them after my daughter is in bed. Normally after my daughter is in bed, I will go to the pool to swim for an hour, or I will hit the gym to break a sweat. This can help me freshen myself up after a day of work, and it helps me get prepared for tomorrow.
My typical day at the office starts at 9am, where I will read all the emails and write down all the tasks I need to complete on my agenda. At 9:30, I will have a short 5-minute stand up meeting with key team members at the office, where they will let me know what they will do for the day, and I will let them know my suggestions if necessary. Also, I will talk to the factory manager and quality control manager, they will brief me with what’s going on at the production line including head counts, outputs, and quality control. Afterward, I will reply to my emails from distributors, team riders, and partners until lunch time. After lunch, I usually like to work on new things like strategy and innovations. As Aztron was founded on revolutionizing the iSUP industry with double-chamber inflatable SUP designs, I continuously look and work on new ways to further innovate and shock the SUP and water sport industry with new technology and products. At 5pm, I stand up and meet with the same key team members for 5 minutes, and they will tell me if they have completed all the tasks successfully. If necessary, I will step in and liaise with other staffs or departments to get the tasks done before the end of the day.
At least once a week, after lunch I will go to the factory to check out the production and quality. When I am in the factory, in additional to going through each manufacturing processes with the factory manager and quality manager, I always randomly pick several finished boards and open up the boxes to see what Aztron end-customers will receive. I take quality control very seriously, where all Aztron inflatable boards are 100% checked by our quality control team for any air leakage for at least 24 hours, and the quality control manager will open up several packaged boards to double check the quality. If he finds anything wrong with the ones he opened up, then he will instruct his team to open up the entire batch to check and correct.
What motivates you, and who has been your greatest inspiration?
What motivates me the most is to see people from different countries and cultures approving my work, where they choose to trust and buy Aztron products over hundreds different brands. I value this feeling of being recognized and approved, even more than the monetary benefit that comes with it.
My parents have been my greatest inspiration. They have always taught me to trust yourself, never give up on any task until it is completed, and treat others only in the way that you want them to treat you. From choosing which university and profession to pursue, to giving up my previous financial trading career to become a pioneer in the iSUP industry, and now having founded Aztron with the mission to become the safest watersport brand, my parents have encouraged me greatly along the way and they have always stand behind me in each of these massive changes in my life.
How do you define success?
I define success based on the number of people I have helped and I would consider myself successful if people around me are better off after knowing me and working with me. With Aztron, I want to help SUP users be safer on water and be able to use a good quality inflatable SUP at an affordable price, so no one needs to sacrifice their life safety simply because they cannot afford a double-chamber iSUP. I trust one day when it comes to water sport safety, the first word that comes to people’s mind will be “Aztron”.
What do you enjoy most about being involved in the SUP industry?
One thing I enjoyed most in the SUP industry is that I can see the smiles on my end-customers' faces from around the world using my boards on Facebook and Instagram. Unlike my previous profession in financial trading, I was basically only putting one’s money in another person’s pocket, while taking a part of the money for myself. I really enjoy the openness and opportunities of the SUP industry, where I am able to make a difference and dominate a niche of the market.
Where do you see the paddleboarding industry in 10 years? 20 years?
In 10 to 20 years, I believe the paddleboarding industry will become more and more like the skiing and snowboarding industry. Just like in the winter whenever people see snow they automatically go skiing and snowboarding; In the future, people will have the instinct reaction to go paddleboarding when the sun is shining in the summer.