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5 Branding Lessons I Learnt From Singapore



Spend a short amount of time in Singapore and it’s easy to assume that Singaporeans don’t place much emphasis on Personal Branding.

But, that’s not strictly true. It very much depends on how you define personal branding.

Talk to Singaporeans about “brand statements”, “Reach assessments” and their “online brand” and you’re likely to receive a limited response from some people.

But when you spend time living and working on this island state, you realize that Singaporeans (in their very own way) are actually very focused on managing their reputations.

Here are 5 personal branding lessons you can learn for Singapore:

1. Have a unique voice

Coming from London, one of the great advantages of moving to Singapore for me was the fact that everyone speaks English here.

Or rather – they speak “Singlish” – Singapore’s very own version of English with some choice phrases and dialects thrown in.

Most notably – adding the word “La” to the end of an English sentence. “La” doesn’t actually mean anything – it’s just a way to make a sentence less formal and to be friendly. The Singaporean authorities try to distance them themselves from Singlish and encourage people to speak ‘clear English.’

But having your own unique voice and style of communication (Singlish or otherwise) helps individuals, businesses Singaporean society to be unique – whilst maintaining their authenticity (i.e. the very essence of Personal Branding).

How about you?
Do your words, language and online profile reflect your authentic self? Or do you just sound like everyone else?

2. Watch your ‘Face’

Singapore is a melting pot of different cultures and races – Chinese, Indians, Malays along with expatriate workers (like myself) making up the population.

Around 75% of that population come from Chinese heritage. And as anyone who has done business in China will know, the concept of ‘face’ or “Mian Zi” (in Mandarin) is of fundamental importance to people with Chinese heritage.

In Chinese culture, ‘face’ represents an individual’s reputation and standing in the eyes of others – be that in the workplace or society at large.

Chinese Singaporeans are consequently very mindful of the actions and activities which may cause them to ‘lose face’ in the eyes of others. Similarly ‘gaining face’ is equally important. Seeking opportunities and accolades which will enhance your reputation is seen as highly desirable.

How about you?
To what extent are you mindful and protective of your reputation? How proactive are you about seeking opportunities which will help you ‘gain face’?

3. Practice excellence

As a visitor, the moment you arrive into Singapore, you recognize the high standards the country sets for itself.  Singapore’s Changi Airport has consistently been ranked the “Best Airport in the World” and really is a joy to travel through.

But this focus on excellence doesn’t apply just to the airport. The fabric of modern Singapore life is driven by achieving high standards – from the drive to achieve high grades at school and finding jobs in the most prestigious companies and professions, through to Singapore’s obsession with the “tallest”, the “biggest” and the “best.”

The “best health care system in Asia’, the “largest Aquariam in the world”, the “highest al fresco bar in the world”, “the best street food in the world”

The list goes on.

Visitors to Singapore may smile at some of these ‘accolades’ – but at the same time, it’s difficult not to admire the amazing success story of Singapore. A success that is driven by the focus on excellence and high standards in everything you do.

How about you?
The easiest way to be referred for a new job or be referred to new clients is to do an excellent job in your existing role and to impress your existing clients. What are you doing to practice excellence and set the highest standards in everything you do?

4. Be consistent

Singapore is driven by efficient systematic processes. Things ‘just works’ here. Be that transport systems, communication systems or the businesses built around robust processes – which then help deliver consistent results and experiences.

How about you?
The process of managing your brand is not a ‘one off activity’ when job searching or rebranding your business. It’s the consistent set of actions and messages you send out. How can you become more systematic in the way you manage your personal brand?

5. Speak up

Historically, Singaporeans have not always been known for speaking up. Singapore’s success in recent times has been built on the adherence to systems and rules. Which have then translated into the systematic and process-driven environments mentioned above.

So “speaking up” is not a natural Singaporean trait.

Work inside a multi-national company in Singapore, and you’ll often see western expatriates (rather than the Singaporeans) to be the more assertive ones. The ones that challenge and question the status quo.

Talk to a Singaporean doctor, banker or management consultant and you’ll often see a hidden artist, designer or entrepreneur who couldn’t challenge their parent’s desire for them to follow a traditional career path to a prestigious and well paid profession.

But things are changing. I’m increasingly noticing the rise of the Singaporean voice. People willing to challenge the status quo, to have an opinion and speak their mind. People willing to follow the passions rather than simply choosing careers down the beaten path.

How about you?
In the past – fitting in, complying and not ‘rocking the boat’ was the path to career success. In today’s workplace it’s the worst thing you can do. Are you speaking up and standing out – or are you still keeping your head down and fitting in?

The Future

As the economies of Asia expand, Singapore will continue to be a vibrant, modern economic success at the heart of Asia’s future growth. And will continue to attract talent and businesses who seek to benefit from that growth.

The challenge for the people of Singapore is to maintain their authenticity, their history and uniqueness as they compete for business and career opportunities in an increasingly competitive market.

In that respect, Singapore is no different to any of the other countries discussed in this Blogathon series.

In an increasingly noisy and competitive world, YOU and your personal brand are the biggest lever in your future success. So review these 5 lessons and decide which ONE area you need to focus on next to strengthen your brand and stand out….La!


About the Author

This article was produced by Peter Stelacci and was authored by Sital Rupaleria. Having spent the majority of his career in London, Sital is currently based in Singapore working with the recruitment team of a global technology firm. He shares his observations on the modern work place, careers and his adventures across Asia at his personal blog. Visit Peter Stelacci for more information and insights on Personal branding.


Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups



From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.


About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

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Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters



From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at

Alternatively, you can connect with me:

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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