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Entrepreneurship

Adrian Teh Co-Founder of Highrisepro

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Ruby on Rails engineer with over 5 years of experience in UI & UX design, business management and lean startup entrepreneurship, Adrian received his double major degree in data communications and enterprise systems with high distinction from the University of Queensland, Australia.

After his three ­year career as a business process re­engineering (BPR) consultant with Diethelm Keller Siber Hegner (DKSH), one of the largest Swiss based logistics and distribution company in SEA, he decided it was time for a change and started a web development agency with his business partner, Yuvan in Malaysia.

Equipped with his global business consulting experience across 9 countries in Europe and Asia & his passion for software engineering, he delivered numerous web & consulting projects ranging from small to large enterprise systems, during which he launched, Highrisepro, a SaaS online property management solution for high­rise condominiums in Asia.

What exactly is Highrisepro?

Highrisepro is an online property management solution for high­rise condominiums, developed to solve the financial, communication and management problems facing condo associations, property managers and homeowners / tenants when it comes to the maintenance and management of their condominium building.

How did you come up with the idea of Highrisepro?

It was right after I got married that my wife and I decided to move into a high­rise condominium in Kuala Lumpur. Having lived in only a landed property, I was surprised by the amount of responsibilities and management tasks condo owners have to face when I first learned that we are responsible for the maintenance and management of the condominium through a condo association. Simply said, elected volunteering homeowners of the condo building will form a committee that acts as a representative to all the other home owners in the building to make decisions in regards to the overall maintenance and management of the building. I was curious, hence I ended up joining the committee board.

There was many issues and matters that needed the consensus of all the home owners in the building. It’s easy when there’s only a few, but the condo that I lived in had 250 units across 21 floors. We tried using their mailboxes for printed materials, but the responses was bad. In the end, we had to go floor by floor, unit by unit, in order to get petitions signed or any important news announced.

Besides that, as I was travelling very often at that time, it was hard for me to keep tabs on what’s happening in my condominium, especially when we had just received our keys and there’re lots of important matters to check on (i.e. disputes with developers, house rules, condo infrastructure issues and fixes, etc). There was just no way for me to find out on what is happening. Even if I was at home, I had to walk all the way to the wall bulletin board down at the lobby to find out latest updates.

Further to that, as most of us (residents) start our daily commute at 6:30am and back by 7:00pm, there was no way the management office was open by the time we got back home to handle our condo payments or submit any complaints / work requests for things that we needed to be fixed. We would need to wait for the weekends for a short window of time.

It was also very apparent to the condo association that the residents don’t seem to appreciate the volunteering work that we, the condo association, were doing for the entire building. I soon realized that it was all a communication problem. The residents are not aware of the effort that we’ve put in as volunteers, not because they choose to ignore, but because they were uninformed about it. There was a communication barrier.

We live in an Internet world today where we pretty much get most of our things done through some kind of web service / tool like Facebook for getting connected to friends, Google Mail for sending out emails, and Basecamp for managing projects. There must be some kind of tool out there for condominium dwellers to help with the communication and management problems we were facing. After having scoured the web, nothing befitting was found. I was really surprised. That was when I shared the idea with my business partner, Yuvan and the rest was history.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Highrisepro?

It started off as just a pet project for my own condominium. No commercial plans. We deployed it for my condominium and the response was great. It started with only the condo association members and a few residents. But as soons as the residents came to know of an online portal that they can go to, to read about announcements, submit their complaints, comment on important matters, the adoption rate went through the condo roof. People started talking about matters raised by residents in the portal. More residents were attending the monthly meetings.

Residents started to understand the responsibilities and issues the condo association have to face maintaining and managing the building. Feedbacks, ideas and suggestions started coming in from the residents, even those that lives abroad (foreign investors). Not long after, we realized that the online portal we’ve setup had became the guiding light to help us find out what the residents are thinking, what their thoughts are and what matters to them most. The condo association were no longer managing the building by themselves. The entire building residents are now helping out in managing the entire building.

A few neighbouring condominiums caught notice about our online portal and have asked if we could set it up for them. For a minimal fee, we decided to set it up and that’s when we learn that there’s a possible commercial possibility to this whole online condo portal. At that time, to us, it was just an online condo portal. Little that we know, it would, in the end, become an online property management solution as it is today.

How has it been like managing the business since?

Roller Coaster Ride! Tons of downs and a few ups that keeps us going till this date. When we decided to go commercial, there were a ton of questions that needed to be answered: “Are other condos facing the same problem?”, “Will there be enough condominiums that would want to use our tool for us to make a decent profit?”, “How do we build a Software­as­a­Service application?”, “How much should we charge?”. We decided to find answer to the most important question “Are we solving something worth pursuing as a business?”. We were not the wealthiest and there’s no funding options out there at that time either.

We decided to go on a bootstrap. Taking on consulting jobs while working on developing Highrisepro. Naturally, we were very conservative in our spendings. We needed more validation. Hence we started an interview frenzy with any condominium and property management agencies we could get. In the end, we interview almost close to 30 condominiums (low­rise, high­rise, high­end, low­end) and property management companies.

Today, we are still constantly validating our solution with the market. Every new feature that we’ve introduced are 100% based on the feedback we’ve gathered from condo associations, property managers and residents.

Besides constantly cracking our heads up on how to make our buyer experience cycle better for our new customers, we are also constantly looking at ways to improve our product while keeping our focus on expanding our reach to more condominiums.

Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup? How did you overcome it?

Learning about the problems and validating our solution was the tough part. Developing the platform was the easy part. Marketing our product to the target customer segment was the hard part. There weren’t any channel that exists today for us to market our solution to condo associations or property management agencies. Nothing comes to mind (on the Internet) when it comes to condo maintenance and management, even up till now. It took us a while to understand that our solution might just be a few years ahead of our time. A lot of education is required and a lot of time needs to be spent on reaching out the the condos that we know have all these problems that Highrisepro can solve. They just don’t know about us yet.

How was the initial reaction from the consumers? Did they buy into the product/service?

Skeptical, especially when we first  offered Highrisepro for FREE (Fremium model). We learned by surprise that condo associations aren’t into FREE services. They were more worried about their privacy. But as soon as we started charging, they started to take us more seriously and wanted to find out more. Took us a while before we manage to get our message clear, but as soon as they know exactly how we can help them solve their problems, the rest was easy.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? What is your strategy against your competition?

We are still ahead of time when it comes to online property management software in Asia. As compared to the US / NA, where using an online tool to help manage condo buildings is a common thing, there are a lot more options to choose from for condo associations / property managers. When we first started as just a pet project, there weren’t any competition at all in Asia. Blogs and Facebook was considered our competition if I had to name a few. Today, there are a few other online solutions that is comparable to what we do and we are happy about that. Simply because the Asia market is too big for any single player and the fact that we’re still struggling to educate the market about online property management solutions, we need more players out there to help us with the education process. It’s a good sign that we’re heading in the right direction.

What can you tell us about the industry? Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

In terms of the numbers, there are more condo building today than there were 10 years ago due to population growth and land scarcity and the numbers are just going to go up. In Malaysia alone there are at least 500,000 condo units in the market as of 2012 with almost 1,100 new condo units being introduced into the market each year. Not to mention the condo market in Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines that are just starting up as compared to the ones in Singapore and Hong Kong.

There are tons of insights that we’ve learned, some are revelating and some, quite disappointing. Besides nailing down the problems that matters most to condo dwellers, we have come to understand that not all stakeholders are aligned with us when it comes to making things easier and more convenient for condo dwellers. To understand better, we’ll first need to understand the stakeholders involved in a typical condo building. There are the condo associations committee members (elected representatives of the condo), the building manager (hired to manage the daily tasks), the homeowners and tenants that makes up the residents of the building as well as the property developer.

We have learned that each stakeholders mentioned faces their own individual problems. Condo association members find it difficult to reach out to the residents and find it hard to gain control of the condo management. Building managers find themselves drowned in lots of admin paperwork while having to juggle the daily operational tasks. Residents needs more transparency from their management, always wanting to know more about

what’s happening to their condo funds and issues raised. Property developers in the other hand have to be a part of the condo association committee, at least for the first few years after hand over of property to resolve any infrastructure matters.

It was revealing to us when we find that our solution not only helped them in terms of communication and management but also resulted in improving their finances. This came as a surprise to us. A new pleasant find I should say. It’s quite logical come to think of it.

As residents became more informed about what is happening, they eventually became more involved and understood better, that in order to increase the value of their assets, let alone protecting it, they will need to pay up the condo fees, so that the management can pay the various service vendors to upkeep the building. And as we introduced online payment into Highrisepro, it further improved their monthly collections, as some of the homeowners are frequent travellers and foreign investors living abroad.

Armaneecondo.com is a great example, where collection rate improved from a mere 80% per month to a staggering 110%. Residents started paying in advance by several months!

The disappointing ones were quite surprising as well. As we move towards identifying channels that we can leverage on to market our solution, we’ve identified property developers as one of them. But having approached more than half a dozen prominent property developers in Malaysia, we have learnt that making the lives of condo residents better, post­sales, isn’t something they’re willing to invest in. We can understand that, as conventionally, building quality buildings, securing sales and handing over the keys has been the only focus of the entire industry for decades. Making condo dweller’s lives better, post sales, just isn’t going to yield a return on investments. This is something that we believe will change.

We believe that if property developers were to share our passion in creating a better integrated living experience for condo owners, they will have an extra edge in marketing their new projects and in turn increase sales, not just from new buyers, but also from existing customers.

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?

We’re constantly learning from our existing customers on how to improve existing features and introduce new ones. Our customers has been the “developer” of Highrisepro. Almost 90% of the features are requested by them. Staying relevant to us is as simple as constantly asking ourselves the question “Are we solving problem that matters to our customers” If we still are, then we believe we will always be relevant.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

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:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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