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Amutha Saravanan, Co-Founder of Da Vinci Group

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Creating and educating with clay. Find out how this entrepreneur links art and science as da Vinci did hundreds of years ago.

What’s your story?
I did psychology for my bachelor’s degree and then went on to do a masters in psychology by research where I did my thesis on a topic in clinical neuropsychology. I started working with SingHealth, but left soon after wanting to learn a different skill set in the business world. I joined Egon Zehnder, a senior level executive consultancy doing research when I discovered pottery as a hobby and immediately fell in love with it. Within a year of learning, I was being commissioned by friends and family for my works, which was when I started Amooo’s – an original . in 2012 and bought a kiln. Given my background in psychology, I realised that there was more to clay as a medium. I researched extensively and discovered a teaching methodology called neuroeducation, which is a subset of neuroscience. Neuroeducation enquires into how the brain learns at a biological level. It states that when learning occurs with multiple senses, our neurons fire and connect seemingly unrelated pockets of information together, for example, pairing the topic of how plants grow with making a pinch pot through clay and then embellishing it with the knowledge acquired during the lesson. This results in creativity, abstract thinking and problem solving in the long run. I then started Da Vinci Group with my husband in 2012 as well, named after Leonardo da Vinci for the brilliance during his era where the arts and sciences were not segregated and were applied with each other. We created NeuroCeramicsTM and created a curriculum for enrichment classes, team building events and workshops for children, adults and the elderly. When I became pregnant in 2013, I decided to creatively document my pregnancy journey by making ceramic pots off my belly during various stages as well as baby print platters when my son was born. These are now service offerings under Amooo’s – an original . as well. The clay and glazes I use are of high quality. They are food, dishwasher and microwave-safe. I went full time into my businesses in January 2015. Amooo’s – an original . was featured in Business Times in 2014 and Da Vinci Group was recently featured on NewsAsia Channel this year.
 
What excites you most about your industry?
We are pushing boundaries with our service offerings for both businesses. Neuroeducation is known in the US and Johns Hopkins University has a Neuroeducation initiative. However, the idea has not trickled down to Asia yet. We are the pioneers doing this in the education sector and we have plans to go regional with this. As for Amooo’s – an original . BellyPotsTM is a very novel idea and is different from belly casting with plaster. Many of my clients love the fact that they have a functional use for their creations and it is a marvellous way to remember and preserve the memory of creating a new life. Being able to create and play with clay, day in and day out excites me fundamentally.
 
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born here in Singapore. My dad was born in India. He has been a Singapore citizen for a number of years. My mum is from Singapore. Asia has an exciting realm of possibilities and has huge potential for the work I do.

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore. The infrastructure, system, processes, government support, the law are all excellent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. The ease at which we can get things moving on the business front is something I am very grateful for.
 
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
A business never fails. You fail the business. Don’t get stuck. Think creatively from a different context and have a structure for fulfillment.

Who inspires you?
Many people. My husband, my family, my friends, my business partners, my clients, Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie, Lee Kuan Yew. If we relate to everyone as the greatness they are, inspiration isn’t very difficult to find.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I was blown away the other day when I went to collect some clay for a BellyPotTM session when I realised that never in my wildest dreams did I think I would become a potter and create for a living. It put a huge grin on my face for a long while.  
 
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have just got on with creating the businesses as soon as I had the ideas. Taken the plunge, made the commitment and gone for it earlier. I think I lost a couple of years contemplating about it. I am a firm believer, ‘everything happens for a reason’ though, so the experiences I went through during that time of contemplation were necessary for the outcomes I have now.
 
How do you unwind?
Many ways. A glass of prosecco or red wine and some music dependant on my mood and clay time. Painting and drawing. A trip to the beach or zoo with my toddler and husband. Swimming or trekking. Lunch dates with my husband. Catch-ups with friends. Family gatherings and outings. It really depends on what my soul craves for in that instance.
 
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – the Asian version of New York. Love how there are so many trails to hike on, so much to see and experience and a good party scene.
 
Everyone in business should read this book:
Zen in the art of archery. Applicable not only in business, but really in the way one lives their life.
 
Shameless plug for your business:
About Da Vinci Group (www.davincisg.com)
 
Da Vinci Group (DVG) is a premium educational and training services provider, whose mission is to stimulate creativity and productivity through the concept of Neuroeducation using pottery as a platform. Neuroeducation has its tenets in neurobiology and psychology. It explains how engaging more than one of our senses while processing information strengthens existing and creates new neural networks. Creating pottery is a hands-on experience that engages emotions and stimulates creative expression. When such an experience is paired with learning or acquiring new concepts, associations are made with seemingly unrelated pockets of information which stimulates abstract thinking, problem solving and creativity. We have created NeuroCeramicsTM based on this concept where we use pottery as a platform to engage children, adults and the elderly.
 
Amooo’s – an original . (www.amooos.com)
 
Amooo’s – an original .  focuses on creating ceramic wares such as belly pots and baby prints that crystallize beautiful memories in a tangible form, which can be passed down to future generations. BellyPotTM making is a pleasurable experience for mum, dad and baby, a wonderful opportunity for prenatal bonding as well as a special, novel and unique way to capture one’s journey into parenthood. Imprinting your babies’/children’s feet and hands on clay is an excellent way to mark milestones and etch in your minds how tiny your little ones were as they grow up. Whether you make functional ceramic wares like vases, platters or coasters, for example, or decorative hanging ornaments, these creations are awesome keepsakes that you will cherish for many years to come. We also facilitate fun-filled clay jamming sessions for families to spend quality time together. Amooo’s – an original . also accepts commissions and corporate gifts projects. Ceramic wares created are made of high quality materials that are lead and toxins-free and are food, microwave and dishwasher-safe.
 
How can people connect with you?
Through email, mobile, facebook, Instagram and my websites.
 
Twitter handle?
@Da_Vinci_Group
@amooos_original

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:

CallumConnects

Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia.  He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries.  He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence.  A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.

Take the ‘Key Person of Influence’ scorecard <http://www.keypersonofinfluence.com/scorecard/>

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Get his free ‘Asia Snapshot’ report from www.callumlaing.com

Callum Connects

Benedict Heng, Founder of Mr. Farmer

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Benedict Heng is bringing back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your story?
I’m Ben from Mr. Farmer. Mr. Farmer is an online grocer dedicated to supplying the freshest produce to our customers. We believe in sustainable and ethical farming. Since a young age, I have always been an avid food lover (especially meats), developing a strong interest in all things delicious. That is why I ventured into the F&B industry, working as a junior cook for 3 years.

Midway through my career, I made a move to the finance industry to pursue monetary rewards. I dove into high-risk investments and I made lots of money from these investments. However, the good fortune did not last long and all these came crashing down when I suffered a tremendous loss. This coincided with the time that I had just started my own family and it was a huge blow to me both materially and mentally. It was this crash that made me realize that this life wasn’t for me. I went on a hiatus and eventually, it was only through the strong support from my family that I managed to tide over this tough episode.

I went back to help the family business and this was how Mr Farmer came about. My family has been in the food industry for many decades and one thing they noticed from years of experience is that sustainable farming practices are not as developed as in Europe. This is why through Mr Farmer, we hope that we can provide the best quality products to families out there who want the best ingredients for their loved ones.

What excites you most about your industry?
Delicious and wholesome food excites me. I believe food is a critical component of life and it brings people together. The opportunity to serve the community with fresh produce for a healthy life, that brings me joy.

I feel that there is still so much more we can do to improve the quality of food and bring it to the masses. One of the key components of ensuring greater quality of food is to support ethical and sustainable farming. Due to commercialization and urbanization, most farming practices these days are no longer the way they were in the old “kampong” times. Shortcuts are taken, standards are compromised, all in the name of profit. At Mr. Farmer, profit is important too but we want to focus on the concept of One Welfare – sustainable farming directly impacts our health. Our vision is to bring back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore. I call Singapore my home as it’s where my family and close friends are. I also travel frequently to Malaysia and APAC for work.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It’s definitely Singapore. There is just so much this tiny city can offer! Singapore has been globally recognized for its top-notch business environment providing its residents with developed infrastructure, political stability and excellent connectivity. These factors have given us an outstanding support system for businesses to strive.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Surround yourself with people that inspire you, challenge you to rise higher, make you better and, keep them in your life.

Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my uncle, who is the head of both the family and business. He takes care of our family matters at home and manages hundreds of employees at work. Handling both the family and business side of things can be tricky, but he has shown me that success can be sustainable and done with a conscience. His guiding philosophy of handling business and family is simply, to have a big heart.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Even just one day of separation from the day the meat is slaughtered, makes a world of difference to its flavour.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I have come to learn that awareness is the beginning of everything. If I had my time again, I would have probably spent more time figuring out who I truly am and with that self-awareness, begun to lead my life with more purpose and meaning.

How do you unwind?
I like to spend my free time sipping white coffee at my favourite coffee place. I enjoy taking in the surrounding sights and letting my mind wander freely. It allows me to unwind and gain clarity at the same time. It also helps me organize my thoughts to prepare for the week ahead.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It would be Bangkok as the people there are genuinely friendly and hospitable. They say people are what defines the city and I couldn’t agree more with this. I also enjoy the ‘laid back’ vibe of Bangkok. Not to mention Bangkok has all the good food and awesome shopping choices too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Spin selling” by Neil Reckham. It’s an amazing book that teaches you a process designed to help you successfully sell your products and services to business buyers.

Shameless plug for your business:
We at Mr. Farmer have the best tasting meats in Singapore, do a blind test and you will know why it’s Michelin chefs’ preferred choice. Not only are we very confident about the taste, we are also proud to say that all our products are chemical, hormone and antibiotic free. We also focus a lot on supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices believing in the ‘One Welfare’ concept. Do check us out if you enjoy good quality food like us!

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

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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Zac Chua, Founder & CEO of The Kettle Gourmet

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Zac Chua’s popcorn business validated itself straight away and fast tracked him to the startup world. Zac now employs 11 people and shifts 500 bags of popcorn daily.

What’s your story?
It’s a crazy one. It was an accidental startup. If you think about it, no university graduate would ever dream of becoming a popcorn seller. We crashed our first tech event to validate our idea and it took off from there. I bought a logo for $7 from a designers marketplace, printed some cheap name cards, and built a 1 page landing page. Sales started pouring in and eventually, we were serving B2B clients (corporate pantries) and we have never looked back. Today we move about 500 bags daily, we have 11 employees and we are growing. Talk about a validation that worked in our favour.

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s food! Everybody loves food! In Singapore the F&B scene is brutally competitive and it spurs me on to fight and compete for market share and to prove to myself that I can do it. It keeps me going and I won’t stop until we become the market leader.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore, and have traveled to most of Southeast Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! Even though Singapore has a high cost of living, the Government is actually very supportive of startups. They provide grants for us to tap into, and the technological infrastructure makes it possible for us to compete on a global scale. I believe if you can succeed in your business in Singapore, you can succeed in most of Southeast Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You only need to be right once, and the rest is history.

Who inspires you?
My father, who was a VC. In fact he was the one who gave me the best piece of advice which I shared above. Having one successful exit, he showed me that it’s okay to fail a million times – all it takes is just one time for you to win in business and in life.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of compounding.

  • Mary and John are the same age.
  • Mary saves $2k annually from the age of 19-25 – so she puts $14k into her portfolio
  • John saves $2k annually from the age of 26-65 – so he puts $80k into his portfolio, but 7 years after Mary.
  • If both are able to generate 10% per annum, who would have more at age 65?
  • John of course! But how much more?
  • Mary will have $944,641 whilst John will have $973,704
  • Think about it! Mary puts in only $14k but John delays for 7 years and puts in $80k.

CRAZY RIGHT!?!?

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, my mistakes taught me how to become a better me. But if I really must choose, I’d say take more time to find the right business partner.

How do you unwind?
Poker, Mahjong and Dota 2.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Vietnam! Things are cheap, people are warm and friendly, and their coffee fills up my life. I would love to retire there if possible.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The richest man in Babylon

Shameless plug for your business:
We don’t need a plug. Just try our competitors and you’ll understand why!

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chuazongyou
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zacchua

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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