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Andrew Schorr, Founder of Grata

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Taking a different route throughout his life, Andrew Schorr ended up in China and started several businesses.

What’s your story?
I moved to China after I graduated from college in 2004. English teaching was the easiest way to get there, so I looked on a map and picked a small town in Hubei, because it looked to be more or less in the middle of China. I was the only foreigner there.

Back then, everything was about the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, so I moved to the capital after my year of teaching. Pretty soon after arriving, I met the co-founder for all three of my companies. We decided to start a company together the first day we met. He has now moved back to the US and builds flight software at SpaceX.

Our first company, an online city guide, was re-purposed into our second company, GuestOps, a web concierge platform. We sold GuestOps to most of the major international hotel brands in China and still operate it. The genesis of our latest company, Grata came from looking at the intersection of hotels and WeChat in 2012, when WeChat was just starting to blow up. Grata expanded from hotels into a live-agent customer service console.

What excites you most about your industry?
Our thesis with Grata has always been that what is happening with WeChat in China is the future of messaging platforms globally, and as an international team building on WeChat, we would be well-placed to capitalize on that trend. It’s taken longer than we expected for the industry (and us, for that matter) to get there, but finally, we’re starting to see messaging as a platform to get better traction in other markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. I grew up in Texas, where all my friends studied Spanish in school. I studied German for no reason in particular. I took a similar path in college: Chinese and Japanese seemed like languages that not a lot of people who look like me studied. I was one of only two students in my third-year Chinese class.

Concur conference in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (Photo by Paul Sakuma, Paul Sakuma Photography) www.paulsakuma.com

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Shanghai. I should live there, but Beijing has been home for so long. I take the night train down to Shanghai every two-three weeks to meet with clients. Domestic flights are way too unreliable here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t plan too far ahead; otherwise, you plan yourself out of good opportunities.

Who inspires you?
Has anyone said “Elon Musk” yet? Barack Obama would be another.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The gravitational waves recently detected from neutron stars colliding, were so subtle as to only affect the distance from earth to our closest star, Alpha Centauri (4.24 light years away) by the width of a human hair. Perhaps in another life or in the future, I’ll be an astronomer, but a telescope doesn’t do me much good in Beijing.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
When I give advice to students looking to get into entrepreneurship, I advise them to work for a post-Series A startup first and learn from a company that’s already doing things well. I learnt everything on my own, which is slower and you pay for your own education. If you work for a startup that’s small in the beginning, you risk learning bad habits.

How do you unwind?
I Hash! The Hash is a drinking club with a running problem. The Hash attracts good people from all walks of life and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a great way to meet fun-loving people all over the world. It’s also how I met my co-founder, our first lawyer, and my girlfriend.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia. A fantastic beach and where I first learned to scuba dive.

Everyone in business should read this book:
For business in China, Tim Clissold’s, Mr. China.

Shameless plug for your business:
Grata does WeChat contact centers for many top-tier brands in luxury retail, travel, financial services and hospitality. We started developing on WeChat before they even had an open platform. Grata provides the most value for large enterprises with complex routing and content demands for their contact centers.

How can people connect with you?
Check out www.grata.co or email me: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
My personal handle is @andrew_schorr and we tweet about messaging from the company handle @grata_co.

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

Callum Connects

Darvin Kurniawan, Founder & CEO of REIDAO

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Darvin Kurniawan is impressed by blockchain technology. He believes it will change the way we live in the not so distant future. His business, Crowdvilla.io is using blockchain technology to change how society owns assets.

What’s your story?
I was trained in computer science and I went on to appreciate the many facets of business. I delved into multiple industries, which equipped me with the many skills to become a ‘jack of all trades.’ This allowed me to see things from various points of view and to identify opportunities and potential risks.
I heard about bitcoin for the first time in 2011. It was very difficult for me to understand back then. I revived my interest in blockchain technology near the launch of the second most popular blockchain, ethereum and I have been involved ever since.

What excites you most about your industry?
Blockchain has a real chance to change how we live as a society. This is not just as a business or start-up, but a way of life.

What’s your connection to Asia?
My grandfather came from China to Indonesia. I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. I moved to Singapore for university and have stayed here since then.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, for its efficiency, and very clear rules and regulations. Not to mention the relatively competitive tax rate.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Just try it out.” So simple, yet many fail to appreciate the fact that surveys and questionnaires sometimes just don’t work.

Who inspires you?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a writer. He inspires me because of his ability to see things the way they are. He articulates points that I knew existed, but I couldn’t explain. That’s what makes me drawn to his writing.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), a politician. He is able to say what’s right, no matter what!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
A blockchain AI project by SingularityNET. It’s going to change how we live if it goes mainstream.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have been more persistent in my endeavours. I learnt the hard way. In many cases, what was needed was time.

How do you unwind?
I frequently take a long stroll.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Lombok, Indonesia. It’s not as crowded as Bali, with similar, if not better beaches. It’s perfect for a quiet time and a short getaway.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Shameless plug for your business:
It’s more than just a business. It’s a movement. Crowdvilla.io is changing how society owns assets. Through blockchain technology and the ability to create digital assets, we can create digital assets that mimic and govern a real estate utilization model.
Imagine if there was a hotel chain where the buildings or assets were owned indirectly by the community, and the hotel’s mandate was to make itself available for the community to use. Removing all the middlemen, we can immediately give better value to the community.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@darvink

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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Callum Connects

Nellie Wartoft, Co-Founder & COO of Sapio

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From the forest in Sweden, Nellie Wartoft is turning education on its head in the Asian markets.

What’s your story?
I grew up in a small town right in the middle of the forest in southern Sweden. Being obsessed with Asia since my early teens due to the rapid economic growth, sheer market size and the opportunities in this region, I booked a one-way flight at age 18 and I have never looked back.
Since arriving in Singapore I’ve spent four years in recruitment, and started two companies. The business I’m running now, Sapio, is to a large extent founded to solve the problems of economic mobility and employability – common issues I witnessed first-hand every day as a recruiter.

What excites you most about your industry?
The fact that knowledge is the foundation of everything, and with it you can do anything! “Knowledge is king” has overtaken the popular “cash is king” as a universal truth – because with the right knowledge, you can get cash! Whether it is starting your own business, shifting industries, learning a new language, saving for your pension, building new relationships or running for president – it all starts with increasing your understanding and knowledge of the area. The education industry is also exciting right now because it is yet to be disrupted – it hasn’t changed a bit in the past 200 years!

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve spent all my adult years in Asia. I went to university in Singapore and South Korea, have worked in Singapore, and have travelled to all countries in the region except three (on my list for this year!). My friends and team are from all across Asia – Singapore, India, China, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Japan and so on – and I speak conversational Mandarin.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – that’s why I’m here! The high concentration of APAC HQs and decision makers on the ground makes it a place where you can get things done and decisions made in a shorter period of time. The international talent pool, English being the business language, and the well-connected airport also adds to the list of attractive factors.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Motivation comes and goes – discipline is what will get you through the lows.”
Whether it’s starting your own business, sticking to a new fitness routine or working for that promotion – the above motto is what has got me through a lot of lows. Never rely on your motivation. Motivation is a fragile thing and requires a lot of work to manage and keep at a productive level. It is also part of the puzzle in life that you won’t feel great all the time and it won’t be easy – but that doesn’t mean you should stop working towards your goals. Discipline is your best friend through anything, because it’s the friend that turns those goals into reality.

Who inspires you?
My co-founder Ben for his ability to always think big, be crazy and never lose sight of the greater plan; Meryl Streep for using her global recognition and public voice to inspire and be a wise role model for all of us; and my mother for her patience, tolerance and showing me that there are always two sides of each coin – the world isn’t black and white.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That only 91 % of what we learn in university is applicable in our careers. I had a feeling it was a majority, but 91 % is just mind blowing. Sure – it’s good to learn for intellectual reasons too, but the majority of graduates are studying in order to get a job post-graduation. They’re hoping that all the hours and money they poured into their education will one day pay off. Turns out it doesn’t!

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have started studying Mandarin earlier. At age 1 if I could have! I’m jealous of people in Singapore who grew up with both Mandarin and English as their first languages. I’ve been learning for the past five years and I’m still just a 6 out of 10 at best.

How do you unwind?
I read a lot of non-fiction books. Somehow, it seems to me that books are the only medium that can make sense out of this world! Through books I can travel and experience worlds and eras I otherwise couldn’t. I also consider it to be a luxury to be able to step inside the minds of people like Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Jack Ma and Lee Kuan Yew for a few hours for just $20!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Ubud for its fantastic range of vegan food! It’s also a great place to be close to the tropical jungle and live a simple life under the palm trees. It’s a great contrast to the concrete jungle of Singapore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Wealth Secrets of the 1%” by the economist Sam Wilkin. It’s an economic explanation of the stories of the greatest companies and most successful business people. It goes beyond the usual soft talk of motivation, risk-taking and resilience, and looks at hard facts and theories involving governments, laws and economic factors during the lifetimes of wealthy people – from the ancient Romans to John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates.

Shameless plug for your business:
Sapio is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique in-person learning experiences with experts in your community. Simply, a sharing economy for knowledge!
Whether it be a private mentoring session with a top investment banker, an evening class with an influential blogger, or a podcast with a successful entrepreneur, we connect hungry learners and subject matter experts on topics that get you ahead in life. Through content that is aspirational, accessible and actionable, you can access knowledge straight from leading experts and practitioners across the four categories: Business, Careers, Personal Finance and Entrepreneurship. We’re everything you wish you’d learnt in school!

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]
https://www.linkedin.com/in/nelliewartoft/
http://www.sapio.com

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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