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Arrif Ziaudeen, Founder of Chope

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The Asian Entrepreneur  speaks with Arrif Ziaudeen, Founder of Chope, Singapore’s leading online restaurant reservation site.

Arrif is the Founder/CEO of Singapore’s leading online restaurant reservation site, Chope. In 3 years since launch Chope has sat over 5 million diners, received $4.4M of investment from VCs and Singapore Press Holdings and expanded into Hong Kong. Prior to founding Chope, Arrif worked in management consulting and private equity and obtained an MBA from Stanford GSB.

Chope logo

What exactly is Chope?

Chope is Asia’s leading online restaurant reservations booking platform. We help diners easily search for available tables across hundreds of restaurants instantly, and book them online for free.

How did you come up with the idea of Chope?

I noticed that people were booking everything else online – hotels, airlines, taxis and cinemas, but restaurant reservations were the ONLY time we ever have to pick up the phone, make sure to call during operating hours, etc.  It felt like a hugely inefficient process that could be made simpler!!

How was it like managing the business since?

It’s a privilege to have stewarded Chope from an idea into a real, growing business, to see customers and users relying on us, and so many people working on the same vision. Of course there have been many difficult days & weeks as with any startup, but the months & years have been the best journey I could have hoped for!

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

I think funding is a particularly tough situation in Asia because of the nascent VC scene, which leads on to difficulties attracting the best talent, large scale customer acquisition, etc. Thankfully we had great numbers and a strong network of early investors who truly believed in the business  and were very fortunate to have Singapore Press Holdings lead our recent round.

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

It was, and continues to be, a gradual change in user behavior. In our first week we only sat a dozen reservations, and it wasn’t easy or quick to grow that into the thousands that we seat today. I think it’s critical for early adopters who use it to refer friends, and get buy in via word-of-mouth.

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

When we started numerous startups came into the space, but most of them have shut down as the industry matured and they realized how much of a long-game this is. I believe competition is a great sign that an idea’s time has come – it may seem like we’re competing against each other, but frankly we’re fighting together against phone calls!

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?

Good question. F&B is a very fast-moving industry, trends change seasonally and outlets are constantly opening & closing. We spend a lot of energy monitoring and signing-up new, popular restaurants so our users can rely on Chope as a guide, and access in-demand tables. 

What are your future plans for Chope?

We firmly believe that in a few years online restaurant reservations will be commonplace all across Asia, and would like to spearhead that with regional expansion. We also believe the users are moving to mobile, so that’s our product focus will shift accordingly.

If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach?

If so, what? Not worried so much about things that never happened! I would also have tried more daring ideas earlier and ignored much of the skepticism.

What do you think about startups in Asia?

In my honest opinion, the biggest difference between Asian and US startups is our attitude to failure. Even though in principle we agree to it, there isn’t enough genuine belief of “learning-from-failure” let along celebrating it. I hope the next generation of startup entrepreneurs will come from those who have failed before, so that we can slowly turn that culture.

What are some personal principles or personal values that guide you and your career?

When I started I had 4 lessons from other successful entrepreneurs written on a whiteboard in my bedroom: “1. Keep it simple. 2. Do it now. 3. Never give up. 4. Get lucky.”

What is your definition of success?

The goalposts are constantly changing, there’s never going be a day when we have “achieved success”. But if you put a gun to my head i’d probably sum it up as “creating a large-scale, sustainable business”

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I believed strongly that online restaurant reservations needed to happen in Asia. After 2 years of waiting, nobody had done it still, so I decided to give it a shot myself because I thought it was a great idea.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Probably hard work and lots of luck, the same as every other career (entrepreneurship is, after all, also a career!)

Website: http://chope.com.sg/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChopeSG
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/chope

Callum Connects

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

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

Chrystie Dao-Szabo, Founder of iPayMy

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Chrystie Dao-Szabo founded iPaymy for Business – a secure and easy to use
platform enabling SMEs to pay rent, salaries, invoices, and even corporate tax using the credit cards they already have in their wallet today.

What’s your story?
I’m Chrystie Dao-Szabo, and I’ve worked as an international banker for over 22 years. During that time, I travelled through Asia, Australia and Europe, and everywhere I saw how my clients struggled with managing their finances and keeping cash around.

I wanted to use my experience to help them, but I also knew the solution they needed didn’t exist yet. This pushed me to give up on my secure career, and instead look into the innovative world of FinTech for an answer.

This is how I founded iPaymy – at its launch, a platform to help consumers pay their monthly expenses using their credit cards. We’ve grown a lot since, and today, iPaymy for Business is a platform that allows business owners to use their credit cards to pay for rent, salaries, invoices and taxes, freeing up their cash for business-critical operations.

What excites you most about your industry?
What excites me most about FinTech is it’s culture of constant disruption, thanks to cool and innovative products and services coming out every day.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Vietnam, grew up in Australia and worked in Asia, Europe and Australia. Being raised by traditional Vietnamese parents meant that deep down I was still an Asian at heart, so I have a strong connection with the region.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore of course. It’s easy to do business, English is the main language, and the infrastructures like public transportation are great. Also, the government supports local innovation in multiple ways, like giving grants for SMEs and FinTechs.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Keep giving, and one day you will receive.

Who inspires you?
My parents. My father had a successful business in Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon in 1975. After the war, my father was sent to a re-education camp for three years, which meant my mum had to bring up two young kids – a 3-year-old, me and my 4-year old brother on her own.

In 1980, we all fled Vietnam on a boat and arrived in Sydney, Australia via refugee camps in Indonesia and Singapore. There, my parents had to start over with nothing to their names and only AUD 50 given to them by the Australian government.
They went on to build several businesses in Australia!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The number of young and smart people who have carved out successful careers by founding their own startups (or joining really cool ones). When I was starting out my career, doing any of these was not a viable option; it was either working for an accounting firm, an insurance company or a bank.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
If I were starting out my career now, I would choose the path of joining a startup as you get to learn so much about running a business and how to assemble a winning team.

How do you unwind?
I like travelling to a beach or a resort destination and just relaxing by the pool or beach. I also like to unwind after work with a glass of champagne or wine, and a bowl of truffle fries.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand. I love the people and the spicy Thai food.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The E-Myth. It’s a book series that dismantles common myths about entrepreneurship in different industries.

Shameless plug for your business:
With iPaymy for Business, SMEs can pay rent, salaries, invoices, and even corporate tax using the credit cards they already have in their wallet today. SMEs love iPaymy because it works like a credit card, but pays like cash.

iPaymy’s secure and easy to use platform reliably delivers payments to vendors while freeing up cash and providing access to interest free credit. Forget the delays and aggravations that come with traditional SME financing options. Schedule recurring payments, manage invoices, set payment reminders, and monitor payment status all from one dashboard.

It’s never been easier for SMEs to meet monthly payment obligations while keeping cash available to fuel growth, bridge receivable gaps, and make immediate investment in the supplies, services, and expertise needed to drive a growing business forward.

How can people connect with you?
You can find me on LinkedIn or contact me by email.
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrystiedaoszabo/
My email: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
https://twitter.com/ceedeees

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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