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Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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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