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Cheryl Ou, Founder of The Nail Social

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Cheryl Ou has been part of many start-ups. She is now motivated by social returns and is running a social enterprise working with local, underprivileged women.

What’s your story?
I started my first business when I was only 22 years old and and won my first major entrepreneurship award, the Spirit of Enterprise, at 25. Since then, I have been blessed to have been a part of various start-ups.
In 2011, I created Singapore’s first Pod Hostel and built it up to become one of the top flashpacker hostels in Singapore, only to be forced out of my own company after 2 years by an investor, without receiving a single cent of profit. This episode really opened my eyes to the reality of running a business. I decided then that I did not want to be the kind of entrepreneur who was motivated solely by money and started looking into the idea of running a social enterprise.

What excites you most about your industry?
We are a part of 2 main industries:
1) Beauty Industry
The beauty industry is extremely competitive and nail salons are a dime a dozen, which means our unique selling proposition has to be very strong. We constantly have to reinvent ourselves and come up with services/promotions that are practical yet unique to maintain our competitive edge. It makes work stressful, but also a whole lot more interesting.

2) Social Enterprise Industry
We specifically train and employ underprivileged women and we mentor them to help them work through their personal challenges to become more confident and independent. It makes work a lot more meaningful and we get inspired when we see the progress of the women that join us.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love to travel, especially to locations off the beaten track and these experiences really open my eyes to other cultures and make me appreciate coming home to Singapore a lot more.

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore. One of the biggest hurdles to entrepreneurship is starting up – navigating the red tape, understanding the rules and complying to restrictions often put off entrepreneurs right from the start. In Singapore, the process of starting a business is painless and there are many organizations and networking groups that are on-hand to provide assistance when necessary.
In recent years, the Singapore government has also started to encourage the emergence of social enterprises and has launched various grants and schemes to support this industry.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Always remember why you started. When the going gets tough (and it is going to), remembering what motivated you to get started in the first place will help keep you going.

Who inspires you?
My answer to the question would have been very different a few years ago. Ever since my venture into the world of social entrepreneurship, I no longer look towards big successful business owners for inspiration. I am now inspired by the founders of smaller social enterprise start-ups who are so passionate about their cause and helping others that they persevere through failure and setbacks. They are motivated, not so much by the money or glamour, but rather the possibility of making a positive difference in someone’s life. They have taught me that the littlest things can sometimes bring the most happiness.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That it’s okay to lose your pride for love or friendship. I recently reached out and reconnected with an old friend and ex-business partner whom I had an argument and falling out with a few years back and it’s an amazing feeling. I guess I always knew this, but it’s a different thing altogether to experience it for yourself.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I still have a chip on my shoulder over some of my past negative experiences, but I am also a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I’m convinced that I would be a very different person if not for those experiences and even though I didn’t realise it then, I am thankful for the lessons that these failures and setbacks have taught me.

How do you unwind?
I cycle to and from work almost everyday, and that allows me to clear my mind before I start work and have a bit of a time-out after a busy day.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali! I love everything about being by the beach. There’s something about the sand between my toes and the sound of the waves that totally relaxes me.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Shameless plug for your business:
The Nail Social is a lifestyle nail salon that offers manicure, pedicure and foot massage services, enjoyed with a personal iPad pre-loaded with movies, games, magazines and books. You’ll also be glad to know that most products we will use, serve or sell in the salon will be non-toxic, eco-friendly, fair-trade and/or cruelty-free.
We are a socially-conscious salon that was established with the aim of training and employing local, underprivileged women with a higher barrier to employment, so as to help them progress from a position of vulnerability to security and self-sufficiency.

How can people connect with you?
Website: www.thenailsocial.co
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: www.facebook.com/thenailsocial.co
Instagram: www.instagram.com/thenailsocial

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

CallumConnectsCallum 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

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

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Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

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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