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Chris Kim, Founder of Zen Freediving

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Working ringside at the most influential internet companies wasn’t enough for Chris. A preference for his passion led this young entrepreneur to his own freediving venture.

What’s your story?
The short version: I’m a recovering lawyer, a freediving instructor, competitor and traveller.
The long version: I spent 20 years as a lawyer in the consumer internet space. During that time I had the unique privilege of working in the legal departments of Yahoo!, Google and then finally, Facebook. It was an amazing time to watch the development of the Internet ringside at the most influential companies in the space.
Then last year I decided to follow my passion for freediving to see where it would take me. I founded a freediving school in Singapore and have been teaching and competing around the world since. In the past year, our school, Zen Freediving, has become the top-rated freediving school in Singapore. I’ve competed in two competitions and also had the opportunity to catalog mantas off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, cave dive the Cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula, and dive with tiger sharks, bull sharks and blue whales. It’s been an amazing year!

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s an amazing time to teach people about freediving since the sport is young and growing. There are many misconceptions about freediving (the largest of which is that it’s a dangerous extreme sport) so it’s exciting to talk to people and see their perspectives and attitudes change. It’s also really cool to watch our students exceed their expectations of their own abilities. It’s like showing them they possess a secret super power they never knew they had. Ask someone how long they can hold their breath and most will say something like, “30 or 45 seconds” when in fact most people, with a little instruction and coaching, can hold their breath for 2 minutes or much longer.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I grew up in Canada and worked for over 12 years in San Francisco but as a Korean Canadian, Asia has always held a special place in my heart. As a kid I spent many summers with my extended family in Korea. It was during the 70s and 80s and Korea was a very different place compared to the ultra modern urban country it is now, but it left an indelible impression on me. I knew that I wanted to live and work in Asia at some point in my life so when Facebook offered me the opportunity to relocate to Singapore in 2012, I jumped on it and haven’t looked back.

zen white with light blue

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
LOL. I am biased but I would say Singapore! My friends are always accusing me of being a total Singapore fanboy, but I really do admire what has been built in our fair city state. Transparency, ease of business, low taxes, and a world-class airport are high on my list of why Singapore rules for business. One thing I really wish Singapore had, better water conditions. While we find the waters around Singapore just fine for training and teaching, it would be great to have better visibility so we could enjoy the reefs and sea life that are there, but hidden. Luckily, there are many wonderful locations to dive that are only a short flight away and Changi is an amazing airport to fly in and out of.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Several years ago I asked a good friend of mine what he would do differently if he were me. He said, “Chris, you are great and you have your work life together, but who are the eight people in your life that are family outside of your family?” What he was pointing out by this somewhat cryptic question was that it’s important to take time to invest in and cultivate key friendships and make those friends a core part of my life — like my immediate family. That advice really stuck. I’ve tried my best to follow it and invest in deep, meaningful friendships. Today “my family outside of family” is my support group, my lifelong companions and they make my life richer and more connected.

Who inspires you?
Mark Zuckerberg. I worked at Facebook for eight years and had the opportunity to watch him work and grow over almost a decade. He’s the real deal. Some things have changed over time. He has become much more comfortable in his own skin, more articulate and polished. Some things will never change. He is super intelligent, never afraid to question assumptions and maintains the strength of his convictions while also being willing to change direction in the face of strong data. I honestly believe that he is trying his best to make the world a better place and he has only just begun.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
One thing that the ongoing US election has demonstrated to me, much to my chagrin, is that in an Internet-enabled world, truth is less relevant and opinions are much more extreme. This really blew me away. Having spent my entire career in the Internet space, I’ve always assumed (as did all those around me) that the Internet would be a force for good. It would allow everyone to share information and views so that common consensus and truth would prevail and that people would be brought closer together. However, it seems to be having quite the opposite effect. By allowing people to select the information and news they consume, they are only surrounding themselves with the sources they agree with. People are creating an echo chamber of opinion where their own views become more and more strident and extreme and facts become less and less important. Nowhere is this clearer than in the ongoing US elections where dogma has trumped reason (pun somewhat intended) and where insults and lies have replaced informed opinion. It’s a sad realization.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I’m not sure I would do anything differently. I love my life and feel extraordinarily blessed. Where I am now is the result of the decisions I’ve made, including (if not especially) the mistakes. I’d rather consider what I would do differently going forward by applying what I’ve learned.

How do you unwind?
Two ways. I meditate in the mornings which helps to clear my head and start the day right. It’s a great way to relieve stress. Secondly, I train five to six times a week and luckily for me, freediving is very relaxing. Long breath holds and long underwater swims slow your heart rate and make you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Tough question! I would say right now Lombok, specifically Selong Belanak, is top of my list. It’s a direct flight, only a few hours, plus a very short car ride so it makes a great short-trip destination. The beach is beautiful and there is great surfing. For freediving, you can head up the coast a couple of hours to the Gili Islands. Perfect!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One of my favorite business books is “Good to Great.” I say business book, but the principles described are so fundamental they apply to anyone who is trying to build something great. “Good is the enemy of great” and this excellent book explains how to think about transcending the huge gap between those two standards. A must-read!

Shameless plug for your business:
Freediving is more than just a sport. It’s an attitude, a discipline and a lifestyle. It brings together mind and body, offers endless challenge and opens up experiences to you that only a tiny fraction of the people in the world will ever be able to enjoy. It can change your life. We at Zen Freediving (www.zenfreediving.org) would love to open that world to you — it is our passion.

How can people connect with you?
Best way to reach me is by email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
Not a big user of Twitter. I did work at Facebook for eight years so colour me biased. You *can* find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ckim.

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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Callum Connects

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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