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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

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

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

Ray Ferguson, Founder of Caber Partners

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Ray Ferguson left the banking world and returned to Asia to explore exciting fintech opportunities.

What’s your story?
I am the Founder of Caber Partners, a Singapore based MAS Licensed Fund Manager and Financial Advisor investing and working with companies focused exclusively on the intersection of finance and technology. I work specifically in the areas of payments, insurance, wealth management, alternative lending and blockchain.

I am also Chairman of Singapore Life which was founded last year. It is the first new local life company in Singapore. Concurrently, I chair Youtap a business which is creating a cashless e-money processing backbone providing real-time interoperable settlements of all consumer e-money payments to the merchants, e-money providers, retail and FMCG distribution groups, and banks across emerging markets.

My 30 year journey as a banker had its main leg with Standard Chartered Bank, where I held multiple country chief executive and regional leadership roles across four continents. I spent 6 years as Regional CEO, South East Asia and Chief Executive, Singapore. After Standard Chartered, I moved to Bank ABC, Bahrain and assumed the role of Group Chief Banking Officer where I took care of the group’s banking businesses worldwide.
Last year, I decided to step down after 3 years from my role with Bank ABC to return to Asia to pursue interesting and exciting opportunities that fintech disruption was providing.

What excites you most about your industry?
The sheer pace of technological innovation in the financial sector, and how it is up-ending the traditional models and traditional players. There are huge implications and benefits for efficiency, transparency and importantly financial inclusion which will drive growth in emerging markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have lived in and worked in Asia for more than 30 years. I first came to Singapore in 1994 and today I am a proud Singapore citizen, and to me Singapore is home.

Its an invigorating environment. Asia is in the middle of an historic transformation. If it continues to follow its recent trajectory, by 2050 its per capita income could rise sixfold in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms to reach Europe’s levels today. It would make some 3 billion additional Asians affluent by current standards. By nearly doubling its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) to 52 percent by 2050, Asia would regain the dominant economic position it held some 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution. This is a big deal and I’m excited to be part of it!

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore! Singapore is known for being a business-friendly country and it was crowned the best country in World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business List” and ranks as the top 3 in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitive Index.” Singapore is an attractive hub, for both businesses and has a great community to live in.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Listen intently and you will know what you don’t know.

Who inspires you?
Nelson Mandela

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That the global mobile wallet market was valued at approximately USD 594 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach approximately USD 3,100 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of around 32% between 2017 and 2022.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have learnt to code.

How do you unwind?
Exercise, golf and sailing large catamarans.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket. Easy to reach, Thai people and service, breadth of choice of locations/accomodation and great sailing weather.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Good to Great – Jim Collins. It’s about how companies transition from being good companies to great companies, and how and why most companies fail to make the transition.

Shameless plug for your business:
Caber Partners team is uniquely connected with our networks and experience in fintech markets, investing and banking and business growth solutions throughout Asia and across the emerging world.

How can people connect with you?
Come connect with me through my LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rayfergusonscb

Twitter handle?
Rayferguson888

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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