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Darren Chan, Founder of TheSugarBook

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So what’s the real story behind Darren Chan, the founder of Asia’s first sugar daddy dating site? Definitely much more than meets the eyes, Darren graduated with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. During his time there, he collaborated with fellow peers and was exposed to the F&B, music and entertainment industries.

Upon his return to Malaysia, Darren was keen on exploring different business opportunities. In 2014, he partnered with an associate to form Endeavor Capitals, which most notably funded Malaysia’s Live Entertainment Booking Platform, Gigfairy. Gigfairy is the community marketplace for users to book live entertainment and musical acts.

Within 8 months, Gigfairy was acquired by Tune Studios of Tune Group Sdn Bhd for an undisclosed amount together with Brickfields Asia College (BAC) Founder and Managing Director Mr. Raja Singham, joining in the later stages as investor.

Shortly afterwards, Darren embarked on Endeavor Standard which developed TheSugarBook. Seeking to provide the freedom and security for like-minded people to meet and form mutually beneficial relationships, Darren’s goal is to connect people by giving them the power to be honest and transparent based on their unique wants and needs.

In your own words what is TheSugarBook?

TheSugarBook is a niche social networking platform for people to connect, meet and build mutually beneficial relationships.

How did you come up with the idea of TheSugarBook?

A couple of years ago, I read a study stating that 40% of individuals chose ‘financials’ as one of the top criteria when selecting for a partner.

I then did some research and found a study by a team of health, social and behavioural scientists from UCLA, Chapman University, Rutgers University and Indiana University of over 27,600 heterosexuals which had a summarised conclusion that men favor beauty while women prioritize finances when it comes to the importance of differences in long-term partners.

That got me thinking and with the rise of online dating, I decided to build a platform for like-minded consenting adults to connect, meet and build mutually beneficial relationships that are upfront, honest and transparent. That was how TheSugarBook came to be.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up TheSugarBook?

Our very first hire was a brilliant web developer who had faith in the platform from day 1. Then came a UI/UX developer followed by another developer.

We began with building and fine tuning the website at www.thesugarbook.com before we moved on to developing the app.

In the meantime, we started curating the marketing and communications team.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup?

The only difficulty I recall was hiring. For starters, people thought we were crazy. Some thought we were too ambitious and wanted a regular job that is more stable instead.

Hiring was near impossible with the small amount of budget we had. It was with sheer determination and dedication that we overcame it.

How have you been developing TheSugarBook since startup?

For these first 2 years, our focus will always be on product development and growth.

What kind of feedback did you get for TheSugarBook so far?

We’ve got a mixed bag of feedback so far and we do appreciate every single one of them.

With every business, there will always be naysayers on a side and cheerleaders on the other but we’ve been thankful that we do receive a lot of support from peers in the industry and also, our loved ones.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? 

TheSugarBook is a global company but our focus is more on Asia. That said, we have not encountered any competitors with the same concept as us in South East Asia so far. We are the 1st Sugar Daddy Dating platform in Asia.

However, we do look towards our western competitors as a mean to push us

to improve even more. The strategy is to always be improving and be proactive and able to adapt.

If we focus too much on our competitors, that will in return hinder us. We’d rather analyze certain case studies and learn from them.

What can you tell us about the industry?

The dating industry is a lucrative business. As of year 2017, the global market size in Asia alone was over USD$1.5billion with a potential growth of over 36% in the next 4 years.

Our plan is to expand to Thailand, Indonesia and the global economic superpower that is China.

How do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?

The future of online dating will probably lead to a more niche market, exploring in different sub-cultures rather than a general dating platform. Also, that we will be integrating digital and onground with events and parties in 2018.

Were there anything that disappointed you initially?

I’ve always been a positive person and can honestly say that there hasn’t been any significant incident that would affect me negatively. In every situation, one must be able to see the solution or an opportunity rather than be beaten down.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia?

I studied in Melbourne, Australia and lived there for many years. When I was there, I had the opportunity to be exposed to different industries; such as hospitality and entertainment and I do not find there to be any momentous difference between being harder or easier. There are cultural and bureaucracy difference but nothing that cannot be handled with the right team on your side.

There is a huge opportunity to grow in Asia as the tech industry here still has a wide margin for development.

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

I wouldn’t be able to comparatively separate the 2; I think that entrepreneurship in itself takes a lot of guts; the ability to recognize an

opportunity and the courage to seize the moment. Also, being able to improvise, adapt and overcome.

What is your definition of success?

To be able to create value and grow TheSugarBook to a wider market.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I saw an opportunity and I took it.

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

To never stop learning and having the patience to grow a business from its seed to fruition.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

Whatever you do, do with your all, be dedicated. Wherever you go, go as a leader. Have the courage to lead. If you serve, serve with passion.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference,” – Robert Frost.

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

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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