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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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Callum Connects

Joelle Ung, Founder of Treasure Unity

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Joelle’s entrepreneurial journey has been an interesting one, leading her to the world of network marketing, enabling her to help other entrepreneurs succeed.

What’s your story?
The sense of wanting to make an impact, of needing to add value to ‘something,’ be it focused on business or peoples’ lives, has led me, through many failures, to where I am now, the food and beverage manufacturing industry. My entrepreneurial journey began as a wedding planner. Then, having tasted initial success, my desire to find meaningful business mentors brought me to the world of network marketing.
Having benefited from the teachings of my mentor, plus the time I spent growing up as the daughter of a great father, I realised that the urge to ‘pay it forward,’ by mentoring future entrepreneurs and helping my colleagues, other entrepreneurs to succeed, had become a personal mission.
The Honest Living Program, owned by my current company, Treasure Unity, is a realisation of that dream. The program opens up learning opportunities for women under duress, underprivileged women and single mothers. It provides a platform from which I am able to teach, imparting people skills and the art of presentation through the day-to-day program. It is absolutely free.

What excites you most about your industry?
To be able to keep adding values to others. On stage or off, it doesn’t matter. I enjoy every call I receive, every appointment that is set up, every individual I have met, and have yet to meet. There is only one agenda, and that is to add value to the person I am speaking to.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Having lived in Singapore and Malaysia for the past 39 years, my heart is impacting the people in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Because of the people who live there, and because there are no barriers to communication for me.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t make any decision out of confusion, disappointment or anger. Decisions should always be made with a restful heart.

Who inspires you?
Walt Disney: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
My husband is an ‘overcomer’ who had a near fatal stroke 18 years ago. He lost the ability to practice his dream career as a medical doctor, yet he chose to be a prisoner of hope rather than be a prisoner within his body, and he has never indulged in self-pity.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Lately, I have learned to be still when an opponent strikes at me. It works! You do not need to immediately rebut an opponent. He, or she, will most probably be waiting for a reaction. When they don’t get one, when you remain still and unmoved, you become unpredictable. They do not know your next move.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have sought advice from more wise counsellors before making major decisions, especially if finance or investments were involved.

How do you unwind?
Sometimes I like to take a short getaway or, on a daily basis, I read bible verses that I find uplifting.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Penang. It is close to home and you can get a premium service at an affordable cost. Also, I can pack light, and it is easy to find anything and everything there.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Like a Virgin, by Richard Branson

Shameless plug for your business:
Become an irresistible woman with substance! We will bring out your natural leadership skills through the Honest Living Program.

How can people connect with you?
They can connect with me by email [email protected], through WhatsApp 92300071, or they can call me on my mobile.

Twitter handle?
My twitter account is inactive. @ungjoelle @treasureunity

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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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Dr. Vivienne Ming, Co-Founder and Executive Chair at Socos Labs

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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.)

Dr. Vivienne Ming is a theoretical neuroscientist, entrepreneur, technologist, and an author. She co-founded Socos, her fourth company, where she combines machine learning, cognitive neuroscience, and economics to maximize life outcomes in education and the workplace. Vivienne is also a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, where she pursues her research in neuroprosthetics. In her free time, Vivienne has developed a predictive model of diabetes to better manage the glucose levels of her diabetic son and systems to predict manic episodes in bipolar suffers. In 2013, she was named one of 10 Women to Watch in Tech by Inc. Magazine.

What makes you do what you do?
I grew up reading far too much science fiction. It always seemed not like an escape, but like a guide to a better world that we could build. When I ran into challenges later in my life and learned how easy it is for a high potential life to slip through the cracks, it was that love of science fiction that kept me thinking that something better was possible. I found a purpose in that failure that drove me to earn my PhD in neuroscience and machine learning so that I could build the worlds that I used to read about.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I have worked in several different industries. As an academic, I had a rather shocking amount of success as a graduate student with papers published in top journals and I went on to appointments at Stanford and Berkeley. Then, I started all over again when I founded an education company. When the company rose to prominence and I was giving keynotes at major education conferences, I left that behind to develop technologies for talent acquisition, healthcare, and anything and everything that made better people. My path to success was always forged by me solving problems, with a lot help from simple dumb luck.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
After founding a number of technology companies, I decided I wanted to take what I learned and share it with as many people as possible. I wanted to have an impact on global policy. Based on advice from colleagues and friends, I founded Socos Labs, a think tank that uses machine learning, economics, and behavior research to explore human potential. Socos Labs experiments with whole new visions of work, education, innovation and inclusive economies to inform more human-centered policy.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I’ve been influenced and supported by a great many people in my life, but I cannot say that I’ve ever had a mentor or even a hero that acted as a guide for my career. I’m not belittling the value of great mentorships (my own research argues for its impact), but rather it’s equally important to recognize that a career isn’t a formulaic movie plot with predefined roles.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
My work is about making better people and helping people grow. It has always been very important to me to give people a chance who might not otherwise have the same opportunity elsewhere. I have built companies where people who don’t have traditional credentials can come and work on projects that make a difference in people’s lives. The only component I’m really looking for is potential.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Supporting diversity is both a mission of Socos Labs and a key part of nearly every company with which I am involved. I sit on the board of companies that foster diversity and I’ve founded companies to find strategies to reduce bias in the hiring process. Creative diversity is crucial to run any high performance organization. My research show that companies should build teams in which everyone brings different, complementary strengths to the table, and diverse life experience is one of the greatest sources of those strengths.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I suspect there are many ways to be a great leader. My personal approach is perhaps naively simple: do good work and share it with the world. I am sure there are more sophisticated and effective ways to gain attention and build high-performance organizations, but my approach (which I heartily advocate for anyone else) is to focus fanatically on what you’re trying to achieve, your purpose, and find or simply create the means for your work to reach other people.

Advice for others?
Seek out problems that are so messy other people have given up on them.

That is exactly where I want to be and what my new think tank, Socos Labs, aims to explore. We partner with companies and NGOs that share in our mission and help advance a new understanding about education, workforce, health, innovation, inclusion, and so much more. Along the way I’ve learned enough to write a couple of books, How to Robot-Proof Your Kids and The Tax on Being Different, which will be out later this year. In both I discuss how we can begin to untangle many of these big messy global problems.


If you’d like to get in touch with Dr. Vivienne Ming, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vivienneming/

To learn more about Socos Labs, please click here.

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