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David Chen, Co-Founder of Strikingly

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What’s your story?
I’ll try in 100 words. Went to the U.S from China when I was 15, then UChicago for Economics. In college, met a great group of inspiring friends and founded Moneythink, a financial literacy non-profit, with them. Besides Moneythink, I served as the class representative and VP of Student Government at UChicago. These two experience were my first lessons for how to start something new and how to run an organization. However, since everyone in my major wanted to get into banking, I also did my internship at Goldman Hong Kong during my 2nd year summer. It was clear that I won’t be any good for that industry. So I decided not to go back. The best thing that happened when I was there was that I met my future cofounder, Dafeng Guo, for Strikingly. We started working on things together after the internship and I also asked Teng to join. The three of us have been working together ever since. We failed the first startup project, I quitted school, and we were at 3 different locations across the world, but we stick together over Skype calls. Then we applied for YC together, failed the first time. Decided that we wanted to prove YC was wrong about their decision and went full time instead. Launched Strikingly 3.0, finally got our first paid user and went profitable. Applied for YC again and got in after we’ve proven that the market exists and we’re determined to own it. Since then, raised a round of $1.5M and stayed profitable until now. Still dreaming about helping everyone unleash their individuality by allowing them to launch anything online, a blog, a personal site, a business, or a startup. Never been more positive about the future 🙂
Our story: http://www.forbes.com/sites/morganhartley/2013/03/19/how-a-y-combinator-startup-is-born-the-story-of-strikingly/#7511abed55da
Our mission: https://www.strikingly.com/manifesto

What excites you most about your industry?
The fact that we’re empowering people to launch something new every day. Entrepreneurs and creatives are our core audience, and we made a tool that allows them to have a voice and a presence on the internet. The trend of entrepreneurship powers our industry and it’s growing fast. So riding this wave of new entrepreneurs and new businesses is exciting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m Chinese. I went to the U.S when only when I was 15. Our team is right now based in China and the Philippines. Also, ever since the very beginning, we have many users and customers from Asia.

david-profile strikingly-logo

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I don’t think I can name one. I have too many. We have our R&D center in Shanghai, our support team in the Philippines, and another office in Chengdu. I love them all for different reasons. We’re also started to build teams in some other parts of China. So I really can’t name one.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Create superfans, not customers. We made that into a poster and put that at the entrance of Strikingly. This is not a technique. It’s the fundamental reason we decided to start a business, change people’s life one at a time. Focusing on this philosophy also allows us to find clarity every time we felt confused.

Who inspires you?
A lot of people, but there’s one group I owe a special thank you to – Y Combinator. It was a life changing experience and we’ve learned so much from them, about how to build an awesome product, how to focus, how to build a team culture, how to perceive fundraising, and much more. YC is the best.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
A good product is not enough, you have to know how to distribute it. We’ve seen so many bad products “made it” and that feels unfair. However, everything happens happens for a reason. No point in resenting it. I knew that distribution is important but I didn’t know how important it is. It’s hard to describe it, but you have to deeply internalize the fact that the only defensibility is that your product can distribute faster than others, period. Virality, sales, marketing, branding, whatever. Focus on growth and growth only.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Many things if I look back, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I learn so much from my mistakes as from my tiny successes. In fact, I think most of my new gained tenacity and decisiveness come from the fact that I’ve failed in new areas, instead of winning in new areas. So, yes, I think there are a lot of things I could have done better if I knew what I know now or had the same level of wisdom, but I didn’t. So I think all the mistakes I’ve made I had to make them. I hope by saying this I answered the question.

How do you unwind?
Sleep, watch movie, drink with friends, and exercise. All the usual thing. Besides all these, I think having an awesome team that you can share your worries, pressure, and uncertainty with is more important than anything else. I’m glad to say that I have a team like this now.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Singapore. My gf is there 🙂

Everyone in business should read this book:
The hard thing about hard things

Shameless plug for your business:
Strikingly allows anyone to launch a website in minutes. We have millions of entrepreneurs and creatives already launching their startups, businesses, online stores, portfolios, personal websites, blogs, etc.

How can people connect with you?
Twitter: haishachen
Also, if you sign up on Strikingly, the first email you’ll receive will be from me and trust me, I actually read the replies. So you can find me there as well.

Twitter handle?
Haishachen

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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