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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

Denise Morris Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

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

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

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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