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Ee Ling, Co-founder & CEO of Smarter Me

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Ee Ling, co-founder and CEO of Smarter Me, took a leap of faith to pursue the startup route. She is using her life learnings to better prepare the next generation for the technology-charged future.

What’s your story?
I’m Ee Ling, co-founder and CEO of Smarter Me, an edtech company. Before this, I was an Investment Banker for almost a decade, clocking 100-hour work weeks working on transactions in South East Asia. I loved every bit of it – the intensity, challenges and endless learning.
When I became a VP, I started covering the technology, consumer and retail industries – and it struck me – how much technology could improve daily lives and solve real-life problems which we have always taken as the status quo. Specifically, I was more and more convinced of the vast potential of using technology to solve real-life parenting challenges.
So in 2016, I took a leap of faith and quit investment banking to pursue the startup route!

What excites you most about your industry?
For decades and centuries, education has remained largely unchanged. The subjects taught in our parents’ generation are the same as those being taught today to our children. Yes, some schools are adopting more technology – apps and hardware – than others, and Singapore was recently ranked as being at the forefront of preparing kids for jobs of the future. But there’s still a lot to evolve and change.
The majority of children still do not have the opportunity to learn coding, robotics, entrepreneurship and digital art – key “hard skills” for the fourth industrial revolution. Beyond that, what I’m super passionate about is helping kids understand their purpose and goal in life, to discover themselves. I’m so excited about the changes that can take place in education, it’s just dependent on how open we are to driving and embracing such changes.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia is home. I was born and bred in Malaysia, and moved to Singapore almost 7 years ago.

 

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, without a doubt. The Government’s support for innovation and startups is immense, coupled with a strong infrastructure that makes almost everything possible. But if any opportunity presents itself, I would also try setting up a business in Hong Kong. It’s another melting pot of cultures and simply bustling with action.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Run your own race. Most of us grew up working towards a future that was defined by our parents (who wanted only the best for us) and shaped by society around us – but what happens then is that we do it not for ourselves, but for the recognition and validation from others.
Now I ask myself, what race am I running? I should re-define what success means to
me, and let that be the guiding principle to all my actions. It doesn’t matter what naysayers say, as long as I hold true to myself.

Who inspires you?
It may sound like a cliché, but this goes to my husband and my kids. His ‘everything is possible’ mindset has pushed me to explore business directions and my own personal development far beyond my comfort zone. Before we started this entrepreneurship journey together, I had serious doubts about the success of working with one’s spouse. We were such opposites. But I’ve come to realise that he compliments me professionally, and challenges me to be the better version of myself.
My kids also inspire me. Parenting is tough! In order to be able to guide them, I find myself needing to grow more and develop myself further and that has motivated me to keep learning.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve recently discovered Mindvalley. There are so many teachings by global thought leaders there that have blown me away. I am inspired by these life educators including Vishen Lakhiani, Robin Sharma, Jon Butcher and so many more. They are able to inspire individuals and enact changes in mindsets and lifestyle, and to make individuals more in tune with themselves. These are the true changemakers and they have inspired me to embark on the journey of inspiring young children.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I believe everything happens for a reason at the right time, and I value the experience and knowledge that I have gained through my banking days.
If there’s just one thing, it would be that I would have taken up more personal mastery courses and kept growing myself. I was too busy being busy back then.

How do you unwind?
This one’s easy. I love reading a book in bed as my pre-bedtime routine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I would have to say Japan and Bali. To me, a good holiday is defined by the food I had – so Japan wins hands down in that aspect. But Bali is the epitome of relaxation, whether you choose to be hanging out on a cliff, by the beach, or in a paddy field, and coupled with the wide variety of quality food options – ranging from local Balinese food to hipster cafes. Bali also holds a special place in my heart as it’s where I got married!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I know quite a few have said this, but I have to go with ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek. I think it’s vital to not just understand your ‘ikigai’, your “Why do I get up in the morning,” on a personal level, but also learning how to apply it to your business and communicate it to your employees and customers. It’s quite the game changer. (I’m still reading his new one – Leaders Eat Last). I also like Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, which sheds light on what makes things go viral.

Shameless plug for your business:
Smarter Me was formed to inspire children to discover, grow and live their passion.
We believe that education for children can be more relevant and realistic, to better prepare them for the technology – charged future. We believe that education can be more meaningful when children understand who they are, what their purpose in life is, and why they learn what they learn. We believe in making quality education accessible to all children.
We believe that the children of today are not yet sufficiently exposed to the skillset which they need for the future, and so this year, we will be releasing a series of curated and holistic classes which not only equip children with key skills in coding, robotics and entrepreneurship, but more importantly, with core 21st century skills which will hopefully better prepare them for the future. Do check out our site if you are a parent!

How can people connect with you?
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ee-ling-lim-36ab3a29/
Email: [email protected]

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

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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