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Elim Chew’s Lessons on Entrepreneurship



Ms. Chew is Founder and President of 77th Street (S) Pte Ltd, the leading youth and young adults streetwear fashion and accessories retail chain in Singapore with 13 outlets locally and a shopping mall in Xidan, Beijing called 77th Street Plaza. She is humbled by awards such as Most Promising Woman Entrepreneur in 2001 by the Singapore Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, Montblanc Businesswoman of the Year 2002, Young Woman Achiever 2003 by Singapore Press Holdings and Singapore Promising Brand Award 2004. She is recently honored as a Forbes Asia’s Hero of Philanthropy 2010.
Currently, she sits on over 20 boards and committees of public service, youth and community organizations such as the Programming Committee of *SCAPE, an iconic youth community space; and the Culture & Education Action Crucibles for Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) of the Ministry of Trade and Industry Singapore and many more.
Ms. Elim Chew is also a highly sought public speaker on issues of youth matters, social entrepreneurship and work excellence. She has formally set up the speaker circuit programme to share her experiences and inspire our students, youths, educators, civil servants, working professionals and community on issues that are close to her heart.

Interview transcript


Dhanya: How did you decide that you want to work in retail?

Elim: I trained in hairstyling in London, and came back to Singapore to enter the hair styling business. As I looked around, I couldn’t really find a lot of fashion here. So I started importing from overseas. I was 21 when I started my hairstyling salon and at 22 I started 77th street. I literally coined the word 77th street – a fashion and accessories store. I started 77th street in 1988.


Dhanya: What was the challenge in creating a brand? I am sure the scene was very different back then in 1988, but what was your challenge in building a brand in Singapore?

Elim: In anything that you start, you need to have money, content, network, and manpower. To be honest, when I first started I did not know what a brand was. You literally just start! You don’t really think through a lot of things – you want to import things, you want to open a shop, and you want to sell something you really love. I love the number 77, so I decided that would be the name. It would also be something people will remember. Through time, people grow up and now one whole generation of young people have grown up with 77th street and they are actually working adults today. It takes time to build a brand. The most important thing is for you to start-up.

It took 20 years to build my brand, but today you have social media and all the different platforms it comes with. It’s a quicker process to build a brand. You can immediately start something online, form your community, attract customers who like what you do and in essence communicate with them. However, sustaining a brand takes time.


Dhanya: That nicely leads to my next question. How has internet affected the marketing strategy you use? What are the pros and cons?

Elim: In the early days, it was a lot of human interaction that led to word-of mouth. In those days, we were the only street fashion wear. It was about being who you are and what you love – if you want to be quirky, then you be quirky – that attracts attention. We became friends with every customer, we know their names and their stories. Rental was affordable back then. Social media has taken over this interaction. If I want to say something in this interview, you are able to translate into thousands of people and share it with them. I had to do that one by one, back then.

And in this scenario, trust comes in being able to deliver your goods on time; your credit facilities must be trustable. However, I do think the human interaction is missing. Back then when someone lost their wallet and walked into the store saying they didn’t have any money to get home – we would give them $50 and ask them to give it back to us when they come back. Today, you can’t do that with internet. High tech is great because we can sell to the world, but that trust is missing.


Dhanya: Is it even more valuable today?

Elim: I think it has it’s pros and cons. Pro is that you are connected to the world and someone from India could be buying from us. Simply because they don’t have this product in their market, but they have internet. They could even get things at a lower price than their home market. Whereas with physical touch, it is one transaction at a time. It’s much slower. With going to a physical shop, you get to feel the product and decide whether you like it.

Within this though, I believe we can find a space to create something that everyone can be a part of. 


Dhanya: How do you think someone can build the skill of strategic thinking? 

Elim: It’s all about experience. It’s about being on the ground and starting as young as you can. Kids as young as 9, 10 and 13 are building apps and starting companies. Today, it is about how early you start. There is a lot of knowledge out there that you can learn from.  I feel everyone should start as young as they can. If you want to be a chef, start cooking at home for your family and scout the internet for more. While reading is one thing, self-improvement and implementation is another. 


Dhanya: I work in a big retail firm that has a lot of young people working. My biggest hurdle at work is motivating these young people. Do you have any tips for me, considering the work you do with them?

Elim: I believe that this is a generation that is driven by purpose. You need to show them the purpose. Why are they in retail? Why are they social entrepreneurs. Why are they professionals. In this environment you see the people doing their part of retail. We show them the importance of their initiatives, the vision of helping the poor, the vision of taking an idea to implementation and becoming successful. And usually, its not about the money (Money is great) but the process is so much more motivating.

I think we have to show them their future. For what they don’t know or see, they don’t have a purpose. If they do see their success, they will show you more. So it’s about encouraging them to achieve their best. Also, never fail to give credit when it is due! As Asians we tend to put ourselves down a lot more. We think that praising might get to people’s head. But I think we need to praise and give constructive feedback.

I work with those young people that react to motivation. For those who don’t, their peers (the ones I work with) act as inspiration. Using what is real – my experience in creating 77th street out of nothing and now all the way to logistic and consulting business I show it to them that it is possible.


Dhanya: Did you have to break any glass ceiling? What were the obstacles in your journey?

Elim: Every other day you live and break the norm. You create and innovate – you will stay stagnant otherwise. It could be simple things – can you walk this way differently? Can you wake up earlier? Entrepreneurship drives people to see things differently. There are people who have 9-5 days and extremely structured lives as well. You can do what you love. The more you tell us, social entrepreneurs, we can’t do it, the more we want to prove you wrong. We are dealing with issues everyday – is there a way to break this pattern today and create a new way?


Dhanya: How do you manage your time?

Elim: I don’t manage it very well as you can see.. I am involved in 20 over platforms – in boards, committees, my own businesses, etc. That is also what drives me. The day I wake up and realize I have nothing to do – I will suffer. I will probably have a mental breakdown, haha. There are times when I think I could’ve worked it better – for example your appointment. When you write an email to me, its going to stay in my mind till I meet you even though I don’t have time. That’s why I thought I better meetup with you and do this. And we measure ourselves by the things we do, right?

We are inspired by young people like yourself. We are inspired by the people who have tried and been successful. Even for the ones who haven’t had any success – we respect their lessons. They know what is going to work and not. When someone asks me what is my good experience – I think its all my bad experience rolled up into what will work and hence a good experience.

Experience is the knowledge that will create depth for what is to come – in studies, in work, in travel.


Dhanya: I am reading this book where the author says – ‘There is nothing called talent. It’s all the hard work and practice one puts in acquiring a skill’. Do you also believe in this? 

Elim: I think it’s about the effort you put in too. The 10,000 hour principle by Malcolm Gladwell is something I believe in. The reason for my success is the number of hours I put in ever since I got into the workforce – I worked everyday. And over the years I have gathered the experience and practice in everything that I do today. However there is a little bit of talent that helps with the starting phase. And that little extra effort you put in affects the olympic record you can break, no matter what your level of talent is.

written & presented by Real Leaders Project. see more.


“When Adam Draper does Crypto Standup, Singapore listens”



I live and work in Singapore and Santa Monica. Yes, I am blessed. However, my life has been by design, I think of what I want and so I make my life choices and make them happen in my life. Hence the bi-continent living and that comes with bi-continent and now global community living, being and ecosystems building. So I am now never surprised when one part of my world meets another.

I went to Wavemaker Partners venture capital event this evening, keen to meet Adam Draper, who is one of the many great presenters at Crypto Invest Summit, April 30- May 2 in Los Angeles.

Since I actively support leaders who are building scalable, sustainable businesses and movements for the betterment of many; of course I am learning about Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. I had been keen to report on the Crypto Invest Summit as I would be back in May to LA for my PhD programme. I was in communications with the organizers. However, I am being awarded an award at the Women Economic Forum in Delhi that same week and could not be physically present.

Still I wanted to report on the event, somehow.

I wanted to listen to the speakers and support some of the speakers who are already friends and experts I rely on for greater insights on cryptocurrency. I like learning and sharing with the greater audience, I have in Asia what I am learning from the US and vice versa. So I feel I had my chance tonight to do a bit of that.

I could not help but smile as Adam Draper shed light into his world of investing in more than 85 crypto related products because he was such a breath of fresh air to the last few Blockchain and Financial conferences I have been reporting on; especially here in Asia.

He just says it like it is.

He kept stopping the audience when they said Blockchain and he said, “You know you really mean cryptocurrency.”  He hit the nail on the head because I have seen so clearly how this phrase had been said in Singapore time and again – “I am not into cryptocurrency but I believe in Blockchain.”

When he said how there was an incongruity as he sat across bankers who personally invested in cryptocurrency and when faced with an inbound of requests from their clients on the same investment; are tied by regulations and are unable to respond.

Here’s some of his best lines. If you don’t laugh or “ah-ha” the way I did, you probably just had to be there. The truth is funny because it calls out for something we all see but sometimes just do not want to admit.

There is a growing understanding of the underlying thematics that the cryptocurrency world has been experiencing as the interface between centralize; de-centralize and personal autonomy becomes more and more apparent and lines get drawn.

Adam Says:

1) The newest phenomenon is that some of the ICO founders are now just so rich from their ICOs that they really don’t need to work on the project they asked for money for.

2) For the crypto-world, money doesn’t matter anymore!
They need talent

It’s so founder friendly now.

3) What Bitcoin made us ask is “What is money?”

The next question is “What is government and governance?”

He highlighted if an entrepreneur is looking for a problem to solve., then the entrepreneur is always looking for horrible industries with poor services and high costs. So yes – Governments are those horrible industries and they need to be disrupted.

4)  Any company who comes to an investor and leads with how much ICO has raised; is a red flag. Leave immediately and go read a Harry Potter book instead.
If they are leading with value and not the problem they are solving. Beware. (read more here

5) If you are going to invest in where the brains are. It’s in crypto.

6) Philosophically, Coinbase is against ethos of what Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency movement is trying to do. However to do such a move from fiat to digital currency, there would need a way to do that. So Coinbase acts like a browser does for internet. One day there will be no need to cash in or out as everyone is already there on digital. Cryptocurrency is the exchange of value. His advice and we know his bias as he is invested in  Coinhako; is to hold onto an exchange for 3-5 years since onboarding of all users to the new digital currency will take some time.

Adam met with many banks and government bodies on his trip to Singapore – I hope they got his truths.

I ended the night by thanking Adam for making me laugh. He reminded me of how much I miss LA.

Want more of this?

If you are in LA on April 30 – May 2.



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Callum Connects

Adrian Reid, Founder of Enlightened Stock Trading



Adrian Reid escaped the rat race and became a knowledgeable trader. He now shares his trading knowledge and empowers others to take control of their stocks.

What’s your story?
After working 12-16 hour days in the corporate world for many years I had a moment of realisation on the 1 hour bus ride to work. It was here at this moment in time, I realised that I felt trapped, desperate and isolated. Trapped in a job I hated, and a life I had not designed. I had long been interested in investing, but I made the decision at that point to become the best trader I could possibly be and escape the rat race.
My dream was to be free; free of the 9 to 5, the commute, the stress and the exhaustion. I threw myself into my stock trading research and study and emerged 3 months later with the trading rules that would ultimately buy me my freedom. I am now retired from the corporate world, I trade full time and share my knowledge with other aspiring traders through my online education program which puts them in control and empowers them to take control and accountability for their trading results.

What excites you most about your industry?
So many people are trapped in jobs they don’t like or are feeling immense financial pressure in their life. Trading education is typically done extremely badly today because of the conflicts of interest in the industry. Fund managers want to hold onto your money forever; brokers want you to trade more frequently; forex brokers want you to use more leverage. Why? Because that is how they make their money.
By teaching traders how to develop and test their own stock trading systems I am able to empower them to find trading rules which fit their own personality, objectives and lifestyle. This is the only way for new traders to be successful. This process transforms people’s financial future, their relationship with money and wealth and gives them hope. I love that!

What’s your connection to Asia?
I recently spent 3 years living in Singapore which I absolutely loved. This put me in a good position to observe the other Asian markets. As a stock trader I am interested in many markets and economies around the world, however the Asian markets have some of the best potential for trading profits. I have traded stocks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo and I have developed trading systems that work in many other Asian markets as well.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
My favourite city is Singapore. After living in Singapore for 3 years my family fell in love with the city. Life is great in Singapore for the whole family and the pro-business and investing policies of the government make it a wonderful place to build your financial future as well.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
On a personal front: Find something you love, throw all your energy and passion into it.
On the wealth front: Spend less than you earn and invest the difference. Take control of your finances and always accept 100% responsibility for your investment decisions.

Who inspires you?
My wife Stephanie inspires me. Her commitment to everything she does, her compassion, her insights into people and her ability to uplift those around her, make me want to be a better person.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
No matter what we think we know, there will always be a different perspective that can change our opinion. In my own trading, I continually find that the truths I cling to are not absolute and they can be misleading if held onto dogmatically. Striking a balance between taking a stance and knowing when to change that stance based on new information is critical in all areas of life.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more action earlier on. My fear of mistakes (which still limits me on occasions, like most people) has always proven to be baseless. Playing small to avoid the embarrassment or pain of mistakes is very limiting and I would have taken more action earlier, if I had my time again.

How do you unwind?
To unwind I like to read, meditate, run and ride my mountain bike in the forest.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I just love the small island resort at Batu Batu. It is beautiful, isolated, quiet and surrounded by clean water, full of sealife. After a week at the resort I felt like a different person.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. This book teaches the art of clear and structured communication. My time working as a business strategy consultant gave me a great appreciation for the importance of communication in business. Clear and effective communication can solve a myriad of challenges in your business and professional life, and as a strong communicator your employment prospects, business relationships, team performance and family life are all dramatically improved.

Shameless plug for your business:
Enlightened Stock Trading ( is the only stock market trading education business that empowers you, as an individual trader. It shows you how to design and test your own unique stock trading system that fits YOUR Personality, Objectives and Lifestyle. We have no conflicts of interest and we are focused on teaching you how to trade stocks profitably in a way that fits your life.
After working through the Enlightened Stock Trader Certification Program you will find yourself confident and empowered with your own battle tested trading system and trading plan to guide you through the markets.

How can people connect with you?
Email me directly at [email protected] or through my Facebook Page (

Twitter handle?

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:
Download free copies of his books here:

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