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Coupon Entrepreneur On A Global Journey To Help Save Money

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Jochem Vroom entered the affiliate marketing business when he started Imbull early 2009 with the launch of two Dutch voucher codes sites. The most recent and largest project of all so far is the international coupon site Flipit.com. With Flipit, Jochem has garnered a lot of attention and today he shares with The Asian Entrepreneur, how he is personally working to help the world save money.

In your own words what is  Flipit?

Flipit is a global money saving portal that delivers eCommerce coupon codes and lifestyle articles to users in more than 20 countries worldwide. The whole site is dedicated to bringing the best all round money saving experience to each country’s user base in their native language, tailoring this information in a personalized manner.

How did you come up with the idea of  Flipit?

Following the successful launch of two original Dutch couponing sites that myself and co-founder, Jelle van der Bij, came up with- and seeing how rapidly the coupon market was being adopted, we felt like it was the right time to expand the game even further with Flipit.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up  Flipit?

I saw a window of opportunity and took it. I noticed trends like big eCommerce giant Amazon expanding to India and thought to myself that it doesn’t cost too much time, nor effort, to actually hit the go button on a few emerging markets and some strong neighboring European markets that are comparable to that of the Netherlands. Since we already had a strategy going for the Dutch sites that was picking up like a charm, penetrating similar markets like Belgium first and learning from that experience nurtured us as we started to expand into more different and challenging markets like the US. The ongoing learning process of starting an internet startup like Flipit is to keep following up on variable market trends and adapting the process as you progress.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup and if so, how did you guys overcome it?

Startups are no walk in the park. The learning process is central to success and the Internet industry is rife with constant change that always has to be on your radar if you want to succeed. Therefore, our largest difficulty in my opinion was first keeping up with the constant demand for change that was happening as the Flipit team and site grew into one massive multi-cultural hub. Using the same framework for every country we were launching in brought in different results. We started to notice how important being versatile is- for instance, focusing on making our platform fully responsive to mobile, which was particularly important for markets like India and Singapore. Paying attention to the correct use of language in each country and hiring the right people who know a lot about each country’s culture and habits became more important the further away we drifted from the Dutch market.

How have you been developing  Flipit since startup?

We’ve been focusing a lot on revamping Flipit’s design to make it more appealing, and have been incrementally introducing more features that allow for more personalization and interaction with the interface.

What kind of feedback did you get for  Flipit so far?

We’ve received great feedback from our advertising partners and the affiliate networks that we work with, and have been complemented about the look and feel of the Flipit brand. We cater to an average of over 50,000 daily users who don’t seem to have any complaints either.

What is your strategy against your competition?

Naturally there’s a lot of competition. Just think about original coupon founders like Retail Me Not who are still huge in the US or Voucher Codes who are blooming even more in the UK. Then there are similar concepts like Groupon, which is the first thing anyone thinks about nowadays when you mention the word coupon (even though the way they operate their service is quite different from coupon sites). Our strategy is to keep going and to focus on unique aspects of the Flipit brand, which is ultimately having quality global presence.

What can you tell us about the industry? 

It’s tough and unpredictable. The main industry insight I can reveal is to always be prepared for unexpected change. If you don’t have the means to quickly adapt, you’ll get knocked out. That’s one of the reasons why more traditional, larger companies often struggle to become successful within this niche.

What is the future of the industry and how do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?

The coupon industry is continuously expanding especially as internet penetration becomes more popular in developing/emerging markets. These markets are picking it up really quickly at the moment, so in order to stay relevant and have a fighting chance, you have to veer into those markets without hesitation and work your way up before competition establishes itself.

Were there anything that disappointed you initially?

Perhaps, the manner in which global publishers are treated if they do not have local presence in the countries they are live in makes it a lot harder to become successful in those respective countries. You have to be willing to travel internationally and/or have correspondents who can do the job for you. You don’t want to make some advertisers in certain countries feel like they are less important or undeserving of your full attention and time, but it just isn’t possible for you to take control of every aspect of your business and be in every corner of the world at the same time.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? 

Asia is an extremely interesting market because it’s totally different from Europe and the west. Naturally, if you’re from the region and are acquainted with its laws, culture and how business is run, you can become a successful Asian entrepreneur quite easily thanks to the wealth of opportunities. That would make it seem like it’s easier. However, the same can be said about being a European entrepreneur in Europe- though the market is much more established- delving into European business investments can be a bit more costly and challenging without the right resources and connections. Then again, there are different laws in Asia which European entrepreneurs might not be aware of that make it harder to be an entrepreneur in Asia. It all comes down to how well prepared you are and how much of an entrepreneurial will to succeed you have. That works for every region of the world.

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

A lot can be said about both Asian and Western entrepreneurship beyond the scope of my opinion, but here’s my story. I was born and raised in Europe, so I’ve always been more inclined to think and act like a Western entrepreneur, though my personal journey these years trying to really crack the global scene has shown me how important it is to adopt a global mindset that bridges the gap between west and east.

How can you go global if you’re stuck in the ways of the west or the east? I found myself asking this question when I launched Flipit India, which was one of my first non-western ventures. It’s better to take from both. For instance, we’re more exposed to and encouraged to pursue our dreams, even if they don’t align so well with what we learnt in school. On the other hand, I’ve noticed how Asian entrepreneurship tends to follow a more traditional route and entrepreneurs in Asia do come off as more conservative than western entrepreneurs, probably as a result of their educational upbringing. Asian entrepreneurs seem to apply more pressure on themselves, while here we’ve got a pretty good welfare system to fall back on in case things don’t work out the way we planned, which makes western entrepreneurship more lax and the people behind it even more so.

I also recently read about how Asian entrepreneurs tend to be more “self-sacrificial”, dedicating longer hours and relentless schedules to their businesses, which seems to back my impression. However, as we approach a more unified scene, these differences are becoming less obvious in successful startups that often have a nice mix of entrepreneurs. People don’t talk about the origin of an entrepreneur as often as they used to in the past and that’s because we’re all realizing how much we can learn from one another.

What is your definition of success?

Moving up the ranks, seeing traffic go off the charts and sales starting to pour in are objective measures of success. Then there’s a more subjective version of success, like having people recognize your brand organically when they pass by your logo thinking, “hey, these guys are great. They’ve really helped me with this and that”. If your company’s name becomes synonymous with what you intended to achieve and you see actual figures double and triple, that’s golden.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I always knew from the beginning that I wanted to become an entrepreneur- I’m a born natural! Being one has always been my calling: my mind is constantly full of ideas that I want to see become a reality. There are certain things a person cannot achieve when they are employed by others. Being an entrepreneur means having the freedom and guts to explore how far you can go on your own, or with a few trusted partners, without the limitations of everyday employment.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

When you have an idea that you know is feasible, go for it without over-thinking things or waiting for them to happen too much. Thinking things through is good and paramount to the process, but if you wait too long to act, then it might be too late! Taking action even if you are not 100% certain of what will happen is even more important. Don’t wait until your plan is ‘perfect’, because there’s no such thing as stagnant perfection. Another key to entrepreneurial success is being willing to take on risks, but also knowing when to pull out or read the warning signs that things might not be going too well before it’s too late. A healthy balance between preparation, risk-taking, analysis and forecasting is essential.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

Always be prepared for change.

Connect

website: http://www.flipit.com/

Linkedin: https://nl.linkedin.com/in/jochemvroom

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jochemvroom

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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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.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

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)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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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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