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Coupon Entrepreneur On A Global Journey To Help Save Money



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 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.





Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef



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!

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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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang



Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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