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Eugene Cheng, Creative Lead of HighSpark

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Eugene Cheng started out young selling spiders at school. He’s always been into entrepreneurship and is now the founder of High Spark – a presentation strategy and training company.

What’s your story?
Back in primary school, I started selling spiders I caught to friends. I remember it vividly – $1 for a big one and $0.50 for a smaller one. During secondary school term breaks I jailbroke iPhones as a part-time job for extra pocket money. In polytechnic I ran a brief dropshipping operation to pull in extra cash to help with school fees. You could say I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship.
The difficult time really came when my grades started slipping when I was 18. I did not meet the grade-criteria to go for the Overseas Immersion Programmes and longer-term internships. Unique opportunities became out of reach as a result and I felt very frustrated as exams weren’t my strong suit.
I made the decision to join the NAA eChallenge and [email protected] competitions after hearing about it during a lecture and everything changed. While my peers were enjoying their term breaks, I spent my days reading and working on presentation-related skills which really gave me a leg up in school.
I put some of my work on SlideShare (the very first one being: How To Be A Presentation Jedi ) and Linkedin. Suddenly, things just blew up. I started getting emails from people all over the world to create presentations including a call from a large Japanese ad agency.
Upon graduation at 19, I started SlideComet (Now HighSpark) a presentation strategy and presentation training company with my partner and classmate, Kai Xin. Fast-forward 3 years till today, we’ve had the opportunity to help companies like Nike, Panasonic, Renesas, SMU and others with their high-stake presentations and mentor startups at accelerators like Startup Bootcamp and Finlab.

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s constantly evolving and the community is awesome. We’ve had the opportunity to get in touch with numerous other firms from different parts of the world – Hawaii, California, Paris, UK and Hong Kong.
The relationships are cordial and everyone empowers each other to do better because there’s enough to go around.
We get to work directly with really intelligent people from CXOs of MNCs to startup founders creating the next big thing. To have the opportunity to help these guys communicate their brilliant ideas on the big stage is really what makes going to work everyday fulfilling.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve lived here all my life. I come from a typical Asian family with Asian values which can be quite the crutch at times, but I wouldn’t trade being born here for anything else. Living in Singapore is amazing because it has become such a hub for trade and a bustling startup scene.

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Is it biased to say Singapore? I honestly think it’s one of the easiest places in Asia to start and run a business. ACRA let’s you register a business within half an hour and managing tax responsibilities are a breeze. Also, you’ll hardly hear of fly-by-night businesses going bankrupt while owing you money, so it’s pretty reassuring to start here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
That nobody ever really knows what they’re doing and hardly anything is original. Whether they’re 17 or 70, we’re always going to still be figuring stuff out. It’s humbling to know that you’re not the only one confused or unsure about things in life. If you learn from the right people, age becomes a triviality and is no real factor of consideration for success.
For example, most of the sales or psychology-related books we see today are rehashes of pioneer opinions from before, and that’s fine, as long as it adds value. When we do creative work, we often have to seek inspiration from others. Something unique, might just be a combination of 5 other already existing ideas.

Who inspires you?
Eric Tachibana. During his younger days he sold his company and became rich overnight. When this happened, he became depressed. Slurping mojitos and living off the proceeds didn’t sit well with him. He wanted to work till he couldn’t anymore. Right now he’s happily working at Amazon and mentors other entrepreneurs and startups actively.
He works because he genuinely wants to, not because he’s bound by circumstance. I believe that’s the distinction that makes him such an inspiration, making an active choice to add value to others with or without additional benefit.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
A friend of mine (Mervin Soon-from the Pique Learning Lab) shared with me a book called Progressive Partnerships (coincidentally) written by Callum Laing. The stories and anecdotes on how to ‘trade-up’ with partnership and value really blew me away.
Callum shared the story of how he got to Thailand without knowing anyone and built a network from scratch, how he went to Singapore and created value in an industry of which he did not have any prior experience in as well as ‘how to make it rain’ in general. (I won’t spoil the rest!)
I gleaned a couple of lessons from it that will change the way I look at dead end negotiations and opportunities.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d start out even younger back in secondary school. Read more books, pick up more hard skills and meet more people much older than myself.
As I write this, Joseph Schooling just won Singapore an Olympic gold medal and I think he is testament to the fact that young people these days are so much more nimble and enabled to do great things regardless of age.

How do you unwind?
I make it a point to go to the gym 2 to 3 times every week to lift weights. It forces me to make time for it and helps me work off the stress. I also take solo trips to Thailand to get away from it all and get some clothes tailored.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand! For one, it’s only a 3 hour flight from Singapore which makes it a really convenient destination to get to. Food’s cheap and the people there are very friendly and courteous. There are plenty of good locations to get some work done when you are there.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Influence by Robert Cialdini. It’s a really good primer on psychological faults that occur so often in our daily lives. He talks about how to take advantage of it and also guard against it.
The principles outlined are so universal and has given me plenty of insight on meandering tough social situations as well as solving marketing related problems.

Shameless plug for your business:
HighSpark is a strategic presentation consultancy and presentation training company that helps corporate leaders ace their high-stakes presentations. Past clients include: Nike, Panasonic, Dentsu, DBS, SMU, NTU and MasterCard. We also mentor teams at startup accelerators like: Startup Bootcamp, JFDI, Finlab.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: http://fb.com/heyitseugene
Linkedin: http://linkedin.com/in/itseugene
Email: [email protected]
Personal Site: http://itseugene.me
SlideShare: http://slideshare.net/itseugene
Company Site: https://highspark.co

Twitter handle?
@itseugenecheng

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

Benedict Heng, Founder of Mr. Farmer

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Benedict Heng is bringing back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your story?
I’m Ben from Mr. Farmer. Mr. Farmer is an online grocer dedicated to supplying the freshest produce to our customers. We believe in sustainable and ethical farming. Since a young age, I have always been an avid food lover (especially meats), developing a strong interest in all things delicious. That is why I ventured into the F&B industry, working as a junior cook for 3 years.

Midway through my career, I made a move to the finance industry to pursue monetary rewards. I dove into high-risk investments and I made lots of money from these investments. However, the good fortune did not last long and all these came crashing down when I suffered a tremendous loss. This coincided with the time that I had just started my own family and it was a huge blow to me both materially and mentally. It was this crash that made me realize that this life wasn’t for me. I went on a hiatus and eventually, it was only through the strong support from my family that I managed to tide over this tough episode.

I went back to help the family business and this was how Mr Farmer came about. My family has been in the food industry for many decades and one thing they noticed from years of experience is that sustainable farming practices are not as developed as in Europe. This is why through Mr Farmer, we hope that we can provide the best quality products to families out there who want the best ingredients for their loved ones.

What excites you most about your industry?
Delicious and wholesome food excites me. I believe food is a critical component of life and it brings people together. The opportunity to serve the community with fresh produce for a healthy life, that brings me joy.

I feel that there is still so much more we can do to improve the quality of food and bring it to the masses. One of the key components of ensuring greater quality of food is to support ethical and sustainable farming. Due to commercialization and urbanization, most farming practices these days are no longer the way they were in the old “kampong” times. Shortcuts are taken, standards are compromised, all in the name of profit. At Mr. Farmer, profit is important too but we want to focus on the concept of One Welfare – sustainable farming directly impacts our health. Our vision is to bring back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore. I call Singapore my home as it’s where my family and close friends are. I also travel frequently to Malaysia and APAC for work.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It’s definitely Singapore. There is just so much this tiny city can offer! Singapore has been globally recognized for its top-notch business environment providing its residents with developed infrastructure, political stability and excellent connectivity. These factors have given us an outstanding support system for businesses to strive.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Surround yourself with people that inspire you, challenge you to rise higher, make you better and, keep them in your life.

Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my uncle, who is the head of both the family and business. He takes care of our family matters at home and manages hundreds of employees at work. Handling both the family and business side of things can be tricky, but he has shown me that success can be sustainable and done with a conscience. His guiding philosophy of handling business and family is simply, to have a big heart.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Even just one day of separation from the day the meat is slaughtered, makes a world of difference to its flavour.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I have come to learn that awareness is the beginning of everything. If I had my time again, I would have probably spent more time figuring out who I truly am and with that self-awareness, begun to lead my life with more purpose and meaning.

How do you unwind?
I like to spend my free time sipping white coffee at my favourite coffee place. I enjoy taking in the surrounding sights and letting my mind wander freely. It allows me to unwind and gain clarity at the same time. It also helps me organize my thoughts to prepare for the week ahead.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It would be Bangkok as the people there are genuinely friendly and hospitable. They say people are what defines the city and I couldn’t agree more with this. I also enjoy the ‘laid back’ vibe of Bangkok. Not to mention Bangkok has all the good food and awesome shopping choices too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Spin selling” by Neil Reckham. It’s an amazing book that teaches you a process designed to help you successfully sell your products and services to business buyers.

Shameless plug for your business:
We at Mr. Farmer have the best tasting meats in Singapore, do a blind test and you will know why it’s Michelin chefs’ preferred choice. Not only are we very confident about the taste, we are also proud to say that all our products are chemical, hormone and antibiotic free. We also focus a lot on supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices believing in the ‘One Welfare’ concept. Do check us out if you enjoy good quality food like us!

How can people connect with you?
[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

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Zac Chua, Founder & CEO of The Kettle Gourmet

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Zac Chua’s popcorn business validated itself straight away and fast tracked him to the startup world. Zac now employs 11 people and shifts 500 bags of popcorn daily.

What’s your story?
It’s a crazy one. It was an accidental startup. If you think about it, no university graduate would ever dream of becoming a popcorn seller. We crashed our first tech event to validate our idea and it took off from there. I bought a logo for $7 from a designers marketplace, printed some cheap name cards, and built a 1 page landing page. Sales started pouring in and eventually, we were serving B2B clients (corporate pantries) and we have never looked back. Today we move about 500 bags daily, we have 11 employees and we are growing. Talk about a validation that worked in our favour.

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s food! Everybody loves food! In Singapore the F&B scene is brutally competitive and it spurs me on to fight and compete for market share and to prove to myself that I can do it. It keeps me going and I won’t stop until we become the market leader.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore, and have traveled to most of Southeast Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! Even though Singapore has a high cost of living, the Government is actually very supportive of startups. They provide grants for us to tap into, and the technological infrastructure makes it possible for us to compete on a global scale. I believe if you can succeed in your business in Singapore, you can succeed in most of Southeast Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You only need to be right once, and the rest is history.

Who inspires you?
My father, who was a VC. In fact he was the one who gave me the best piece of advice which I shared above. Having one successful exit, he showed me that it’s okay to fail a million times – all it takes is just one time for you to win in business and in life.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of compounding.

  • Mary and John are the same age.
  • Mary saves $2k annually from the age of 19-25 – so she puts $14k into her portfolio
  • John saves $2k annually from the age of 26-65 – so he puts $80k into his portfolio, but 7 years after Mary.
  • If both are able to generate 10% per annum, who would have more at age 65?
  • John of course! But how much more?
  • Mary will have $944,641 whilst John will have $973,704
  • Think about it! Mary puts in only $14k but John delays for 7 years and puts in $80k.

CRAZY RIGHT!?!?

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, my mistakes taught me how to become a better me. But if I really must choose, I’d say take more time to find the right business partner.

How do you unwind?
Poker, Mahjong and Dota 2.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Vietnam! Things are cheap, people are warm and friendly, and their coffee fills up my life. I would love to retire there if possible.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The richest man in Babylon

Shameless plug for your business:
We don’t need a plug. Just try our competitors and you’ll understand why!

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chuazongyou
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zacchua

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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