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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

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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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!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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

Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

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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