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Fred Mouawad, Founder of Taskworld

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Fred Mouawad is the founder of Taskworld. A task management application that improves the performance of teams.  Fred is also a global citizen, serial and portfolio entrepreneur, and founder of Synergia One Group of Companies. Synergia One is the entity that groups all the companies Fred founded which includes the family jewelry business, Mouawad, of which he is the fourth generation.

Synergia One group operates in 16 countries across several industries that encompass gems and jewelry retailing, diamond manufacturing and wholesaling, watchmaking, food service franchising, food manufacturing, interior fit out, publishing and trade shows, and software as a service with Taskworld.

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Fred grew up in Geneva, Switzerland where he attended boarding school. He received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Pepperdine University, where he was also a teacher’s assistant for the Business Policy & Strategy course. Fred is a Graduate Gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America, and have co-authored articles in the field of gemology.

He is an Alumni of the Harvard Business School (MBA) and of the Stanford Executive Program (SEP) at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Trained in Lean Six Sigma and ISO 9001 and also a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO).

Fred is passionate about improving myself and the world within my sphere of influence.  He loves the entire process of conceiving, starting, and building a business.  It’s the challenge, customer satisfaction, and the creative part of the journey that I enjoy the most.

Can you share with us how you came up with Taskworld?

In 2006, I realized I was spending at least a third of my time following up on tasks. I was using a variety of different tools ranging from Excel to notebooks to write down all the key tasks I had to track. As I run a portfolio of companies, I monitor multiple projects in different companies with distributed teams across countries.  As you can picture the effort and energy required to manually follow-up became counterproductive. I found myself doing less strategic thinking, and spending too much time in the trenches making sure we were executing on multiple fronts.  Realizing the magnitude of the challenge, I had to find a solution and it came in the form of building an online Task Management system.  We built the software internally and started using it within our group by end of 2006.  It was a great success, and as a result we increased productivity across all our divisions.

It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided to build a separate business based on the idea that had worked so well for our companies.  The opportunity was further amplified with the advent of social, mobile and cloud.  It felt like the perfect time to move from strategic insight to action by building a similar service that would be open to the world.  That’s how we started working on a prototype with a core group of our IT team.

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Are there any industry insights that you can share with us?

I think we’re at the beginning of what is truly possible.  The more people embrace online collaboration tools, the more information they will get about their business.  It will make what was previously invisible, visible. Companies will start to see opportunities for improvement effortlessly. Traditionally, companies have very little visibility in regards to tasks assigned throughout an organization, and online tools are about to fundamentally change the way we collaborate and measure performance.

For example: in factories, we know exactly where all the material flows are going. We know how products are being constructed, but when it comes to the knowledge workforce, it’s far less transparent. Collaboration tools provide far more visibility pertaining to productivity by flagging tasks or projects that are behind schedule.  They also have the means to allow team members to provide feedback to each other in order to provide an evidence-based performance evaluation. Based on identified problems, the system can even make recommendations on what to do in order to improve performance. The power lies in the artificial intelligence that can be generated from the task unit level.

Who are your competitors and what makes Taskworld different?

The market we are in is very crowded. We see everything from To-Do list type apps to sophisticated enterprise solutions. We aim to differentiate ourselves by offering performance reports that enable teams to know how well they are doing, and figure exactly where they can make further improvements.  It’s a different long term philosophy, and that’s where we see the opportunity.

We have registered users from 120 countries and what’s exciting is that they cover a very broad range of industries. We have lots of success stories that we’re actually posting on our blog.  It’s very motivating to see individuals, small to midsize organization, and large enterprises use our application.  We’ve proven that we have a general purpose application that allows people to collaborate more effectively. People are enjoying using Taskworld, and are using it across multiple platforms such as on mobile, tablets, and on the web.

How difficult was your entrepreneurship journey? How did you achieve this and what keeps you motivated?

Being an entrepreneur is one of the toughest jobs on earth.  For a start-up to succeed it requires everything you’ve got, and you can’t easily quit along the way.  Your entire reputation is at stake.  You need to have resilience, determination, and the intelligence to adapt and shift when necessary.  It’s all about wanting to change or make an impact on the world around you, and then having the courage to embark on a journey of hard labor and on an emotional roller coaster as the business goes through different phases.  Great entrepreneurs are avid learners.  From every experience they try to reflect and learn, so in the future they avoid the same mistakes and focus on what is required to succeed.

What keeps me motivated is the impact I can make on customers.  I get satisfaction adding value to customers whether it’s by offering them a great cup of coffee or with a productivity app such as Taskworld.  If we can make customers happy, employ passionate people, and make money in the process to continue doing what we enjoy doing, we are rendering a valuable service to society.  That’s very satisfying to me.

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What are your personal goals and what is the future for Taskworld?

To be a good son, father and husband are my personal goals.

In regards to Taskworld, I would love to reach millions of people and improve the way they collaborate.  If we can improve the productivity of teams around the world, we would play a small role in making the world a better place.  The potential impact of Taskworld is far-reaching and a great motivation to me and our team members.

What values do you want to instil with the people you reach and employees?

The value of thinking first, planning, doing, learning and then adjusting and doing again. I want people to improve by constantly learning through execution and then making adjustments.  The key is to have people that first want to improve themselves so they can drive continuous improvements in the organization to increase value for customers and shareholders.

If you could pick two things to change in this world, what would they be and why?

I would want to give an opportunity for every child to grow with a chance to succeed in life.  I wish there were more justice around the world. The world can be very unfair. You may be extremely smart and ambitious, but if you’re just born in the wrong country and in the wrong family then all your possibilities are eliminated and that’s sad. If I could do something, I would give every child a real opportunity to develop to their full potential.

The other thing I would do is to try to eliminate war. I don’t know how I would it, but I don’t think human beings in this day and age should kill each other to solve problems. Those are two things I feel strongly about.

Can you describe your working style and what do you do on your free time?

I always make sure that we have the right people, that they’re self-motivated, and that they’ve got the right skills.  The next step is to then make sure everybody is aligned towards a clear goal. I am therefore very involved in making sure we have the right people, assure they are motivated, and are working on the right projects to create value.

I view my role as a guide and a coach. I fill the gaps where and when required. I don’t run the day to day operations of any company.  My challenge is how to best allocate my time across each company in the portfolio to maximize value. Since Taskworld is the youngest company right now, I’m deep in it and I’m doing more than I should. Eventually, I will rise and build a full team and be less involved in the details. It’s also necessary to find the right distance and decide at what depth to plunge in specific projects. At times it’s necessary to go deep into the details and at others keep a good high level strategic insight.  Managers that get stuck at one level tend to have higher rates of failure.  The key is being able to shift levels seamlessly based on the situation.

My style is ultimately getting the right people involved.  I believe that it’s important to have the right people with the right goals, and that they’re provided with the right resources in order to increase their probability of success.

I don’t have much free time. I like reading, exercising, snow skiing, diving, jet skiing, swimming and going to the gym.  With the family, we enjoy traveling together and experiencing different places.

Do you think education or the support of your government is more important in the entrepreneurial process?

Education is critical in providing the fundamental skills entrepreneurs need to increase the odds of building a successful business. However, it is not enough to assure success. You need an entire eco-system dedicated to providing entrepreneurs with support.

In the United States for instance, Silicon Valley has an incredible eco-system to encourage and support young entrepreneurs with great ideas.  They have venture capital firms to provide the capital and the guidance needed for start-ups to grow, universities that graduate talented individuals and conduct research with significant government and private grants, angel investors that will seed an idea, lots of talent living in the area, and many companies that can support or eventually acquire a budding company.  Without all the support structure, it’s difficult for governments to expect their citizens to be entrepreneurial.  If you have a great idea, but no one to fund it will remain just an idea.

Any inspirational entrepreneurs in mind? Why?

I like Richard Branson because he challenges the status quo and dreams big. He is bold and has the courage to challenge larger institutions.  He also built a great reputation for himself, and that has helped him launch more businesses.  What I appreciate the most is his resilience and willingness to experiment.  Many of the ventures he started did not make it, but those that did ended up creating significant value.  That’s an essential trait of being an entrepreneur.  Having the intelligence to learn from both successes and failures, and always having the courage to start your next venture with more wisdom and flair.

Connect with Fred Mouawad:

Website: https://www.taskworld.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/fredmouawad

task management

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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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.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

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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