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Hanim Shukor, Founder of dLoop

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Hanim has been involved in and gained deep understanding of various aspects of the travel and tourism industry, both in Malaysia and internationally for more than 12 years.

Professionally, Hanim mainly specializes in online marketing, product development and content creation as well as other components in the overall marketing and communications field. Hanim has enjoyed quite a number of successes in creating and enhancing the performances of tourism products, generating publicity and increasing yield, identifying new revenue channels and markets, increasing traffic through sustainable and organic approaches and building substantial customer database through creative resources and methods in the travel and tourism industry as well as advocating personalization of content to yield better marketing results.

Hanim has taken her years of experience in stride and aspire to build and develop dLoop as a sustainable and socially conscious online travel marketplace that creates opportunities for the locals and their communities to play an important role in defining Malaysia as a unique and authentic experiential travel destination.

Hanim speaks to the Asian Entrepreneur today about her work at dLoop and her thoughts on the industry and entrepreneurship generally.

Tell us about dLoop.

If you’ve ever travelled to a foreign destination for the very first time, whether it’s for business or pleasure, I’m quite sure you’d have had, at one point, asked the question, ‘What can I do?’ or ‘What to do?’ Browsing through pages upon pages of websites searching for the answers to those questions can be quite frustrating. Especially when you end up with the same boring,standard packages that is hardly exciting for seasoned travellers such as yourself.

So, we thought wouldn’t it be awesome if we can answer those questions for you? And at the same time, present to you these amazing authentic and unique experiences from the people who are passionate about sharing them, the locals themselves.

d’Loop makes it easy for almost everyone and anyone to share their passion and interest with those who seek unique experiences during their travel. Local experts who meet our criteria and requirements can sign-up online to become ‘dLoop Host’. Our main objective is to build and develop a trusted community marketplace for the best life and travel experiences in Malaysia and around Asia, eventually. The portal allows people to list, discover, and book unique life and travel experiences and accommodations around the region — online or from a mobile phone.

It creates dLoop (the loop) that connects consumers and local experts or hosts through the sharing of unique travel and life experiences. We take on the role of being the leading enabler for travellers to be able to design their own personalized and customized life and travel experiences by sharing their likes, dislikes, interests and intentions with us.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m looking forward to see more locals become more entrepreneurial and be able to generate good income doing what they know best and love. This is our contribution to help develop awesome and more importantly, sustainable and profitable travel products at the ground level.

We have plans to work with selected agencies and offer a professional qualification course in entrepreneurship to the locals who are interested in joining us as hosts but do not yet possess the required language or communication skills. We are also looking into kick starting our B2B project of locating and connecting small scale tour and activity suppliers or providers in the country and empowering them to offer their services and products to the global market through dLoop’s easy and friendly online user interface.

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How did all this come about?

The birth of dLoop was accidental and it came about through my participation in MAD Incubator’s 3 months programme for wannabe entrepreneurs, Idea Acceleration Programme(IAP). Fresh from more than 15 years working in the corporate world, I was ready for a ‘reboot’ of some sort and joined the programme with the intention of learning more about entrepreneurship and to decide if it was something that I can pursue, or even want to pursue. At the end of the programme, each of us was required to come up with an idea to pitch and I came up with dLoop. At its birth, the idea for dLoop was to help freelance tour guides to design and offer their own tour packages directly to the travellers. We have gone through a number of pivots and now, dLoop is more focused on working directly with the locals themselves. We welcome anybody who is able to meet our criteria of offering authentic and unique local experiences to our worldwide audience.

What was the initial feedback for dLoop?

dLoop has been well received from the very start especially within Malaysia’s entrepreneurs community. Without their initial enthusiasm and support, I’d probably have given up at the very start. And what has been more motivating is the positive response I’ve received from the locals themselves and those directly involved in the country’s travel and tourism industry. I believe that the time is right and ripe to develop and promote innovative travel products and dLoop looks forward to be a frontrunner.

And how did you market the site?

Our marketing effort has been mainly focused on social networking sites and our portal itself. Since the tourism industry is mainly a service industry, the main objective of our marketing activity is to build credibility and trust. We strive to be transparent and straightforward in how we communicate to potential travellers and hosts. On our blog, you can see travel articles written by myself as the founder and my co-founder, Faith Wong. More often than not, we try to be as honest and as opinionated as we can about our experiences. It’s pretty much what you see is what you get.

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Have you guys faced any obstacles so far?

Every single day is a struggle for us because building credibility and trust is much harder than just buying an ad space online or getting an ad on TV. The modern travellers can sniff insincerity a mile away and they are not appreciative of push marketing. So, it’s a tough job building a credible content-rich portal that could entice, pull them in and eventually become our early adopters. Educating the locals about dLoop and what it can do for them is another major headache. The concept is relatively new in Malaysia whereby the travel and tourism industry is populated by retail-based players, large organizations and government agencies. The idea of a fisherman, living in a small fishing village hundreds of miles away from the tourists’ horde, having any kind of contact with foreign travellers and actually offering them an authentic and local experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere can perceived to be rather preposterous.

Having an awesome team of people is the key ingredient to solving these problems! I am really fortunate that I have extremely supportive groups of people from the entrepreneur community that provide guidance, advice and mentorship without asking for anything in return. Challenges come and go and there is always some problems to solve or issues to handle. But what’s more important is a support system that comes to my aide when I’m on ‘life support’ and that had happened quite a number of times!

So how is this industry like in Malaysia?

According to Visa Global Travel Intentions Survey 2013, outlook for travel is optimistic with travel and budget set to increase. Emerging markets such as Saudi Arabia, China and Brazil are likely to fuel this exciting growth. The intention to travel is high. And with the increased willingness to spend, budget is less of a concern in deciding where to go. The biggest growth in budgets is expected to come from the current low-spending travellers’ from Hong Kong, UK and Thailand.

So what does this mean for the industry in Malaysia? There is so much to do! The travel and tourism industry in Malaysia is still in its growing stage and there is so much to learn for all the players involved. Yes, the numbers of arrivals are increasing year after year but what is more crucial is to increase the number of high income travellers or tourists and how much they spend per person for every single trip they take. Thailand, for example, received less number of tourists in 2012, but the expenditure per person is much higher. Possible reasons? Tourists are staying longer and participate in more activities. Malaysia has an amazing wealth of resources in terms of travel products but they have to move on from being the standard tour packages that can be quite superficial in terms of value to more high impact, authentic and unique local experiences.

Customization and personalization are also becoming more of an expectation rather than exception.

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How do you guys stay competitive?

It’s all about going to the ground level and finding out the needs and requirements of our stakeholders; the travellers and the locals. It’s also about being informed of the latest trend in the industry and being able to be a couple of steps ahead which is not always easy. The travel and tourism industry is complicated. It is a service industry and it is a people-centric industry. We also pretty much try to stay relevant by listening to the ‘noise’ and make attempts to decipher and make sense of what we are hearing.

Would you do anything differently, if you had a second chance?

If I had known it’s going to be this tough, I would have paid more attention to my physical health! Seriously, the whole journey has been quite draining on me physically. I didn’t really realize just how much I have to sacrifice in terms of time and energy. Late nights, weekend meetups, endless writing and tons of paperwork are pretty gruelling. And lately, I’m seeing white hairs. I wouldn’t change anything even if I was given a second chance.

What are your future plans for dLoop?

We are looking at positioning dLoop as a social enterprise. While our business model focuses on building a sustainable and profitable enterprise, we are looking forward to our small yet significant contribution in enhancing the livelihood of the locals who would directly benefit from their association with dLoop. We are also looking at helping the local experts improve their entrepreneurship prowess through exposure to the competitive global market.

We would also focus heavily on user generated content through our blog and forum that encourage the sharing of travel experiences, images and videos. Travellers will be able to access our original content during their search phase and no longer would phase the challenge of figuring out what to do when they reach their destination. dLoop would also adopt what we call ‘verified travel’ approach to ensure that the travel experiences we offer are genuine and unique.No more guessing games or disappointment for the travellers.

A more extensive and exhaustive market validation exercise is also in the pipeline to look at the B2B component. We plan to build an exhaustive inventory of tour and activities operators in Malaysia and create a backend platform that would connect them. This would allow small travel-focused businesses in the country to reach out and offer their services and products to a larger global audience easier, faster and more efficiently.

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What innovation can we expect from dLoop?

dLoop is not just about innovation but we are keen on innovating the way people plan their travel. What we are excited about is exploring predicative personalization as we continue to expand our business in the near future. What is predicative personalization? What it does or should be able to do is to predict what the travellers want without having to ask them. No input is required from the travellers. What it does is to look at their Facebook data and what others with similar background or interest are doing, reading or purchasing online. We would look at how a mobile app and the power of the social graph can be leveraged to provide customization. We want to be the local frontrunner in revolutionizing trip planning through the utilization of semantic technology. We want to be able to fully understand how a person plans his trip from its purpose, personal interests of other people in the travel group and how each component fit together throughout the entire journey.

We are also working on developing a mobile app that would truly be a traveller’s best friend during the planning, the travelling itself and after they have completed their journey. It’s not just about being able to book experiences, accommodation etc, it would also be able to connect them with the locals as they travel through Malaysia, receive and offer assistance to other travellers and share images, videos and reviews
seamlessly.

What are some important lessons you’ve learnt that you could share with our readers?

Build a strong support system even before you start on the first sentence of your business model! I can’t emphasis enough on this crucial part of your entrepreneurial journey. And don’t just surround yourselves with people who say ‘yes’ to everything. Be prepared to hear the negative reviews or comments and take them all in your stride. At the end of the day, you need to develop the thickest skin you can. And get some cotton balls as well because there will be times when you just need to shut off the ‘noise’ that can mutilate any good intentions you had.

Above all that is to have fun! That has kept sane till now. Just have fun and be happy with every single step forward that you take. Take small steps and prepare to leap and jump at a moment’s notice. It’s just uphill and downhill loops from day One!

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Connect with Hanim Shukor and dLoop today:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/dloopexperience
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/company/dloop
Instagram: http://instagram.com/dlooptravel
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://dloop.com.my/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dloop.com.my?fref=ts

Entrepreneurship

Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups

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From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.

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About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

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Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters

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From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.
www.neuromath.com.sg

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.
www.earlymathmatters.com

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at
www.NormanTien.com

Alternatively, you can connect with me:
www.NormanTien.com/facebook
www.NormanTien.com/linkedin

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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