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Joelle Pang, Market Launcher of Wantedly

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Joelle Pang saw the opportunity to disrupt retail and started her first venture, Dressabelle, a leading online fashion platform that caters to professional women.

What’s your story?
I’m an energetic and empathetic entrepreneur and market launcher from Singapore, and also a passionate advocate of women empowerment in the workplace. With 10 years experience in technology startups in e-commerce, big data, mobile and on-demand space, I am currently spearheading business expansion for Wantedly, one of Japan’s largest social recruiting platform. Having successfully launched Wantedly Singapore, I am now tasked with launching the brand into the Hong Kong market.
I entered the tech scene back in 2008 when fashion e-commerce was on the rise. Seeing the opportunity to disrupt retail, I started my first venture, Dressabelle, a leading online fashion platform that caters to professional women. After exiting from the business in 2013, I went on to be the key driver for the Data Innovation Challenge platform in partnership with iDA, founded my second mobile tech startup, GetKlarity, and also spearheaded regional growth for Honestbee.

What excites you most about your industry?
My personal mission is to drive social inclusion by empowering the society’s excluded. I believe this can be done through technology-enabled startups and enterprises where technology is harnessed to create environments for marginalized communities to thrive and have better livelihoods. Technology plays a critical role in designing environments for the industry and educational institutions, so as to tackle social and economic challenges, cost effectively and at scale. It is especially exciting to able to continue leveraging my 10 years of experience in entrepreneurship and tech startups to institutionalize the role of technology and entrepreneurial solutions in tackling social and economic challenges, and in promoting sustainable and equitable built environments as Singapore strives towards digital transformation and its future economy.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am born and bred in Singapore, the sovereign city-state in Southeast Asia which I call home and have learnt to speak, read and write in both English and Chinese. To broaden my perspectives and worldview beyond the little red dot, I have made it a point to let work take me to different parts of Asia–namely, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Hong Kong SAR, so as to gain a comparative perspective of how different Asian markets and cultures function.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Not to be tooting our own horn, but after driving several launches in various Asian markets, my favourite Asian city for business has got to be Singapore. The generosity and resolve by our government to foster an entrepreneurial culture has given rise to a bevy of grants and schemes, making us one of the world’s easiest cities to start a business. Being Singaporean, my ability to access these grants, combined with the network I’ve built makes this a no-brainer. That said, there is also a strong need to keep pushing for growth outside of Singapore due to its tiny home market, and to stay grounded with the realities of doing business successfully in Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
To learn to have focus, and stay focused. While it’s great to take on as many learning opportunities as you can in your younger years to build the foundation, it is important to make it a discipline to center in on what you’re passionate about. If you’re not lucky enough to figure out what your passion is, then look at which area you want to excel in. Only with focus can you accelerate your learning and work towards becoming the best at what you do.

Who inspires you?
Sheryl Sandberg. Not just because she’s one of the world’s most accomplished female professionals, but because she effectively finds the lesson in her life’s experiences–whether they be achievements or even her sufferings–to connect and empower people at scale. She could very well have chosen to enjoy her lifestyle as a top executive, but she chose to put herself out there in the public forum to talk about topics that are controversial or hard to even begin talking about; and because of her stepping up and speaking out, many of the rest of us are also able to find our own voices.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Having only been previously informed of the wealth gap in Hong Kong, I have come to see it firsthand while residing here. What really blew me away is how desensitized the wealthy are in relation to the plight of the low-income individuals and families have not been able to benefit from the economic growth. In my neighbourhood, the same person who pays HKD 50,000/month for an apartment also attributes “economic efficiency” to justify how it is alright for the elderly to be going through trash for recyclables until the wee hours of the morning for basic survival.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would take the time to distinguish the opportunities and distractions that were presented to me in my younger years. Distractions are usually disguised as opportunities, but do not take you very much closer to where you want to be in life. While I agree that the experiences associated with my distractions still taught me something and made me who I am today, I sometimes think about the number of years I would have “saved” if I had started to grab hold of opportunities and firmly rejected distractions at a younger age, instead of saying yes to everything regardless for the sake of “learning.”

How do you unwind?
I am very disciplined in my unwinding. I make it a point to take 1 full day a week and avoid anything work-related. On that day, you’ll find me at church, in a cafe reading a book, or just grabbing a drink with my friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan. Because I don’t yet speak the language, I can’t really tune in (i.e. eavesdrop) to the conversations and chatter going on around me, nor could I easily start chatting with random strangers; and I remember how I felt for the first time I was truly alone. It was a very zen moment where I felt like there were endless possibilities of how I could spend my day.

Everyone in business should read this book:
How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen
There are many books which taught me skills, processes and techniques to become more creative, effective and empowered at work. This book by Clayton Christensen used business frameworks and principles to teach me how to think, and center me back to what was truly important to me in life. It was quite life-changing.

Shameless plug for your business:
Wantedly is a Tokyo-based social recruiting platform founded in 2010 with a mission to create a world where work meets passion. We do this by connecting like-minded talents to companies, based on passion and interests instead of the traditional focus of pay and benefits. We believe this this will solve not just the problem of talent acquisition, but also talent retention at the same time. We do this by helping companies to create their unique brand story, and help them to get discovered via social media, so that they can connect with like-minded talents in a super casual but high impact way. We currently have 22,000 companies onboard and over 1.5 million monthly active users in Japan, and are used in 15 countries.

How can people connect with you?
linkedin.com/in/joellepang/
instagram.com/miss_pang
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@miss_pang

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

Andrew Schorr, Founder of Grata

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Taking a different route throughout his life, Andrew Schorr ended up in China and started several businesses.

What’s your story?
I moved to China after I graduated from college in 2004. English teaching was the easiest way to get there, so I looked on a map and picked a small town in Hubei, because it looked to be more or less in the middle of China. I was the only foreigner there.

Back then, everything was about the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, so I moved to the capital after my year of teaching. Pretty soon after arriving, I met the co-founder for all three of my companies. We decided to start a company together the first day we met. He has now moved back to the US and builds flight software at SpaceX.

Our first company, an online city guide, was re-purposed into our second company, GuestOps, a web concierge platform. We sold GuestOps to most of the major international hotel brands in China and still operate it. The genesis of our latest company, Grata came from looking at the intersection of hotels and WeChat in 2012, when WeChat was just starting to blow up. Grata expanded from hotels into a live-agent customer service console.

What excites you most about your industry?
Our thesis with Grata has always been that what is happening with WeChat in China is the future of messaging platforms globally, and as an international team building on WeChat, we would be well-placed to capitalize on that trend. It’s taken longer than we expected for the industry (and us, for that matter) to get there, but finally, we’re starting to see messaging as a platform to get better traction in other markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. I grew up in Texas, where all my friends studied Spanish in school. I studied German for no reason in particular. I took a similar path in college: Chinese and Japanese seemed like languages that not a lot of people who look like me studied. I was one of only two students in my third-year Chinese class.

Concur conference in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (Photo by Paul Sakuma, Paul Sakuma Photography) www.paulsakuma.com

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Shanghai. I should live there, but Beijing has been home for so long. I take the night train down to Shanghai every two-three weeks to meet with clients. Domestic flights are way too unreliable here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t plan too far ahead; otherwise, you plan yourself out of good opportunities.

Who inspires you?
Has anyone said “Elon Musk” yet? Barack Obama would be another.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The gravitational waves recently detected from neutron stars colliding, were so subtle as to only affect the distance from earth to our closest star, Alpha Centauri (4.24 light years away) by the width of a human hair. Perhaps in another life or in the future, I’ll be an astronomer, but a telescope doesn’t do me much good in Beijing.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
When I give advice to students looking to get into entrepreneurship, I advise them to work for a post-Series A startup first and learn from a company that’s already doing things well. I learnt everything on my own, which is slower and you pay for your own education. If you work for a startup that’s small in the beginning, you risk learning bad habits.

How do you unwind?
I Hash! The Hash is a drinking club with a running problem. The Hash attracts good people from all walks of life and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a great way to meet fun-loving people all over the world. It’s also how I met my co-founder, our first lawyer, and my girlfriend.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia. A fantastic beach and where I first learned to scuba dive.

Everyone in business should read this book:
For business in China, Tim Clissold’s, Mr. China.

Shameless plug for your business:
Grata does WeChat contact centers for many top-tier brands in luxury retail, travel, financial services and hospitality. We started developing on WeChat before they even had an open platform. Grata provides the most value for large enterprises with complex routing and content demands for their contact centers.

How can people connect with you?
Check out www.grata.co or email me: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
My personal handle is @andrew_schorr and we tweet about messaging from the company handle @grata_co.

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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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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