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Jonathan Chong, Creative Partner of Semicolon

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Jonathan Chong’s passion is advertising. Being given his first toy at the age of 13, a Nikon FM2, Jonathan’s hobby grew from there into his advertising career.

What’s your story?
My interests in images started when I was little. My father was trained in fine arts and that really influenced me since my early days. I didn’t get any toys from my parents as a kid, the only ones I had were handed down from my cousins. The first “toy” my dad bought me was a preloved Nikon FM2 that he gave to me when I was around 13. Since then, my hobby grew from drawing to firing shutter on the trusty film camera, which still serves me well today.
I discovered the medium of moving images when I was 15. The use of soundscape (and the lack of) along with moving images, I began to draw my fascination as a medium of storytelling and expression. I started freelancing in advertising in different roles for various production departments from that year onwards.
I love telling stories, desperate humanity is my favourite recurring theme (and choice of movies) and the medium opened doors beyond my imagination. From meeting people at film festivals across the globe, to eventually entering the prestigious Beijing Film Academy for my MFA in Film Directing under the Chinese Government Scholarship.
During my stint in Nanyang Technological University as an undergraduate student in digital filmmaking, I was given the opportunity to co-direct my first TV Commercial with a fellow classmate who would eventually become one of my business partners in our boutique production house, Semicolon.
Advertising became my passion.

What excites you most about your industry?
Unlike feature films or even short films, TV Commercials have an extremely tight turnaround. It is very challenging and one that gets me all pumped up from the moment I receive a brief until post production ends. This is something that really fuels me, the excitement I receive from every individual brief.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore and I fly between China and Singapore. The Chinese market is really intriguing but at the same time challenging for “newcomers.” The entry benchmark isn’t the show stopper, it’s more about understanding their unique “rules of engagement.”

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I haven’t had many business opportunities in Asia apart from Japan, India, Australia and China. While China is known for its film industry especially in Beijing, Shanghai has a very vibrant advertising scene, the project briefs they receive are sometimes really out of this world as compared to the limited market we have in Singapore. As such, the times I’ve been in Shanghai have really opened my eyes.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
My father lifted this proverb from a Classic Chinese literature, 塞翁失馬,焉知非福 (Sài Wēng Shī Mǎ, Yān Zhī Fēi Fú). It is a story about the the old man who lost his horse but a series of events thereafter would prove that everything that happens leads on to effects (good or bad) that in turn become a cause for something else altogether.
Basically it’s a story meant to remind me to take everything in my stride because nothing is as good or bad as it seems, it is all effects and causality.
This advice has always helped to keep me grounded.

Who inspires you?
There are too many for different reasons but the champion would have to be my father.
From the early influence in fine arts and photography, to my eventual passion in advertising, it was my father who educated me and inspired me to become who I am today. He supported me throughout, including my decision to start my own production house instead of inheriting the family business. His advice always keeps me in check and often proves invaluable.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Wookie suits are made from human hair.
Wild life documentary filmmakers and researchers use Calvin Klein’s “Obsession” to lure animals to the camera.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would probably do everything just the way I did. My decisions made me who I am today and I’m pretty content having a career out of my passion.

How do you unwind?
Scotch and music. I listen to a wide genre of music. It really depends on the mood but scotch always works. That is why you will always find a bottle or 2 in our studio and they run out fast.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
This one’s based purely on the fact that I drive a 1973 Land Rover Series 3, off-roading and camping by the waterfalls in the various campsites in Malaysia has been the best form of relaxation for me. Sitting in the water with a cold one in hand, lying in the hammock with a book while listening to the waterfalls and when night approaches, a campfire and grill, seals the deal.
I have yet to drive beyond Pahang, so I guess it’s Malaysia for now.
I can’t explain why, you’ll have to give it a try.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Caroline L. Arnold’s – Small Move, Big Change.

Shameless plug for your business:
Semicolon was co-founded along with 2 school mates. Each of us have a very unique fields and areas of interest. Like a semicolon, connecting interdependent and sometimes opposing statements, we are a young, diverse bunch with backgrounds spanning across the various creative disciplines with an uncanny ability to make seemingly dissonant ideas work in perfect unison.
We seek new forms of expression through various mediums of advertising and that becomes a joy and pride in every individual project brief that comes to us with the key interest of our client’s brand activation.
Visit us at www.semicolon.asia

How can people connect with you?
Drop me an email for a chat. [email protected]

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]om 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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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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