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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

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

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

Chrystie Dao-Szabo, Founder of iPayMy

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Chrystie Dao-Szabo founded iPaymy for Business – a secure and easy to use
platform enabling SMEs to pay rent, salaries, invoices, and even corporate tax using the credit cards they already have in their wallet today.

What’s your story?
I’m Chrystie Dao-Szabo, and I’ve worked as an international banker for over 22 years. During that time, I travelled through Asia, Australia and Europe, and everywhere I saw how my clients struggled with managing their finances and keeping cash around.

I wanted to use my experience to help them, but I also knew the solution they needed didn’t exist yet. This pushed me to give up on my secure career, and instead look into the innovative world of FinTech for an answer.

This is how I founded iPaymy – at its launch, a platform to help consumers pay their monthly expenses using their credit cards. We’ve grown a lot since, and today, iPaymy for Business is a platform that allows business owners to use their credit cards to pay for rent, salaries, invoices and taxes, freeing up their cash for business-critical operations.

What excites you most about your industry?
What excites me most about FinTech is it’s culture of constant disruption, thanks to cool and innovative products and services coming out every day.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Vietnam, grew up in Australia and worked in Asia, Europe and Australia. Being raised by traditional Vietnamese parents meant that deep down I was still an Asian at heart, so I have a strong connection with the region.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore of course. It’s easy to do business, English is the main language, and the infrastructures like public transportation are great. Also, the government supports local innovation in multiple ways, like giving grants for SMEs and FinTechs.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Keep giving, and one day you will receive.

Who inspires you?
My parents. My father had a successful business in Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon in 1975. After the war, my father was sent to a re-education camp for three years, which meant my mum had to bring up two young kids – a 3-year-old, me and my 4-year old brother on her own.

In 1980, we all fled Vietnam on a boat and arrived in Sydney, Australia via refugee camps in Indonesia and Singapore. There, my parents had to start over with nothing to their names and only AUD 50 given to them by the Australian government.
They went on to build several businesses in Australia!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The number of young and smart people who have carved out successful careers by founding their own startups (or joining really cool ones). When I was starting out my career, doing any of these was not a viable option; it was either working for an accounting firm, an insurance company or a bank.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
If I were starting out my career now, I would choose the path of joining a startup as you get to learn so much about running a business and how to assemble a winning team.

How do you unwind?
I like travelling to a beach or a resort destination and just relaxing by the pool or beach. I also like to unwind after work with a glass of champagne or wine, and a bowl of truffle fries.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand. I love the people and the spicy Thai food.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The E-Myth. It’s a book series that dismantles common myths about entrepreneurship in different industries.

Shameless plug for your business:
With iPaymy for Business, SMEs can pay rent, salaries, invoices, and even corporate tax using the credit cards they already have in their wallet today. SMEs love iPaymy because it works like a credit card, but pays like cash.

iPaymy’s secure and easy to use platform reliably delivers payments to vendors while freeing up cash and providing access to interest free credit. Forget the delays and aggravations that come with traditional SME financing options. Schedule recurring payments, manage invoices, set payment reminders, and monitor payment status all from one dashboard.

It’s never been easier for SMEs to meet monthly payment obligations while keeping cash available to fuel growth, bridge receivable gaps, and make immediate investment in the supplies, services, and expertise needed to drive a growing business forward.

How can people connect with you?
You can find me on LinkedIn or contact me by email.
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrystiedaoszabo/
My email: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
https://twitter.com/ceedeees

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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