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Jonathan O’Byrne, Founder of Collective Works

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Jonathan is creating one of the most exciting communities of small business owners here in Singapore.  Having watched what he has built over the past couple of years, I am very excited to see where he takes it over the coming years.  If you are thinking of opening an office in Singapore, checking out Collective Works must be your first priority!

 

What’s your story?

I’m a lifelong expatriate. I was born in Europe but moved overseas when I was very young. I have since lived on three continents but spent 20 years in the Middle East. It is a thriving part of the world that has undergone phenomenal change in the past thirty years. That palpable sense of progress changes societies – it makes people optimistic and hopeful for the future. I think that’s why I enjoy living and working in Singapore where there continues to be even more rapid progress.

What excites you most about your industry?

Living as an expat means I understand more than most the importance of community: When you move frequently or live in a third-culture environment you constantly lose people from your life. That puts you in the position of needing to rebuild and reconnect more than most.

Architecture is a powerful influence on wellbeing and from a young age that fascinated me. What excites me most now is what happens at the confluence of community and great design because you are putting people into such a resource rich environment. With talented people, in a space designed to enable you and simplify running a business we become a serious catalyst for many of our clients.

What’s your connection to Asia?

On the face of it I have no explicit connection to Asia other than my business. What you can’t see is the resonance I feel with the drive for progress and achievement that can be felt here. There is an energy in Asia that you don’t get anywhere else, that’s why I choose to live and work here.

jb

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?

That would be Singapore. Singapore is a well-known and respected business hub. It is well positioned in the region, it has a stable currency, a British legal structure and English is the national language. Combine those factors with a government that actively encourages entrepreneurship and the well-educated population and you have a great environment for business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

“A DIY mentality will kill your business.” It’s profound on a number of levels and as a perfectionist it was a difficult lesson to learn. It speaks to your perspective and vision – if you always look inside your business you can never look ahead, so you can’t lead. It speaks to trust – if you can’t trust people to help you, you will never move forward. And, it speaks to humility – if you always think you are the best person for the job then your ego blinds you to other’s abilities. To summarise, the antithesis of a DIY mentality is to look forward, trust, embrace your team and focus people on their strengths.

Who inspires you?

I draw inspiration from a lot of people. Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive and Ingvar Kamprad are all people I admire for their commitment to bringing the highest levels of design to the masses. Intrinsic in all three is an understanding of human need and behaviour and I admire the insight behind the decisions they make. I follow Marissa Mayer quite closely she is fearless for taking on Yahoo, her ruthlessly data driven approach is strong and she is a very inspiring leader.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?

I’m a big fan of crowdfunding – I love some of the new projects that are coming through where people are trying to change the landscape of the cities they live in through these initiatives. Examples would be the Kickstarter swimming pool for the Hudson River in New York that filters the water and provides recreation and its sister project for the Thames in London. It’s such a transformative movement; forget voting get people to pay for things that they want changed and you get more engagement and real prioritisation.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?

What I would do differently isn’t a chain of thought that I dwell on. If I’ve learned anything from being a business owner, it’s to make the best decision at that point in time and not to focus on what cannot be changed. I’ve learned from my tangents and benefited from the experience. So long as you use your life experience to move you forward you shouldn’t dwell on what you’ve done. The only thing you should ever regret is wasting time and that is something I’m rarely guilty of doing.

How do you unwind?

People are a big source of energy and catharsis for me so a dinner and a glass of wine with friends is a sure fire way to unwind. There are few things better than the experience of sharing war stories and having a good laugh with trusted friends. Exercise is also a significant part of how I manage stress.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?

Hong Kong. I know it’s an unusual choice for relaxation but the urban grittiness is such a contrast to Singapore I find it really refreshing. I get refuelled by the energy of cities so I always come away from Hong Kong inspired. I love the fusion of people and the eclecticism. Hong Kong is a city of contrasts it is ugly and beautiful, hard and soft, personal and anonymous. It also has a fantastic art, design and fashion scene, which seals the deal for me.

Everyone in business should read this book:

Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell. That said, I quote The Tipping Point often around the office, probably because of the social nature of my business. The Tipping Point is a wonderfully observed study of the social side of paradigm shifts and Outliers is a study of exceptional performers. His books are incredibly well researched and profoundly insightful. The essence of commerce is understanding and relating to people so I think Gladwell will really open your eyes in that arena.

Shameless plug for your business:

Collective Works is an award-winning business ecosystem that focuses on Entrepreneurs. Our Goal is to improve the drive, creativity and social interaction of small businesses. In under two years we’ve built one of Singapore’s premier entrepreneurial communities with Membership of over 85 companies from more than 20 countries. We have developed a unique portfolio of spaces including coworking, private offices, meeting, lounges and event space to cater to every eventuality. With three expansions since launch we now operate a 10,500 square foot facility and we’re not stopping there.

How can people connect with you?

Website www.collectiveworks.com.sg

Facebook www.facebook.com/collective.works.asia

LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/jonathanobyrne

Twitter @collectiveSG

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:

CallumConnects

Callum Laing has started, built, bought and sold half a dozen businesses in a range of industries across two continents. He is the owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 11 countries and he is also the CEO of Entrevo Asia, a company that runs 40 week Growth Accelerator programs.

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

Benedict Heng, Founder of Mr. Farmer

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Benedict Heng is bringing back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your story?
I’m Ben from Mr. Farmer. Mr. Farmer is an online grocer dedicated to supplying the freshest produce to our customers. We believe in sustainable and ethical farming. Since a young age, I have always been an avid food lover (especially meats), developing a strong interest in all things delicious. That is why I ventured into the F&B industry, working as a junior cook for 3 years.

Midway through my career, I made a move to the finance industry to pursue monetary rewards. I dove into high-risk investments and I made lots of money from these investments. However, the good fortune did not last long and all these came crashing down when I suffered a tremendous loss. This coincided with the time that I had just started my own family and it was a huge blow to me both materially and mentally. It was this crash that made me realize that this life wasn’t for me. I went on a hiatus and eventually, it was only through the strong support from my family that I managed to tide over this tough episode.

I went back to help the family business and this was how Mr Farmer came about. My family has been in the food industry for many decades and one thing they noticed from years of experience is that sustainable farming practices are not as developed as in Europe. This is why through Mr Farmer, we hope that we can provide the best quality products to families out there who want the best ingredients for their loved ones.

What excites you most about your industry?
Delicious and wholesome food excites me. I believe food is a critical component of life and it brings people together. The opportunity to serve the community with fresh produce for a healthy life, that brings me joy.

I feel that there is still so much more we can do to improve the quality of food and bring it to the masses. One of the key components of ensuring greater quality of food is to support ethical and sustainable farming. Due to commercialization and urbanization, most farming practices these days are no longer the way they were in the old “kampong” times. Shortcuts are taken, standards are compromised, all in the name of profit. At Mr. Farmer, profit is important too but we want to focus on the concept of One Welfare – sustainable farming directly impacts our health. Our vision is to bring back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore. I call Singapore my home as it’s where my family and close friends are. I also travel frequently to Malaysia and APAC for work.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It’s definitely Singapore. There is just so much this tiny city can offer! Singapore has been globally recognized for its top-notch business environment providing its residents with developed infrastructure, political stability and excellent connectivity. These factors have given us an outstanding support system for businesses to strive.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Surround yourself with people that inspire you, challenge you to rise higher, make you better and, keep them in your life.

Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my uncle, who is the head of both the family and business. He takes care of our family matters at home and manages hundreds of employees at work. Handling both the family and business side of things can be tricky, but he has shown me that success can be sustainable and done with a conscience. His guiding philosophy of handling business and family is simply, to have a big heart.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Even just one day of separation from the day the meat is slaughtered, makes a world of difference to its flavour.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I have come to learn that awareness is the beginning of everything. If I had my time again, I would have probably spent more time figuring out who I truly am and with that self-awareness, begun to lead my life with more purpose and meaning.

How do you unwind?
I like to spend my free time sipping white coffee at my favourite coffee place. I enjoy taking in the surrounding sights and letting my mind wander freely. It allows me to unwind and gain clarity at the same time. It also helps me organize my thoughts to prepare for the week ahead.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It would be Bangkok as the people there are genuinely friendly and hospitable. They say people are what defines the city and I couldn’t agree more with this. I also enjoy the ‘laid back’ vibe of Bangkok. Not to mention Bangkok has all the good food and awesome shopping choices too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Spin selling” by Neil Reckham. It’s an amazing book that teaches you a process designed to help you successfully sell your products and services to business buyers.

Shameless plug for your business:
We at Mr. Farmer have the best tasting meats in Singapore, do a blind test and you will know why it’s Michelin chefs’ preferred choice. Not only are we very confident about the taste, we are also proud to say that all our products are chemical, hormone and antibiotic free. We also focus a lot on supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices believing in the ‘One Welfare’ concept. Do check us out if you enjoy good quality food like us!

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

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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Zac Chua, Founder & CEO of The Kettle Gourmet

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Zac Chua’s popcorn business validated itself straight away and fast tracked him to the startup world. Zac now employs 11 people and shifts 500 bags of popcorn daily.

What’s your story?
It’s a crazy one. It was an accidental startup. If you think about it, no university graduate would ever dream of becoming a popcorn seller. We crashed our first tech event to validate our idea and it took off from there. I bought a logo for $7 from a designers marketplace, printed some cheap name cards, and built a 1 page landing page. Sales started pouring in and eventually, we were serving B2B clients (corporate pantries) and we have never looked back. Today we move about 500 bags daily, we have 11 employees and we are growing. Talk about a validation that worked in our favour.

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s food! Everybody loves food! In Singapore the F&B scene is brutally competitive and it spurs me on to fight and compete for market share and to prove to myself that I can do it. It keeps me going and I won’t stop until we become the market leader.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore, and have traveled to most of Southeast Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! Even though Singapore has a high cost of living, the Government is actually very supportive of startups. They provide grants for us to tap into, and the technological infrastructure makes it possible for us to compete on a global scale. I believe if you can succeed in your business in Singapore, you can succeed in most of Southeast Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You only need to be right once, and the rest is history.

Who inspires you?
My father, who was a VC. In fact he was the one who gave me the best piece of advice which I shared above. Having one successful exit, he showed me that it’s okay to fail a million times – all it takes is just one time for you to win in business and in life.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of compounding.

  • Mary and John are the same age.
  • Mary saves $2k annually from the age of 19-25 – so she puts $14k into her portfolio
  • John saves $2k annually from the age of 26-65 – so he puts $80k into his portfolio, but 7 years after Mary.
  • If both are able to generate 10% per annum, who would have more at age 65?
  • John of course! But how much more?
  • Mary will have $944,641 whilst John will have $973,704
  • Think about it! Mary puts in only $14k but John delays for 7 years and puts in $80k.

CRAZY RIGHT!?!?

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, my mistakes taught me how to become a better me. But if I really must choose, I’d say take more time to find the right business partner.

How do you unwind?
Poker, Mahjong and Dota 2.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Vietnam! Things are cheap, people are warm and friendly, and their coffee fills up my life. I would love to retire there if possible.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The richest man in Babylon

Shameless plug for your business:
We don’t need a plug. Just try our competitors and you’ll understand why!

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chuazongyou
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zacchua

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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