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Karena Belin, Co-Founder of W Hub

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Originally from Germany, Karena has had a strong connection to Asia. From completing her studies to starting her corporate career and her family, she has now settled in HK and pioneered her first start-up. Where to next for this young woman?

What’s your story?
The short version: I am an optimist who loves making a positive impact on the world. Hence after arriving in Hong Kong, I was easily contaminated by the energy and passion of entrepreneurs and decided to dive into the startup ecosystem to help it grow.
The long story before that; I was born and raised in Germany and USA, with German and French diplomas in business and administration. I worked 15 years for Procter and Gamble in various roles in finance, sales and management across Europe, North East Asia and greater China. My responsibilities included product launches, portfolio management, business planning, organisation re-design and Gillette integration.

What excites you most about your industry?
The people I meet. As Colin Wright puts it perfectly: “Few things are as sexy as a person who’s passionate about something.” I love the energy and passion of entrepreneurs and their teams. They are motivated by a common mission or crusade to make a positive impact on their communities or even society at large. I am impressed by their resilience and can do attitude, and the way they think in terms of solutions rather than barriers. And, I am excited about the technologies, disruption and progress I am discovering.

What’s your connection to Asia?
It’s a love story. Asia has helped me grow professionally, personally and as a family. My first trip to Asia was in 1998 to Singapore and Indonesia for my mid-term internship. After that, I discovered Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam whilst holidaying. Excited by the cultural diversity and friendliness of people in Asia, I was happy to transfer with Proctor and Gamble to Japan in 2005, where I had two lovely daughters with my partner. At the end of 2011, I was transferred to Hong Kong and my third lovely daughter was born. This is where I eventually decided to quit corporate life.

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Hong Kong! The ease of starting a business, the convenience and safety, rule of law, highly connected population and internet penetration, the strategic position of Hong Kong for a startup since it is in a 5 hour radius of half of the world’s population, next to Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta – the manufacturing powerhouse of China and the world. But again the most impressive part are the people. Hard-working, open-minded, friendly and eager to connect. Networking is in everyone’s DNA here!

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Feedback is a gift!” Once you change your attitude to receiving input, including critical or negative feedback, you see the opportunity for change more clearly. With this comes realising the benefits of “first trying to understand before being understood.” If you combine this attitude with the conviction of “where there is a will, there is a way,” you realise the virtues of learning early and fast (including failing) versus pretending to be right for too long.

Who inspires you?
It depends for what. For raising happy children and having wonderful family time, definitely my mum and dad!

For business… A combination of my first managers who taught me; a) feedback is a gift, b) instilling trust to gain back trust, c) staying true to myself and d) who doesn’t dare, doesn’t win attitude (which I probably take today as “act as if you have nothing to lose).” Thank you Tim Seager, Beatrice Dupuy and Richard Re for these lessons! And last but not least, my co-founder Karen, relentless, resilient and resourceful!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That you can start a new career at 40!
Since I began my startup journey 2 years ago (first as a “side project” to my day job), my learning curve was again back on an exponential growth rate! Sometimes, I feel like I have just graduated from university and have started my first job – perhaps due to a few sleepless nights?!

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing! Did I mention that I am an optimist? I truly benefited from my experience in a great company with a huge focus on training and development. Today, my advice to youngsters is a bit more mixed, since a lot of companies had to scale back on employee development due to cost pressure. And disruption and innovation are not necessarily well taught in very large corporations these days.

How do you unwind?
How do I “what?” I basically don’t, I am a busy bee. Partially with no choice, having three sweet little girls at home. I love to be close to them and involved in their school and activities. I am acting as VP of Events of the Parent Faculty Organisation (PFO) at the Hong Kong International School (HKIS) and on the Parent Advisory Group (PAG), enjoying being surrounded by an inspiring and passionate faculty and parents. I also fell in love with my WoW team (Women on the Way-Up) from the AWA. They are motivated and inspiring ladies, passionate about driving diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hokkaido in Winter for skiing!
The best way for me to clear my mind and thoughts is to have a combination of a physical work-out, speed in descending the hills and beautiful landscapes and wide perspectives! Topped with excellent food and a relaxing hot bath (onsen), I’ll sleep like a baby afterwards …. And then starting this all over again the next day –  back on the slopes!

Everyone in business should read this book:
For personal motivation and effectiveness I truly recommend “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I also liked the perspective of “Strengths Finder 2.0,” encouraging people to leverage their strengths rather than spending too much time step-changing weaknesses. As a person passionate about startups, I have obviously read Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One” and I like the simplicity in which he clusters sustainable competitive advantage that allows for monopoly type market positions to be divided into four areas: Technology, Network, Scale and Branding.

Shameless plug for your business:
Our passion and mission at W Hub is to help startups grow and bring their business to the next level. We believe in the power of meaningful connections, so that’s what we foster and drive. We connect startups to talent to build their TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More), startups to other startups to share wisdom, build synergies and collaborate and last, but not least, we connect startups to smart money. And we do that by showcasing not only the product or services of a startup, but more importantly the passion and team behind it.

How can people connect with you?
Very easily! Approach me during events, catch me in a Starbucks, connect via LinkedIn and Facebook or just shoot me an e-mail. I might not reply in 24 hours, but I will reply!

Twitter handle?
@BelinKarena

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

CallumConnects

Callum 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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