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Kelly Low, Co-Founder of Breakout

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Kelly Low graduated with first class Degree in Electric and Electronic Engineering from Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom. After graduation like many graduates, Kelly was invited to join a management trainee program in a multinational company that offered opportunities to work in Europe. Kelly took up the challenges and completed an intensive one and a half year program abroad. After completion, Kelly worked on handled project deployment across 80 countries and have managed projects worth up to hundred thousand euro. Having vast working experience across three continents including America, Europe, and Asia, Kelly is able to bring in new ideas and concepts from a global perspective to implement into the local context. Desiring a greater challenge, Kelly decided to pursue her own startup and co-founded Breakout, a real life “escape-game” which she will be talking to us about today.

breakout

In your own words, what is Breakout?

Breakout is a realistic escape game center consisting of various themed rooms, all of which are equipped with uniquely designed storylines and mind-boggling puzzles that must be completed within an hour.

Breakout is also the first character based escape game in the world where participants can choose their special abilities to tackle different tasks in the game room. We stand out because our rooms are crafted with delicate attention to detail, so players feel immersed in exciting, thriller movie-like settings. Our aspiration is to make our players be the main character in a scene out of a movie. Breakout brands itself as premium and exclusive, emphasizing on friendly and efficient customer service.

How did you come up with the idea of Breakout?

One of the co-founders, Johnny Ong traveled to China in August 2013 and encountered the escape game industry while it was at it early stage. He tried one or two of these games and got hooked but at the same time, he thinks there is so much more improvement could be done to make the game more immersive and surreal. When he came back, he shared with a bunch of friends on his experiences. After hearing his idea, I did more researched on the industry and convinced the other that this might be something we could work on together.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Breakout?

When we first started off, all of us are the full-time worker in the corporate world. We used to spend 4-5 hours daily after our working hour in one of the shopping mall’s food court on brainstorming our idea for the product. As we only have limited resources at that time, we plan out everything in details. We know that we can’t afford many mistakes during the construction of the room hence, we did a lot of details planning.

It was a hard time but I would say a sweet moment as it was the time we really go to know each other better. I still remember how we used to spend our time discussing till the mall closes its door to visitor every day and even the food court staff could recognize us as we are always the last people to leave the place. This lasted about half a year before we finally are able to secure a mall that is willing to take us up.

In May 2014, we open our door to the public. During that time, we were testing the water to see how our product is being accepted by the public. All of us agreed that we shall still be working in our full-time job except Johnny who will be leading the operation team in full force in Breakout.

Within 3 months of opening, we have been growing rapidly and was voted #1 things to do in Kuala Lumpur in TripAdvisor and has set the bar higher for the reality escape game industries in Malaysia

Then, we have been approached by many interested parties to bring our brand abroad. As we are very new then, we have turned down a few parties, as we wanted to make sure we could still provide the same quality, if not better throughout all outlets.

Within 5 months of opening, all of us agreed that it is time to make the leap of faith and join in full force to develop and expand the brand. We go through vigorous activities to come out with our franchise package and operational module. We wanted to make sure all of our outlets would be able to provide the same kind of prestigious and unique reality escape game experiences as we did in our first outlet. We now have outlets in Malaysia, Canada, United States and South Korea and are looking forward to further expand to Europe, Middle East, Australian and New Zealand.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup?

I believe that every startup will have it own difficulties while I consider ours as quite interesting. In the initial stage of the startup, Johnny and I started with 3 others friends. Although all of us are working in the corporate world with a stable income, we are no big player in term of finance and experiences in the retail world. We had approached many shopping malls in hope to get a retail store but we got the rejection one after another. Within 2 months time, 3 other friends gave up on the startup. Johnny and I were devastated at the point of time. I had a chat with Johnny to see if he still want to continue with this despite all the rejection and the lack of capital. Luckily he said yes and to be honest if Johnny was to say no, I would have given up too.

At that point, both of us still believes in our vision, however, we might need to approach the situation differently. We went back to ground zero. First with selection of our partners, we know that we will not be able to go far with just two of us in the team, hence on that day itself, we literally pull out our phone and go through all our contact one by one to screen through potential people whom will believe in our vision and will make the team stronger. We prepared a presentation of what it is and our vision of the startup. Within a month or two, we have got Ken, Gavin, and Kawai that believe in our vision. All of us have our own forte and different skill set which make us a more versatile and successful team.

How have you been developing Breakout since startup?

It started off as an idea to bring in new, creative and unique experiences to the Malaysian community. We want these unique experiences to be an inspiration for people to do more to break out from their mundane life and comfort zone. From this idea, we created our company vision, which is to inspire new possibilities and breakthroughs in the creative industry.

We also believe that good products and excellent customer service are crucial in sustaining and expanding our business. Hence, we put in a lot of effort and emphasis in making sure our games and product are of high quality to our customers. By doing this also, will enable us to create a value-generating and sustainable business model to our franchisee.

What kind of feedback did you get for Breakout so far?

For the past 2 years, we had received a lot of good feedback from the customers regarding on our quality games design with strong storylines, unique experiences of our character based escape games and excellent feedback on our customer’s services. Although with all these good feedback, we know that we can’t rest on our laurels, and our commitment is to give our best to our customers.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry?

Yes, we do face a lot of competition in these industries, locally and abroad. However, I think competition is important to make sure we could further grow this concept to another level. We are not the first player in the industries nor the biggest yet, but we aim to be the best escape game company in the world. For Breakout Escape Game, our strategy is to focus on our overall core business innovation to fuel our expansion plan. There are three segments we will be focusing on in improving our core business, namely our product innovation, leaner operation and lower production cost.

What can you tell us about the industry?

This industry is fairly new but is a rapid-growth business concept in Europe and America. We notice there are a lot of newcomer into the industries, some are growing but some, unfortunately, are already experiencing closure due to saturation and lack of innovation.

To grow and expand in this industry, we need to be more creative and are willing to spend more resources on developing quality gameplay, investing in new technology and bring in more surreal experiences to our players.

What is the future of this industry?

I think the industries are very much in its initial stage still and there are a lot of gaps which we can close and create a new breakthrough in it. For Breakout Escape Game, we plan to invest more into new technology to create surreal experiences to our players. Our plan is to build dynamic rooms with multiple outcomes that can change based on the players’ reactions and strategies. Breakout is also looking into creating a more lean and uninterrupted gameplay for players through the development of a unique in-game application that will tell the story and lead the players throughout the game without outside distractions. In addition, Breakout is looking into creating more interchangeable puzzles at a lower cost.

Was there anything that disappointed you initially?

I wouldn’t say is a disappointment but it helps us to shift our mentality in our business venture. During the initial stage, we don’t have much capital to start with. Our strategy was to start to work on the other things first and then to see if we will be able to secure a loan down the road. As the concept are quite new and there is no proven “success stories”, we didn’t manage to obtain any loan at all. End up, each of the founder pledge around USD 9,000 to start the business. The amount is really not much but we have to work with what we had. So we are really careful in using the capital and have to be “creative” in some case to get the most of what we had.

It looked like a disappointment at first, but looking back, I am glad we didn’t manage to secure a loan at our initial stage. It is because it does really helped us to shape our mentality and commitment when our hard-earned money are at stake.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia?

I think it is easier to be an entrepeneur in Asia as we are experiencing so much growth right now in Asia and with the advancement of technologies, it helps us in getting more information at the shortest time and turning it into opportunities.

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

I noticed that Asian entrepreneur are very much communial based while Western entrepreneur are more individualistic in their entrepreneurship practice due to the differences in culture and practices. In general, it affects the way entrepeneur runs the business from decision making to take the next step forward. I do think both sides have it pro and con but with globalization, I think this shall not be the subject that drives us further but instead helps each other to become a better entrepreneur.

What is your definition of success?

For me, success means fulfilling my life purpose of creating love and joy to humanity.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I always wanted to challenges myself to be better in work and life and entrepreneurship are able to provide me the platform to do so.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Willing to take full responsibilities in making you vision a success

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

I always asked myself this questions every time I am in doubt: “Will I regret not doing this if today is my last day?”

Connect

Web: www.breakoutescapegame.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/breakout—real-escape-game

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/breakoutmy

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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Callum Connects

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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