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Kevin Williams, Co-Founder of SmartRetail

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Kevin Williams is using advanced algorithms to target the right people for the right job.

What’s your story?
I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. At the age of 8, I moved to the United States with my mother to pursue a better life. I went on to study Speech and Hearing Science at George Washington University in Washington, DC as an aspiring audiologist, prior to getting my first taste of the startup space in 2012. Since then, I have launched and scaled many startups, many in a General Manager role, in the US and abroad. Some of the companies I’ve worked in include car2go, mytaxi, Hailo, Breeze and more. With the skills and experiences I have gathered, I decided to create my own path to affect change here in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Now, I am the Co-Founder of SmartRetail in Singapore and Co-Founder and CEO of FindWork.

What excites you most about your industry?
The retail space is going through constant innovation, from accepting credit cards, to e-commerce and so on. Today, many retailers still seek a brick and mortar experience for their customers. At SmartRetail, we offer vending machines with intelligent smart vending technologies to businesses looking to provide the brick and mortar retail experience for customers, without the traditional brick and mortar setup costs.
In Southeast Asia, there is a huge problem in the blue collar recruitment space. Most recruitment technologies focus on startups or white collar jobs, so the blue collar jobs are neglected. However, with the FindWork app and a skills-based approach, we connect blue collar workers and educate the less skilled for jobs. Utilizing advanced algorithms, company job offers are placed in front of the correct target audience in the app and on paid social media campaigns. At the end of the day, it’s marketing and getting the word out there.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and spent most of my early childhood there. At the age of 8, I moved to New Jersey with my mother to pursue a better life. After meeting my father for the first time only a few years ago, I was motivated to move back to Indonesia/Southeast Asia to be closer to where I grew up, my family and the Indonesian culture. Although I lived in the US for a long time, I feel most connected to Indonesia; the food, the language and the people are where I call “home.”

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
After having lived and worked in the United States, London, Singapore and Indonesia, I can definitely say that Singapore is my favourite city to do business. Singapore is enveloped in progressive people and technology. It makes business more fun when people are open to new technologies, the government is supportive of new companies and competitors move quickly to solve a problem. It’s the combination of a modern society and its proximity to the emerging Southeast Asian markets, which makes Singapore the best city in Asia for business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
While I was at Hailo, my ex-boss told me to stop focusing on what competitors do and instead, focus on building better connections with current users and finding more ways to better connect with future users. This goes back to the overarching idea that, “we’re in the people business.” No matter what the business is, software or not, making yourself accessible and your content personable is very important. Brand affinity and loyalty will always compete with price. Price is the aggressor, but people and relationships are what gives you loyalty.

Who inspires you?
My mother inspires me. She raised me as a single mother in a third world country during a difficult time. She then fought to find a way to bring me to the US for a better life, away from Indonesia. Through many hardships, I learnt a lot, and was always on the path towards success. It’s her perseverance and love that inspires me.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I recently became a little obsessed with watches after getting a collector’s Heuer Autavia (only 6 were available in Singapore). I didn’t know all of the mechanisms that went into making a great watch or why watches were so expensive. So, I read and watched a few YouTube videos and to find out why. The internal mechanisms of great watches are so complex and amazing.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have focussed a bit more on basketball and tried to play professionally somewhere for a season.

How do you unwind?
Most weekday nights, I watch Netflix and/or catch-up on sports highlights. Then on the weekends, I try to find the best coffee shops and channel my inner Instagram food blogger (which I’m not) in either Singapore or Indonesia. I love to travel, so as long as I’m travelling and taking photos, I feel at peace.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I am in love with Bali. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I met my girlfriend in Bali and lived in Bali for a bit, but the island is amazing. The vibe, people, food and friends make the island my second home.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Everyone should read Shoe Dog. Whether most people realize it or not, Nike exerts an influence that only a few brands in the world can. The journey that Phil Knight went on to start Nike is really interesting, and if you only have the time to read one book this year, let it be Shoe Dog.

Shameless plug for your business:
LinkedIn

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

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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