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Michael Reyes, Founder of MoneyTree Asia Pacific



Michael Reyes, the founder and CEO of MoneyTree Asia Pacific Ltd, Southeast Asia’s largest financial literacy training provider, is a serial entrepreneur. Michael had been inspired to start his own business as a child. While he pursued his education in Economics at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), he had further developed his business acumen by starting his very own tutoring business at the young age.

Upon graduation, enamoured by the advertising world, which offered an attractive opportunity to work with independence, creativity, energy and the appealing prospect to contribute to clients’ business growths, Reyes then joined the quick-paced world of advertising. While Reyes continued to rake in profits for his agency by developing and growing an entire suite of new businesses for his agency, his relentless inquisitiveness about successful business models and fiery entrepreneurial spirit began to prod him to further explore. Armed with the newfound capital and enthused the idea of owning a business, Reyes then returned to advertising, this time with his own start-up. The business flourished and broke even by the second year and grew by the third year.

In 1996, Reyes met a young Polish entrepreneur and following that, was invited to visit Poland. During his six-week stay, Reyes realized that there were tremendous opportunities presented by the emerging economy of post-communist Poland. Reyes had then seized the opportunity to start an import-export business. The business became expectedly lucrative.

In the following year, Reyes’ passion for exploring the underwater world took him to his next venture. He had met an accomplished entrepreneur during one of his diving expeditions, which led to them to partner up to set-up a 3D animation studio. With the partner moving to Australia in 2002 to become a Venture Capitalist in Australia, the relationship now involves them meeting and discussing MoneyTree’s strategies.

In 2007, while the global Recession was beginning to form, Reyes had begun to notice a severe lack of financial literacy in children and youths. News of families who were destroyed because they have lost their homes, and the rampant rise of unemployment had plagued Reyes who had always kept a close eye on the global economy. By then, Reyes had noticed a severe lack of financial literacy in children and youths in education systems around the world. He began to incubate the notion of businesses with purpose; a business that would equip children and youths with the tools and knowledge for a better financial future.

Reyes, with the belief that education has the power to positively change the world, and a determination to create an impactful change for the society, started Moneytree Asia-Pacific in Malaysia in 2008 and subsequently MoneyTree Borneo and Singapore a year later. MoneyTree’s financial-literacy education system was created to address the gap in financial literacy in the education system. Its secondary objective was to gestate the next generation of entrepreneurs who will be engines for innovation, wealth creation and ultimately, sustainable economic development for the communities it serves.

What do you guys do at MoneyTree?

MoneyTree was set up to provide financial literacy amongst school children using the concept of ‘learning through play,’ fulfilling a gap in the marketplace for essential financial education for children and youth for a better future. MoneyTree provides financial skill and knowledge to youths aged 7 – 22 , which would be required to build a career or business, as well as plan for their financial freedom.

How did MoneyTree begin?

The idea was born out of Reyes’ observation of the great need for financial knowledge and boundless opportunities for wealth creation in Asia. Understanding that it would be exponentially more impactful to shape minds of children and youth, rather than adults, Reyes looked towards education as a natural “solution” to address the challenges of a rising Asia.

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

Three of the original founders of MoneyTree Asia Pacific were in Hong Kong to attend a business meeting. In that meeting, it was decided that a business with a purpose would be started and thus MoneyTree was born with the objective of equipping children with the necessary tools for life by providing financial education that is delivered in a fun manner.

In 2008, MoneyTree Asia Pacific starting intensively testing for the perfect teaching methodology to deliver financial education to children in a way that they could understand, while also teaching them other necessary skills that was crucial but missing from the existing education system such as presentation and public speaking skills. As a result of the testing, the result that emerged pointed unmistakably to the fact that there is one crucial factor that would accelerate a child’s ability to learn. That key component is FUN. Making learning fun then became the criteria upon which all MoneyTree’s content was developed.

To enhance the credibility of the programme, Reyes then sought the validations and certifications from various governmental institutions and leading institutions of higher learning to accredit MoneyTree programmes. The support of the governmental organizations such as Ministries of Education and the partnerships from top institutions of higher learning in would also eventually contribute to amplify the importance of financial education to Asian parents.

Armed with the relevant certifications, Reyes then started gathering the talent necessary to propagate the purpose of MoneyTree forward in the region. Once he had built his team, he then set up MoneyTree Malaysia and Singapore was set up. Three of the original founders hold equity and key positions in MoneyTree Asia Pacific today, guiding the Asia Pacific team to achieve the MoneyTree vision.

How have you been growing MoneyTree?

The fundamental belief has always been that three components had to be in place in order for MoneyTree to grow in the early years:

  1. Purpose – every MoneyTree programme is developed must be a relevant solution to important challenges existing in our communities.

  2. People – the right team.

  3. Partners – the right strategic partners to expand both reach and brand awareness.

In terms of talent, MoneyTree has always focused on eeking out individuals who believe in the company’s purpose as well as possess the drive to increase its reach.

Through the years, the approach has been to grow MoneyTree by aligning the company to top corporate partners as well as governmental agencies which share the vision, mission and market aspirations.

What was the biggest challenge starting up? How did you overcome it?

Because of its unique approach towards talent acquisition, some of the biggest challenges for MoneyTree has always been about hiring the right talent. In its early years, much of the problems faced revolved around having key team members who either worked on a personal agenda rather than advancing the company’s purpose or created conflict amongst team members creating disharmony. Dismissal with compensation seemed the only workable solution.

Also, in the early days, the initial stages saw the company bleeding cash more than having excess.  Working on raising capital by means of injection from shareholders and increasing sales activities were the main approaches employed.

What is one strategy that you believe has helped grow your business?

There isn’t a SINGLE strategy that can be attributed to the successful growth of the company. However, the biggest contributing factor to MoneyTree’s success was the tireless passion and dedication, as well as the bond  amongst the core management team. I also saw that it was important for all members of the management team to trust in each other’s abilities as well as to be open to address the weaknesses that existed.

In what aspect has your business grown most, in your opinion?

Yes, MoneyTree has recorded a revenue of RM10 million for its Singapore and Malaysia operations this year.

The biggest growth that can be seen is in the area of the collaborative effort with key partners. Today, more than ever before, MoneyTree is able to call on and work with different partners from the different but relevant sectors to pursue the attainment of its goals.

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

The industry in which MoneyTree is involved is education, in which Financial Literacy remains an key area of specialization. Over the years, what became visible is that there are more people who resist change within the industry than those that promote positive transformations.

In an industry where the main desired outcome is preparing the current generation for an ever changing business landscape that would form their future, resistance to change is a contradictory to the idea, and counter-productive to for its goals.

Hence, one pursuing any ambitions within this industry that involves constant change, must have the patience and tenacity to ride through a long journey of challenges which will arise from legacy systems and legacy thinking.

Do you find the industry is different from the West? If so, how so?

Culturally, it can be said that the target audience ( in this case, children and youth), differ vastly in behavior. Generally, Asians are less expressive, and less vocal than their Western counterparts. In an increasingly globalized arena, it is important to equip the children and youth with the fundamental skills that will increase their individual competitiveness and progress against a fast-evolving business landscape.

In terms of structure, while there remains a lot of similarities in terms of teaching methods and assessments, there has been visible changes in certain Asian countries as Governments start to recognize the need to adapt education systems, content and delivery to meet current market requirements.

What is your approach towards managing your team and human capital needs?

Values, talent and experience are three things MoneyTree looks for when selecting its team members and leaders. Once the right candidate has been selected for the task, the individual must be given adequate support to improving his/her knowledge and some liberties to conduct the job/task as he/she may deem fit.

The team must be operate within a positive environment, therefore a positive attitude from all team members and great drive are musts. Hence when an individual stops displaying either or both, that individual must be removed from the team or not recruited at all.

If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach? If so, what?

Yes. The two main things that I would have changed would be my approach towards People and Equity.

In terms of people – in the early years, there was less attention paid to who was taken in as a Shareholders, Directors and Employees. We should have been more selective in our decisions and committed more time to finding the right team.

Also, in the early stages, equity was offered or given out too easily, as such, it was not given the level of appreciation that it deserved. This ultimately led to problems in terms of making key decisions on the direction of the company

What is your thoughts on being an Asian entrepreneur?

Asian entrepreneurs, in the past, had less access to capital. Today, the scenario has changed, as capital is far more available from governments and independent investors.

I think Asian entrepreneurs do not receive as much attention as their US counterparts, and although this is changing, it would still take some time before they will be regarded as ‘equals.’ However, the Asian entrepreneur, if successful, will be regarded as one who stood against the odds and triumphed – and that itself would be an ‘inspiration’.

What is one market trend that really excites you?

Mobile technology, its widening usage and the lowering of access to it. This provides great opportunities for those who wish to learn on the move as well as those who wish to ‘teach’ in a whole new way.

What is one habit that makes you a more productive entrepreneur?

The need to get things done, effectively and within the lowest financial and social cost possible.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I had always believed that the only way to ascertain a great future is to create it.

What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?

  1. Opportunities are everywhere. Deciding on which ones you are most prepared to take on at that point in time, makes a world of difference.

  2. No person does it all on their own. A great team brings out the best in you.

  3. Money isn’t everything, but almost everything has to do with money. Ensuring that you have enough to go on at all times, ensures you make the Right decisions most of the time.

  4. Never replace working hard with working smart. They were meant to be compatible, not interchangeable. Hard work is a measure of one’s drive, ‘Smart’ work measures one resourcefulness.

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

Having a workable idea that serves an underserved market, that has been carved into a business model that is both scalable and easily deployable, well funded to last the distance, marketed creatively and aggressively to as wide an audience as possible, putting together a team that is driven, progressive and skilled to take the business to greater heights.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?

Do what you love because that would provide you with the drive and tenacity to achieve more. But it is also important to remember to not get too attached to a specific business that you can’t cut it loose if it’s drowning you.

What is the future of MoneyTree?

MoneyTree aims to be Asia’s most prominent Financial Literacy education provider that will utilize cutting edge technology to create a learning environment that is true-to-life and absolutely fun filled.

The future of MoneyTree would see more students in different countries being involved hands-on in learning about financial matters as well as creating opportunities for themselves.


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Women on Top in Tech – Dawn Dickson, Founder and CEO of PopCom, Inc. and Founder of Flat Out of Heels



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Dawn Dickson is the Founder and CEO of PopCom, Inc. (formerly Solutions Vending, Inc.), the company behind PopCom Kiosks and the PopCom API, which provides a software solution to make vending machines more intelligent. She created the company after her own struggles to find vending machines that could sell her roll-up flat products, Flat Out of Heels, at high-traffic areas like airports.  She was awarded First place in the PowerMoves NOLA Big Break pitch Competition and second place in the 2016 SBA Innovate Her Challenge.

What makes you do what you do? 
I love solving big problems and working with amazing people to get it done.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
After working in the vending industry for three years selling Flat Out of Heels in vending machines in airports and nightclubs, I was frustrated with the lack of data I was able to collect from my hardware. I also wanted more engaging and interactive experiences for my customers and after speaking with several retailers they felt the same way. That is when I decided to focus on PopCom and developing a software solution to solve the data problem in self-service retail.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)? 
The fact that I am not the usual, leadership demographic is the main reason why I was up for the challenge. The industry is in need of a change and I believe someone with a unique and different perspective and experience is needed. I look forward to collaborating with the industry leaders and veterans to build a product that everyone loves and finds value in.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I am involved in several different industries and sectors – retail, self-service retail, hardware, software…so I have to learn a lot of information quickly.  There are several people that I look up to, follow their career, and seek advice from. I was fortunate to be able to participate in some of the country’s top accelerator and entrepreneurship development programs, including Techstars, Canopy Boulder, and the BIxel Exchange – the mentorship and network I gained from these programs has been invaluable and very instrumental in our progress.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent? 
I have learned that spotting talent takes time, it takes patience, and building relationships with people and networks to meet new people, most of my connections come from introductions. I focus on finding the right fit for the company culture, there is a lot of great talent out there, but the culture is different, I want us to be on the same wavelength. I am fortunate to have met some great people through the programs I was in that came on as mentors, advisors, and eventually full time team members. I take time to get to know my team individually and understand what their personal goals and ambitions are, ask them what their dream job looks like, understand their needs so they can be happy at work and be fulfilled. I believe in self-care and making mental health a priority, if a person is good within themselves they radiate positivity and are more productive.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I am a black woman so I am diversity. Naturally, we attract people we can relate to and have things in common, so I found that my team was heavily female and my diversity initiative was finding more men…when I thought about it I found it funny. Now I have a balanced team of men and women from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives which is exciting.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb? 
To be a great leader you have to be a team player, my rule is I never ask someone to do something that I would not do myself. I also have a rule to give the team the freedom and flexibility to work when and how they are most productive. That means some of us working different hours and being in the office different days, but happy team builds the dream!

Advice for others?
My advice is never give up if you believe in it. I started my company selling shoes in vending machines in 2011, it took me 7 years, a few failed hardware attempts, and many people telling me it would not work because the market was not ready. I was patient and what I believed would happen is happening. In May PopCom is bringing the PopShop to market, a next gen smart vending machine to sell and sample products. Our API will be ready in July and for the first time vending machine and kiosk owners can understand their conversion rates and have the level of data and analytics available that eCommerce stores have, but better. It has been a long journey and I feel it is just getting started, but I am only here because I never gave up.

If you’d like to get in touch with Dawn Dickson, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about PopCom, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Elaine Zhou, Co-Founder of China Women Equipping Center



Elaine went on a journey of self discovery and once she knew her true self she could be successful in her own business.

What’s your story?
I am very proud of where I came from and I am grateful for where I am living and working today. Singapore is my adopted home and it is my aim to always contribute to and serve this country and its people.
Twelve years ago, I moved to Singapore for an internship opportunity. I was twenty one years old and I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t speak English, I didn’t understand the culture or the customs. Everything was new and strange to me. Everything was difficult, but my parents had tremendous faith in me.
My parents have worked diligently on the family farm to raise us and send us to college. My parents had a huge influence on me. The important things I learnt from them are to love, to never give up, to be a hard worker and to have a can-do attitude. These are the qualities that I embrace in my daily life.

What excites you most about your industry?
We offer more than just training. Our business is a resource to be leveraged for transformation, improved teamwork, leadership behaviours, communication skills, relationship skills, coaching skills and increased job satisfaction and productivity.
Our passion and purpose is to help people grow as leaders and to create tremendous results by serving others well. We take people to daring destinations, beyond their imagination.
My greatest joy is to see people grow, change and transform and live a purposeful life; this is what motivates me to do more and do it well.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in China and I have spent all my adult and professional life in Singapore.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore and China.
Singapore is a very sophisticated and systematic country. It is a structured and highly efficient business environment and people are generally nice and honest. Also, the convenience and diverse culture is a great advantage for people who want to settle down there, no matter if they are from the East or West. You always feel at home in Singapore.
I also like China because of its fast growth. The population and the market is here. However, it takes time to settle in because of the language barrier and the very different traditional culture. But you will also find it is very interesting and you’ll want to learn more about China. The people are nice if you know them well. It is always about relationship first and business second, and when you are in a business meeting, you really have to master the skill of “reading the air.” It is a skill to let people know and understand you; your values, your background, why you think in that way or why you do or do not do certain things. Doing business in China is like swimming in the ocean; it is an abundant ocean and it is full of risks. Always know your values and stay true to yourself and make decisions close to your heart. It will help you see things more clearly and get things done in a way that doesn’t violate your values.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Be yourself, Elaine.” That is the best advice I have ever received. It was a big ‘aha’ moment for me. It was also the moment I truly and honestly looked within myself. I realized that when I am being my true self, and not trying to be someone else, I am able to connect with people instantly in a genuine and authentic way. It is a great feeling.

Who inspires you?
There are so many people who encourage me, lift me up and challenge me everyday. My mentor, John Maxwell who helped me discover my purpose in life; Michael Griffin, for his passion for Christ which is contagious and Wayne Dyer, my spiritual mentor who passed away in 2016. Also, people who are living with a purpose and striving everyday for their dream, they really inspire me. My clients, mentees and students. When I see that joy and peace in them, that inspires me to do more and do well. My team inspire me, especially when they said, “Elaine, I joined the business because of you.” They inspire me to make it work for the team and the business because it is beyond my own self interest. I am grateful for having so many people in my life who inspire me.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
China is a big country, we all know that, and it is also an internet giant. Recently on a team meeting, one of the directors who manages a successful beauty business, shared with us, that everybody is on the internet, especially on WeChat. People are obsessed with online communities – for ordering food, getting taxis, forging relationships, connections and friends. Almost anything and everything can get done online. But right now, there is a new trend; more and more people want the “offline” experience. It usually takes one to two hours from one place to another in Beijing, but people want to make the effort to have a real connection with other people, to attend networks, seminars, workshops and business meetings.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I started my first business when I was 24 years old, it failed. One year later, I started my second business and after a year and a half, I closed down the operation. After several painful experiences and two failed businesses, I started to look within myself, and seriously and intentionally invested in my personal growth at the age of 28. If I could turn back time, I wish I could have grown a lot earlier. I strongly believe that the level of our success is determined by the level of our self growth and we are always learning, everyday. But I also understand it is not the only way to live. I also consciously and intentionally try to live in the now. It is a beautiful and great way to live. In fact, I am grateful for what I have gone through; the pains, setbacks and challenges in my earlier life.

How do you unwind?
I like to stay connected with nature. For example, taking a walk barefoot on the grass and smelling the roses on the street. Having a beer or coffee along the riverside with friends; reading a good book; hunting for nice restaurants; swimming or running.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand – nice beaches, food and people.
Bali – fantastic beaches and food, great people.
Malaysia – Nice food and people, particularly Langkawi, Penang and KK.
Of course Singapore, it is always a place dear to my heart. It’s my home.
There are a lot of other interesting places in China which I am still exploring.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill
The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Tao Te Ching: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Wayne Dyer
Developing the Leaders Within You by John C.Maxwell
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
These are some of the books that truly transformed my thinking and shaped my values.
I used to read a lot of different types of books, from sales, marketing, branding and management to different business models. I found it is really hard to master all of it and I was not optimizing my own strengths.
Entrepreneurship is a skill to be learnt. But it is really important to recognize what we are good at and what we are not so good at. We can not be everything.
Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-discovery and soul searching. It is all about learning and striving. We should try and always remember why we started our business in the first place.

Shameless plug for your business:
The China Women Equipping Center, is something both my team are I are very proud. We have put our hearts and souls into it, to help women in China grow and transform. As a developing country and with the rise of China, people are not lacking in money, everywhere is full of opportunity, but the challenge is the civilizations, values and faith. In fact the Chinese government puts a lot of effort into improving and shaping the international image to ensure it is making progress. But people are still facing a lot of pressure, especially women.
One of our business partners who is runs traditional Chinese medicine retail stores, shared that 80% of his patients are female, and the reason they are coming to see him are anxiety and depression.
Our China Women Equipping Center creates a safe and comfortable environment for women to help build their values and characters. My local team and I are very passionate about our mission and purpose. Beijing is our headquarters in China. We are planning to take three to six months to establish our business in Beijing and grow and expand to other major cities in China after that.

How can people connect with you?

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:
Download free copies of his books here:

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