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Entrepreneurship

Michael Reyes, Founder of MoneyTree Asia Pacific

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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.

 

Connect
Website: http://www.moneytree.asia
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/MoneyTree.Malaysia
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/moneytree-malaysia/

Entrepreneurship

The 6 Habits of Amazing Leaders

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Great leaders all seem to have this commanding and magnetic force about them that follows them in and out of each room they enter. It’s that something that you can’t quite put your finger on. Maybe it’s charisma, ambition, drive or personality. In many ways, it’s probably a little bit of all those things, which is why great leaders always seem to be the total package.

But it’s also accurate to say that these effective leaders didn’t just wake up one day with all of these skills and expertise. On the contrary: any good leader knows that, in order to be effective, you need to make time for personal growth and develop good habits that hone these skills.

There are many lists out there with great suggestions, but we’ve put together the six most important habits of truly effective leaders.

1. Lead without title.

Some of the best leaders out there got themselves started by stepping up in the work place and self-leading. Having personal initiative is the key to personal professional growth and turning your methods and attitudes into a productive and, at times, commanding presence. This doesn’t mean arrogance. In fact, it really means the opposite.

As you continue to grow and develop as a leader — and actually gain titles — it’s important to remember where you came from. In this way, you can identify other individuals under your leadership that exhibit the same type of self-motivation you did. Be understanding and welcome failure as you lead. If you don’t get caught up on your title in the workplace, you’ll foster an environment that encourages inquiry and innovation.

2. Take responsibility.

And when failure does indeed happen, don’t create a scapegoat. You’re the leader of the group, and you are responsible for that group. Take this moment as an opportunity to teach and mentor those around you instead of assigning blame. You’ll keep the work environment productive and positive this way, and encourage more and better dialogue between your team members.

Remember: failure is ultimately necessary for truly great success, because it serves as one of the best teaching tools out there. Knowing you support them, no matter what, will allow your team to really get creative.

3. Think outside the box.

Leaders are innovators — there’s no question about it. Really effective leaders tend to look at things in very different ways than most people, and they encourage those they work with to do the same.

This also means reframing an idea once the first attempt has failed. If you can continually inspire flexibility, invention and adjustment — and treat them as positives — you will sit among truly world-class leaders like Steve Jobs of Apple, Sheryl Sandburg of Facebook or Reed Hastings of Netflix.

4. Have a vision and objective that’s shareable.

Nevertheless, this innovation and out-of-the-box thinking has to be easily communicated to your team. You not only need to be clear, organized and honest, but you also need to be a persuasive communicator that’s adept at listening to grievances, questions and feedback (without arrogance).

If your grand vision can’t be shared and adopted by the team you’ll be working with, the likelihood of success is virtually non-existent. There’s a reason why leaders have a team: people are stronger together.

5. Don’t be afraid to delegate.

Working together with others means that, as a leader, you recognize you can’t do everything by yourself. The best leaders learn to delegate and the most effective daily habits of business leaders focus on ways to involve the whole team. Accounting for the importance of effectively organizing and delegating tasks not only makes others feel included, but is essential for the daily functioning of your business.

6. Find time for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Finally: remember that all this talk of productivity is useless if you’re feeling burned out, or less than 100%. It’s extremely important for strong leaders to make sure they maintain a work/life equilibrium. Don’t shy away from physical activity or time off. These two things are extremely important for maintaining your sanity and health.

Practice daily meditation exercises, and make sure you take time to disconnect. This also sets a great example for your entire team and has a ripple effect. If they understand that you place importance on self-care, then they’re likely to practice the same methods — which will make everyone more productive in the end.

If you’re toying with the idea of a leadership position, take the plunge! Be a self-starter and inspire others. Leadership can be difficult, it’s true, but the results of carrying a team successfully through a project and inspiring them to step into new roles themselves is extremely rewarding. It will also give you the opportunity to push your limits and grow personally and professionally.

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About The Author:

This article was written by Kayla Matthews, an editor of Productivity Theory.Kayla is a freelance writer, blogger and topic researcher and, because I want to churn out tons of articles and blog posts every week, I have to manage my time as efficiently as possible. I use lots of Google Sheets, Google Calendar reminders, tons of apps and lots and lots of personally cultivated habits to stay on top of everything.

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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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