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Nellie Wartoft, Co-Founder & COO of Sapio

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From the forest in Sweden, Nellie Wartoft is turning education on its head in the Asian markets.

What’s your story?
I grew up in a small town right in the middle of the forest in southern Sweden. Being obsessed with Asia since my early teens due to the rapid economic growth, sheer market size and the opportunities in this region, I booked a one-way flight at age 18 and I have never looked back.
Since arriving in Singapore I’ve spent four years in recruitment, and started two companies. The business I’m running now, Sapio, is to a large extent founded to solve the problems of economic mobility and employability – common issues I witnessed first-hand every day as a recruiter.

What excites you most about your industry?
The fact that knowledge is the foundation of everything, and with it you can do anything! “Knowledge is king” has overtaken the popular “cash is king” as a universal truth – because with the right knowledge, you can get cash! Whether it is starting your own business, shifting industries, learning a new language, saving for your pension, building new relationships or running for president – it all starts with increasing your understanding and knowledge of the area. The education industry is also exciting right now because it is yet to be disrupted – it hasn’t changed a bit in the past 200 years!

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve spent all my adult years in Asia. I went to university in Singapore and South Korea, have worked in Singapore, and have travelled to all countries in the region except three (on my list for this year!). My friends and team are from all across Asia – Singapore, India, China, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Japan and so on – and I speak conversational Mandarin.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – that’s why I’m here! The high concentration of APAC HQs and decision makers on the ground makes it a place where you can get things done and decisions made in a shorter period of time. The international talent pool, English being the business language, and the well-connected airport also adds to the list of attractive factors.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Motivation comes and goes – discipline is what will get you through the lows.”
Whether it’s starting your own business, sticking to a new fitness routine or working for that promotion – the above motto is what has got me through a lot of lows. Never rely on your motivation. Motivation is a fragile thing and requires a lot of work to manage and keep at a productive level. It is also part of the puzzle in life that you won’t feel great all the time and it won’t be easy – but that doesn’t mean you should stop working towards your goals. Discipline is your best friend through anything, because it’s the friend that turns those goals into reality.

Who inspires you?
My co-founder Ben for his ability to always think big, be crazy and never lose sight of the greater plan; Meryl Streep for using her global recognition and public voice to inspire and be a wise role model for all of us; and my mother for her patience, tolerance and showing me that there are always two sides of each coin – the world isn’t black and white.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That only 91 % of what we learn in university is applicable in our careers. I had a feeling it was a majority, but 91 % is just mind blowing. Sure – it’s good to learn for intellectual reasons too, but the majority of graduates are studying in order to get a job post-graduation. They’re hoping that all the hours and money they poured into their education will one day pay off. Turns out it doesn’t!

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have started studying Mandarin earlier. At age 1 if I could have! I’m jealous of people in Singapore who grew up with both Mandarin and English as their first languages. I’ve been learning for the past five years and I’m still just a 6 out of 10 at best.

How do you unwind?
I read a lot of non-fiction books. Somehow, it seems to me that books are the only medium that can make sense out of this world! Through books I can travel and experience worlds and eras I otherwise couldn’t. I also consider it to be a luxury to be able to step inside the minds of people like Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Jack Ma and Lee Kuan Yew for a few hours for just $20!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Ubud for its fantastic range of vegan food! It’s also a great place to be close to the tropical jungle and live a simple life under the palm trees. It’s a great contrast to the concrete jungle of Singapore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Wealth Secrets of the 1%” by the economist Sam Wilkin. It’s an economic explanation of the stories of the greatest companies and most successful business people. It goes beyond the usual soft talk of motivation, risk-taking and resilience, and looks at hard facts and theories involving governments, laws and economic factors during the lifetimes of wealthy people – from the ancient Romans to John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates.

Shameless plug for your business:
Sapio is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique in-person learning experiences with experts in your community. Simply, a sharing economy for knowledge!
Whether it be a private mentoring session with a top investment banker, an evening class with an influential blogger, or a podcast with a successful entrepreneur, we connect hungry learners and subject matter experts on topics that get you ahead in life. Through content that is aspirational, accessible and actionable, you can access knowledge straight from leading experts and practitioners across the four categories: Business, Careers, Personal Finance and Entrepreneurship. We’re everything you wish you’d learnt in school!

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]
https://www.linkedin.com/in/nelliewartoft/
http://www.sapio.com

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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