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Ng Rongxin, Co-founder of Explorer Junior

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Ng Rongxin started Explorer Junior to nurture a child’s own creativity and learning.

What’s your story?
I believe in education and technology as vehicles for development in the 21st century. Inspired by a speech by Sir Ken Robinson on TEDTalk, “Do Schools kill Creativity?” I started Explorer Junior with two friends, four years ago. We believe that every child is a curious explorer; yet the one-size-fits-all, outcome driven, education system does not optimize the individual’s potential. And that’s how our journey begins. We set out to research, design and develop a set of pedagogy to nurture the curiosity and creativity of every child that comes through our door, enabling them to build confidence and discover their unique interests!

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s so dynamic! The fact the world is changing at an unprecedented rate, means education has to keep up to speed in order to remain relevant. What’s most exciting for me is the challenge to combine good traditional educational practices with modern technology to bring across better learning experiences for the young minds and reach out to more children too.
It’s also invigorating because people in this industry are always so enthusiastic and passionate about what they are doing and they are very willing to share. Interacting and learning from the the industry experts and peers is always inspiring and humbling.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and breed Singaporean and grew up in a multi-racial and cultural city.
Since young, my travelling destinations with my family have been in Asia due to the proximity to home – Tokyo in Japan, Taipei in Taiwan, Beijing/Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand.
Currently, I run Explorer Junior in Singapore and Jakarta (Indonesia) and I am looking to expand to other Asian cities.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Singapore because it’s very easy to start a business here. The government policies make barrier of entry to start a business very low and thus easy for one to start a business. And I love Jakarta for its diversity and creativity – the young population there also means a great pool of hardworking talents to work with.
I haven’t really explored other Asian cities long enough though!

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“In life, you have to prioritize.”
This came as an important piece of advice to me because as a young entrepreneur, I was too ambitious and had too much on my plate. Prioritizing forces me to think what was the ultimate goal for my business and decide on what stays on the plate and what goes. This helped to set a strong focus for the business.

Who inspires you?
This is hard, because many people inspire me. But one consistent beacon of light is my grandmother. She’s 84 this year but still wraps “popiah” (this is a Singapore street food) everyday for her hawker stall! What’s more, she spends time to help her immobile neighbour with their daily chores. She’s been a role model to me since a young age and taught me many values such as discipline, endurance and kindness just by being herself.
Another important person would be Sir Ken Robinson. He was the reason I started Explorer Junior, and is still a constant source of wisdom and inspiration to me today.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Devil resides in the details.
Often as the leader of the team, the priority revolves around looking at the big picture and strategic thinking. But recently, I realised that while that remains imperative, success is often determined by execution and that’s when details are crucial. While thinking big, entrepreneurs also need to think small and stay on top of the critical details.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Invest in an air purifier for our old office earlier! The team was taking turns to fall sick during that period of time because of the poor air quality! While it seemed trivial, it was a timely reminder back then to spend time and effort in building a conducive (not just physical but also cultural) working environment for our team.

How do you unwind?
Spending time with family, playing badminton, listening to music and reading.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan. I love the rich culture and there’re just so much to explore – nature, culture, history and food! It’s also a place with awesome bookstores (even 24 hours operating one) holding a huge range of Chinese books. I love Chinese literature and read them for leisure. The titles they have are 10 times more than what we have here in Singapore!

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries – Timeless classic.

Shameless plug for your business:
If there’s only one enrichment program you want to send your child to, it’s us.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/ng-rong-xin/ or [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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