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Olivier Verot, CEO of Gentlemen Marketing Agency

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Olivier Verot is a 36 years old entrepreneur from France. He is now the CEO of Gentlemen Marketing Agency, a pure digital player dedicated to the Chinese market. Olivier decided to travel to China about 11 years ago and fell in love with its culture, people and environment. Olivier is now married to an incredible Chinese woman and have a child. He has worked and lived in China since 2008 and have not looked back since. Olivier discovered China by participating to a semester long exchange program at Dalian University when he was in business school.

In regards to his knowledge and experience in both Marketing and the Chinese market, Olivier can be described as a Chinese digital marketing lead generation specialist. His company, Gentlemen Marketing Agency, offers different services related to using a Chinese tailored digital strategy to enter the Chinese market. Services range from community management, e-reputation, SEO to content marketing. All of which allows their clients to create tangible leads and more traffic to their website or online business. They also provide well-though out and captivating articles on our French and English websites (marketing-china and marketing to china). They can accommodate international clients as their team is culturally diverse and made of French and Chinese employees.

In your own words, what do you do?

As a CEO, I oversee the team and take care of the big projects. Besides assigning tasks and projects to my project managers and lead generation interns, I am also in charge of replying to request for proposals/quotation, meeting prospective clients and most importantly thinking through a value added digital marketing strategy to meet our client’s requirements, thanks to my numerous years of experience in the Chinese market.

What led you to your current business?

My passion for marketing, as well as my love for the Chinese culture and market, led me to the creation of my blog Marketing in China a few years ago. As my blog started receiving more and more traffic and attention, I started to get comments and messages from visitors willing to know more about digital marketing in China and thus started doing some freelancing. After 3 years I decided to take the leap, and created in 2012, the Gentlemen Marketing Agency in collaboration with Phillip Lim, a Chinese marketing professional.

Could you walk us through your process of developing your business?

The first step that helped me in developing my business is having a successful blog. Writing high quality and relevant content allowed me, not only to connect with prospective clients who could eventually be interested in my services, but also to enjoy a good ranking on the most used search engine in the world, Google. Everybody do their research before engaging with a company to get information about their expertise, advice, reviews or even just contact information. The second step was to continue to build momentum by creating a lead generation strategy. Gentlemen Marketing Agency mainly relies on online lead generation. Even though I started my compan, I didnít stop my blog and continued to supply good quality content and information for my readers by posting frequently. Thus, we gain new clients thanks to our expertise in SEO, e-reputation, content marketing and so on. it is important to note that an entrepreneur should use its own talents to create his own opportunities. Why should you act like others when you can do better with your own skills, team and strengths?

Did you encounter any particular difficulties in the beginning?

Just like any entrepreneurs, I had to overcome obstacles to get to where I am today. One of the difficult parts of being an entrepreneur is the fact that I had to leave my home country, France, to establish myself in China. This ultimately means living far away from your friends and family which can, sometimes, be difficult. However, I am lucky to say that I have my family here in China and can once a year go back to France. Another thing is the work-life balance when you start a business, I had to learn how to juggle between working hard for the business and still enjoying some resting time.

What is your long term plan?

My long-term plan is to grow Gentleman Marketing Agency to be :
1) The most well-known, reputable and sought out Digital Marketing agency in China by foreign brands looking to enter the Chinese market,
2) Develop the business internationally maybe in Asia or France,
3) Employing more staff to cope up with our new projects and having an overall improved turnover.

Could you share with us some industry insights?

The digital landscape in China is rapidly evolving and changing every day. What you knew two years ago doesnít apply today. To give you an example, before WeChat was born, QQ was the most used instant messaging app in China. WeChat has now surpassed all of the other social platforms and remains strong at the first seat. Basic things you have to know about Chinese digital marketing are the fact that the social media platforms are merely Chinese. The main social media are WeChat (more than 690 million active users worldwide and first market: China), Weibo (a twitter-like microblogging platform with over 220 million active users), QQ, and Ren Ren (similar to Facebook). Concerning search engines, Google is out of sight and Baidu dominates owning about 80% of the Chinese search engine market.

There are a lot of things to say, but I think it is important to note that Chinese are very web and tech-savvy, they mostly use their mobile phone to access the internet and do so daily. A study found that Chinese internet users spend on average 25 hours a week just browsing the web! Also about 90% own at least one social media account. A lot of services in China are provided through mobile apps and the internet. You can book a taxi, get your lunch delivered to your home and even your groceries.

What are some important lessons you’ve learnt about entrepreneurship?

You have to work hard! Nothing is easy in life and even less when you decide to run your own business. Managing people is the most complex part but also the most rewarding. You have to choose your employees and co-workers wisely. Finally, networking and connecting with people genuinely and providing relevant high-quality content is the way to go to grow your business.

Any tips for achieving success?

Have a vision, know where you are going. Also, don’t listen to nay-sayers and believe in your talents as well as your team ability to succeed. Finally, work hard, team up with the right people and enjoy the road!

Connect

My website: http://ecommercechinaagency.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/olivierverot
LinkedIn: https://fr.linkedin.com/in/olivierverot

Callum Connects

Sun Ho, Founder of LittleLives Inc

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Sun Ho has an edtech business, LittleLives. She’s helping turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What’s your story?
I’m just a small town girl who won’t stop believing.
Someone recently told me that the curious little 10-year-old girl in me is still shining through with excitement for the world today. Although, now, instead of being curious about how things work, I am interested in how we can solve real world problems. Today, I get to learn and build everyday on our dream to turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What excites you most about your industry?
Have you been to a preschool lately? In our day-to-day, we get to hear the wonderful laughter of children. We see the innocent smiles of our little ones, who learn as they play. We meet the tirelessly loving educators, leaders and parents who give their best. These are the people we serve everyday at LittleLives. It excites us greatly to be in an industry that meaningfully impacts the future of our world. When we see a new feature we have implemented in our system helping to shave off minutes or hours of administrative work for schools (and put a smile on many faces), it is deeply satisfying.

What’s your connection to Asia?
LittleLives started in Singapore. We have since expanded to multiple cities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. Everywhere we go, we gain unique insights about different cultures. One thing that remains unchanged around the world is the passion to improve education. This includes the desire to refine school processes too. I absolutely love the people I work with, in schools and in my own team overseas. They have taught me so much about their cultures and countries.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It is so hard to choose one. We love Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Beijing and pretty much every city we have visited. Setting up in multiple Asian cities has really become faster and more transparent than ever before. What a time to be alive and working on a startup, and even more so for a young woman in Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to yourself.

As a woman and as the founder of a tech startup, I have heard the many ways in which people express their surprise that I do not fit into – for lack of a better word – the norm. I am my own mix of feminine and geeky. I have a computer science background that I am passionate about and, at the same time, I love fun aesthetics and product development. Technology is an industry in which venture capitalists traditionally favour white, male founders as the stats show a concentration of success in this small demographic. Despite this, I have found that the people around me will respect me for being me because I let my personality and passion take the stage.

Who inspires you?
Beth Fredericks, the Executive Director at Wheelock College. She is a wonderful educator, leader and orator. At 67, she is as active as any young teacher and as wise as the oldest, most experienced professor. She has inspired so many early childhood educators with her stories, her teaching and above all, her warmth and delightful personality. She has contributed so much to the early childhood field here in Asia, and all over the world, over the span of her illustrious career. Her charm and kind heart makes her one of the most sought-after collaborators in our industry today. Yet, she remains humble, approachable and personable. Her enthusiasm for education and children, coupled with her infectious humour, are what I aspire to.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
What continues to blow me away every time I witness it, is incredible potential that can be unlocked when a great team comes together. When you put together bright, experienced, communicative and open-minded people in a team, miracles can happen.

Creative ideas that were recently put forth in a small ad-hoc project team are now being turned into a new product that LittleLives will soon offer. When we first began discussions, we had no idea where they would take us; the only thing we knew definitively was that we wanted to help educators gain better access to resources to help them in their everyday classroom. It all fell into place when our team started brainstorming ideas that were based on the problems we knew were present in early childhood education.

Now, we have the trial version of a new module, LittleAcademy, and I am in awe of how all of this came together. I would like to quote Margaret Mead here, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I would not change a thing. We made so many mistakes when we started this journey, but the lessons we learnt from our failures are what make us stronger today.

On a related note, there is this beautiful quote from Batman Begins:
Thomas Wayne asked, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

How do you unwind?
It is important for us to allow our body, mind and soul to unwind and recharge. Badminton is my go-to exercise. I play twice weekly to keep fit and nimble. Recently I have picked up Yoga Nidra with an excellent instructor who has opened my eyes to all the good that meditation does for our minds.

Beyond this, I find that spending time with my loved ones, friends and teammates helps me feel grounded and loved.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I travelled to China twice last year and truly fell in love with the country. It provides such a rich variety of experiences, from culture and art, to commerce and tech. I was in a constant state of amazement. It is a fast advancing nation that I really enjoy my time in, both learning and relaxing with the people I meet.

Everyone in business should read this book:
High Output Management by Andrew Grove, late CEO and Chairman of Intel. This is a book written in the 90s, but its ideas are still very much applicable to businesses today.

Andy lays out what you need to do to successfully manage your business in simple and concise terms. This does not mean that it is easy to grow as successfully as Intel did, but the book shows us that the path to greatness is apparent. What I personally love about this book is that it presents its ideas both logically and emotionally without judgement.

On the issue of an underperforming teammate, Andy offers a very simple explanation:
“When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.”

And as a manager, all you can do is to train and motivate.

This is an excellent review of the book by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz: https://a16z.com/2015/11/13/high-output-management/
I highly recommend this book to all entrepreneurs.

Shameless plug for your business:
LittleLives is a leading preschool edtech company with a strong presence in over 700 schools in Singapore, 20 in Vietnam, 130 in China and 100 in Malaysia. LittleLives develops and provides applications that allow preschools to record children’s administrative records digitally, from attendance-taking to portfolio management. In addition to reducing the hassle of physical filing and documentation, the LittleLives system allows parents to keep track of the progress of their children’s learning at school through LittleLives parents’ app.

As an edtech company, LittleLives does more than facilitate day-to-day school operations. In 2017, LittleLives hosted the first ever International Pre-school Conference in Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by educators representing 1200 preschools in the region. LittleLives has helped over 215,000 children, 430,000 parents and 23,000 teachers bring schools into the 21st century and we are hoping to continue empowering many more around the world.

Reach out to us if you are involved in education or entrepreneurship. We’re always happy to chat!

How can people connect with you?
Just drop me an email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
With so much to say, 140 characters is not enough. Hence, it is best to follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/littlelivesbigdreams), Instagram (littlelives_inc), YouTube (youtube.com/user/hosunSG), and check out our LittleLives Blog (blog.littlelives.com) to get to know us better!

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

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

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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