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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

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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

Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

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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