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Omar Taheri, Founder of Spark Plus

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Omar Taheri recently set up Spark Plus to disrupt the corporate access space.

What’s your story?
My name is Omar Taheri and I am the founder and CEO of Spark Plus. I was born in India to a mixed background family. My father was essentially a refugee from Afghanistan and my mother is a mixed background of Russian and Indian. I moved to Germany when I was 2 years old and lived there until I was 10. Then I moved to Australia for high school and university. I have been living in Singapore for the last 5 years at various financial institutions such as Bloomberg, Eurekahedge, and most recently Swiss-Asia where I grew the hedge fund platform business. I think I always realized that I was a decent networker and wanted to put my skills to use. I had previously already set up a hedge fund networking event that still holds its legacy, and most recently I have set up Spark Plus to disrupt the corporate access space.

What excites you most about your industry?
The most exciting thing for me about my industry in financial services, is that you get to deal with very bright people. I am constantly learning from others and keeping up with the fast paced changes that occur.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I think that my multicultural background of having Asian and Western values keeps me very much in line with what I do. I bring interesting businesses that are listed (usually in the West) and connect them with investors in Asia. Bridging that gap is something that I have always enjoyed doing.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore would definitely be my favourite city for doing business. For one it’s extremely conducive to doing business as people keep a very open mind. Everyone will take at least one meeting with you and hear you out. Another reason is that most of the business takes place in the heart of the CBD which makes the “wasting of time” rather minimal.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Always believe in yourself, and trust your instincts. There is really no better piece of advise that I have received until this date. A lot of people in your journey, be it in life or business will offer you some sort of advice (be it good or bad), but in the end we need to be able to believe in ourselves to get anything done.

Who inspires you?
My father is one of my biggest inspirations. He was able to flee a war in Afghanistan and come out alive. He really worked hard to make a life for our family. Growing up, we never had wealth, but I always had food on the table and roof over my head. He gave me the opportunity to be anything I ever wanted to be, and for that reason alone, he is my inspiration.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
One of the most amazing things that I have learnt recently that has given me extra drive and motivation is to really ignore external validation. The key is to shift from external to internal validation and this will give you a lot more happiness in life.
A question perhaps to ask is as follows:
Would you rather be the most intelligent person on earth but considered the stupidest? Or the stupidest person on earth but considered the most intelligent?
I now keep an inner scorecard rather than an outer one. What is really key is to be happy, so always treat external praise and negativity with compose disinterest and a strong filter.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing at all, otherwise I wouldn’t be learning.

How do you unwind?
I usually unwind by taking my dog to the park and letting her run around, it’s quite a relaxing sight for me seeing an animal run around freely. I also try and go to the gym and just let all the negative energy out through working out.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali for sure. It’s one of those destinations where I really feel disconnected from the rest of the world. Just being able to enjoy a nice white sandy beach and feel like you are in a forgotten paradise is priceless. I really enjoy just getting a massage and tuning out, and enjoying the lovely food that Bali has to offer.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Tools of Titans” by Timothy Ferriss. My favorite book in terms of learning routines, habits and tactics that billionaires, icons, and world performing athletes do to get through their day.

Shameless plug for your business:
Spark Plus brings listed companies to Asia to do a roadshow and meet with investors. We bring interesting companies to meet with family offices, hedge funds, institutional investors and wealth managers. We currently have 40 listed company clients mainly listed on the ASX, TSX, and LSE.
We are looking to work with listed companies and do their non-deal roadshows in Asia. If you want to find out more about our product please visit and sign up on our website www.sparkplus.org

How can people connect with you?
The best means to contact me is via email on [email protected] alternatively please add me on linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/omar-taheri-2bb56725/

Twitter handle?
https://twitter.com/Spark_Plus

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

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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Callum Connects

Ray Ferguson, Founder of Caber Partners

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Ray Ferguson left the banking world and returned to Asia to explore exciting fintech opportunities.

What’s your story?
I am the Founder of Caber Partners, a Singapore based MAS Licensed Fund Manager and Financial Advisor investing and working with companies focused exclusively on the intersection of finance and technology. I work specifically in the areas of payments, insurance, wealth management, alternative lending and blockchain.

I am also Chairman of Singapore Life which was founded last year. It is the first new local life company in Singapore. Concurrently, I chair Youtap a business which is creating a cashless e-money processing backbone providing real-time interoperable settlements of all consumer e-money payments to the merchants, e-money providers, retail and FMCG distribution groups, and banks across emerging markets.

My 30 year journey as a banker had its main leg with Standard Chartered Bank, where I held multiple country chief executive and regional leadership roles across four continents. I spent 6 years as Regional CEO, South East Asia and Chief Executive, Singapore. After Standard Chartered, I moved to Bank ABC, Bahrain and assumed the role of Group Chief Banking Officer where I took care of the group’s banking businesses worldwide.
Last year, I decided to step down after 3 years from my role with Bank ABC to return to Asia to pursue interesting and exciting opportunities that fintech disruption was providing.

What excites you most about your industry?
The sheer pace of technological innovation in the financial sector, and how it is up-ending the traditional models and traditional players. There are huge implications and benefits for efficiency, transparency and importantly financial inclusion which will drive growth in emerging markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have lived in and worked in Asia for more than 30 years. I first came to Singapore in 1994 and today I am a proud Singapore citizen, and to me Singapore is home.

Its an invigorating environment. Asia is in the middle of an historic transformation. If it continues to follow its recent trajectory, by 2050 its per capita income could rise sixfold in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms to reach Europe’s levels today. It would make some 3 billion additional Asians affluent by current standards. By nearly doubling its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) to 52 percent by 2050, Asia would regain the dominant economic position it held some 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution. This is a big deal and I’m excited to be part of it!

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore! Singapore is known for being a business-friendly country and it was crowned the best country in World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business List” and ranks as the top 3 in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitive Index.” Singapore is an attractive hub, for both businesses and has a great community to live in.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Listen intently and you will know what you don’t know.

Who inspires you?
Nelson Mandela

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That the global mobile wallet market was valued at approximately USD 594 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach approximately USD 3,100 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of around 32% between 2017 and 2022.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have learnt to code.

How do you unwind?
Exercise, golf and sailing large catamarans.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket. Easy to reach, Thai people and service, breadth of choice of locations/accomodation and great sailing weather.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Good to Great – Jim Collins. It’s about how companies transition from being good companies to great companies, and how and why most companies fail to make the transition.

Shameless plug for your business:
Caber Partners team is uniquely connected with our networks and experience in fintech markets, investing and banking and business growth solutions throughout Asia and across the emerging world.

How can people connect with you?
Come connect with me through my LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rayfergusonscb

Twitter handle?
Rayferguson888

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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