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Entrepreneurship

Philipp Kristian Diekhöner, Singapore Organiser of DrinkEntrepreneurs

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Blending an ecletic range of skills from design thinking and innovation consultancy to brand and design leadership in a whirlwind career, Philipp is best described as an integrative thinker who loves to create, facilitate and curate beautiful alternatives to the status quo.

A colourful melange of east and west with an infectiously optimistic vision of the future, Philipp nurtures a passion for transforming people’s perspectives of the everyday, turning complex realities into intriguingly simple and intuitive solutions through the alchemy of brand and business innovation.

An avid design thinker, Philipp enjoys galvanising teams and nurturing vibrant innovation cultures, translating creativity and vision into sustainable business and social impact. Inspired by the Bauhaus school of thought and his early-age exposure to Asian culture and heritage, he loves to invent better and sustainable models of value creation that elegantly fuse simplicity and functionality with beauty, poetic value and cultural relevance.

Advising SMEs, blue-chip clients and the public sector in various capacities, he has had the chance to impact diverse industries, including healthcare, travel management, professional services, hospitality, events, software, telecommunications and real estate. Driving change as a management consultant, entrepreneur, brand strategist, lecturer and innovation facilitator in Singapore, Germany, Netherlands and France, Philipp is an explorer at heart: A continual source of novel methodology, his contributions challenge industry practice with more effective alternatives.

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What exactly is Drinkentrepreneurs and what is its objective?

DrinkEntrepreneurs is the world’s largest startup networking event organized 100% by volunteers. Entrepreneurship is the single most accessible form of economic empowerment. We’re dedicated to spread the word and share our passion for entrepreneurial ways of life, linking people from various stages of the entrepreneurial journey, all industries and all walks of life. Our events are co-created by an eclectic bunch of people who learn, laugh and enrich each others’ perspective in a relaxed atmosphere accompanied by a drink or two.


Could you walk us through the process of starting up Drinkentrepreneurs in Europe and Singapore?

DrinkEntrepreneurs is spread by a growing group of organisers and supporters. In 2013, my friend Pol Maire went on exchange to Singapore and hosted the very first de in Singapore. We decided to find a way of keep the event alive together, and as he left for France a couple of months later, I took over. Thanks to some luck and a great crowd, we’re now looking back on a formidable year and, very recently, a nomination by I-S magazine as a contender for best creative networking event of the year. Without Pol, we wouldn’t be here today.

How has it been like managing the organization since?

It’s fantastic to be working with close to a hundred passionate volunteer organisers around the globe. That said, rolling out initiatives internationally is a challenge, as we are extremely organic and coordination is challenging given multiple time zones and interfering day jobs. That said the culture and spirit of our events is really what matters most, so it’s remarkable and surprising that we somehow manage to spread it around the globe with minimal overhead in managing the organization itself.

Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup? How did you overcome it?

It’s tempting to take up sponsorship offers, but until recently we have been very restrictive as regards that. Only in 2014 did de globally begin to open up and endorse a more commercial perspective, as we started to realise that our network offered immense value to companies and that it would be great for top brands to amplify our cause. We’re quite proud that we build de to its considerable size without any investment or sponsorship, but now it’s time to enter a new stage, in which we focus more on nurturing the right regional partnerships.

How was the initial reaction towards DrinkEntrepreneurs. Were there different responses in Europe vs. Singapore?

In Singapore, people weren’t used to the type of relaxed, laid-back networking event that de is, and to our great delight it was received very positively from the start. Little is as motivating as doing something you know people are looking for. I like to think we owe it to our awesome crowd that we’ve become a key element in the startup ecosystem here in Singapore.

How did you guys build traction for the events at your respective locations?

Things started rolling quickly – apart from submissions to the liste27 and a few other start-up calendars in initial month, we relied on word-of-mouth and organic spread. Within three months, the average crowd stabilized around 50-70, which was just right for me to still get a chance to speak with everyone as a host. This is the personal touch we’re keen to retain in all our events.

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What can you tell us about the industry? Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

We started our first event business nearly a decade ago, and I’ve always loved pioneering events that become cultural formats and serve as a watering hold for like-minded but diverse crowds. Events are nothing but experiences – as organisers, we simply allow them to happen in a way that delights attendees. I like to think that, to create a great event, your objective cannot be commercial. Recall for once the best ones you’ve been to – probably private parties, corporate anniversaries, or nightlife events celebrating an occasion or lifestyle. Notice how the primary objective of such events is to celebrate the moment – that’s what exceptional events do extremely well. A word of advice – if you want to make a lot of money in events, there are two options: Create amazing events with no agenda and keep people coming back for more, or go for low-key events that lure in the masses. As an attendee, I encourage you to mingle with the right people and show up at the right events – I’ve not had to pay for any single one I frequented in the past year.

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?

People enjoy our events, and they’re free. We have recruiters, VCs, start-ups, corporate crowd and visitors from the region joining us, who together make for a truly interesting bunch. People take initiative to say (and compliment us) that we’re very different from the rest of events out there. That’s all there is to it, really. (A big thanks to everyone supporting us, btw.)

What are your future plans for Drinkentrepreneurs?

Globally, we’re working on a novel platform allowing entrepreneurs to connect internationally to offline networks and resources. Regionally, we’re building partnerships with corporates that agree to support our vision for a new generation of networking events. At the same time, we’re expanding our network, and if all goes well will be launching soon in Tokyo, Japan, and other APAC cities.

If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach? If so, what?

Loads. Our name may be catchy, but not everyone understands why we’d call ourselves that way. In fact, it just so happened. While people may endearingly give us nicknames (my favourite one was ‘DrunkEntrepreneurs’), our event crowd is without exception polite, cheerful and moderate in their drinking habits. That said, we’ve run events that nearly turned into a party (for example, brimming the second floor of Maison Ikkoku with nearly 65 people).

What do you think about startups in Asia vs Europe? 

Singapore is trying hard to incentivize entrepreneurship, but I feel people here aren’t the born new generation of entrepreneurs quite yet. Many businesses here feel much more focused on bottom line and ‘just starting something’ than really going for radical new ideas and impactful challenger value propositions. I’d like to see the scene have more faith in doing the outlandish stuff. Why rely on the US to supply it to the world when in fact we have a perfect playing ground here in Southeast Asia?

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What are some personal principles or personal values that guide you and your career?

My life revolves around existential philosophy, faith and a healthy dose of childish playfulness and imagination. Respect for etiquette and tradition matter greatly, but so do highly innovative thought and deed. Above all, I hold extremely high standards against myself and others, while I’d call my self highly compassionate at the same time; counting my blessings and upkeeping and unwavering determination to make the world fairer and motivate humans to be good in all senses of the word.

As Hermann Hesse said, every individual must find their perfect spot on the continuum of individualism and conformity. A friend once called me an ‘eloquent rebel’, and I find that befits my description rather well.

What is your definition of success?

Doing good and doing well at the same time, and having due influence to spread a culture of empathy, mutual understanding and flourishing creativity wherever you are. It’s an exacting balance of adding value to other people’s lives and enjoying life to the fullest – in ways that are faithful to your sense of personal identity.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I was born the only son in an entrepreneurial family… my dad runs a German technology and management consultancy. I’m grateful for never having another perspective growing up. There’s immense joy to be derived out of the freedom of running your own business, and I’m extremely keen to return in full fledge to the start-up world sooner or later.

What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?

In my eyes, a big challenge is keeping one’s ego in check while being super-confident at the same time. And being sure to remember that good intent and purposeful business practice is extremely important (at least if you want to derive ongoing satisfaction from your work). Plus, accept that your product/service will be perpetually flawed, and that you’ll have to keep refining. Complacency and arrogance are perhaps part of the reason why the user interfaces of most major internet start-ups are terrible, and far behind industry best practice.

 In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

I’d love to say great ideas, but the reality is single-minded focus and extreme dedication. Second, a team unifying two skills – creative genius and determined execution. Usually, these will be two different people, but those who have both are enviably the real heros of the startup world. Oh, and did I mention unwavering optimism?

 Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?

Three things.nChance favours the happy (and connected) mind. Hard work needs soft skills. Not judging a book by its cover is only possible if you are willing to read. People judge you not by who you are, but by how you tell your story.

Connect 

Personal Website: www.philippkristian.com

Linkedin: http://sg.linkedin.com/in/pkgdiekhoener

Medium: https://medium.com/@philippkristian

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

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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