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Prukalpa Sankar, Co-founder of Social Cops

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Prukalpa is the co-founder of Social Cops, a technology social enterprise that harnesses citizen voice as a powerful resource and builds synergystic, connected communities. She started building communities using technology from the age of 10 when she hardcoded an HTML website for Harry Potter Fans around the world. In her university days, she founded the Singapore Entrepreneurship Challenge which unites over 150+ startups and youth in Singapore every year and led teams of 20+ people in university. A certified workaholic, you’ll probably find her penning down thoughts or reading when she’s not working. She also writes a monthly column at Inc42. She has previously worked in the business divisions of Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil. She studied Engineering and Entrepreneurship at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and is currently based out of New Delhi, India.

This week, the Asian Entrepreneur interviews Prukalpa about her entrepreneurial experience working on Social Cops and her thoughts on Asian startups.

What exactly is Social Cops?

Communities are disengaged – citizen voice is not harnessed in any form except media & forums, public agencies have no way of connecting with citizens and there is a lack of a channel to enable data driven decisions. We use web, mobile and voice to crowd source citizen data, engage citizens, and analytics to create connected, synergistic communities.

We empower stakeholders and change makers – be it public agencies, NGOs or just citizen groups to pick up the platform, decide what issue and demographic they want to engage and deploy the platform (depending on whether voice, SMS, Web and Smartphone channels suit them best)

How did you come up with the idea of Social Cops?

Social Cops started when we were in our final year university in Singapore. There were a lot of on-ground protests happening at that time and we saw that the public wanted to be actively involved in the community but their voices were not resulting in any long lasting change. On the other hand, we began to realize the impact of basic issues around us – In India alone 3 people die every hour due to accidents caused by bad roads. Poor waste management leading to diseases, Traffic Congestion leading to accidents, lack of access to public utilities – The basic nature of these problems and the magnitude of their impact frustrated and fascinated us… there needed to be a simpler way to solve these problems.

We took a train journey covering 12 Cities in 15 days. As we travelled through the country, we found one recurring theme. That our neighborhoods were filled with heroes – be it citizens, public agencies or companies who wanted to spearhead change in their communities.

The efforts of our heroes were fragmented, resource intensive and lacked actionable data. It was clear to us that the most sustainable solution would be one that allowed communities to solve their own problems.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Social Cops?

Social Cops started when we were in our final year university in Singapore. There were a lot of on-ground protests happening at that time and we saw that the public wanted to be actively involved in the community b Social Cops started when we were in our final year university in Singapore. There were a lot of on-ground protests happening at that time and we saw that the public wanted to be actively involved in the community but their voices were not resulting in any long lasting change.

At Social Cops, we believe that with people comes power and with people comes chaos. How do we create community solutions to solve problems? As engineers, we saw ways that we could use the power of crowdsourcing and technology to solve community issues. On September 11th, 2012 we launched a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo along with a Facebook campaign.

How has it been like managing the business since?

It has been possibly the biggest learning experience ever. Working on a startup is like a roller coaster – one moment you are jumping with happiness, the next moment you are down in the dumps. When you are running a startup – you are constantly learning to do things better, set up things, design things even. And I think that when you start taking it as a learning experience, it becomes enjoyable!

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

We started Social Cops when we were students in University. In order to raise our initial seed capital – we took part in almost all the student business plan competitions in the world. We started winning competitions around the world – winning grants from Microsoft and IBM. We won competitions like the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition, IBM/IEEE Smart Planet Challenge and Singapore International Foundation Young Social Entrepreneurs.

We’ve even given presentations on Skype to Indian Competitions while in Singapore (and ended up winning about 5000$ via that!). I guess the biggest learning for us has been that if you’re genuinely passionate about what you do, things happen to make your dreams possible. An example of the opportunities life presents you with –as young social entrepreneurs, we were invited to present our solution for cities at the Asia Pacific Cities Summit in Taiwan to 102 Mayors from all over the world, which gave us some great leads for the future.

How was the initial reaction from the consumers? Did they buy into the product/service?

Social Cops has evolved interestingly since its inception. Most ventures in the crowdsourcing space failed due to the fact that there was no capacity in the community to solve issues raised. We spent over 6 months talking to various community stakeholders – citizens, corporates, NGOs and Public Authorities. Over this time we undertook various small-scale pilots – to understand what works and what does not.

We use crowdsourced data to install processes and systems that create systemic change. For example, in disrupting Sanitation- in our pilot with Municipal Ward 103 – Crowdsourced data from citizens is used as a checkpoint to monitor the efficiency of third party service providers for garbage collection. Crowdsourced citizen ratings are also used to identify the cleanest streets and thus identify the best “street cleaners” and award them – leading to higher performance rates! The most heartwarming moment for us was when one of the Street cleaners who was awarded (Mukesh) said to us “Madam, for the past 20 years I have been ashamed to tell my son what I do – and today for the first time my son is proud of me”

Our platform has been used by citizen groups like I Lead Ranchi in Ranchi to crowd source reports regarding broken streetlights. This led to an allocation of over 2.15 crores of resources towards fixing broken streetlights in Ranchi in a 2 month long campaign.

We have launched a campaign called SAFE to crowd source a neighborhood watch who can respond to a distress signal from women to make them feel safer on roads. SAFE is being spearheaded by local citizen groups in their own neighborhoods – most recently enabling a group of tenth graders to use the platform to engage the community around them on women’s safety.

We’re already working with brands such as PVR Nest and Michelin India, citizen groups in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and a variety of non-governmental organizations. Some of our initial templates such as our work with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi are already having us noticed and have city councils in other parts of the world seeking proposals from us to replicate initial templates on the platform.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? What is your strategy against your competition?

Many entrepreneurs generally make a mistake of building a solution before actually understanding the problem. We wanted to make sure that we understood the problem.

We have spoken extensively to organisations that have attempted to crowdsource citizen reports but have failed to scale to realise that simple Reporting Tools that crowd source citizen complaints die out at some point.

For example, The Delhi Municipal Corporation Facebook page allowed citizens to upload photos regarding complaints of garbage – and was very popular in the first few months of launch, but this initial user traction died down. Why? Because, on one hand – the councils were being overwhelmed with getting the problems reported fixed while on the other hand, citizens were getting tired of reporting problems.

We work differently – we don’t create noise where it is not needed. We work with stakeholders – public agencies and NGOs to crowdsource citizen voices in fields in which they can be used as a resource to solve real-life problems.

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?

We started Social Cops because there was a problem we saw and no one else was solving the problem. I think as long as we keep focused on creating community solutions and enabling communities to solve problems – we will remain relevant!

What are your future plans for Social Cops?

 The Social Cops platform essentially aims to enable change makers – who can easily use the platform, deploy an initiative and use engagement tools to crowdsource, engage and analyze data. A cloud hosted platform, the aim is to Create a platform that enables anyone, at any part of the world to pick their issue and demographic – browse templates that work in other countries and deploy a quick technology solution to crowd source, engage and analyze data.

What do you think about startups in Asia?

I think startups in Asia should focus on solving asian problems – I see a lot of startups trying to clone startups in the Silicon Valley but I’m surprised not as many of them are trying to solve some of the biggest problems

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

Marissa Mayer once said that at every point in your career you should decide to do what you will learn the most from. And something that scares you a little bit. I was graduating from university and had chances at working at some of the most sought after jobs but I felt that nothing would teach me as much as starting up.

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

Hustle and Passion – and a little bit of naivete and craziness.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?

People will tell you it won’t work – people will tell you that you will fail. Just keep doing your shit, and be passionate about it.

 

Connect
Website: www.socialcops.org
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/socialcops

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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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.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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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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