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Ryan Rogowski, Founder of Waygo, an instant visual language translator for Chinese and Japanese

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The Asian Entrepreneur speaks with Ryan Rogowski, founder of WayGo, an instant, visual, mobile translator. Ryan is the creator and CEO of Waygo, an instant visual translation service. Recently named Singapore’s 30 under 30 he lead Waygo to win the 2013 Echelon award. He was recently a speaker at the 2013 Machine Learning Conference as well as China’s largest mobile conference, the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC). He is an avid traveler with over 22 countries under his belt and he once ate 10 warheads simultaneously at the age of 9.

Before Waygo, Ryan worked in Beijing at Thinknao while learning Chinese. He co-created two games in the App Store: Wordlands and Quoth. In addition to software, Ryan also worked on a hardware side-project Tabber that has been featured in TechCrunch, engadget, Gizmodo, ABC News and MTVHive. Ryan hails from Naperville, IL and received a degree in electrical engineering and linguistics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Having passed the new HSK 5 fluency test, Ryan speaks Mandarin and has found a way to combine his love for languages and tech into a full-time job.

Ryan started Waygo after living in China and only ordering Kung Pow Chicken because he didn’t understand anything else. When he’s not visiting Asia or working in San Francisco, Ryan enjoys snowboarding, motorcycles, and backpacking.

Changing the way people learn languages

Waygo is a visual translation service that changes the way tourists, language learners and business travelers experience new countires and their respective language. Derived from the Chinese pinyin “wài guó”, or foreign country, Waygo uses a combination of optical character recognition and a translation piece to translate foreign text into English. The app sees images, finds relevant text and creates sensible phrases by simply holding the phone over the foreign text. Waygo instantly translates and does not require an Internet connection to operate. More languages are in development and coming soon.

using waygo in japan

Difficulty in learning Chinese

The idea for Waygo came about two years ago when Ryan was working in China building mobile games. He was in the process of learning Chinese and found it extremely difficult, especially for someone used to romance languages. Try reading 宫爆鸡丁! If only there were a tool that he could look up characters by simply pointing a phone camera at the text, my–and many others–lives would become much easier. At first the idea was an educational tool, but eventually it grew in Ryan’s head that this could help any traveller in any country see with new eyes. The team decided to first focus on China and the East Asian market because that’s where the problem seemed the most intimidating! Their roots have provided a solid foundation and they are excited for what they have in the works–improvements and future app versions.

The ups and the downs

Managing Waygo has been a dream come true. It is rare to be able to combine all ones passions into one job that you get to work on every day. I’ve been fortunate to have an amazing team join me who is equally passionate about changing how the world experiences language barriers. It isn’t all daisies and roses though, as running a startup comes with an equally and sometimes overwhelming amount of stress. We’ve gone through intimidating challenges like struggling to get a work visa, running out of money, and product failures.

It started as an idea, then a prototype, then a team of 3 engineers cranking away at the technology until we finally had a first beta app. WayGo went through many ups and downs like running out of money and the product not functioning correctly.  One of the hardest parts of getting started is making the leap from part-time to full-time. WayGo were lucky to have some early investors support in making that jump, but looking back it is one of the most intimidating and self-fulfilling parts.

The initial reaction to the service was actually quite receptive. The hard part was getting the service to the point where it actually did what we said it should. Waygo solves quite a challenging technical problem.

The industry and competition

WayGo has some competitive products in translation. There are giants out there like Google Translate who offer free translation, but don’t take a targeted approach like Waygo. Our focus is on building a great user experience that really solves the language barrier in an innovative way. The translation industry is a dynamic industry with many facets. When a person thinks of translation, it could mean one of many types. These types range from in-person translators, voice translators, online text translators, and more. There are many opportunities to improve the lives of travelers by leveraging translation.

Waygo’s unique offering

Waygo are part of a new type of translation that uses the camera and integrates computer vision with translation. We have managed to stay relevant by creating a product in a new category and building awareness about the potential of our technology. Waygo aims to be the best mobile translation service on the market for every language in the world.

Lessons learnt

Many mistakes along the way, most of these mistakes have helped us learn and become more successful later down the line. The one mistake we made that I wish we would have realized earlier was in using analytics to improve our product. Initially we didn’t pay much attention to app analytics, but we have found by watching the right events, we can drastically improve our product for our users.

Asia, potential growth opportunity

There is plenty of potential to build a successful startup in Asia. Asia has some challenges that can make it more challenging such as less available venture capital and a culture geared towards conservative career paths. On the other hand, Asia has many booming markets from China to Southeast Asia that are ripe for innovation.

Key Principles

Respect is extremely important. Not everyone has the right answers and it’s important that everyone’s ideas are heard and that building our company is a collaboration and not a dictatorship.

pitching waygo

The Definition of Success

When all people have no fear of language barriers and can feel comfortable traveling anywhere and experiencing any new culture, I believe we will have accomplished our goal. Persistence is a necessity. You will go through many failures so it’s important to remember your vision and always learn from your mistakes. I like to keep my goals on the background image of my phone screen so I see them every day all the time.

If you are a beginning entrepreneur, go make friends with a fellow entrepreneur who knows a little more than you.

Websitehttp://www.waygoapp.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WaygoApp
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WaygoApp

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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