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



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.


Callum Connects

Jason Feng, Co-Founder of Pillpresso



Mr. Jason Feng is re-engineering the healthcare industry.

What’s your story?
I am an engineer at heart. I enjoy the process of problem solving and have been actively developing innovative solutions to existing problems. Me and my co-founder settled on the problem of poor medication adherence among the elderly. This was a problem which struck a chord with us because we all have loved ones who have to take multiple medications on a daily basis. The complex medication regimen, coupled with declining cognitive abilities of the elderly tend to exacerbate the lack of medication adherence, which may lead to disease relapse and hospital readmissions, ultimately increasing the burden to caregivers and the society.

What excites you most about your industry?
The problem of medication adherence is not a new one in the healthcare industry. In fact, lack of medication adherence is a well-researched problem in many countries. Solutions which have been developed to address this problem face three major issues:

  • Entrenched mindset within the healthcare system, many of which are used to and unwilling to change from the legacy systems which were implemented decades ago.
  • Complex nuances in healthcare delivery across different countries, making it hard to “copy” and “paste” solutions which have worked well in other areas.
  • Because poor medication adherence is multifactorial, and many solutions focus solely on a few aspects, and do not employ a holistic approach.

Nevertheless, entering this industry at this time excites me because we are in the midst of a global shift in healthcare models; one where the industry is moving away from a service-based model, towards a more value-based model. This shift means that traditional players such as insurance companies and pharmaceuticals are under increasing pressure from patients and payers to demonstrate the value of their products under real-world use. Medication adherence data is one crucial missing link in this puzzle to deliver better care to patients. Being able to build a business around these incumbents and pioneer a new way of care is something which I look forward to.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am a Singaporean. Most of my experiences throughout my life have been in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I have not worked in other Asian countries outside of Singapore, so I can’t comment on other Asian countries too much. Singapore has a relatively low barrier for starting a business, and all business rules and regulations are clear and transparent. The startup ecosystem is also rather comprehensive and easily accessible. Being a small country, Singapore has a very limited market for products and services. However, due to its size and efficiency, it serves as an excellent test bed for new ideas. Being a travel hub, travelling to other Asian countries is cheap and easy.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Fail fast, fail often. The greatest lessons are never learnt through success.

Who inspires you?
Elon Musk

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Successful launch of Falcon Heavy and the recovery of the 2 side cores. The way the 2 cores landed was like something you’d only see in CGI. Very well calculated.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Applied for NOC (NUS Overseas College)

How do you unwind?
Go rock climbing.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Nepal. I’m an outdoors guy. Being able to trek around the Himalayas is probably the best form of relaxation for me.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Creative confidence, by the Kelly Brothers

Shameless plug for your business:
Pillpresso is an award-winning health-tech startup that aims to improve medication adherence. We’re developing a medication management system that empowers seniors to manage their medicines independently and deliver proactive healthcare in the community through technology. Comprising individuals with complementary skills across business, engineering and medicine, our team is driven by a desire to improve healthcare and the human condition.

Grand Prize Winner of the 2017 Tech Factor Challenge

Grand Prize Winner of the 2015 Modern Aging

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

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:
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Will Financial Liberalisation Trigger a Crisis in China?



The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been liberalizing its financial system for nearly 4 decades. While it now has a comprehensive financial system with a large number of financial institutions and large financial assets, its financial policies are still highly repressive. These repressive financial policies are now a major hindrance to the PRC’s economic growth.

The PRC is at the beginning of a new wave of financial liberalization that is necessary for supporting the country’s strong economic growth. The country’s leaders have already unveiled a comprehensive program of financial reform, which includes 11 specific reform measures in three broad areas: creating a level-playing field (such as allowing private banks and developing inclusive finance), freeing the market mechanism (such as reforming interest rate and exchange rate regimes and achieving capital account convertibility), and improving regulation.

But could financial liberalization lead to a major financial crisis in the PRC? What would be the consequences for financial stability as the PRC moves to further liberalize its financial system? If the PRC repeats the painful experiences of Mexico, Indonesia, and Thailand, then it might not be able to achieve its original goal of overcoming the middle-income trap.

International experiences of financial liberalization, especially those of middle-income economies, should offer important lessons for the PRC. In our new research, based on cross-country data analysis, we find that financial liberalization, in general, reduces, not increases, financial instability. This powerful conclusion is valid whether financial instability is measured by crisis occurrence or by fragility indicators, such as impaired loans and net charge-offs. The only exception is that financial liberalization does not appear to significantly lower the probability of systemic banking crises, although it does lower the risk indicators for banks. These results have higher statistical significance and are greater in magnitude for the middle-income group than for the entire sample.

The insignificant impact on banking crises, however, should be interpreted with caution. One of the possible explanations is that under the repressed financial regime, the government supports banks with an implicit or explicit blanket guarantee. This reduces the probability of an explicit banking crisis, although the banking risks may be even greater because of the moral hazard problem. In fact, government protection of banks could also increase the probability of a sovereign debt crisis or even a currency crisis before financial liberalization.

If financial liberalization significantly reduces the likelihood of financial crises, especially in middle-income economies, then why did some middle-income economies experience financial crises following liberalization? We further investigate whether the pace of liberalization, the supervisory structure, and the institutional environment matter for outcomes of financial liberalization.

We obtain three main findings. First, an excessively rapid pace of financial liberalization may increase financial risks. The net impact on financial instability depends on the relative importance of the “liberalization effect” and the “pace effect.” In essence, what the “pace effect” captures could simply be the prerequisite conditions and reform sequencing that are well discussed in the literature. Second, the quality of institutions, such as investor protection and law and order, also matter. International experiences indicate that investor protection can significantly reduce the probability of financial crises. Third, the central bank’s participation in financial regulation is helpful for reducing financial risks during financial liberalization. This is probably because central banks always play central roles in financial liberalization, especially in the liberalization of interest rates, exchange rates, and the capital account. If a central bank is responsible for financial regulation, its liberalization policies might be more cautious and prudent.

Our research findings offer important policy implications for the PRC. (1) Further financial liberalization is necessary not only for sustaining strong economic growth but also for containing or reducing financial risks. (2) Gradual reform may still work better than the “big bang” approach, and sequencing is very important for avoiding the painful financial volatilities that many other middle-income countries have seen. (3) The government should also focus more on improving the quality of other institutions, especially market discipline, to contain financial risks. (4) It is better for the central bank to participate in financial regulation. The new regulatory system should focus exclusively on financial stability and shift from regulating institutions toward regulating functions. It should also become relatively independent to increase accountability.


About the Author 

This submitted article was written by  and  of Asia Pathways, the blog of The Asian Development Bank Institute was established in 1997 in Tokyo, Japan, to help build capacity, skills, and knowledge related to poverty reduction and other areas that support long-term growth and competitiveness in developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

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