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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

Callum Connects

Andrew Schorr, Founder of Grata

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Taking a different route throughout his life, Andrew Schorr ended up in China and started several businesses.

What’s your story?
I moved to China after I graduated from college in 2004. English teaching was the easiest way to get there, so I looked on a map and picked a small town in Hubei, because it looked to be more or less in the middle of China. I was the only foreigner there.

Back then, everything was about the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, so I moved to the capital after my year of teaching. Pretty soon after arriving, I met the co-founder for all three of my companies. We decided to start a company together the first day we met. He has now moved back to the US and builds flight software at SpaceX.

Our first company, an online city guide, was re-purposed into our second company, GuestOps, a web concierge platform. We sold GuestOps to most of the major international hotel brands in China and still operate it. The genesis of our latest company, Grata came from looking at the intersection of hotels and WeChat in 2012, when WeChat was just starting to blow up. Grata expanded from hotels into a live-agent customer service console.

What excites you most about your industry?
Our thesis with Grata has always been that what is happening with WeChat in China is the future of messaging platforms globally, and as an international team building on WeChat, we would be well-placed to capitalize on that trend. It’s taken longer than we expected for the industry (and us, for that matter) to get there, but finally, we’re starting to see messaging as a platform to get better traction in other markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. I grew up in Texas, where all my friends studied Spanish in school. I studied German for no reason in particular. I took a similar path in college: Chinese and Japanese seemed like languages that not a lot of people who look like me studied. I was one of only two students in my third-year Chinese class.

Concur conference in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (Photo by Paul Sakuma, Paul Sakuma Photography) www.paulsakuma.com

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Shanghai. I should live there, but Beijing has been home for so long. I take the night train down to Shanghai every two-three weeks to meet with clients. Domestic flights are way too unreliable here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t plan too far ahead; otherwise, you plan yourself out of good opportunities.

Who inspires you?
Has anyone said “Elon Musk” yet? Barack Obama would be another.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The gravitational waves recently detected from neutron stars colliding, were so subtle as to only affect the distance from earth to our closest star, Alpha Centauri (4.24 light years away) by the width of a human hair. Perhaps in another life or in the future, I’ll be an astronomer, but a telescope doesn’t do me much good in Beijing.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
When I give advice to students looking to get into entrepreneurship, I advise them to work for a post-Series A startup first and learn from a company that’s already doing things well. I learnt everything on my own, which is slower and you pay for your own education. If you work for a startup that’s small in the beginning, you risk learning bad habits.

How do you unwind?
I Hash! The Hash is a drinking club with a running problem. The Hash attracts good people from all walks of life and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a great way to meet fun-loving people all over the world. It’s also how I met my co-founder, our first lawyer, and my girlfriend.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia. A fantastic beach and where I first learned to scuba dive.

Everyone in business should read this book:
For business in China, Tim Clissold’s, Mr. China.

Shameless plug for your business:
Grata does WeChat contact centers for many top-tier brands in luxury retail, travel, financial services and hospitality. We started developing on WeChat before they even had an open platform. Grata provides the most value for large enterprises with complex routing and content demands for their contact centers.

How can people connect with you?
Check out www.grata.co or email me: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
My personal handle is @andrew_schorr and we tweet about messaging from the company handle @grata_co.

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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Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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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