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Scott Bales, Managing Director of Innovation Labs Asia

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Scott Bales is a reformed banker who found himself setting up shop in Cambodia. Scott now lives in Singapore and travels across Asia sharing his knowledge on innovation and digital transformation.

What’s your story?
I’m a reformed banker, that found himself in Cambodia back in 2008 building one of the most exciting and meaningful banking businesses in recent history, Wing Money. Since then I’ve embarked and involved myself in no less than 30 ventures – some failed, some were huge successes, many still battle on today. The battle hardened and I found my calling working with large companies to transform them into modern connected, innovative companies. Running parallel to this, my hyperactive mind has been engaged as one of the most respected thought leading minds on innovation and digital transformation. I’ve been a keynote speaker at many events, the most recent with brands like Google, Standard Chartered Bank, Saxo Bank, Vodafone and Microsoft, along with talking at other industry conferences.

What excites you most about your industry?
I enjoy a good bit of problem solving, the more complex and strategic, the better. Piecing together the dots that few even see as related, I thrive on this and the constant hypothesis formation really gets me going. I am therefore entrusted to test new information often. Lastly, I love my work because it takes me all over the world to meet some of the most amazing people.

What’s your connection to Asia?
As a child, I dreamt of working in Japan, so I learnt Japanese. But my first Asian appointment was actually in India in 2005. Since then I’ve lived in India, Cambodia and Singapore and I travel regularly to almost all Asian countries. I’ve made attempts at learning Khmer (Cambodian), Mandarin, Hindi and Bahasa. Many would say I’m an Asian man trapped in an Aussie body.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I live in Singapore, which I love. It’s a great country to base a global business. It has some of the most efficient infrastructures, direct connections to the cities I work in and continues to attract great talent, which is vital in my line of work. There is a constant battle between Singapore and Hong Kong. Each has their own pros and cons. I love the heritage and vibe of HK, it has a soul that stimulates. Singapore has better weather. Both offer so many opportunities to innovate with government support.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” When you help people find ways to solve their problems, not only are you helping them that one time, you are also passing on experience, knowledge and skills for them to use in their lives. The impact gain is long-term, not short-term. Nothing comes easy and nothing is impossible.

Who inspires you?
I love seeing a positive impact on humanity. Anyone that finds a purpose to improve the outlook for our species is always admired. But, it has to be bold, confident visions, executed with purpose. It’s hard not to admire the efforts of Elon Musk.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The breakneck speed of evolving technology. The world never sleeps. There are some really great minds out there solving the first world and third world problems. But the ongoing piece of the puzzle that blows me away is just how naive senior people choose to remain when faced with the overwhelming realities of the new digital economy. Oh, and don’t get me started on some of the pro-gun debates.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have done more due diligence for a venture business that I invested in. While I am grateful for the way things turned out, because armed with that “swimming in unknown territory” experience, I am able to understand the challenges faced by many. I wouldn’t really do things differently as I am a firm believer that experience shapes who we are today, but to be more prepared when things go south would have been good. I think far too many people keep things to themselves and fail to share or seek feedback from others. I wish I had opened up earlier in life, to share my thoughts and feelings, and sought to engage the feedback of others.

How do you unwind?
Travelling. My work allows me to travel which is a plus side! I speak at events across the world and I try to have some downtime in between to refresh my mind and soul, to be inspired by things I see or even find my next topic to write or speak about! My place of peace, however, is on my bike. I’m a passionate cyclist, so I often travel with my bike to ride in new cities. Cycling helps me find the clarity I need in a complex world. Plus it is a great way to physically challenge myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali. I love its culture and the peace of mind vibe, that it gives every time I am there. People are friendly and welcoming and the food is amazing. It’s also where I got married. If I had to choose a close second, it would be Chiang Mai, mainly for the cycling.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why.’

Shameless plug for your business:
Not only do we teach and advise, we build and deliver. We help our clients’ businesses to innovate and we build a portfolio of innovative options to transform their organisations.

How can people connect with you?
Through LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottbales/
Or drop me a message on my website: https://www.scottebales.com/contact/

Twitter handle?
@scottebales

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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Benedict Heng, Founder of Mr. Farmer

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Benedict Heng is bringing back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your story?
I’m Ben from Mr. Farmer. Mr. Farmer is an online grocer dedicated to supplying the freshest produce to our customers. We believe in sustainable and ethical farming. Since a young age, I have always been an avid food lover (especially meats), developing a strong interest in all things delicious. That is why I ventured into the F&B industry, working as a junior cook for 3 years.

Midway through my career, I made a move to the finance industry to pursue monetary rewards. I dove into high-risk investments and I made lots of money from these investments. However, the good fortune did not last long and all these came crashing down when I suffered a tremendous loss. This coincided with the time that I had just started my own family and it was a huge blow to me both materially and mentally. It was this crash that made me realize that this life wasn’t for me. I went on a hiatus and eventually, it was only through the strong support from my family that I managed to tide over this tough episode.

I went back to help the family business and this was how Mr Farmer came about. My family has been in the food industry for many decades and one thing they noticed from years of experience is that sustainable farming practices are not as developed as in Europe. This is why through Mr Farmer, we hope that we can provide the best quality products to families out there who want the best ingredients for their loved ones.

What excites you most about your industry?
Delicious and wholesome food excites me. I believe food is a critical component of life and it brings people together. The opportunity to serve the community with fresh produce for a healthy life, that brings me joy.

I feel that there is still so much more we can do to improve the quality of food and bring it to the masses. One of the key components of ensuring greater quality of food is to support ethical and sustainable farming. Due to commercialization and urbanization, most farming practices these days are no longer the way they were in the old “kampong” times. Shortcuts are taken, standards are compromised, all in the name of profit. At Mr. Farmer, profit is important too but we want to focus on the concept of One Welfare – sustainable farming directly impacts our health. Our vision is to bring back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore. I call Singapore my home as it’s where my family and close friends are. I also travel frequently to Malaysia and APAC for work.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It’s definitely Singapore. There is just so much this tiny city can offer! Singapore has been globally recognized for its top-notch business environment providing its residents with developed infrastructure, political stability and excellent connectivity. These factors have given us an outstanding support system for businesses to strive.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Surround yourself with people that inspire you, challenge you to rise higher, make you better and, keep them in your life.

Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my uncle, who is the head of both the family and business. He takes care of our family matters at home and manages hundreds of employees at work. Handling both the family and business side of things can be tricky, but he has shown me that success can be sustainable and done with a conscience. His guiding philosophy of handling business and family is simply, to have a big heart.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Even just one day of separation from the day the meat is slaughtered, makes a world of difference to its flavour.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I have come to learn that awareness is the beginning of everything. If I had my time again, I would have probably spent more time figuring out who I truly am and with that self-awareness, begun to lead my life with more purpose and meaning.

How do you unwind?
I like to spend my free time sipping white coffee at my favourite coffee place. I enjoy taking in the surrounding sights and letting my mind wander freely. It allows me to unwind and gain clarity at the same time. It also helps me organize my thoughts to prepare for the week ahead.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It would be Bangkok as the people there are genuinely friendly and hospitable. They say people are what defines the city and I couldn’t agree more with this. I also enjoy the ‘laid back’ vibe of Bangkok. Not to mention Bangkok has all the good food and awesome shopping choices too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Spin selling” by Neil Reckham. It’s an amazing book that teaches you a process designed to help you successfully sell your products and services to business buyers.

Shameless plug for your business:
We at Mr. Farmer have the best tasting meats in Singapore, do a blind test and you will know why it’s Michelin chefs’ preferred choice. Not only are we very confident about the taste, we are also proud to say that all our products are chemical, hormone and antibiotic free. We also focus a lot on supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices believing in the ‘One Welfare’ concept. Do check us out if you enjoy good quality food like us!

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:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Zac Chua, Founder & CEO of The Kettle Gourmet

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Zac Chua’s popcorn business validated itself straight away and fast tracked him to the startup world. Zac now employs 11 people and shifts 500 bags of popcorn daily.

What’s your story?
It’s a crazy one. It was an accidental startup. If you think about it, no university graduate would ever dream of becoming a popcorn seller. We crashed our first tech event to validate our idea and it took off from there. I bought a logo for $7 from a designers marketplace, printed some cheap name cards, and built a 1 page landing page. Sales started pouring in and eventually, we were serving B2B clients (corporate pantries) and we have never looked back. Today we move about 500 bags daily, we have 11 employees and we are growing. Talk about a validation that worked in our favour.

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s food! Everybody loves food! In Singapore the F&B scene is brutally competitive and it spurs me on to fight and compete for market share and to prove to myself that I can do it. It keeps me going and I won’t stop until we become the market leader.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore, and have traveled to most of Southeast Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! Even though Singapore has a high cost of living, the Government is actually very supportive of startups. They provide grants for us to tap into, and the technological infrastructure makes it possible for us to compete on a global scale. I believe if you can succeed in your business in Singapore, you can succeed in most of Southeast Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You only need to be right once, and the rest is history.

Who inspires you?
My father, who was a VC. In fact he was the one who gave me the best piece of advice which I shared above. Having one successful exit, he showed me that it’s okay to fail a million times – all it takes is just one time for you to win in business and in life.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of compounding.

  • Mary and John are the same age.
  • Mary saves $2k annually from the age of 19-25 – so she puts $14k into her portfolio
  • John saves $2k annually from the age of 26-65 – so he puts $80k into his portfolio, but 7 years after Mary.
  • If both are able to generate 10% per annum, who would have more at age 65?
  • John of course! But how much more?
  • Mary will have $944,641 whilst John will have $973,704
  • Think about it! Mary puts in only $14k but John delays for 7 years and puts in $80k.

CRAZY RIGHT!?!?

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, my mistakes taught me how to become a better me. But if I really must choose, I’d say take more time to find the right business partner.

How do you unwind?
Poker, Mahjong and Dota 2.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Vietnam! Things are cheap, people are warm and friendly, and their coffee fills up my life. I would love to retire there if possible.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The richest man in Babylon

Shameless plug for your business:
We don’t need a plug. Just try our competitors and you’ll understand why!

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chuazongyou
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zacchua

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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