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Sinuhe Arroyo, CEO of Taiger

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Find out how this entrepreneur harnesses disruptive technologies and can help solve your information access problems with a Virtual Assistant…

What’s your story?
I moved to Austria in 2002, after the burst of the .com bubble, to complete a PhD in Artificial Intelligence. After my studies I worked for a software vendor that we took public and completed the acquisition of a target with moneys raised. Upon completing that project, I decided to take the research I had done during my PhD and build Taiger from a cow farm in the Austrian Alps. Today we are present in 4 countries, solve some pretty hard information access problems applying AI and have top-notch customers such as Sony DADC, Grupo Santander, BBVA or HDB in Singapore.

What excites you most about your industry?
The tangible life changing aspect of what we do. IT has grown to be present in all aspects of our daily life, from professional to personal aspects. The field and the technology, both in terms of hardware and software, are still in its infancy. Yet in this short period of time it has come a long way. I am excited to see what the future will bring, particularly taking into consideration that every major breakthrough is happening at shorter time intervals than before and they all help to develop the next one. I think we are not far from seeing really intelligent software do things for us that until now we could only dream of. Contributing to the development of these life changing technologies is what excites me.

What’s your connection to Asia?
My girlfriend is Vietnamese, my business is growing fast in Singapore where we intend to establish our regional headquarters and I love this part of the world where there is so much opportunity for growth.

3.Dr_Sinuhe_Arroyo

Logos Taiger Black Horizontal Large

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
While I only know a portion of the key Asian business cities, I have to admit that Singapore is my favorite business destination in Asia without any doubt. It is efficient, well organized, driven, precise and down to earth. Decision makers embrace disruptive technology and are not afraid to try new things, which makes it ideal to nurture innovation and fast change.

In addition to that, the government’s support and determination to build a global business hub are admirable. This favors the overall business climate and the establishment of regional and global headquarters in the city. Also the strong focus on advancing all IT aspects and profiting from what technologies have to offer in all fields is remarkable. Not to mention the support offered to young and start-up businesses.

At the human level the city is accommodating to the foreigner. Having lived in three continents now, I can say that getting settled is easy and does not require complex administrative procedures. Everything from getting a mobile phone to sorting out utilities can be done easily and staff are attentive and willing to assist.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
To be successful one needs, aptitude, attitude and luck. Without any of the three it is hard to attain your goals. I fully agree with this and would add that hard work is also important. With hard work eventually one creates the necessary circumstances to be successful.

Also a good friend and founder of a number of businesses once told me, that building a firm is like running a marathon at a 100 meter pace. I have to admit the wisdom in it, particularly in the earliest phases where resources are scarce and key staff members need to wear several hats.

Who inspires you?
Many people. I look up to professional athletes and successful business people alike.  Overall I admire and get inspiration from people that set a life goal and are tenacious enough to pursue it and achieve it. Those that live their lives to the fullest according to their beliefs, and who are not afraid of departing from the norm to make a difference.

I admire the life philosophy of extreme skier and philosopher Andreas Franson, the physical ability of mountain runner Kilian Jornet, or the unassuming and hardworking attitude of 5-time Ironman World-Champion Craig Alexander. In business I truly admire Hana Dang, who is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Vietnam, building her success against great personal and professional odds, out of nothing, in an impoverished country. Or, Le Hoang Lan who after completing her MD degree went on to work for Prudential and ended up building the business in Vietnam from zero to several thousand employees, then reinventing herself as serial entrepreneur. Or, Travis Kalanick, Uber founder, by the simple and effective way his company is changing for the better. Something as obvious and important as the way we move around cities, creating tons of value for its users across the world.  

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
One thing that I found particularly interesting is that disruptive innovations and technologies that have a deep impact on our lives occur at much shorter intervals now than before. Take writing, then print, then telephone, then production chains, then space travel, then the internet, then solar panels, then 4d printing, then driverless cars, etc. The time gap between one and the next is getting shorter and shorter. The fact is, each one contributes to bring on the next. This increasing innovation creates virtuous cycles, posing the question of how far technology can go, and whether we would be able to really control it. Recently, The Economist ran an article on AI where Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and other relevant visionaries and academics listed “the development of artificial intelligence, as be the biggest existential threat humanity faces.” If we look back and see how computing power and software have evolved in the last 30 years, both industries still being in their infancy, what the future holds could either be amazing, if we harness it, or scary.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Building a business is a learning process and no matter how much experience you have, I think one always makes mistakes and would have liked to do things in a different way. When we started Taiger we relied heavily on public funding sources. If I had to do it all over again I would probably have sought VC funds earlier. Building an enterprise-grade solution requires heavy funding and often the timing of public sources, at least in Europe, is not necessarily aligned with firms’ needs. Also, moving out of Austria earlier would have been advisable. The administrative overhead there one needs to see to believe, plus being a foreigner always played against us since their society is very closed and conservative.

How do you unwind?
I love to practice outdoor sports. Lately I am caught up with ironman. Having to do some sport everyday helps me release work tension and gives me balance in my personal life. It also helps me eat healthier and be more energetic. Before, when I lived in Austria, I did a lot of skiing and mountaineering. I climbed Mt. Blanc, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo among others. Going to the mountains helped me clear my head and be back on Monday with a positive attitude and focused mind. I also enjoy scuba diving, sailing and I am working on getting my airplane pilot’s license.  

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I am still discovering Asia. From what I know, I love Vietnam and Thailand for relaxation. Phuket is a fantastic place to enjoy food and relax at the beach.  Da Nang in Vietnam has some of the most spectacular beaches I have seen in my life, and the seafood is pretty amazing too. On weekends I travel to Saigon and catch up with friends and family. A very fun place to party, full of interesting places to eat, drink or simply enjoy. I love the harmonic chaos of the city traffic and positive vibes of the people. And of course, the fresh coconut, my favorite drink.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, is an excellent example on behavioral economics explaining the strengths and pitfalls of the unconscious and how they apply to business.

The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, an excellent view on how operations should be managed and the bottlenecks it must overcome.

The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford, a very interesting introduction to economics, economic thinking and decision-making.

Shameless plug for your business:
Taiger is software vendor specialized in applying AI to hard information access problems. Our Virtual Assistant is used at contact centers replacing humans to solve users’ enquires. It gives the feeling of a human being at the other end of the loop, being able to interact both in written and oral communication. We also commercialize an enterprise-grade search engine that overcomes the limitations of traditional keyword-based search engines in corporate environments. All our products and solutions revolve around the application of Natural Language Processing and semantic technology, fields where we count on world-class experts and a number of patents.

How can people connect with you?
All my contact details are in LinkedIn. Best is to drop me an email, I tend to travel at least once per quarter to Europe and the US to check on the business, so chances are my local Asian cell phone is off. My email is: [email protected].

Twitter handle?
@Taiger_CO

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:

CallumConnects

Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia.  He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries.  He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence.  A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.

Take the ‘Key Person of Influence’ scorecard <http://www.keypersonofinfluence.com/scorecard/>

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Get his free ‘Asia Snapshot’ report from www.callumlaing.com

Callum Connects

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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