Connect with us

Callum Connects

Steven Zwaan, Co-Founder of PULS

Published

on

Steven Zwaan

Steven Zwaan has his finger on the PULS when it comes to property in the Philippines.

What’s your story?
Steven Zwaan is a Dutch investor and entrepreneur based in Manila. He is Managing Partner of Liger Capital Management and cofounded Philippines Urban Living Solutions (“PULS”) in 2012 with Mark Kooijman. PULS specializes in the development of rental housing communities under the “MyTown” brand at walking distance from the central business districts in Metro Manila.
In December 2015, a consortium with Franklin Templeton as lead-investor and BPI Capital Corporation, made an investment in PULS in what was one of the first private equity fundraisings in the Philippines.

PULSPULS with its investors (L-R): BPI Capital Corporation Managing Director Reggie Cariaso, Templeton Emerging Markets Group Head Mark Mobius, PULS Chief Executive Officer Mark Kooijman and PULS Directors Steven Zwaan and Jelmer Ikink.

What excites you most about your industry?
With Liger Capital Management we focus on emerging property trends in the Philippines and in 2011 were the first to provide dedicated housing for young professionals as quality for-rent housing close to the Manila CBDs didn’t exist.
Young professionals as a demographic group were under targeted and relegated to living a long commute away from their employers. By now a number of other developers have started to focus on the young professional market and better quality affordable housing options are becoming available. We are happy we could act as a catalyst for this to happen.
It is exciting to be focused on Metro Manila real estate where change is rapid and abundant.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I worked as an investment banker in Europe and transferred to Hong Kong in 2003. The idea was, for me to stay for 3 years but I never left. I fell in love with the dynamism of Asia offering great opportunities to people with a ‘can do’ attitude.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Manila of course. To be honest, doing business in Manila is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, it is hard to get started as the environment is not geared towards newbies. Banks prefer to finance established companies; the venture capital industry is in its nascency; there is an incredible amount of red tape and infrastructure is lagging.
On the other hand, the dynamics here are very solid and there is still so much that can be done! So when you have found your way it’s a very exciting market for doing business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Running your own business is all about cash, cash and cash. You can have the greatest prospects but if you are not able to pay creditors, salaries or rent; you will be out of business before you know it. Many great businesses go bust just because of inadequate cash management.
We decided to build PULS without any bank financing, which goes against the common logic for a real estate business. However we didn’t want to run the risk of losing our projects to the banks until we had sufficient cash flows to service the loans.

Who inspires you?
I get inspiration from people who innovate with respect for the planet like Elon Musk. But also from people like Ranulph Fiennes, who at the age of 72 is the world’s greatest living explorer.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Following president Duterte’s state visit to China in October, China pledged to commit $24bn to the Philippines. Late last year the hotels in Manila were full with Chinese investors and corporates looking for exposure to the Philippines. They have been given the nod from Beijing and they want in.
Of course it remains to be seen how this will be implemented, but this could generate a lot of opportunities in a wide range of sectors such as agriculture, (renewable) energy, tourism, food, manufacturing, telecom and infrastructure.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I started life as an entrepreneur at 38 and would start a little earlier if I could do it again. Investment banking provides comprehensive all round training and it’s a great way to start a career, but over time the banker life becomes too comfortable. It’s when you feel exposed, challenged and at risk that you are at your best.

How do you unwind?
I like the outdoors. I ski, surf and when I lived in Hong Kong I did a lot of trail running. With my business partners I will participate in the 2017 RacingThePlanet event, a 250 kilometer, seven-day footrace through Patagonia.
I love challenges like this and when my brother in law approached me to swim from Asia to Europe in 2013 I was game. This probably sounds more spectacular than it is, as it was a 6.5km swim across the Bosphorus in Istanbul with a strong current pushing you towards the finish line. The biggest challenge was not to overshoot the landing pontoon as swimming against the current was almost impossible.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali to surf, Tokyo to eat and Bhutan for outdoors

Everyone in business should read this book:
Mr. China by Tim Clissold. This book tells the story of a young English guy who goes to China in the early 1990s when China opened for business. It’s a fascinating account of how Tim and his financiers planned to bring China into the modern world and at the same time make a fortune in investments, only to be schooled by China’s resourceful and creative operators and lose it all in the end.
The Wild West days of early foreign investment in China, with its intractable bureaucracy and often the difficulty in getting the most simple tasks done, bear relevance for any future businessman planning on making his fortunes in Asia.

Shameless plug for your business:
We take pride that, through PULS, we are elevating the lives of the Filipino workforce by providing a new, high quality lifestyle concept and creating savings on transportation time and cost. We believe we have found a commercially and socially attractive business model, which is in our view the most structural way to solve social and economic issues.

How can people connect with you?
By inviting me for a good meal!

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

CallumConnectsCallum 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

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Callum Connects

Zac Chua, Founder & CEO of The Kettle Gourmet

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Trending