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Steven Zwaan, Co-Founder of PULS

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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

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

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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Callum Connects

Chrystie Dao-Szabo, Founder of iPayMy

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Chrystie Dao-Szabo founded iPaymy for Business – a secure and easy to use
platform enabling SMEs to pay rent, salaries, invoices, and even corporate tax using the credit cards they already have in their wallet today.

What’s your story?
I’m Chrystie Dao-Szabo, and I’ve worked as an international banker for over 22 years. During that time, I travelled through Asia, Australia and Europe, and everywhere I saw how my clients struggled with managing their finances and keeping cash around.

I wanted to use my experience to help them, but I also knew the solution they needed didn’t exist yet. This pushed me to give up on my secure career, and instead look into the innovative world of FinTech for an answer.

This is how I founded iPaymy – at its launch, a platform to help consumers pay their monthly expenses using their credit cards. We’ve grown a lot since, and today, iPaymy for Business is a platform that allows business owners to use their credit cards to pay for rent, salaries, invoices and taxes, freeing up their cash for business-critical operations.

What excites you most about your industry?
What excites me most about FinTech is it’s culture of constant disruption, thanks to cool and innovative products and services coming out every day.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Vietnam, grew up in Australia and worked in Asia, Europe and Australia. Being raised by traditional Vietnamese parents meant that deep down I was still an Asian at heart, so I have a strong connection with the region.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore of course. It’s easy to do business, English is the main language, and the infrastructures like public transportation are great. Also, the government supports local innovation in multiple ways, like giving grants for SMEs and FinTechs.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Keep giving, and one day you will receive.

Who inspires you?
My parents. My father had a successful business in Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon in 1975. After the war, my father was sent to a re-education camp for three years, which meant my mum had to bring up two young kids – a 3-year-old, me and my 4-year old brother on her own.

In 1980, we all fled Vietnam on a boat and arrived in Sydney, Australia via refugee camps in Indonesia and Singapore. There, my parents had to start over with nothing to their names and only AUD 50 given to them by the Australian government.
They went on to build several businesses in Australia!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The number of young and smart people who have carved out successful careers by founding their own startups (or joining really cool ones). When I was starting out my career, doing any of these was not a viable option; it was either working for an accounting firm, an insurance company or a bank.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
If I were starting out my career now, I would choose the path of joining a startup as you get to learn so much about running a business and how to assemble a winning team.

How do you unwind?
I like travelling to a beach or a resort destination and just relaxing by the pool or beach. I also like to unwind after work with a glass of champagne or wine, and a bowl of truffle fries.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand. I love the people and the spicy Thai food.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The E-Myth. It’s a book series that dismantles common myths about entrepreneurship in different industries.

Shameless plug for your business:
With iPaymy for Business, SMEs can pay rent, salaries, invoices, and even corporate tax using the credit cards they already have in their wallet today. SMEs love iPaymy because it works like a credit card, but pays like cash.

iPaymy’s secure and easy to use platform reliably delivers payments to vendors while freeing up cash and providing access to interest free credit. Forget the delays and aggravations that come with traditional SME financing options. Schedule recurring payments, manage invoices, set payment reminders, and monitor payment status all from one dashboard.

It’s never been easier for SMEs to meet monthly payment obligations while keeping cash available to fuel growth, bridge receivable gaps, and make immediate investment in the supplies, services, and expertise needed to drive a growing business forward.

How can people connect with you?
You can find me on LinkedIn or contact me by email.
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrystiedaoszabo/
My email: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
https://twitter.com/ceedeees

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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