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Thandar Soe, Director of Camford International College

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Thandar Soe’s humble beginning lead her to running her own school in Singapore.

What’s your story?
I am a teacher, an educational management leader and a change catalyst. Despite my humble beginnings, I managed to get an education and a job as an English teacher in Singapore in 2009. With my hard work and dedication, I was promoted to Principal in 2010. In 2012, I took over the school. While the risk was high and the opportunity was full of uncertainties, I perceived it as a significant step to build my dream school, where I could re-establish the school system to foster innovation, and raise the bar in educational, operational efficiency.

What excites you most about your industry?
As an education entrepreneur, I make a difference in the lives of hundreds of students. Being a foreigner myself, in a multicultural city, I relate to how they think and feel and understand their unique cultures. I give them the gift of education, skill and knowledge without the burden of high cost through flexible payment plans. It is not about granting certifications, but about creating a platform for them to grow, become resilient, and build the right mindset to face life. The values I instill in my students give them the courage to succeed beyond grads and thrive beyond education and become lifelong learners.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Myanmar the land of the extensive coastline, culture and ancient dynasties. I value the Asian values, exceptionally hard work, respect and harmony. I am also fascinated by our history as a continent. There is no significant event in history; we did not have a vital role in. I am connected to the heritage and spirituality as well as the modern day economic system. Through my school in Singapore, I learned about the business, the education system and all applicable laws and regulations and I have built my professional network of like-minded entrepreneurs.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore and Myanmar are great cities to establish a business.
The government in Singapore created a welcoming atmosphere for businesses to thrive with the flexible administration and regulations. Also, companies have access to great talent and a highly qualified workforce.

In Myanmar there is an excellent opportunity for growth. Despite the underdeveloped infrastructure, the need to revamp the business environment is increasing, giving entrepreneurs the chance to build innovative businesses.

As I am interested in starting a business focusing on moving existing businesses/corporations to the digital world, converting traditional processes to software-based processes, I see both cities as welcoming grounds for my ideas.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best advice I received was from my mother: “to give it all.” She encouraged me to pour my heart and soul into whatever I am doing and never look back. To succeed, I learned that I needed to gather all my strength and emotional power and never look back. When things move slowly, I ask myself, “is there anything else I need to do?”, and when things move fast, and I doubt my ability to manage, so I pause and think of all the hard work I did and I only allow myself to feel grateful.

Who inspires you?
Chong Phit Lian inspires me. She is one of the wealthiest and most successful women in Asia. Despite her early struggles in life growing up in her small city in Malaysia, and her labour work as a child in a rubber plantation, she managed to turn her life around. I appreciate the fact that we both share harsh beginnings, she insisted on getting an education. The support she received was limited, especially after her father died and later when her brothers died. Chong achieved her success with the hard work and determination and goal-orientation. I believe she is a great role-model.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of global education and how it can make people understand each other and live in harmony. I was recently introduced to the principles of global education and creating global education opportunities for students all over the world through innovative educational technology and methods. The initiative received considerable interest and recognition in many countries such as Canada, Egypt, New Zealand and other countries. With the complexity and inter-connectivity of our world, we need to teach students to learn from and interact with different groups around the world, to equip students with new skills to fit the changing job market and the shifting economies due to globalization.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I believe that things happen for a reason, and I did everything I could. I am a firm believer in taking risks, and this is what I did, I seized every opportunity that came to me. I maintained my resilience as much as I could. However, if I had the chance to live my life again, I wouldn’t have stressed so much at those times when money was scarce. I would have told the people I love that I loved them, and expressed my feelings more often. I would have felt more joyful and enjoy the little pleasures in life.

How do you unwind?
With all the stress in my daily life, I learned different ways and methods to unwind and maintain internal peacefulness. It depends. Sometimes, by simply staying at home, preparing my favourite tea and decompressing by watching some funny show on the TV. I also love to cook and experiment with new flavours. I believe the delicious aroma of feed ignite our emotional memory and makes our minds wander to happy places from the past. Swimming is another activity I love. It does not only pump blood through my veins, but it also keeps me healthy and strong.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali is by far my favourite destination. I believe Bali is a heaven, with fabulous beaches, golden sands, and endless beauty. I love the unique bamboo houses and hotels that make you part of nature. Food also is another thing I like about Bali. I like to enjoy the many flavours and the romantic atmosphere in restaurants.

Everyone in business should read this book:
I recommend the book “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work,” by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal. I recently read the book, and I am amazed by the idea of building a “flow state” in teams, using positive psychology.

I am trying to apply some of what I learned in this book, especially experiencing consciousness and mindfulness in my everyday life and stepping beyond oneself. I believe any entrepreneur needs to maintain his/her mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and this book is full of stories and examples of ways to do so.

Shameless plug for your business:
At the school I run, we have the vision to become the best school in Singapore and my team, and I work hard diligently day-in and day-out to achieve our vision. We instill a great value-system in our students’ hearts and ignite their courage to succeed in life by becoming lifelong learners. We challenge poor performance by empowering students and provide them with flexible financial plans.
I also focus on operational efficiency as well as the quality of education, because at the end of the day I run a business and carry a considerable responsibility towards my students as well as my business partners.

How can people connect with you?
I value the power of social media. Social media opened new global platforms for all business people from all over the world. Professional networks, especially LinkedIn is an excellent platform for professionals to connect. As a universal education enthusiastic leader, I am convinced that the internet has revolutionized the work.

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

Callum Connects

Sun Ho, Founder of LittleLives Inc

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Sun Ho has an edtech business, LittleLives. She’s helping turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What’s your story?
I’m just a small town girl who won’t stop believing.
Someone recently told me that the curious little 10-year-old girl in me is still shining through with excitement for the world today. Although, now, instead of being curious about how things work, I am interested in how we can solve real world problems. Today, I get to learn and build everyday on our dream to turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What excites you most about your industry?
Have you been to a preschool lately? In our day-to-day, we get to hear the wonderful laughter of children. We see the innocent smiles of our little ones, who learn as they play. We meet the tirelessly loving educators, leaders and parents who give their best. These are the people we serve everyday at LittleLives. It excites us greatly to be in an industry that meaningfully impacts the future of our world. When we see a new feature we have implemented in our system helping to shave off minutes or hours of administrative work for schools (and put a smile on many faces), it is deeply satisfying.

What’s your connection to Asia?
LittleLives started in Singapore. We have since expanded to multiple cities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. Everywhere we go, we gain unique insights about different cultures. One thing that remains unchanged around the world is the passion to improve education. This includes the desire to refine school processes too. I absolutely love the people I work with, in schools and in my own team overseas. They have taught me so much about their cultures and countries.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It is so hard to choose one. We love Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Beijing and pretty much every city we have visited. Setting up in multiple Asian cities has really become faster and more transparent than ever before. What a time to be alive and working on a startup, and even more so for a young woman in Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to yourself.

As a woman and as the founder of a tech startup, I have heard the many ways in which people express their surprise that I do not fit into – for lack of a better word – the norm. I am my own mix of feminine and geeky. I have a computer science background that I am passionate about and, at the same time, I love fun aesthetics and product development. Technology is an industry in which venture capitalists traditionally favour white, male founders as the stats show a concentration of success in this small demographic. Despite this, I have found that the people around me will respect me for being me because I let my personality and passion take the stage.

Who inspires you?
Beth Fredericks, the Executive Director at Wheelock College. She is a wonderful educator, leader and orator. At 67, she is as active as any young teacher and as wise as the oldest, most experienced professor. She has inspired so many early childhood educators with her stories, her teaching and above all, her warmth and delightful personality. She has contributed so much to the early childhood field here in Asia, and all over the world, over the span of her illustrious career. Her charm and kind heart makes her one of the most sought-after collaborators in our industry today. Yet, she remains humble, approachable and personable. Her enthusiasm for education and children, coupled with her infectious humour, are what I aspire to.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
What continues to blow me away every time I witness it, is incredible potential that can be unlocked when a great team comes together. When you put together bright, experienced, communicative and open-minded people in a team, miracles can happen.

Creative ideas that were recently put forth in a small ad-hoc project team are now being turned into a new product that LittleLives will soon offer. When we first began discussions, we had no idea where they would take us; the only thing we knew definitively was that we wanted to help educators gain better access to resources to help them in their everyday classroom. It all fell into place when our team started brainstorming ideas that were based on the problems we knew were present in early childhood education.

Now, we have the trial version of a new module, LittleAcademy, and I am in awe of how all of this came together. I would like to quote Margaret Mead here, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I would not change a thing. We made so many mistakes when we started this journey, but the lessons we learnt from our failures are what make us stronger today.

On a related note, there is this beautiful quote from Batman Begins:
Thomas Wayne asked, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

How do you unwind?
It is important for us to allow our body, mind and soul to unwind and recharge. Badminton is my go-to exercise. I play twice weekly to keep fit and nimble. Recently I have picked up Yoga Nidra with an excellent instructor who has opened my eyes to all the good that meditation does for our minds.

Beyond this, I find that spending time with my loved ones, friends and teammates helps me feel grounded and loved.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I travelled to China twice last year and truly fell in love with the country. It provides such a rich variety of experiences, from culture and art, to commerce and tech. I was in a constant state of amazement. It is a fast advancing nation that I really enjoy my time in, both learning and relaxing with the people I meet.

Everyone in business should read this book:
High Output Management by Andrew Grove, late CEO and Chairman of Intel. This is a book written in the 90s, but its ideas are still very much applicable to businesses today.

Andy lays out what you need to do to successfully manage your business in simple and concise terms. This does not mean that it is easy to grow as successfully as Intel did, but the book shows us that the path to greatness is apparent. What I personally love about this book is that it presents its ideas both logically and emotionally without judgement.

On the issue of an underperforming teammate, Andy offers a very simple explanation:
“When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.”

And as a manager, all you can do is to train and motivate.

This is an excellent review of the book by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz: https://a16z.com/2015/11/13/high-output-management/
I highly recommend this book to all entrepreneurs.

Shameless plug for your business:
LittleLives is a leading preschool edtech company with a strong presence in over 700 schools in Singapore, 20 in Vietnam, 130 in China and 100 in Malaysia. LittleLives develops and provides applications that allow preschools to record children’s administrative records digitally, from attendance-taking to portfolio management. In addition to reducing the hassle of physical filing and documentation, the LittleLives system allows parents to keep track of the progress of their children’s learning at school through LittleLives parents’ app.

As an edtech company, LittleLives does more than facilitate day-to-day school operations. In 2017, LittleLives hosted the first ever International Pre-school Conference in Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by educators representing 1200 preschools in the region. LittleLives has helped over 215,000 children, 430,000 parents and 23,000 teachers bring schools into the 21st century and we are hoping to continue empowering many more around the world.

Reach out to us if you are involved in education or entrepreneurship. We’re always happy to chat!

How can people connect with you?
Just drop me an email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
With so much to say, 140 characters is not enough. Hence, it is best to follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/littlelivesbigdreams), Instagram (littlelives_inc), YouTube (youtube.com/user/hosunSG), and check out our LittleLives Blog (blog.littlelives.com) to get to know us better!

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

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

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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