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Timothy Tiah, Co-Founder of Nuffnang

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Timothy Tiah holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from University College, London. After graduation, in 2007, Timothy Tiah, alongside his business partner and CEO Ming Shen Cheo, established Netccentric together with the launch of a blog advertising company, Nuffnang.

Throughout the years, Timothy has created and executed the monetisation strategies of the core business and has been responsible for driving the international expansion sector by launching new regional offices through joint venture partnerships. In addition, he was nominated by Businessweek as one of the 25 best young Asian entrepreneurs in 2007, whereby he was the only Malaysian representative and the youngest amongst the list of inspired nominees at age 23. Timothy also went on to win several other prestigious awards one of them being the JCI Creative Young Entrepreneur Award in 2009. In 2014, he was the top nominee for the Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year award for Malaysia. Furthermore, adding on to his list of accomplishments, in 2015, he was shortlisted as 20 top nominees for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 Malaysia and had won the Emerging Entrepreneur awards category.

During his free time, Timothy is a profilic blogger who writes at http://timothytiah.com and people interested in following him are also able do so on Dayre, https://dayre.me/timothytiah, a mobile blogging application as well as on Twitter @timothytiah.

Tell us about your business.

Netccentric Ltd is an integrated social media solutions provider for the Asia-Pacific region. Essentially it is a digital media business which operates seven businesses in the digital advertising sector across multiple countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Philippines, Thailand, China and the U.K.  We help advertisers connect with people on social media. Nuffnang is our blog advertising network and our first venture under Netccentric.

How did you come up with the idea of Nuffnang?

It all started back in 2005 when I was studying in London. I was the kind of Malaysian who was always homesick and so I read a lot of blogs back in Malaysia. I used to think blogs were a really niche thing but as I read more and more blogs and dug deeper, I realized that the traffic they collectively commanded was huge.

I wondered why advertisers never engaged bloggers and after some research, I have found that what the blogging community needed was one company to collectively represent them to advertisers. In other words, to make it technologically and logistically possible for an advertiser to reach 10,000 blogs in one campaign instead of just 10. Hence the idea for Nuffnang was born.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Nuffnang?

I promised myself that by the time I got back to KL after graduation, if nobody had started something like Nuffnang I would do it. As I came back, there was no start-up in relation with the idea of Nuffnang. Therefore, I turned down some job opportunities at a couple of investment banks and took the leap.

My partner, Ming Shen Cheo and I borrowed RM 75k from our fathers respectively and together we started Netccentric and Nuffnang with RM150K.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup and if so, how did you guys overcome it?

Yes plenty. It was a fairly steep learning curve. This was coming from a student and then running a start-up almost immediately. We didn’t know anything or anybody in the industry we existed in.

To get our first clients we could not network our way in. We just really went to knock on doors and try to convince people to give us a chance.

How have you been developing Netccentric Ltd?

Last year in June 2015, Netccentric was successfully listed on the ASX raising $12.5 million in a heavily oversubscribed capital raise.

Netccentric today has over 200 full-time staff and houses several online businesses which include Nom Nom Media, the exclusive digital reseller of Nuffnang; Churp Churp, a social media advertising network; Ripplewerkz, the design and web development arm and REelityTV, an online video production house.

What kind of feedback did you get for Nuffnang so far?

 I think Nuffnang has come a long way in revolutionizing the blogging industry. Before we started, blog advertising was a really small chunk of the overall advertising pie in Malaysia and Singapore. I believe we helped significantly grow that to what it is today.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? What is your strategy against your competition?

Yes. We’re in a number of different businesses and different countries so we have competitors in each individual country. Our focus isn’t on our competitors but really on ourselves.

What is the future of this industry?

Our industry is a really fast moving one. Things change and progress. Social networks come and go; therefore it is really important to keep up to speed with what’s going on. One of our key focuses now is Dayre that has helped us evolve into a platform owner.

Were there anything that disappointed you initially?

In businesses, we’re always bound to have our surprises and disappointments. I’ve had my fair share of positive surprises and disappointments too.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? 

Well I can speak with some level of experience from having own a company in the UK and Australia. In developing countries such as in Asia, costs tend to be lower, so it’s somewhat easier to turn a profit.

Developed countries have big mature markets but their costs are also correspondingly higher. So in these countries, we have to hit a higher minimum economy of scale if we want to make good profits.

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

I don’t think entrepreneurs can really be defined by the country you come from or anything like that really. The thing about being an entrepreneur is your ability to adapt. So entrepreneurs constantly evolve to the environment they’re in, regardless of where they’re from.

What is your definition of success?

Happiness.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I didn’t really just decide to be an entrepreneur. I just wanted to start something for the blogging community and well along the way progress to become an entrepreneur.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Luck. In my opinion, I believe that success is 70% luck and 30% hard work.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

I would like to quote my favourite phrase which is “It’s not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters”.

Connect 

www.netccentric.com

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Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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

Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

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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