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Women on Top in Tech – Chandni Rajendran, Founder of Tactopus

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Chandni Rajendran, Founder of Tactopus. It is an inclusive educational platform for children with visual impairment. She builds interactive tactile graphics and tangible learning solutions that break barriers in access to education for blind children.

What makes you do what you do?
I’m an interaction designer, I design technology to make it work well for people. HCI (human computer interaction) design involves understanding human needs and finding ways to address them with constantly evolving technology that’s been made available to us. I definitely enjoy being in this cusp of design and digital technology, where being empathetic, sensitive, creative, and observant are big strengths. I’m currently working in education, creating inclusive, interactive learning experiences for children with special needs.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I did my Masters in Interaction Design at IDC, Indian Institute of Technology. As a student, I’d always be looking for opportunities to connect with people of different points of view, experiences, and fields. I’d participate in design competitions and conferences, where I had the opportunity to present my work to diverse audiences. Learning to communicate design ideas to a broad audience has proven to be an important asset. Design communication is a very important skill, and I think it was honed considerably during my masters program. Looking back, another skill I seemed to have picked up, is going for it before I was ready for something, and it has been quite rewarding.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
My entrepreneurial journey has been a spin-off from my academic work. My masters project was to develop a cost effective way to add audio labels to tactile graphics. A little before that, I briefly designed tactile graphics for blind school children, and I was very unhappy with the limitations in tactile communication. That led me to develop the technology to provide live audio labels to tactile material. While testing it with users and speaking with mentors at XRCVC (Xaviers’ Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged, Mumbai), I realized it was an important solution that could make a real difference. So I decided to give it the time to see how it could become a business and reach the users who need it.

The first, and most rewarding recognition for my work was when a 12 year old user eagerly asked when the game would be ready so he could take it home and play. Shortly after that, I received the Young Innovator Award from the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, which was very encouraging at an early stage. There is now a very nurturing environment for startups in India, especially in Mumbai and Bangalore. There has been a lot of conversation about entrepreneurship, resources, and supporting organizations. Even before I graduated, I received grants from my university and the government to prototype the technology. That helped me get started and reach a few partner schools.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I have reached out to many people I look up to for different reasons- entrepreneurs in similar fields, industry leaders, and academics. I have benefitted from long conversations and helpful advice from them and I continue to keep them updated about my progress. Most people are approachable and are easy to speak with, especially when you have an exciting idea that you want feedback or guidance on.

I was part of EmpoWer, an accelerator for women, with 14 other women entrepreneurs, a few of whom are further ahead in their entrepreneurial journey, a few who’ve had decades of experience working in the tech industry. I’m also connected with a team of inspiring social entrepreneurs at India Inclusion Summit, who know my work closely and are able to point me in the right direction when I need it. So I’ve come to develop a network of resourceful and helpful individuals whom I can bank on for guidance.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I myself learned a lot from my first internship with Mr. Bijoy Ramachandran’s office, an architecture practice based in Bangalore. I learnt very important lessons early on, in design, work ethic, and discipline in quality of work. Though I do nothing related to architecture now, I believe the practices I picked up then still help me do good work. As much as possible, I try to do the same for anybody who works with me. It’s not just about getting work done at the office, but making sure there’s a meaningful learning for interns who join the team.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My startup is all about diversity. It’s about enabling people with disabilities to participate equally in social learning scenarios. It enables schools to be inclusive and support children with special needs. It’s about bridging those gaps that might seem small at the moment, but often snowball into significant barriers to opportunity as a child grows up. Having access to the right tools is very important, and we’re creating those empowering resources. One of the design challenges we’ve had is designed for everybody- making the products appealing for all children, and not just as assistive technology for a few. Social inclusion is as important as having access to information and opportunities.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
As a designer, one should constantly be reimagining how things can be better around them. Design as a process or tool can be applied to anything “from a spoon to a city,” as famously stated by Ernesto Rogers. There are enough problems in the world to find creative solutions for, and if one looks carefully, there are opportunities for good design everywhere. All the designers I admire have done precisely that- went beyond the usual, found interesting opportunities, and created meaningful design solutions.

Advice for others?
It’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur (or work with a startup) in India, with an incredible amount of support from the government and the startup community. I’ll repeat what I once heard – seize the day. While on the one hand, investors may be looking for the next unicorn, but there are many startups and social enterprises that may never reach those lofty numbers, but serve very important roles and impact people’s lives positively. I’m sure it’ll be a rewarding journey when an organization’s key success metrics include social impact.


If you’d like to get in touch with Chandni Rajendran, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chaandni/

To learn more about Tactopus, please click here.

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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Callum Connects

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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