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Women on Top in Tech – Robyn Ward, CEO at FounderForward

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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 Robyn Ward, a 20-year veteran of the technology startup space. Via her coaching and consulting business, FounderForward, she helps founders with leadership development, culture & team-building, as well as a fundraising strategy and strategic partnerships. Robyn also teaches Entrepreneurship at USC and is a champion of diversity and equality in the technology industry.

What makes you do what you do?
I love people and I love entrepreneurship. Running a coaching and advisory business allows me to combine both of these in a way that is immensely rewarding. There is no better feeling than the one I get upon receiving a thank you letter from a client telling me I have changed their life and their business in ways they could not imagine.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I got to where I am today through a combination of hustle and execution, along with a deep focus on networking and relationship building.

In startups you have to excel at getting a lot done with very little resources.  In my early days, I developed a reputation as the “get shit done” girl.

In addition, as a people lover, I am a natural connector and community-builder.  And the startup industry is very much about community. I derive great satisfaction from connecting people to co-create opportunities.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?
Having been in the tech startup space for 20 years – on both the operating and investing sides of the table – I found myself constantly frustrated by the fact that the product is almost always put before people. Yet, most of the time, it is bad management, bad leadership, and bad culture that kills startups. So I decided to start my business, FounderForward, to focus on helping founders and startups avoid these issues and take themselves and their businesses to the next level.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
Currently, I do not have a mentor, but I have had them in the past.  Mentorship, and sponsorship within one’s workplace, is key to success – especially for women.

How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him?
I have sought out folks I looked up to for mentorship and reached out to them for a coffee to build a relationship that would lead to mentorship.

In terms of sponsorship, I have always worked in a very male dominated fields. I was fortunate that the two men I worked for wanted to sponsor me. I did not ask.  But I am a big believer in asking.  If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. I encourage everyone to find a mentor and a sponsor and to ask for their help and guidance.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I am a big believer that the top job of a manager is to develop and grow talent. This means building real relationships with your employees and talk with them often about their goals. It also means trusting them with projects that challenge them and require them to grow and stretch. In addition, it means both giving and asking for honest feedback on performance. Never forget the power of asking questions – even simple ones, like “how can I best support you to help you reach goals?”

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity and inclusion in all industries, and am pro-actively involved in promoting change within the tech industry. Last fall, I co-hosted a Los Angeles Tech Town Hall on Diversity and Inclusion (with Emily Best of Seed&Spark), which featured leading activist and investor Freada Kapor Klein.

I also dedicate a great deal of time of helping female founders. I am on the Board of the Women Founders Network, which hosts the biggest pitch contest for women founders in Southern California.  I am also an Advisor to Brava Investments, which focuses on investing in businesses that disproportionately benefit women.

Lastly, as I am coaching founders, I am also coaching them on the importance of diverse teams and inclusive cultures. Not only because it is a good thing to do, but because it is good for business – meaning the bottom line.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
A great leader must have emotional intelligence. Building companies doesn’t happen without hiring great people and building great teams.  It is hard to do either of these without a high EQ.  In fact, I believe EQ > IQ.  When investing, I assume founders that have gotten as far as a meeting with me have already pre-screened for IQ. Most of my questions are geared towards understanding how emotionally stable, adaptable, empathetic, and inspiring a founder is. These are all elements of emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is also something I work on with all my coaching clients.  The good news is that emotional fitness can be improved upon – much like physical fitness. It just takes consistent and conscious effort, which is why having a coach helps.

Advice for others?
I deeply believe entrepreneurship has no zip code. In 2018, I am focused on bringing FounderForward’s content and curriculum online – where it can benefit entrepreneurs around the globe and not just LA and SF. Sign up for our newsletter via FounderForward.co to keep updated on these efforts.

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

Callum Connects

Jason Feng, Co-Founder of Pillpresso

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Mr. Jason Feng is re-engineering the healthcare industry.

What’s your story?
I am an engineer at heart. I enjoy the process of problem solving and have been actively developing innovative solutions to existing problems. Me and my co-founder settled on the problem of poor medication adherence among the elderly. This was a problem which struck a chord with us because we all have loved ones who have to take multiple medications on a daily basis. The complex medication regimen, coupled with declining cognitive abilities of the elderly tend to exacerbate the lack of medication adherence, which may lead to disease relapse and hospital readmissions, ultimately increasing the burden to caregivers and the society.

What excites you most about your industry?
The problem of medication adherence is not a new one in the healthcare industry. In fact, lack of medication adherence is a well-researched problem in many countries. Solutions which have been developed to address this problem face three major issues:

  • Entrenched mindset within the healthcare system, many of which are used to and unwilling to change from the legacy systems which were implemented decades ago.
  • Complex nuances in healthcare delivery across different countries, making it hard to “copy” and “paste” solutions which have worked well in other areas.
  • Because poor medication adherence is multifactorial, and many solutions focus solely on a few aspects, and do not employ a holistic approach.

Nevertheless, entering this industry at this time excites me because we are in the midst of a global shift in healthcare models; one where the industry is moving away from a service-based model, towards a more value-based model. This shift means that traditional players such as insurance companies and pharmaceuticals are under increasing pressure from patients and payers to demonstrate the value of their products under real-world use. Medication adherence data is one crucial missing link in this puzzle to deliver better care to patients. Being able to build a business around these incumbents and pioneer a new way of care is something which I look forward to.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am a Singaporean. Most of my experiences throughout my life have been in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I have not worked in other Asian countries outside of Singapore, so I can’t comment on other Asian countries too much. Singapore has a relatively low barrier for starting a business, and all business rules and regulations are clear and transparent. The startup ecosystem is also rather comprehensive and easily accessible. Being a small country, Singapore has a very limited market for products and services. However, due to its size and efficiency, it serves as an excellent test bed for new ideas. Being a travel hub, travelling to other Asian countries is cheap and easy.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Fail fast, fail often. The greatest lessons are never learnt through success.

Who inspires you?
Elon Musk

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Successful launch of Falcon Heavy and the recovery of the 2 side cores. The way the 2 cores landed was like something you’d only see in CGI. Very well calculated.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Applied for NOC (NUS Overseas College)

How do you unwind?
Go rock climbing.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Nepal. I’m an outdoors guy. Being able to trek around the Himalayas is probably the best form of relaxation for me.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Creative confidence, by the Kelly Brothers

Shameless plug for your business:
Pillpresso is an award-winning health-tech startup that aims to improve medication adherence. We’re developing a medication management system that empowers seniors to manage their medicines independently and deliver proactive healthcare in the community through technology. Comprising individuals with complementary skills across business, engineering and medicine, our team is driven by a desire to improve healthcare and the human condition.

Grand Prize Winner of the 2017 Tech Factor Challenge
https://www.opengovasia.com/articles/8072-top-4-grand-prize-winners-for-3rd-edition-of-ageing-in-place-tech-challenge-announced-in-singapore

Grand Prize Winner of the 2015 Modern Aging
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/3-teams-receive-s-125-000-of-seed-funding-for-elderly-friendly-i-8246318

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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Entrepreneurship

Will Financial Liberalisation Trigger a Crisis in China?

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been liberalizing its financial system for nearly 4 decades. While it now has a comprehensive financial system with a large number of financial institutions and large financial assets, its financial policies are still highly repressive. These repressive financial policies are now a major hindrance to the PRC’s economic growth.

The PRC is at the beginning of a new wave of financial liberalization that is necessary for supporting the country’s strong economic growth. The country’s leaders have already unveiled a comprehensive program of financial reform, which includes 11 specific reform measures in three broad areas: creating a level-playing field (such as allowing private banks and developing inclusive finance), freeing the market mechanism (such as reforming interest rate and exchange rate regimes and achieving capital account convertibility), and improving regulation.

But could financial liberalization lead to a major financial crisis in the PRC? What would be the consequences for financial stability as the PRC moves to further liberalize its financial system? If the PRC repeats the painful experiences of Mexico, Indonesia, and Thailand, then it might not be able to achieve its original goal of overcoming the middle-income trap.

International experiences of financial liberalization, especially those of middle-income economies, should offer important lessons for the PRC. In our new research, based on cross-country data analysis, we find that financial liberalization, in general, reduces, not increases, financial instability. This powerful conclusion is valid whether financial instability is measured by crisis occurrence or by fragility indicators, such as impaired loans and net charge-offs. The only exception is that financial liberalization does not appear to significantly lower the probability of systemic banking crises, although it does lower the risk indicators for banks. These results have higher statistical significance and are greater in magnitude for the middle-income group than for the entire sample.

The insignificant impact on banking crises, however, should be interpreted with caution. One of the possible explanations is that under the repressed financial regime, the government supports banks with an implicit or explicit blanket guarantee. This reduces the probability of an explicit banking crisis, although the banking risks may be even greater because of the moral hazard problem. In fact, government protection of banks could also increase the probability of a sovereign debt crisis or even a currency crisis before financial liberalization.

If financial liberalization significantly reduces the likelihood of financial crises, especially in middle-income economies, then why did some middle-income economies experience financial crises following liberalization? We further investigate whether the pace of liberalization, the supervisory structure, and the institutional environment matter for outcomes of financial liberalization.

We obtain three main findings. First, an excessively rapid pace of financial liberalization may increase financial risks. The net impact on financial instability depends on the relative importance of the “liberalization effect” and the “pace effect.” In essence, what the “pace effect” captures could simply be the prerequisite conditions and reform sequencing that are well discussed in the literature. Second, the quality of institutions, such as investor protection and law and order, also matter. International experiences indicate that investor protection can significantly reduce the probability of financial crises. Third, the central bank’s participation in financial regulation is helpful for reducing financial risks during financial liberalization. This is probably because central banks always play central roles in financial liberalization, especially in the liberalization of interest rates, exchange rates, and the capital account. If a central bank is responsible for financial regulation, its liberalization policies might be more cautious and prudent.

Our research findings offer important policy implications for the PRC. (1) Further financial liberalization is necessary not only for sustaining strong economic growth but also for containing or reducing financial risks. (2) Gradual reform may still work better than the “big bang” approach, and sequencing is very important for avoiding the painful financial volatilities that many other middle-income countries have seen. (3) The government should also focus more on improving the quality of other institutions, especially market discipline, to contain financial risks. (4) It is better for the central bank to participate in financial regulation. The new regulatory system should focus exclusively on financial stability and shift from regulating institutions toward regulating functions. It should also become relatively independent to increase accountability.

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About the Author 

This submitted article was written by  and  of Asia Pathways, the blog of The Asian Development Bank Institute was established in 1997 in Tokyo, Japan, to help build capacity, skills, and knowledge related to poverty reduction and other areas that support long-term growth and competitiveness in developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

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