Connect with us

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Samantha John, Co-Founder of Hopscotch Technologies

Published

on

(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 Samantha John, Co-Founder of Hopscotch. Hopscotch is a programming tool for kids and the first programming language designed for a touch screen device. Samantha John studied Applied Mathematics, English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She fell in love with programming during her senior year. Since then, she’s been on a mission to introduce every kid to this amazing skill.

What makes you do what you do?
I think there are a few reasons. On a personal level, it’s a lot of fun to run your own company and to get to be your own boss. For me, it’s very empowering and fulfilling. On a broader level, I very much believe in our mission, to introduce to the younger generation the power of computing and try to change the way people interact with how they think about computers. So that they don’t just think of it as a machine that delivers them videos, it is also a tool that they can use to extend their own capabilities and extend the power of their minds. The fact that we are working towards the future through our own small way, feels very fulfilling to me. In terms of where I do want spending my time and my energy.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I started my professional life as a programmer. My very first job was in QA, I was testing software by going through website to figure out if there are any bugs in it. I’ve worked as a software developer, software engineer for a couple of years, and finally felt that I understood the software development process well enough.

My cofounder and I had worked out a few different ideas together, none of which had been super exciting tasks — at least nothing had been exciting enough to make us feel that we were ready to go all out and quit our jobs and do full-time. But when we started to build our Hopscotch, finally, that felt right. It felt exciting, this is something that we will be willing to dedicate multiple years of our lives into.

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)?
In terms of how we actually started the company, Jocelyn and I, for the first year and a half did not raise any money or even have a product or revenue or anything so, we would do various consulting jobs on the side. We would work on Hopscotch four days a week and then on the fifth day we would devote ourselves to our other various money-making activities. That took a lot of pressure on us. We were not sitting here like watching our bank accounts dwindle as we desperately tried to get this off the ground. We thought it is going to take a while and then we’ll be on a steady state. We were not like doing great financially but we were paying our rent, we were not just like pleading money all the time and I think that lack of putting ourselves in a none stressful situation was really important in able for us to do good work.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
One of our mentors is Alan Kay. He’s one of the pioneers of programming and computer science. He invented the term object oriented programming, and he was very active in the kind of field. We met to teach children how to program and to bring programming as a tool for education. So, I talked to him a lot in terms of making sure that we’re doing the right thing for kids. I think with education there’s a temptation to think that you’re an educator so obviously you’re doing good for the world and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. You can do very bad things to the world through education because you’re influencing how the next generation of people will think. So, I’ve got to be very careful about what we were trying to teach the kids. And Alan has been a really great person to talk through ideas like that.

How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him?
We knew who he was because he’s a very famous computer scientist. Basically, we really wanted Allan Kay to be our mentor and Jocelyn, my co-founder, has the full credit for this. We worked our way, getting friends with various people in his circle and eventually were introduced to him. He met us and we had gotten along really well. It was very much, kind of, knowing that he was someone who we wanted to be in our team to help us out and to talk to. And strategically figuring out how to meet him and how to get him on board.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
One thing that interests us the most, that time with very talented team members, is that they have very high expectations of their leadership. We’ve had various people work for us over the years and the people who are the best tend to also complain the most. One of the most valuable things that these people bring to the table is when things aren’t running as wells as they feel they should see you and help you find your course correctly. So I do one on one meeting with the people who are important to me on our team every two weeks. And give them a chance to bring up what they think is going well and what they think is not going well. I listen to them, which I think is what a lot of people are looking for. Like for people who are very smart and effective, they want to feel they’re empowered to be effective in their role. That when they have ideas, they’re being listened to. So, it’s very important to me to actually listen to the people I’m working with.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Consciously, Yes. One thing about diversity is that like, we, the two co-founders are women and we’ve historically hired a lot of women in our company. There are not as many women in the tech world but in terms of the actual number of people in our company, we hired a lot of women. And I think about this in terms of all these companies that have trouble hiring women and I think that there is something to it. As a female, it’s easier for me to connect with women. We have more women in the team and it’s just seems to happen naturally, that we hire a lot of women. They are people who we worked best with. I’m sure it’s also true for men who were running companies and end up hiring a lot of men. So I don’t know if we are pro-actively doing that much for diversity. But someone considers our team diverse. Three women and one non-Caucasian guy from Mexico.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I think what’s important but hard to do is that as a leader, you both need to be able to zoom out and think about the big picture. Think about, “Where’s my company going in a year? In 5 years? In 10 years?” Whether it aims like, “are we doing that?” and then you also need to zoom in on the details when necessary and write that update to your investors or make sure that the sales emails are going out. Whatever it is that you need to know both when to zoom in on the details, and be able to take a step back and work on the big picture and making that context which is kind of very unnatural thing and it’s hard to do and getting the right mix of that. I think those are really important in being a good leader.

Advice for others?
One piece of advice I have for people, maybe for those who want to be entrepreneurs, those people who are thinking about starting their own thing, is that it is a good idea. I’ll tell you a story. When we started Hopscotch, we did not quit our jobs to start Hopscotch. We did it on nights and weekends. And I think that’s really important, that before we even care for the idea of Hopscotch popping up, we’ve worked on other things at nights and weekends while we were still working, and I think it is important to have other alternatives at all times. So instead of working at Hopscotch I could have gone out with my friends or could’ve written a book or there are things that I could have done and there other ways to advance professionally and because of us having alternatives, there was a moment when it became very clear and that I wanted to do Hopscotch more. That I wanted to do any of those other things and that I knew I was ready to quit my job. I’ve seen many friends quit their jobs because they want to do a start-up. Maybe they were a bit fed up with their jobs at that moment and they became a little bit lost because the only thing they have to do was to search for their next big thing. And it is hard to evaluate whether the ideas that they’ve come up with are going to be better than the alternative. Because the alternative is just continuous searching, which is somewhat a hard place to be in. And I think people get a bit lost when they don’t have any constraints to focus their mind and their energy at.

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

Callum Connects

Jason Feng, Co-Founder of Pillpresso

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Entrepreneurship

Will Financial Liberalisation Trigger a Crisis in China?

Published

on

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.

________________________________________________________________

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.

Continue Reading

Trending