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Alix O’Hara, CEO of Mashblox

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Alix set up Mashblox to help overcome the ever-rising obesity problem facing our developed countries today.

What’s your story?
I have a rough background. I started this journey with my first company Mashblox while homeless less than 2 years ago after my ex-employers did a spectacular job of convincing me that;

  1. I have no interest in working for anyone else’s exclusive benefit ever again, and
  2. I had at least the seeds of everything I needed to do something for myself.

I think (b) applies to most people if they can push into the unknown: a client / customer focus and big picture orientation fills a lot of gaps.

I’m driven by creating solutions so that others won’t have to struggle through some of the challenges I’ve faced or that I see around me.

Mashblox is about preventing eating disorders, unhealthy nutritional and overconsumption habits that are endemic to a lot of the developed world and have created our ever-rising obesity rate. I think we unconsciously create these problems for our children as babies by overriding their instincts and natural wisdom with our own habits and values.

What excites you most about your industry?
I’ve found the baby feeding accessories market to be highly collaborative and supportive. Everyone’s got their niche, and we’re all united by an interest in what’s best for the child.

I’ve already connected with a number of other companies with similar values of promoting conscious feeding habits and good infant nutrition for cooperative efforts in sales and marketing promotions and am working towards partnerships with several companies in Australia and abroad.
(But I’m always looking for more!)

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m in the Asia Pacific region (Australia), but I’m mobile! My recent visit to Singapore was to scope the Agglomeration model as a potential route to IPO for Mashblox by strategic partner acquisition.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I’ve only seen one so far but I’m loving Singapore!

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Keep quiet about what you’re working on, let the results speak for themselves.

Be careful who you share your dreams with, particularly in the early stages.

I also tend to hold on to quotes and mantras:
“Even if you’re on the right path, you’ll get run over if you just sit there”

“Entrepreneurs are people that work like no one else will for a few years so that they can live like no one else can.”

“Your only job in your job is to systematise your job so you do not have to do your job.”

I’ve come up with a few myself:
“If I wasn’t nervous, there’d be something wrong.”

Leap before you’re ready: “If you’ve waited til you’re comfortable, you’ve waited too long.”

Who inspires you?
I do.

I find there’s a balance in focusing on your own goals and rhythm versus looking afield to borrow inspiration from others’ exploits. If I pause too long on the latter it becomes a distraction and makes me feel insecure when it starts to distract from my own goals.

Looking to other visionaries just shows me my dreams are possible and the many potential pathways there, if you’re creative and dedicated enough. I find everyone I connect with has something to offer though, be it their experience, connections, a perspective or an idea.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I was reading about adult obesity; that insatiability of appetite is the strongest concomitant factor and that bariatric surgery (by which portion size limits are drastically reduced and enforced) is the most effective long term treatment.

It wasn’t surprising, but it told me that Mashblox is on the right track by promoting infant rights to feed themselves only as much as required, as all evidence is clear that once the stomach is stretched beyond natural capacity it’s not great at bouncing back. Obese adults aren’t weak: they legitimately do not know when to stop eating, or the energy value of what they’re eating because those instincts have been damaged to the point they’re impossibly subtle.

I tend to do a lot of my other learnings in targeted conversations: My measure of a good one is one that blows me away (and I don’t have time for pointless conversation), so it happens fairly regularly.

One that comes to mind this week is an eye-opening perspective on a collaboration with a big brand FMCG.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d have put more effort into finding people that supported my ambitions and happiness and would have run with my first business idea at 13 years old. Who knows or cares how far I would have gotten, but I’d have learned so much in the process that I’d have been able to use towards my current (and future) ventures.

How do you unwind?
By getting stuff done. (Meaningful progress keeps me happy)
I unwind from that by reading, meditating, or with good company depending on where my ambivert pendulum is swinging. I miss my motorbike.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Singapore! (That’s also the only place I’ve been so far). Things I love:

  • The smooth, clean underground rail
  • The availability of amenities and prevalence of English makes me feel comfortable
  • Exotic food
  • The whole city seems designed around exquisitely simple branding and social conscience
  • The concentration of world class tourist attractions

I’ll definitely be back.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Agglomerate” Jeremy Harbour & Callum Laing
I believe it’s critical to set your goal before figuring out your way there, and consider myself lucky to have come across the concept of Agglomeration (binding companies together to send them to IPO in whatever market will optimise return for the group) early enough in my startup journey to design my corporate structure and growth strategy to support this as an investor exit. It’s opened my eyes to exciting long term possibilities.

Shameless plug for your business:
Mashblox represents a new standard in infant feeding, by

  • Letting kids feed themselves safe textures from as early as possible
  • Supporting a broader range of textured foods than many other feeding methods so that sustenance doesn’t need to be sweet to be tasty
  • Playfully engaging kids with foods that are otherwise boring or intimidating

Our company model is rooted in partnering University research with childcare centres to test these (and other) supporting hypotheses with evidence-based longitudinal trials, parallel to commercialisation. We believe that spoon feeding in most cases is not only unnecessary, but that it’s potentially very damaging because we simply don’t know when to stop as well as the child does (and that this creates habits that they don’t ever necessarily recover from).
Mashblox is the most versatile tool available for safe baby-led weaning, by providing a vessel for age appropriate textures.

How can people connect with you?
Regarding business opportunities:
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alixohara/ (please include the nature of your interest to connect in your invitation)

For interest in Mashblox(R):
Email: [email protected] let me know where you’re from and your interest in my product and I’ll see how I can get it to you, or if you can help me get it to others.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mashblox/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mashblox

Twitter handle?
@mashblox

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

Clairine Runtung, Investment Manager of Convergence Ventures

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Early-stage venture capitalist, Clairine Runtung, shares her story and passion for helping build Indonesia’s technology ecosystem. In her role, she helps local entrepreneurs looking to grow their business, while also finding time to coach and mentor young women in venture capital through an organisation she co-founded in early 2017.

What’s your story?
Having lived in 4 different cities within 3 different countries throughout my career working in finance, I had always been drawn to not only numbers but also diversity, people and their stories. When an opportunity came about for me to join a tech VC firm in Jakarta, I jumped at the chance, after working for a number of years in a boutique investment consulting firm, a global asset management firm and a non-profit foundation.

I currently lead the investment team at Convergence Ventures, an Indonesia-based early-stage venture capital fund. My work includes sourcing deals, conducting due diligence, reviewing legal documents and most importantly, working with my colleagues in Investment, HR and Business Development teams to support our founders. My job requires relentless intellectual curiosity, analytical and communication skills, and ultimately passion to help the shaping and building of Indonesia’s tech ecosystem.

Early in 2017, I co-founded a Young Women in VC (renamed SheVC Indonesia in September 2017, as part of the global Pan-Asian SheVC network), focused on networking, mentoring and building a community for junior to mid-level female VCs. Our local membership grew to over 20 people within 6 months, and I personally mentored 3 young women just joining the industry. Aside from tech VC, I am also involved in being a Council for Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa, a non-profit organization focusing on youth and education, as well as being a mentor and a judge to a number of local tech startup events and competition. Beginning September, I will be attending Yale School of Management to pursue a 2-year MBA program.

What excites you most about your industry?
The never-ending learning, rapid progress, and people attempting to solve real problems through technology. I cannot wait to see what will unfold within tech-VC space in Indonesia in the next 5-10 years. My team and I think we are following China’s growth trajectory though to get there we need major support from the Government and foreign investors.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. I worked for 2.5 years in Singapore. I was educated in the United States and lived there but I am still very much deeply-rooted in Asia. After grad school, I plan on moving back to Asia for sure.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Jakarta and Singapore for two extremely different reasons.
Jakarta, because the city’s urban challenge actually shapes you to become a resilient hustler. Not to mention the fact that the city has a dynamic tech VC landscape that’s rapidly evolving year by year.
Singapore, because I take pleasure in how efficient, effective and structured the city state is!

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“The only way out is through”
“Leave your mark, build a legacy, no matter how tiny you think it is.”

Who inspires you?
My dad and everyone around me who was not born with silver spoons in their mouth.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It’s amazing how your body can truly adjust to the power of your mind. I have recently increased the frequency of my Intermittent Fasting routine, from only once a week to twice a week. Essentially, twice in a week I’d fast between 22-24 hours. Though skeptical and challenging at first, after a month, I rarely feel hungry/starving on those two scheduled fasting days. Interestingly, I also feel the most productive at work on days that I am fasting.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. If there is anything I’d like to tell myself over and over again, is to never regret and to look only forward.

How do you unwind?
Take a hot shower, drink a cup of tea and read a book (I alternate between fiction and non-fiction) or watch videos (I also alternate between entertaining and educating videos). On some days, you can find me winding down over a nice dinner with friends or family.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali, Jogjakarta and Manado. All cities are in Indonesia.
Bali for its beaches, sunshine and the feeling of being surrounded by carefree people. Jogjakarta for its Javanese cultural and heritage. Manado because it’s where my dad was born and where my grandparents live. In my opinion, each city has something different to offer that contributes to my way of relaxing.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Golden Passport – Duff McDonald

Shameless plug for your business:
Instagram Story and straight up telling friends, acquaintances and even strangers about how awesome the work that I do is.

How can people connect with you?
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/clairineruntung/
Personal email: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@clairineruntung though I have been inactive for years. I am much more active on LinkedIn these days. Find me on IG @clairineruntung as well.

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

Rishabh Singhvi & Varun Saraf, Co-Founders of Why Q

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Surprised by the lack of delivery services available for local Singaporean hawker stall foods, Rishabh and Varun started their own delivery service.

What’s your story?
Varun and I moved to Singapore in 2008 and soon turned into foodies. After completing our studies at SMU, we worked in corporate offices in the Singapore CBD for 4 years. Here, we faced the problem of long queues and found it hard to find feasible delivery options on a day to day basis. We made it our goal to help others like us, so they don’t face the same problem of finding affordable yet tasty options to eat their daily meal. The name asks all those queuing up at food courts and hawker centres a simple question – Why Queue … when we can bring Singapore’s favorite hawker food to you?

What excites you most about your industry?
The Hawker culture is the most exciting and intriguing part of the food industry in Singapore. It is deep-rooted in the local Singapore culture. There is rich variety of cuisines available under one roof, food is delicious and very affordable. We were very surprised how this part of the food industry was completely ignored by other food deliveries.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and brought up in India and have been staying in Singapore for the past 10 years.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
The ease of running a start-up and the professionalism makes Singapore my favourite city for business. It has the most business-friendly regulations, low start-up costs and takes only a week to register and get your business going.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” – Jeff Bezos

Who inspires you?
Hawker Uncle and Aunties are our Hawker Heroes. Most of the stalls are family-run businesses. The dedication and hard-work that they put in is commendable. They come to the hawker centre at 3am to start preparing food for the day and leave only in the evening after cleaning and washing everything.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
We are leaning so much about our hawker partners through our #HawkersOfSG series, inspired by #HumansOfNewYork. For example, one of our hawker partners was into advertising (until the 2008 recession started, after which he started one of the most popular hawker stalls in the country) while the other used to sell and ride Harley Davidson bikes (and now sells black pepper rice bowls). Their stories and how they turned into our Hawker Heroes continues to inspire us and blow us away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I think I haven’t reached that stage in life yet where I look back and want to do things differently.

How do you unwind?
Watching and playing football 🙂

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali, definitely. One of the most beautiful and chill places.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Shameless plug for your business:
Cheapest and largest Hawker Food delivery in Singapore.

How can people connect with you?
On whatsapp at 90268776 or email at [email protected]

Twitter handle?
We’re on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/whyqsg/ and Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/whyqsg/

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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