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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

Elizabeth Wu, Co-founder & COO of Trehaus

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Elizabeth Wu is making work-life integration a reality for working parents in her new family friendly coworking space.

What’s your story?
I co-founded a coworking space in Singapore that comes complete with a child-friendly facility. We’re the first of our kind here and we’ve been making work-life integration a reality for working parents since we opened.

What excites you most about your industry?
We are the first of our kind, and there’s no other coworking space like us. Sure, there are plenty of coworking spaces in Singapore, but we are the pioneers of championing ‘BYO-kid’ to work by creating a conducive workspace and enriching kids play, all under one roof.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I’m a local through and through.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, of course! It’s safe, well-regulated and has a diverse community. Barriers to entry for starting up a business is low, and generally there is good support for small to medium enterprises and startups, which is great.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Life is short. Do stuff that matters.” I think I decided to do “stuff that matters” a long time ago and that’s why I became an educator. When motherhood beckoned, I decided again, to do “stuff that matters” by staying home to be with my kids. Then, I began to desire a meaningful career while raising my kids. So, I decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, because I am governed by wanting to “do stuff that matters!”

Who inspires you?
So many people inspire me. My members at Trehaus inspire me with the things they do and the changes they make. But if I have to pick someone, it would be Elim Chew, founder of 77th Street; who is a seasoned entrepreneur. She started from humble beginnings, went through setbacks and never said never to new journeys in entrepreneurship. I love that she always looks for ways to give back to society and mentor the next generation with her wealth of wisdom and experiences.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I learned the 5-by-5 rule recently: That is, ‘if it’s not going to matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes being upset by it.’ This helps me puts things in perspective, and I try to remember this every time the urge comes to dwell, to brood, to beat myself up or to sweat the small stuff.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would definitely be more careful with the people I hired to build the team. I’ve learned that it is important to find and build an entrepreneurial team that will plough and work hard alongside the founders. Like Jack Ma once said, “Don’t hire the most qualified candidate. Hire the craziest.” I should have done that right from the start. It would save us so much time and heartache.

How do you unwind?
I take long walks to clear my or I go for a fruitful session of self care, like yoga or a massage.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I really enjoy getting out of Singapore to the outskirts of Bangkok to live amongst the locals. My family of 5 used to do that each December; just taking off to live amongst the locals where street food is aplenty and warmth and hospitality is everywhere. I enjoy their slow pace of life and how simple things can be.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz

Shameless plug for your business:
Trehaus is Singapore’s first ever family-friendly coworking space that lets you build a career while prioritising family. If it takes a village to raise a child, then Trehaus is the modern village where you will find a robust community and supportive ecosystem that lets you be an involved parent – never missing a single milestone in your child’s early years – and at the same time do efficient and productive work. We’ve made magic happen in what we’ve created!

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

Mark Winterton, General Manager of InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay

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Mark Winterton has dedicated his life to achieving unparalleled and extraordinary guest experiences in the hospitality industry.

What’s your story?
I’m a seasoned hospitality professional with over twenty years international experience launching luxury brands, repositioning existing brands and driving innovation for some of the world’s most successful hotels.

As General Manager of InterContinental® Singapore Robertson Quay, I’m responsible for the strategic positioning of the property as the next generation of the InterContinental hotel brand and have been spearheading the hotel since its opening in October 2017, with the goal of achieving a unique and unrivalled market positioning as Singapore’s most luxurious residential hotel.

I started my career with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG®) in 1995 and have since been dedicating myself towards achieving perfection. I find immense fulfillment in leading my team towards achieving extraordinary and unparalleled guest experiences.

What excites you most about your industry?
The hospitality industry boasts an extremely dynamic landscape, and we are always seeing new hotels opening alongside the entry of burgeoning brands. This growth has, over time developed positive competition and generated positive driving forces that have elevated the overall standard of the industry in Singapore. The industry has a dynamic landscape. There are many opportunities to bring the right people together and create amazing teams to launch or reposition hotels. The process of creating teams, inspiring individuals and then working together to bring a project to life is where I find the excitement lies.

What’s your connection to Asia?
The lure of Asia has always been very strong for foreign economies and companies, with great accessibility to new opportunities, customers, consumers and clients. My first foray into Asia was back in 2007, when I launched Crowne Plaza Changi Airport in Singapore. Following that, I was also based in Bangkok for a couple of years for the rebranding of Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park. Over my years in Asia, I have had the opportunity to truly immerse myself in new cultures, establish new connections with key counterparts and friends; and these have further solidified my interest in and strengthened my connection to Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore. Commonly known as the gateway to Asia, we’ve been blessed with a stable government, a sound political economy and a comprehensive infrastructure for reliable business operations. With tremendous efforts put in by the Singapore Tourism Board towards elevating the city as an attractive venue for visitors, the growth of Singapore as a key MICE destination, coupled with a cosmopolitan pool of talent, Singapore remains my favourite city in Asia for business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“You can never be 100% ready for a new role.” I believe that there will always be room for growth and learning on the job. As long as a person is 80% ready for a new role, the opportunity should be extended. I am a strong believer in the development of people and the grooming of talent, and this piece of advice has allowed me to take more chances on people I’ve worked with and developed over the years.

Who inspires you?
Simon Sinek, a speaker with TED Talk.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I don’t think I can pinpoint just one lesson learnt recently, as learning is an ongoing process. No matter how small a piece of knowledge may seem, it should be valued. Everyday is a journey of learning and development.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing at all. I don’t believe in regrets and everything that has happened thus far, has had a part to play in who I am and where I stand today.

How do you unwind?
Spending time with friends over relaxed conversations and wine or working my green fingers in my balcony garden.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali. It’s one destination where I’ve always returned to, simply because it offers me the same level of comfort and familiarity each time I return. It’s where I can feel most relaxed, yet still be able to enjoy the vibrant dining scene.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

Shameless plug for your business:
Officially opened on 12 October 2017, InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay is the first international luxury hotel brand situated at Robertson Quay. Set amidst a dynamic, sophisticated neighbourhood along the Singapore River, known for its dining options and arts houses, the luxury residential-inspired hotel has been carefully curated by world-­class designers, architects and culinary purveyors. Located minutes away from the CBD, the hotel still maintains a stylish but laid back, relaxed feel in the leafy, upscale neighbourhood of Robertson Quay. The hotel offers 225 luxurious studios and suites, including an expansive Penthouse, which has unparalleled views of both the Singapore River and vibrant city via floor-­to-­ceiling windows.

The residential-­inspired property combines elements from Robertson Quay’s industrial and intriguing past with sleek contemporary finishes whilst seamlessly blending into the residential surrounds. Light-­filled room interiors have been designed to magnify the familiar comforts of home where guests may enjoy bespoke amenities such as a specially designed in-­room cocktail kit.

Established as part of a holistic dining and lifestyle destination, the hotel boasts a wide range of restaurant and bar concepts. Flagship restaurant Publico, representing the central core of Italian culture, is a multi-­concept dining destination comprising a variety of Italian experiences under one roof – a neighbourhood deli and bar and a ristorante with adjoining terrazzo by the river. Other highlights throughout the hotel include New York institution Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener, and a bar and dining concept from the team behind Izy Sushi. Over 40 other dining options await at the hotel doorstep, in The Quayside precinct.

How can people connect with you?
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markwinterton1/

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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