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Arrif Ziaudeen, Founder of Chope

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The Asian Entrepreneur  speaks with Arrif Ziaudeen, Founder of Chope, Singapore’s leading online restaurant reservation site.

Arrif is the Founder/CEO of Singapore’s leading online restaurant reservation site, Chope. In 3 years since launch Chope has sat over 5 million diners, received $4.4M of investment from VCs and Singapore Press Holdings and expanded into Hong Kong. Prior to founding Chope, Arrif worked in management consulting and private equity and obtained an MBA from Stanford GSB.

Chope logo

What exactly is Chope?

Chope is Asia’s leading online restaurant reservations booking platform. We help diners easily search for available tables across hundreds of restaurants instantly, and book them online for free.

How did you come up with the idea of Chope?

I noticed that people were booking everything else online – hotels, airlines, taxis and cinemas, but restaurant reservations were the ONLY time we ever have to pick up the phone, make sure to call during operating hours, etc.  It felt like a hugely inefficient process that could be made simpler!!

How was it like managing the business since?

It’s a privilege to have stewarded Chope from an idea into a real, growing business, to see customers and users relying on us, and so many people working on the same vision. Of course there have been many difficult days & weeks as with any startup, but the months & years have been the best journey I could have hoped for!

Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup? How did you overcome it?

I think funding is a particularly tough situation in Asia because of the nascent VC scene, which leads on to difficulties attracting the best talent, large scale customer acquisition, etc. Thankfully we had great numbers and a strong network of early investors who truly believed in the business  and were very fortunate to have Singapore Press Holdings lead our recent round.

How was the initial reaction from the consumers? Did they buy into the product/service?

It was, and continues to be, a gradual change in user behavior. In our first week we only sat a dozen reservations, and it wasn’t easy or quick to grow that into the thousands that we seat today. I think it’s critical for early adopters who use it to refer friends, and get buy in via word-of-mouth.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? What is your strategy against your competition?

When we started numerous startups came into the space, but most of them have shut down as the industry matured and they realized how much of a long-game this is. I believe competition is a great sign that an idea’s time has come – it may seem like we’re competing against each other, but frankly we’re fighting together against phone calls!

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?

Good question. F&B is a very fast-moving industry, trends change seasonally and outlets are constantly opening & closing. We spend a lot of energy monitoring and signing-up new, popular restaurants so our users can rely on Chope as a guide, and access in-demand tables. 

What are your future plans for Chope?

We firmly believe that in a few years online restaurant reservations will be commonplace all across Asia, and would like to spearhead that with regional expansion. We also believe the users are moving to mobile, so that’s our product focus will shift accordingly.

If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach?

If so, what? Not worried so much about things that never happened! I would also have tried more daring ideas earlier and ignored much of the skepticism.

What do you think about startups in Asia?

In my honest opinion, the biggest difference between Asian and US startups is our attitude to failure. Even though in principle we agree to it, there isn’t enough genuine belief of “learning-from-failure” let along celebrating it. I hope the next generation of startup entrepreneurs will come from those who have failed before, so that we can slowly turn that culture.

What are some personal principles or personal values that guide you and your career?

When I started I had 4 lessons from other successful entrepreneurs written on a whiteboard in my bedroom: “1. Keep it simple. 2. Do it now. 3. Never give up. 4. Get lucky.”

What is your definition of success?

The goalposts are constantly changing, there’s never going be a day when we have “achieved success”. But if you put a gun to my head i’d probably sum it up as “creating a large-scale, sustainable business”

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I believed strongly that online restaurant reservations needed to happen in Asia. After 2 years of waiting, nobody had done it still, so I decided to give it a shot myself because I thought it was a great idea.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Probably hard work and lots of luck, the same as every other career (entrepreneurship is, after all, also a career!)

Website: http://chope.com.sg/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChopeSG
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/chope

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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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.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

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)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

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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