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Darren Chan, Founder of TheSugarBook

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So what’s the real story behind Darren Chan, the founder of Asia’s first sugar daddy dating site? Definitely much more than meets the eyes, Darren graduated with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. During his time there, he collaborated with fellow peers and was exposed to the F&B, music and entertainment industries.

Upon his return to Malaysia, Darren was keen on exploring different business opportunities. In 2014, he partnered with an associate to form Endeavor Capitals, which most notably funded Malaysia’s Live Entertainment Booking Platform, Gigfairy. Gigfairy is the community marketplace for users to book live entertainment and musical acts.

Within 8 months, Gigfairy was acquired by Tune Studios of Tune Group Sdn Bhd for an undisclosed amount together with Brickfields Asia College (BAC) Founder and Managing Director Mr. Raja Singham, joining in the later stages as investor.

Shortly afterwards, Darren embarked on Endeavor Standard which developed TheSugarBook. Seeking to provide the freedom and security for like-minded people to meet and form mutually beneficial relationships, Darren’s goal is to connect people by giving them the power to be honest and transparent based on their unique wants and needs.

In your own words what is TheSugarBook?

TheSugarBook is a niche social networking platform for people to connect, meet and build mutually beneficial relationships.

How did you come up with the idea of TheSugarBook?

A couple of years ago, I read a study stating that 40% of individuals chose ‘financials’ as one of the top criteria when selecting for a partner.

I then did some research and found a study by a team of health, social and behavioural scientists from UCLA, Chapman University, Rutgers University and Indiana University of over 27,600 heterosexuals which had a summarised conclusion that men favor beauty while women prioritize finances when it comes to the importance of differences in long-term partners.

That got me thinking and with the rise of online dating, I decided to build a platform for like-minded consenting adults to connect, meet and build mutually beneficial relationships that are upfront, honest and transparent. That was how TheSugarBook came to be.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up TheSugarBook?

Our very first hire was a brilliant web developer who had faith in the platform from day 1. Then came a UI/UX developer followed by another developer.

We began with building and fine tuning the website at www.thesugarbook.com before we moved on to developing the app.

In the meantime, we started curating the marketing and communications team.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup?

The only difficulty I recall was hiring. For starters, people thought we were crazy. Some thought we were too ambitious and wanted a regular job that is more stable instead.

Hiring was near impossible with the small amount of budget we had. It was with sheer determination and dedication that we overcame it.

How have you been developing TheSugarBook since startup?

For these first 2 years, our focus will always be on product development and growth.

What kind of feedback did you get for TheSugarBook so far?

We’ve got a mixed bag of feedback so far and we do appreciate every single one of them.

With every business, there will always be naysayers on a side and cheerleaders on the other but we’ve been thankful that we do receive a lot of support from peers in the industry and also, our loved ones.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? 

TheSugarBook is a global company but our focus is more on Asia. That said, we have not encountered any competitors with the same concept as us in South East Asia so far. We are the 1st Sugar Daddy Dating platform in Asia.

However, we do look towards our western competitors as a mean to push us

to improve even more. The strategy is to always be improving and be proactive and able to adapt.

If we focus too much on our competitors, that will in return hinder us. We’d rather analyze certain case studies and learn from them.

What can you tell us about the industry?

The dating industry is a lucrative business. As of year 2017, the global market size in Asia alone was over USD$1.5billion with a potential growth of over 36% in the next 4 years.

Our plan is to expand to Thailand, Indonesia and the global economic superpower that is China.

How do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?

The future of online dating will probably lead to a more niche market, exploring in different sub-cultures rather than a general dating platform. Also, that we will be integrating digital and onground with events and parties in 2018.

Were there anything that disappointed you initially?

I’ve always been a positive person and can honestly say that there hasn’t been any significant incident that would affect me negatively. In every situation, one must be able to see the solution or an opportunity rather than be beaten down.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia?

I studied in Melbourne, Australia and lived there for many years. When I was there, I had the opportunity to be exposed to different industries; such as hospitality and entertainment and I do not find there to be any momentous difference between being harder or easier. There are cultural and bureaucracy difference but nothing that cannot be handled with the right team on your side.

There is a huge opportunity to grow in Asia as the tech industry here still has a wide margin for development.

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

I wouldn’t be able to comparatively separate the 2; I think that entrepreneurship in itself takes a lot of guts; the ability to recognize an

opportunity and the courage to seize the moment. Also, being able to improvise, adapt and overcome.

What is your definition of success?

To be able to create value and grow TheSugarBook to a wider market.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I saw an opportunity and I took it.

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

To never stop learning and having the patience to grow a business from its seed to fruition.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

Whatever you do, do with your all, be dedicated. Wherever you go, go as a leader. Have the courage to lead. If you serve, serve with passion.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference,” – Robert Frost.

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Mikyung Kim, TV Commercial Producer

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Mikyung Kim is a savvy producer who runs her own TV and print production business, based in Hong Kong.

What’s your story?
I am a TV commercial and print producer working with advertising agencies and brands to bring their communication needs to the screen. My background is in film production and I started my career in Hollywood working with Oscar winning directors Michel Gondry and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Before starting my own company last year to produce content directly with agencies and brands, I was with Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong for nearly five years as the Senior Producer and Head of TV running the film production department.

What excites you most about your industry?
How it’s constantly evolving! Every day is different and it’s certainly never boring. I love that it’s a creative industry and that my job involves talking to people with creative minds on how we can bring a story on paper to life. It’s exciting that the advertising industry places high value on the creativity and effectiveness of content. I’ve produced a few commercials that creatively push the envelope with fun and sometimes wild ideas that have converted into positive brand awareness. Ever heard of KFC Finger Lickin’ Good…Nail Polish that yes, tastes like chicken? https://www.adweek.com/creativity/kfc-just-made-edible-finger-lickin-good-nail-polish-yeah-tastes-chicken-171245/

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Seoul and raised in Hong Kong until graduating from high school at HKIS. I spent my university years in Boston at Emerson College and worked in Los Angeles at Anonymous Content and Partizan Entertainment. But on a brief visit back to Hong Kong in 2010, I decided to move back and continue my career here, and it was the best decision I ever made.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong is my home so it will always be my favourite city for business and for me personally. What I love about Hong Kong is that while I am based here, I can actually work with agencies and brands from anywhere in APAC. If I need to attend an important meeting, I can just hop on a quick flight easily. I spent most of 2017 working in Seoul with Korean agency Cheil and Samsung, and currently I am working with Japanese agency ADK and Toyota based in Singapore.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Fake it until you become it,” from Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. Worth a watch. This helped me early in my career when I felt like I was under qualified for the job I was in. I learned to fake my confidence and fake a powerful body language until I truly felt that confidence became something real. It was nerve wracking at first but it worked and now I don’t have to fake it.

Who inspires you?
My friends. Noelle who worked part time jobs while being a full time student to pay her own tuition while we were in college together. Osti who is a lawyer focused on supporting developing nations and a board member of Redress, an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Vanessa who runs a real estate company, co-owns the gym Crossfit Asphodel, started a health foods business called Quo and NGO The Keep Moving Project to promote wellness in our community. Cathy who will be the first Asian woman to direct a big budget superhero film starring Margot Robbie with Warner Bros and DC. And too many more to name!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
5.2 million plastic bottles are thrown away in Hong Kong every day. Plastic pollution is a major issue for the environment and we as responsible citizens can do our small part by reducing our consumption of unnecessary plastic. I do mine by having a water filter at home and carrying my own reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go. I love the brand Hydroflask because the stainless steel material keeps water hot or cold for hours, so I don’t feel tempted to buy a cold water at 7-11 on those hot, humid days we have here.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
About five years ago I purchased my very first stock and put one month’s salary into it, which at the time was a lot of money for me. Knowing how that stock has performed now, I would have put all my savings into it.

How do you unwind?
Exercise is essential in my daily life to help clear my head and de-stress. My go to is a workout at Crossfit Asphodel, running outdoors, yoga and hiking. But a glass of red wine and live music at Soiree in Soho on Sunday night works pretty well too!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
One of the best trips I ever took was to the island of Lombok in Indonesia. Two girl friends and I did a 3 day 2 night hiking and camping trip to summit the Mount Rinjani Volcano. It was physically challenging but mentally relaxing. There was no cellphone reception, no distractions, we had the company of nature and nights with skies full of shooting stars. It was pretty magical. We then went to the Gili Islands for a few days of scuba diving, yoga and sitting on the beach doing nothing but sipping on coconuts. That was pretty relaxing too.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” by Lois P. Frankel and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Essential reads for every working woman and/or man who wants to know how to support the working women in their life.

Shameless plug for your business:
I am a TV commercial and print producer that can plug into an existing advertising agency or brand team to produce their communication needs. Many advertising agencies these days are scaling down so they have creative directors and account services but may not have an in-house producer, so I can fill that gap by becoming a part of the existing agency team. For brands that want to produce content directly without involving an agency, I can also bridge the gap by bringing my production knowledge in-house and working as part of the marketing/brand team and liaising with the other departments in the company such as product team and ecomm.

How can people connect with you?
They can email me at [email protected]
or visit my website at mkimproducer.com

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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Renée Ballard, Owner of Renée Ballard Communications

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Renée Ballard runs a social media agency working with business women, helping them find their business’s voice.

What’s your story?
I began my career in PR/communications ten years ago in Australia, after arriving home from two years in Dubai. In Dubai I was working for Emirates Airlines as a flight attendant and flying around the world non-stop for two years. This really sparked my interest for how people communicate. I started out as a community manager for an online advertising company, then moved into the corporate world of outdoor advertising, managing internal and external PR and communications. After having a baby four years ago, I decided to leave the safety net of corporate, and stride out on my own. I now run a social media agency and I specialise in working with business women, helping to find their business’ voice so they can use social media to achieve their business goals.

What excites you most about your industry?
I love the open accessibility online provides. It’s free for businesses to get online and connect with their target audience. Twenty years ago, advertising and PR was insanely expensive and quite elitist, but through incredible platforms like Facebook or Twitter, any business can connect with who is looking for their product/solution. Social media is particularly effective for small businesses because they have the edge when it comes to authenticity and a clear voice.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m in Hong Kong because I’m a trailing spouse. I know it’s such a daggy term, but I love it, it makes me sound so dedicated to my husband! Alas, we came to Hong Kong for my husband’s work. He’s the Design Director of Asia for an international retail design agency. We’ve been here for almost two years and it’s been a huge learning curve in terms of business and culture. We love the fast-paced nature of Hong Kong and the fact that everything is open late – it suits me perfectly because I’m nocturnal.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
That’s easy, Hong Kong. It’s the perfect blend of start-ups and mothership-sized institutions. I love the small business side, watching the collaborations between workshare spaces with galleries, networking groups and foodies; it’s a hothouse of creative partnerships here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
When you’re are feeling scared about your next step, lean in and feel the difference. Is it fear mixed with excitement? Or fear mixed with dread? Always go with the former and cut loose the latter.

Who inspires you?
I love Tamara Mellon (Jimmy Choo founder). She has created multiple empires and she never stops trying new business models and pushing her limits. It helps that I love shoes too.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I just turned 40 years old. At best, I’m probably halfway through my life. It makes me constantly question, “Am I where I want to be?”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have asked more questions to the people I looked up to, and listened less to the people telling me I won’t achieve my goals.

How do you unwind?
In this day and age, it’s scandalous to say, but I love sunbaking. At any chance, you’ll find me poolside, laying in the sun in a trance-like state.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Northern Danang in Vietnam. We were there at Christmas, at the foot of the mountains and it was beautiful. Heaps of wildlife and jungles and enough five star resorts that I was never parched once.

Everyone in business should read this book:
‘The E Myth’ by Michael Gerber. It’s an oldie but a goodie because it succinctly outlines how to transition from a one person operation to a global business like McDonalds. Once you see how important systems and processes are, you can recognise shambolic companies a mile off.

Shameless plug for your business:
Renée Ballard Communications is a social media agency that works with business women who are ready to make social media work for them. We create effective, powerful social media strategies that are tailored to the people who will be breathing life into them. We hand on heart promise to never use annoying, marketing buzzwords and that we value laughter above everything else.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected] or www.reneeballard.com or +85296670115

Twitter handle?
@ballard_comms

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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