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Entrepreneurship

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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Callum Connects

Malcolm Tan, Founder of Gravitas Holdings

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Malcolm Tan is an ICO/ITO and Cryptocurrency advisor. He sees this new era as similar to when the internet launched.

What’s your story?
I’m a lawyer entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses, and who is now stepping into the Initial Coin Offering/Initial Token Offering/Cryptocurrency space to be a thought leader, writer (How to ICO/ITO in Singapore – A Regulatory and Compliance Viewpoint on Initial Coin Offering and Initial Token Offering in Singapore), and advisor through Gravitas Holdings – an ICO Advisory company. We are also running our own ICO campaign called AEXON, and advising 2 other ICO’s on their projects.

What excites you most about your industry?
It is the start of a whole new paradigm, and it is like being at the start of the internet era all over again. We have a chance to influence and shape the industry over the next decade and beyond and lead the paradigm shift.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m Singaporean and most of my business revolves around the ASEAN region. Our new ICO advisory company specialises in Singaporean ICO’s and we are now building partnerships around the region as well. One of the core business offerings of our AEXON ICO/ITO is to open up co-working spaces around the region, with a target to open 25 outlets, and perhaps more thereafter.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, since it is my hometown and most of my business contacts originate from or are located in Singapore. It is also a very open and easy place to do business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be careful of your clients – sometimes they can be your worst enemies. This is very true and you have to always be careful about whom you deal with. The closest people are the ones that you trust and sometimes they have other agendas or simply don’t tell you the truth or whole story and that can easily put one in a very disadvantageous position.

Who inspires you?
Leonardo Da Vinci as a polymath and genius and leader in many fields, and in today’s world, Elon Musk for being a polymath and risk taker and energetic business leader.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Early stage bitcoin investors would have made 1,000,000 times profit if they had held onto their bitcoins from the start to today – in the short space of 7 years.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Seek out good partnerships and networks from day one, and use the power of the group to grow and do things together, instead of being bogged down by operations and going it alone from start.

How do you unwind?
I hardly have any time for relaxation right now. I used to have very intense hobbies, chess when I was younger, bridge, bowling, some online real time strategy games and poker. All mentally stimulating games and requiring focus – I did all these at competitive levels and participated in national and international tournaments, winning multiple trophies, medals and awards in most of these fields.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket – nature, resort life, beaches, good food and a vibrant crowd.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki

Shameless plug for your business:
Gravitas Holdings (Pte) Limited is the premier ICO Advisory company and we can do a full service for entrepreneurs, including legal and compliance, smart contracts and token creation, marketing and PR, and business advisory and white paper writing/planning.

How can people connect with you?
Write emails to [email protected], or [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@malcolmABM

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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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Pam Weber, Chief Marketing Officer at 99Designs

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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.)

Pam Webber is Chief Marketing Officer at 99designs, where she heads up the global marketing team responsible for acquisition, through growth marketing and traditional marketing levers, and increasing lifetime value of customers. She is passionate about using data to derive customer insights and finding “aha moments” that impact strategic direction. Pam brings a host of first-hand startup marketing experiences as an e-commerce entrepreneur herself and as the first marketing leader for many fast-growing startups. Prior to joining 99designs, she founded weeDECOR, an e-commerce company selling custom wall decals for kids’ rooms. She also worked as an executive marketing consultant at notable startups including True&Co, an e-commerce startup specializing in women’s lingerie. Earlier in her career, Pam served in various business and marketing positions with eBay and its subsidiary, PayPal, Inc. A resident of San Francisco, Pam received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MBA from Harvard Business School. Pam is a notable guest speaker for Venture Beat, The Next Web, Lean Startup, and Growth Hacking Forum, as well as an industry expert regularly quoted in Inc., CIO, Business News Daily, CMSwire, Smart Hustle, DIY Marketer, and various podcast and radio shows. You can follow her on Twitter at @pamwebber_sf.

What makes you do what you do?
My dad always told me make sure you choose a job you like because you’ll be doing it for a long time. I took that advice to heart and as I explored various roles over my career, I always stopped to check whether I was happy going to work every day – or at least most days :). That has guided me to the career I have in marketing today. I’m genuinely excited to go to work every day. I get to create, to analyze, to see the impact of my work. It’s very fulfilling.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I had a penchant for numbers and it helped me stand out in my field. This penchant became even more powerful when the Internet and digital marketing started to explode. There was a great need for marketers whose skills could span both the creative and the analytic aspects of marketing. I capitalized on that growth by bringing unique insight to the companies I worked with, well-supported with thoughtful analysis.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?
I’m not sure this is relevant to my situation as I had been a marketing leader in various start-ups and companies. I took on the role at 99designs because I was excited by the global reach of the brand and the opportunity the company had to own the online design space. I especially liked the team as I felt they were good at heart.

The challenge I’ve faced in my time at 99designs is how do I evolve the team quickly and nimbly to address new challenges. The work we do now, is very different than the work we did a year ago and even the year before that. There is a fine line between staying focused on the goal ahead and being able to move quickly should that goal shift.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industry or did you look for one or how did that work?
There is no one I’ve sought out or worked with over my entire career as my “mentee” needs have changed so much over the years. There are many people who have helped me along the way. For example, one of my peers at eBay, who was quite experienced and skilled in marketing strategy and creative execution, taught me what was in a marketing plan and how to evaluate marketing assets. As I have risen to leadership positions over the years, I often reach out to similarly experienced colleagues for advice on how they handle situations.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
I learned early in my career that it rarely hurts to ask for advice. So that is what I have done. Additionally, there are people that are known to be quite helpful and build a reputation for giving back to others in advisory work. Michael Dearing, of Harrison Metal and ex-eBay, is one of those people. I, as well as countless others, have asked him for advice and guidance through the years and he does his best to oblige. Finding mentorship is about intuiting who in your universe might be willing and whether you are up for asking for help.

That being said, generally, I have found, if you are eager to learn and be guided, people will respond to the outreach.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I generally look for a good attitude and inherent “smarts”. A good attitude can encompass anything from being willing to take on many different types of challenges to working well amongst differing personalities and perspectives. Smarts can be seen through how well someone’s done in their “passion areas” (i.e. areas where they have a keen interest in pursuing).

I try to hire those types of people because in smaller, fast-growing companies like many of the ones I’ve worked in, it’s more often than not about hiring flexible people as things move and change fast.

Once those people are on my team, I try to keep them challenged and engaged by making sure they have varying responsibilities. If I can’t give them growth in their current job or in the current company, I encourage them to seek growth opportunities elsewhere. I’d rather have one of my stars leave for a better growth opportunity than keep them in a role where they might grow stale.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity. When I am hiring, I am constantly thinking about how to balance the team with as broad a range as possible of skill sets, perspectives, etc. to ensure we can take on whatever is thrown at us, or whatever we want to go after.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I’m going to assume a great leader in my industry to mean a marketing leader in a technology company. I think a great leader in this industry is not afraid to learn new tricks no matter their age – it’s the growth mindset you may have heard about. I have a friend who inspires me to do this – she purchased the Apple Watch as soon as it was available, and was one of the first people I knew to use the Nest heating/cooling system. She’s not an early adopter by most definitions, but she adopts the growth mindset. This is the mindset I, too, have sought to adopt. In my field of marketing, it most recently has meant learning about Growth Marketing and how to apply this methodology to enhance growth. Independent of your industry, I think a growth mindset serves you well.

Advice for others?
I have been at 99designs for 3.5 years. During that time we’ve invested in elevating the skills and quality of our designer community, we’ve rebranded to reflect this higher level of quality, and have improved the satisfaction of our customers. Our next phase of growth will come from better matching clients to the right designer and expanding the ability to work with a designer one-on-one. We have the best platform to find, collaborate, and pay professional designers who deliver high quality design at an affordable price, and it’s only going to get better. I’m excited to deliver on that vision.

Pam Webber
Chief Marketing Officer of 99designs
Twitter: @pamwebber_sf

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