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Ee Ling, Co-founder & CEO of Smarter Me

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Ee Ling, co-founder and CEO of Smarter Me, took a leap of faith to pursue the startup route. She is using her life learnings to better prepare the next generation for the technology-charged future.

What’s your story?
I’m Ee Ling, co-founder and CEO of Smarter Me, an edtech company. Before this, I was an Investment Banker for almost a decade, clocking 100-hour work weeks working on transactions in South East Asia. I loved every bit of it – the intensity, challenges and endless learning.
When I became a VP, I started covering the technology, consumer and retail industries – and it struck me – how much technology could improve daily lives and solve real-life problems which we have always taken as the status quo. Specifically, I was more and more convinced of the vast potential of using technology to solve real-life parenting challenges.
So in 2016, I took a leap of faith and quit investment banking to pursue the startup route!

What excites you most about your industry?
For decades and centuries, education has remained largely unchanged. The subjects taught in our parents’ generation are the same as those being taught today to our children. Yes, some schools are adopting more technology – apps and hardware – than others, and Singapore was recently ranked as being at the forefront of preparing kids for jobs of the future. But there’s still a lot to evolve and change.
The majority of children still do not have the opportunity to learn coding, robotics, entrepreneurship and digital art – key “hard skills” for the fourth industrial revolution. Beyond that, what I’m super passionate about is helping kids understand their purpose and goal in life, to discover themselves. I’m so excited about the changes that can take place in education, it’s just dependent on how open we are to driving and embracing such changes.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia is home. I was born and bred in Malaysia, and moved to Singapore almost 7 years ago.

 

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, without a doubt. The Government’s support for innovation and startups is immense, coupled with a strong infrastructure that makes almost everything possible. But if any opportunity presents itself, I would also try setting up a business in Hong Kong. It’s another melting pot of cultures and simply bustling with action.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Run your own race. Most of us grew up working towards a future that was defined by our parents (who wanted only the best for us) and shaped by society around us – but what happens then is that we do it not for ourselves, but for the recognition and validation from others.
Now I ask myself, what race am I running? I should re-define what success means to
me, and let that be the guiding principle to all my actions. It doesn’t matter what naysayers say, as long as I hold true to myself.

Who inspires you?
It may sound like a cliché, but this goes to my husband and my kids. His ‘everything is possible’ mindset has pushed me to explore business directions and my own personal development far beyond my comfort zone. Before we started this entrepreneurship journey together, I had serious doubts about the success of working with one’s spouse. We were such opposites. But I’ve come to realise that he compliments me professionally, and challenges me to be the better version of myself.
My kids also inspire me. Parenting is tough! In order to be able to guide them, I find myself needing to grow more and develop myself further and that has motivated me to keep learning.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve recently discovered Mindvalley. There are so many teachings by global thought leaders there that have blown me away. I am inspired by these life educators including Vishen Lakhiani, Robin Sharma, Jon Butcher and so many more. They are able to inspire individuals and enact changes in mindsets and lifestyle, and to make individuals more in tune with themselves. These are the true changemakers and they have inspired me to embark on the journey of inspiring young children.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I believe everything happens for a reason at the right time, and I value the experience and knowledge that I have gained through my banking days.
If there’s just one thing, it would be that I would have taken up more personal mastery courses and kept growing myself. I was too busy being busy back then.

How do you unwind?
This one’s easy. I love reading a book in bed as my pre-bedtime routine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I would have to say Japan and Bali. To me, a good holiday is defined by the food I had – so Japan wins hands down in that aspect. But Bali is the epitome of relaxation, whether you choose to be hanging out on a cliff, by the beach, or in a paddy field, and coupled with the wide variety of quality food options – ranging from local Balinese food to hipster cafes. Bali also holds a special place in my heart as it’s where I got married!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I know quite a few have said this, but I have to go with ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek. I think it’s vital to not just understand your ‘ikigai’, your “Why do I get up in the morning,” on a personal level, but also learning how to apply it to your business and communicate it to your employees and customers. It’s quite the game changer. (I’m still reading his new one – Leaders Eat Last). I also like Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, which sheds light on what makes things go viral.

Shameless plug for your business:
Smarter Me was formed to inspire children to discover, grow and live their passion.
We believe that education for children can be more relevant and realistic, to better prepare them for the technology – charged future. We believe that education can be more meaningful when children understand who they are, what their purpose in life is, and why they learn what they learn. We believe in making quality education accessible to all children.
We believe that the children of today are not yet sufficiently exposed to the skillset which they need for the future, and so this year, we will be releasing a series of curated and holistic classes which not only equip children with key skills in coding, robotics and entrepreneurship, but more importantly, with core 21st century skills which will hopefully better prepare them for the future. Do check out our site if you are a parent!

How can people connect with you?
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ee-ling-lim-36ab3a29/
Email: [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

Callum Connects

Sun Ho, Founder of LittleLives Inc

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Sun Ho has an edtech business, LittleLives. She’s helping turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What’s your story?
I’m just a small town girl who won’t stop believing.
Someone recently told me that the curious little 10-year-old girl in me is still shining through with excitement for the world today. Although, now, instead of being curious about how things work, I am interested in how we can solve real world problems. Today, I get to learn and build everyday on our dream to turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What excites you most about your industry?
Have you been to a preschool lately? In our day-to-day, we get to hear the wonderful laughter of children. We see the innocent smiles of our little ones, who learn as they play. We meet the tirelessly loving educators, leaders and parents who give their best. These are the people we serve everyday at LittleLives. It excites us greatly to be in an industry that meaningfully impacts the future of our world. When we see a new feature we have implemented in our system helping to shave off minutes or hours of administrative work for schools (and put a smile on many faces), it is deeply satisfying.

What’s your connection to Asia?
LittleLives started in Singapore. We have since expanded to multiple cities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. Everywhere we go, we gain unique insights about different cultures. One thing that remains unchanged around the world is the passion to improve education. This includes the desire to refine school processes too. I absolutely love the people I work with, in schools and in my own team overseas. They have taught me so much about their cultures and countries.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It is so hard to choose one. We love Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Beijing and pretty much every city we have visited. Setting up in multiple Asian cities has really become faster and more transparent than ever before. What a time to be alive and working on a startup, and even more so for a young woman in Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to yourself.

As a woman and as the founder of a tech startup, I have heard the many ways in which people express their surprise that I do not fit into – for lack of a better word – the norm. I am my own mix of feminine and geeky. I have a computer science background that I am passionate about and, at the same time, I love fun aesthetics and product development. Technology is an industry in which venture capitalists traditionally favour white, male founders as the stats show a concentration of success in this small demographic. Despite this, I have found that the people around me will respect me for being me because I let my personality and passion take the stage.

Who inspires you?
Beth Fredericks, the Executive Director at Wheelock College. She is a wonderful educator, leader and orator. At 67, she is as active as any young teacher and as wise as the oldest, most experienced professor. She has inspired so many early childhood educators with her stories, her teaching and above all, her warmth and delightful personality. She has contributed so much to the early childhood field here in Asia, and all over the world, over the span of her illustrious career. Her charm and kind heart makes her one of the most sought-after collaborators in our industry today. Yet, she remains humble, approachable and personable. Her enthusiasm for education and children, coupled with her infectious humour, are what I aspire to.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
What continues to blow me away every time I witness it, is incredible potential that can be unlocked when a great team comes together. When you put together bright, experienced, communicative and open-minded people in a team, miracles can happen.

Creative ideas that were recently put forth in a small ad-hoc project team are now being turned into a new product that LittleLives will soon offer. When we first began discussions, we had no idea where they would take us; the only thing we knew definitively was that we wanted to help educators gain better access to resources to help them in their everyday classroom. It all fell into place when our team started brainstorming ideas that were based on the problems we knew were present in early childhood education.

Now, we have the trial version of a new module, LittleAcademy, and I am in awe of how all of this came together. I would like to quote Margaret Mead here, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I would not change a thing. We made so many mistakes when we started this journey, but the lessons we learnt from our failures are what make us stronger today.

On a related note, there is this beautiful quote from Batman Begins:
Thomas Wayne asked, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

How do you unwind?
It is important for us to allow our body, mind and soul to unwind and recharge. Badminton is my go-to exercise. I play twice weekly to keep fit and nimble. Recently I have picked up Yoga Nidra with an excellent instructor who has opened my eyes to all the good that meditation does for our minds.

Beyond this, I find that spending time with my loved ones, friends and teammates helps me feel grounded and loved.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I travelled to China twice last year and truly fell in love with the country. It provides such a rich variety of experiences, from culture and art, to commerce and tech. I was in a constant state of amazement. It is a fast advancing nation that I really enjoy my time in, both learning and relaxing with the people I meet.

Everyone in business should read this book:
High Output Management by Andrew Grove, late CEO and Chairman of Intel. This is a book written in the 90s, but its ideas are still very much applicable to businesses today.

Andy lays out what you need to do to successfully manage your business in simple and concise terms. This does not mean that it is easy to grow as successfully as Intel did, but the book shows us that the path to greatness is apparent. What I personally love about this book is that it presents its ideas both logically and emotionally without judgement.

On the issue of an underperforming teammate, Andy offers a very simple explanation:
“When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.”

And as a manager, all you can do is to train and motivate.

This is an excellent review of the book by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz: https://a16z.com/2015/11/13/high-output-management/
I highly recommend this book to all entrepreneurs.

Shameless plug for your business:
LittleLives is a leading preschool edtech company with a strong presence in over 700 schools in Singapore, 20 in Vietnam, 130 in China and 100 in Malaysia. LittleLives develops and provides applications that allow preschools to record children’s administrative records digitally, from attendance-taking to portfolio management. In addition to reducing the hassle of physical filing and documentation, the LittleLives system allows parents to keep track of the progress of their children’s learning at school through LittleLives parents’ app.

As an edtech company, LittleLives does more than facilitate day-to-day school operations. In 2017, LittleLives hosted the first ever International Pre-school Conference in Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by educators representing 1200 preschools in the region. LittleLives has helped over 215,000 children, 430,000 parents and 23,000 teachers bring schools into the 21st century and we are hoping to continue empowering many more around the world.

Reach out to us if you are involved in education or entrepreneurship. We’re always happy to chat!

How can people connect with you?
Just drop me an email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
With so much to say, 140 characters is not enough. Hence, it is best to follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/littlelivesbigdreams), Instagram (littlelives_inc), YouTube (youtube.com/user/hosunSG), and check out our LittleLives Blog (blog.littlelives.com) to get to know us better!

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

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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