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Jesrina Arshad, Founder of PurelyB

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Jesrina is the founder and CEO of PurelyB.com, namely PurelyB – a one-stop multi-lingual portal that makes it easy and convenient for people in Asia to lead healthier lifestyles.

Jesrina has over nine years of experience in the digital industry starting out in web design and development at Integricity (VLT), to leading top digital client accounts at Mindshare Malaysia (Malaysia’s largest media agency), to heading digital marketing strategies at Astro Malaysia Holdings which is Asia Pacific’s leading media entertainment group.  Jesrina holds a Bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Technology and Design from the University of Kent at Canterbury, and a Master’s degree in Marketing from Kingston Business School, London.

The creation of PurelyB came about when Jesrina was able to overcome long-term health issues by making positive lifestyle changes such as a healthier diet and exercising effectively. Based on her own journey, the healthy living content and marketplace portal was created to help and empower more people in Asia to adopt healthy lifestyle changes with greater ease.

In September 2015, at just four-months old, PurelyB was awarded one of ‘Red Herring International’s Top 100 Startups in Asia’ – a prestigious list honoring the year’s most promising private technology ventures in Asia. Soon after, PurelyB was selected to be one of only 20 Malaysian startups for the [email protected] Entrepreneurship Program at Stanford University.

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In your own words what is PurelyB?

At PurelyB.com we help to provide all the information, products and services people need to lead a healthy lifestyle, all in one place. Our mission is to help make it easier and more convenient for people to lead sustainable healthy lifestyles, especially if they live in Asia, where many of the pain points are! There currently isn’t one trusted brand or destination in health and wellness that collaborates and connects other brands and customers end to end as well as from content to commerce.

Available in English and Chinese, we provide users with guidance and motivation through inspiring articles, videos, recipes and custom-designed health programs, complete with meal delivery whereby they can easily take action and start getting healthy! Our online marketplace then provides the ultimate convenience where users can easily discover and purchase healthy goods and services from trusted sellers globally, in all aspects of health, from fitness to nutrition to holistic wellness.

Our aim is to inspire and empower people to start getting healthy and influence positive lifestyle change and we have a long-term growth plan to become the #1 preferred online healthy living destination in Asia Pacific.

purelyb-health-programmes

How did you come up with the idea of PurelyB?

People in Asia are increasingly becoming health conscious, however, the lack of awareness, accessibility and convenience surrounding local healthy options hinders them. People don’t know enough on where to go, what to do or how to get started! And my team members and I were the exact target audience that felt this frustration! This really motivated us to create a solution through PurelyB with our mission to make it easier and more convenient for people in Asia to lead sustainable healthy lifestyles, and cater for all their needs.

Having overcome long-term health issues by changing up my lifestyle and adopting an all-natural, process-free, superfood and nutrient filled diet, I wanted to help others do the same by increasing awareness and providing the ease of finding local healthy options. Not only had my health issues gone away, I felt a positive difference in my body and had so much more energy!

This revelation was truly a turning point for me – it wasn’t that difficult to be healthy in Malaysia after all, but all the information we needed was just too fragmented! It took weeks of effort and determination in researching information from multiple sources before I made that lifestyle change and saw the drastic improvements in my health. If only there was one place I could have turned to for all this information and guidance, I knew could have made improvements to my health years ago! But no such solution existed. My team and I were then so passionate to then create this solution through PurelyB and help others, and truly make it that much easier for people in Asia to live healthier.

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

As soon as I came up with the idea of PurelyB in February 2015, I knew I needed a strong team in place who shared my ideals, passion and vision. I already knew most of my founding team members prior to starting up PurelyB, and that they were leaders in their fields and extremely passionate about this same cause. Together, we had a good mix of digital specialists and health and wellness experts, which I felt was an essential balance when building up a trusted and credible health and wellness brand and portal. The team came together in early March 2015 and we just had that undeniable chemistry and bond, I knew we were onto something special.

We then solidified the business model and strategy, found a great technology partner who shared our vision and passion and got the site up in May 2015 within 2 months from concept. It was an intense 2 months considering the extensiveness of the content and features on the site, as we wanted to ensure it was as useful as possible in encouraging healthy living right from day 1.

Everything we did for the first few months was trial and error, as being a first mover in Asia, we weren’t sure which of our plans, our content or our features would appeal most to our audience. Thus why we never even ran any paid advertising nor launched in a big way, everything was within a somewhat controlled environment and only spread amongst our own social media platforms to our family, friends and peers through word of mouth. We were then pleasantly surprised to achieve 10K Unique visitors and 30K page views within our first 4 weeks, which then tripled to 30K Unique Visitors within the next few months mostly through organic growth and word of mouth referrals. But beyond the numbers, it was the positive and touching comments we received from users all around the world, who showed appreciation for what we were setting out to achieve.

The overwhelming positive response and gratitude we received from users especially in Asia within our first weeks of soft-launch alone, showed how we can truly help make a difference in people’s lives and empower them to live healthier, which really makes everything worthwhile.  From there we knew we had the potential to really make a difference, but we needed to grow faster, stop bootstrapping it, and strengthen our team, technology and offerings. That’s when we started to raise funds and thus recently closed our seed fund round led by 500 startups.

Along the way however, the past 8 months have been an absolute whirlwind, from PurelyB being one of the 20 startups in Malaysia selected for the Silicon Valley Immersion Program at Stanford University to us winning the Red Herring Top 100 Startups in Asia award held in Philippines, each milestone has helped us apply key learnings, make valuable connections and strengthen our business along the way.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup?

As a bootstrapped startup, in the first 6 months (up until just 2 months ago), we couldn’t afford to pay salaries thus most of our team members were part-timers who were volunteering their time out of drive and passion, and the belief in our business. It was difficult to juggle and achieve smooth execution of the fast-paced and ambitious roadmap we had planned with lack of a full-time team. We managed to pull it off however by keeping the team motivated and focused on the long-term goal and potential successes of the company. By keeping everyone driven by passion, inspiration and strong faith and belief in PurelyB, we managed to turn a ‘part-time team’ into the hearts and dedication of full-timers, despite them not getting any monetary benefits.

Also as we are a first mover in providing an online content-community-commerce ecosystem in health and wellness to consumers, there isn’t a successful model anywhere globally to compare to or set benchmarks against. Thus every phase along the way is experimental based on prototyping and beta testing. But what we made sure was that every element created was based on a need verified by our target audience and to continuously improve users’ experiences through fast turnarounds in optimization and implementation. Speed and agility is a definite factor in helping us overcome certain challenges.

It’s been such an exciting journey so far though and we are grateful for the growth and visibility we’ve achieved organically and the incredible support from our followers.

How have you been developing PurelyB since startup?

Our aim is to inspire, support and empower people in Asia to live healthier and bring the entire community together. Thus we’re focused on building up a holistic ecosystem that provides ultimate convenience for users to easily discover and purchase healthy goods and services from trusted sellers globally on our site. For sellers they are able to leverage on our platform, our payment technology gateway and most of all our highly targeted community who are interested in healthy goods. Thus we’re building up the platform to be extremely data-driven and seamlessly integrate the entire user journey across all aspects of our portal, from content to marketplace. We’ve also recently launched our Chinese site too, so we can truly cater for different markets in Asia and collaborate with a range of partners. We are focusing on web for now though as we launch marketplace in March this year, and from these learnings we will then develop our mobile app within the 2nd half of 2016.

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

Within our first few weeks of launching, we had received touching messages from people in Malaysia and all around Asia, who loved our cause, and shared their inspiring stories with us. Not only did they share their gratitude for what we had built through PurelyB, they wanted to contribute and be a part of our mission. We honestly did not expect such a positive response especially as we were only known through word of mouth! This really moved us, and this continuous outpour is what keeps us motivated and inspired to really build up PurelyB towards our long-term vision and truly help make a positive difference in people’s lives. We’ve also noticed quite a number of corporations reaching out to us to participate in their wellness movement this year; it looks like 2016 will definitely be a year of driving positive lifestyle change in Asia!

What is your strategy against your competition?

There are definitely a growing number of players in the health and wellness tech industry in Asia, however we have yet to come across one that holistically addresses the pain points of healthy living, for which PurelyB was created for. There are a lot of renowned and upcoming health and wellness brands out there but we are a partner and a collaborator to all players in the health and wellness industry rather than a competitor. We help connect the community through our platform, where users can discover local health brands and brands themselves are able to tap into our growing and highly relevant and targeted audience base. We intend to be that go-to platform for both users and brands in health and wellness.

Our strategy in staying ahead is definitely in ensuring we strengthen and upkeep the values of our brand. In health and wellness, brand trust is everything and it’s so important for us to stay true to our vision and continue to build the trust and credibility that PurelyB stands for.

What can you tell us about the industry? 

Health and wellness in Asia is definitely on an upward trend with beauty, anti-aging, healthy diets, nutrition and weight loss making up the bulk of the interest. The key drivers for this change are the rising health awareness as well as local healthy options becoming more readily available! The sudden influx of healthy lifestyle solutions from healthy food deliveries, cold-pressed juice bars and one-stop fitness solutions such as KFIT and Guavapass in the past 1 year is a clear indicator of the growing demand.

It is however more women-skewed in terms of the interest and demand, and expectant women and mothers are the biggest advocates of health and wellness, making up the majority of our audience. Their children’s health is of course a priority and they would go all out to ensure their children are getting the right nutrients and use only safe, natural non-toxic products. But before it would be difficult for them to find these solutions for their kids, having to always import from overseas thus why with PurelyB we help to make it that much simpler and convenient by providing everything they need on our platform.

What is the future of the industry?

The future of the industry is definitely now shifting more towards holistic wellness and natural health which is also our main focus. The healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss segment is currently a US$585bn market expected to grow to US$737bn by 2018; CAGR of >8% for the next 5 years. Out of which Asia Pacific will be the highest growth market! (Source: Euromonitor International Report 2014)

It’s exciting to see so many solutions emerging in health, wellness and technology particularly in wearable technology. As this industry grows, even more so the importance of an ecosystem like PurelyB that brings everything and everyone together. Thus continuously keeping up with the latest health trends, offerings and consumer needs, whilst staying true to our vision and mission, is key to evolving our platform and staying ahead of the curve.

Were there anything that disappointed you initially?

I wouldn’t really use the word disappointed, but it’s expected that the past 8 months have been a rollercoaster journey with ups and downs along the way. But with any negative experience, there was always something good that came out of it, thus I’m always a strong believer that you have to go through some disappointing times to eventually achieve greatness.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia?

It’s not really fair for me to compare as I haven’t yet explored entrepreneurship outside of Asia, but entrepreneurship is definitely challenging either way and I feel those who are truly passionate and dedicated about their cause and go all out to make it happen, will be able to stand strong even during the most trying of times. The startup ecosystem and support provided in Asia has really strengthened so much over time though and I do believe it is much easier today to become an entrepreneur than it was a few years ago.

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

Social and cultural factors create some of the main differences between Asian and Western entrepreneurship, understanding the different languages, traditions and cultures is imperative to become a successful startup in Asia, and simply replicating a successful model from the Western markets would not work in Asian markets. Hence, the reason why some Western startups fail in expanding to Asia due to the lack of localization and true understanding of the local market. On the other hand, from a tech standpoint, there are also many Asian startups who try to emulate the Silicon-Valley way of entrepreneurship, even though their funding strategies which it itself can cause issues as the processes, expectations and standards are so different in both worlds.

What is your definition of success?

For us, success is meeting the goals we set out to achieve and becoming the #1 go-to online destination for healthy living, truly helping make a positive difference in people’s lives in Asia-Pacific but even potentially Worldwide. Just being able to see that we’ve played a key role in encouraging people to make that change, live healthier and experience drastic improvements in their health, would really be an invaluable achievement in our eyes.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

It was always an aspiration of mine even early on in my career, every job I had I treated it like it was my company, my baby and would put my all into my work with constant sleepless nights. I knew one day though that I would channel all this energy and drive into my own business but it was a matter of finding the right idea that would hit me like a rare ‘aha’ moment!

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

1) Stay true to your vision and never give up on your dreams! Just stay focused and work hard, and know that all the highs and lows are a stepping stone bringing you closer to achieving your goals.

2) The team is everything! Have a strong and diverse core team who all share the same passion and vision in the business’ values and success. The power of a dynamic and talented team with undeniable chemistry can plough through even the most challenging of times, and can even make the impossible happen.

3) Speed and agility which enables you to adapt to changes quickly and action on trends and insights that can make improvements and majorly impact your business.

 

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

Firstly, the power of perseverance! You have to go through the lows to get to the highs, so never give up even during the most trying times. You have to just persevere through, address the issues as best you can and have confidence that it will all pay off.  Sometimes the outcome and rewards can really surpass your expectations!

Also the importance of building that network of mentors, peers and investors, will really help you along the way. The startup (tech) industry in Asia has really evolved and developed that culture of ‘pay it forward’, with everyone happy to help out and offer guidance and support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Connecting and building relationships with investors early on even before starting to raise funds, is also important in building their trust and interest as they get to know more about you, your team and your business. This will help in ensuring a much smoother process when closing deals and for you to also know which investors are best suited for your business.

Connect

www.Purelyb.com

www.Facebook.com/myPurelyB

www.Instagram.com/PurelyB

www.Twitter.com/Purely_B

https://www.linkedin.com/company/purelyb-sdn-bhd

 

 

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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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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