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Karl Vään, CEO & Co-founder of BitOfProperty

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Karl Vään is always on the lookout for ways to expand his ‘entrepreneurial spirit.’

What’s your story?
I’m originally from Estonia. I did my bachelors in the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga and worked a couple of years at Gunvor AS, a global commodities trading house. The entrepreneurial spirit has been inside me for quite some time already and I have been constantly looking for ways to apply it.

In 2016 we started brainstorming ideas for a real estate crowdfunding business with my co-founders Taavi and Timo. We also had input from a friend of mine at a venture capital company in Singapore, who was helping to make local connections.

On January 27th, 2017 I quit my job and flew to Singapore to find funding for our idea. It was my first time fundraising for the company. It took 4 months and about 70 meetings, but eventually it paid off.

In May, we received our first funding from Spaze Ventures and our lead investor in the seedround was the Japanese real estate information giant LIFULL Co. Ltd, providing its services in 57 different countries around the world.
Since then, it’s been a crazy roller coaster as we’ve been focused on crystallizing the vision of what BitOfProperty is to become in the future.

What excites you most about your industry?
The real estate industry is one of the biggest in the world but is also quite stagnated when it comes to technology. There are many ways companies can bring change to the real estate industry and and change is needed, especially in tech.

BitOfProperty has taken a crowdfunding approach and we are bringing novel blockchain technology to the industry, enabling investors to make international investments in a transparent and liquid way.

Even though, real estate crowdfunding has been available for the past 5 years, there are still many things yet to be done, in my opinion. Blockchain in real estate is a relatively new phenomenon that we are looking to exploit. Right now, we are on the financing side of it, but it can be extended to listings, leasings and the management of the properties.

What’s your connection to Asia?
My first connection with Asia was when I came to backpack in Vietnam in 2016 with a friend. During that trip I also visited Hong Kong and Singapore. The moment I stepped foot in Singapore, I knew that this was the place I wanted to live.

When I moved here in 2017 I had a number of friends waiting for me in Southeast Asia already, making the move much easier. I’ve been working together my friends and colleagues and sharing tips on the best spots around Asia since then. I would recommend Asia to anybody looking to start a business or travel the world.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is hands down my favourite place in Asia to do business. Strong rule of law, innovative mindset and capital are the three important things which I think Singapore has become known for as the financial hub in Asia. It’s also a great place for startups as it’s easy to make new connections and the market size is significant enough to test out business ideas.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best piece of advice that I have received was that one should always try to understand different viewpoints of the parties / people involved. This has helped me open my thinking to new ideas that I might have otherwise shut down or been critical about. I would recommend this to anyone looking to innovate or find new ideas either in their business or personal life.

Who inspires you?
The person who inspires me the most is Elon Musk. For me it is mind blowing how he runs so many companies simultaneously and at the same time is bringing change to the world. The energy and passion that he has and how he is involved with the processes in his companies is very inspirational. Elon is definitely not your regular founder or CEO, he is willing to get his hands dirty like every employee in the company.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I never understood the importance of human resources and leadership when I was an employee in other companies. Now, since starting my own businesses and I have had to recruit, I realise how difficult it really is to communicate the vision and heart of the company to the whole team.

Weekly meetings have become the most important platform for the team to connect and share their ideas. As we have such a small team it opens up the floor for all sorts of discussions and we encourage all to express themselves. Especially since the team is spread across different countries we don’t have any time for watercooler chats and getting to know each other on a deeper level.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
If I could redo things I would have started investing much earlier. Seeing first hand how much even a small investment can bring in returns, it’s well worth saving a bit and securing your future. Most people don’t get wealthy by working hard, it’s about good investment decisions, either real estate or some other asset. For example, something a lot of people don’t think about is, if they started investing today they might be millionaires by the time they get to their parents age.

How do you unwind?
The best and most efficient for me is meditation. It helps me clear my mind. An active work out also helps me.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It is very hard to pick one favourite Asian destination for relaxation, as there are many beautiful places, but if I would have to, it would be Thailand. I like three things about Thailand, one is great food, second is the diversity and last, the beautiful islands.

Everyone in business should read this book:
One very good and insightful book that I read recently is, ‘’Start with Why’’ by Simon Sinek. As you are building your business up, you have to deal with so many different things such as legal issues, business processes, operations and marketing, and it is very easy to forget why are you doing it all. I think each company or startup should know why they are doing what they do. Most of the companies tell us what they do and how they do it, but customers have to understand why it is important to them and why they should use the company’s services or products.

Shameless plug for your business:
We have built a platform which enables you to invest and match investors’ demands in international properties starting from small amounts. We take care of sourcing, due diligence and management of the selected properties. Each investment is recorded on the public blockchain, which is accessible to all investors.

The newest investment opportunity on our platform became available on the 17th of April and you can find out more about it on our website. It has a IRR of over 9% and investments can be done starting from around 800 SGD.

We are currently preparing 3 upcoming projects, which are waiting to be listed on the platform. You can register on BitOfPropety.com and we’ll keep you in the loop of all upcoming opportunities.

How can people connect with you?
Homepage: https://www.bitofproperty.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Bitofproperty-638857992977275/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BitOfProperty
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/15253847/

Twitter handle?
@BitOfProperty

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

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters

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From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.
www.neuromath.com.sg

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.
www.earlymathmatters.com

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at
www.NormanTien.com

Alternatively, you can connect with me:
www.NormanTien.com/facebook
www.NormanTien.com/linkedin

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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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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