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Shannon & King, co-founders of SaltyCustoms

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Shannon Toh and Quah Nian King(King) are the founders of Salty Customs, a B2B t-shirt supply and design company.

Shannon holds a Bachelor Degree in Accounting & Finance. His entrepreneurship journey began when he was 8 years old, selling scented eraser dust packed in paper to his classmates. In university, he won his first business competition which scored him a job offer from DiGi Malaysia. Whilst studying, Shannon also worked for Nike, helping the company to coordinate their shoe launches and its related events. At 23, Shannon co-founder SaltyCustoms in the study room of his parents after leaving his corporate accounting job in one of the Big 4 accounting firms in Malaysia. He is now the creative director of SaltyCustoms and the C.E.O of T33.COM.

King has a Bachelor Degree in Business Management, Finance and Marketing. At a tender age of 13, King has had his hands in an array of industries learning and growing from house to house odd-jobs to part time positions in restaurants and manufacturing plants. As the years went by and opportunities presented itself, he is no stranger to on-ground roadshows and event organizing. The experience and exposure came in handy in 2007, landing him a job with a Corporate Training Firm that specializes in Soft Skills training for MNCs. King says that: “Working with mentors and life coaches has thought me a lot about the human mind and people’s behaviour. I’ve been a student of the mind ever since”. Coupled with the Management degree, this growing knowledge has been the pillars that build the foundation and core values that King believes in: “It gives me a better insight into matters pertaining to work and one’s personal life; like we practice at work, Career growth and Personal growth has to come hand in hand and I’d like to be the advocate for that”.

Today the Asian Entrepreneur is fortunate to be joined by both co-founders as they give us a very insightful and critical look of their entrepreneurial journey.

In your own words, what exactly is SaltyCustoms and what makes it special?

Shannon: SaltyCustoms is a revolutionary service that help clients create amazing custom t-shirts for every company and lifestyle. We focus on 3 contributing factors that give clients the SaltyCustoms experience: Quality, Consultancy, Experience. We make the entire experience of ordering 10 pieces to 10,000 pieces a breeze. A lot is put into our customer experience, from the first inquiry, to the design process and the consultancy that takes place, helping customers plan different apparel ranges, print methods and even colour choices till the delivery stage where every piece is packed into our signature box cartons. SaltyCustoms “gets it”. The team consists of Apparel Consultants who are t-shirt fans and know all aspects that make a t-shirt awesome.

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What led you guys to start SaltyCustoms?

Shannon: I have always been a huge fan of t-shirts since young. I wanted to start my own brand when I was in university but finding a great blank t-shirt to print on was impossible. Most of the t-shirts I found could not match up to the brands from the US. Feeling unsatisfied, I decided to tailor make my own cut and pick my own materials. It was when I wore my first t-shirt, I bravely set up a store at Youth’09 trade show where I sold 100 blank t-shirts in 3 days. That was when I realized that there was a market for supplying quality, great fitting blank t-shirts. I quit my job a few months later and the my journey began.

Would you say you planned it out initially?

Shannon: I didn’t really have a very structured plan. I took the plunge into entrepreneurship with a lot of guts and believing in the dream to make the best t-shirts, with enough savings to survive of course.

What sort of challenges did you guys face during startup?

Shannon:Money and discipline was a big challenge. When starting up, I had almost no capital and was reinvesting every buck made back into the business. I drew just enough salary to survive. Once we manage to hire staff, they had to be paid first. On bad months in the early days, my partner and I would give up our salaries to pay the staff first. They were more important than our money. No one realizes how hard it is to find the discipline to be your own boss, especially at a young age. We find ourselves procrastinating at a lot of tasks and it slows down operations. It really takes maturing and a kick in the ass from someone you respect to change yourself.

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How did you guys overcome these challenges?

Shannon: Maturity and a reality check. As I mentioned, a real kick makes you realize that if you don’t buck up in these coming months, you’re going to close down. Also, my partner and I started reading the same business books that help us align easily and stay on the same page with many big decisions.

So how has it been like working on SaltyCustoms since?

Shannon: I think the wave has finally come and we’re riding it cautiously. We have grown tremendously in the past 2 years, both internally and externally. We’ve implemented real work flows and systems and are running the business like a big corporation. The work is serious but we also focus a lot on our company culture. There’s rarely any office politics and we’re all like a big family. We go out for movies, play sports, and support each other at work. I couldn’t have imagined a better working environment. The coolest part is our clients take notice of our culture & identity, we’re always staying true to our culture and that’s why clients love working with us.

From your experience, what can you tell us about the fashion industry in Malaysia?

Shannon: Malaysia is a tough market for fashion. I feel that there’s too much segregation in terms of culture and style. The majority of Malaysia is still at the state where price surpasses the importance of quality. It’s not very easy when you’re expected to delivery cheap and good products.

I take it that you think these challenges and difficulties don’t arise in Western markets, right?

Shannon: I wouldn’t say that but it’s a different set of challenges, I think. Local brands struggle with the division of the cultures, the mentality that Western brands are superior to local brands and also the size of our market is very small. However, in the West, they face more of “first world problem”. There are too many opportunities, the market is huge enough for tons of players. That creates a great deal of competition for fashion brands. On the flipside, it pushes brands to stay on top of their game.

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So how is competition like in what you do?

King: I think being in the business of apparel supply, competition is stiff as there are many other reputable and distinguished tshirt and uniform manufacturers in the industry. We choose to believe that we differ by being able to serve as an apparel partner to our clients, offering solutions via apparel consultancy and high level apparel manufacturing to bring their products to a retail level for greater Returns of investment.

How have you ensured that the company remains innovative?

King: Well, the company started out as a 2 men team. Today there are 11 of us wackos working together seeking to amaze each and other every single day. The very reason that has moulded us, kept us motivated and positive throughout and it gives us the ability to bring out the best in each other; these characteristics shines through the work that we do enabling us to consult, deal and serve better while staying current and trendy. Furthermore, with the technical capacity of over 12 special print technologies and growing, custom cloth dyeing facilities and a capacity to produce over 30,000pcs of custom made apparels a month at a competitive price, we believe in our product.

In your opinion, what are some common problems that businesses face with regards to starting a shirt-brand in Malaysia?

King: From my experience, there are many sets of challenges that would be inevitable and to each their own when it comes to problems. The most common of them all would lie in the assessment of risks. Many a times, entrepreneurs find themselves faced with a heavy decision between having to invest whole heartedly into the business or to play it safe by testing the receptiveness of the market first. Due to very realistic barriers such as limitation of funds and lack of distribution platforms, should entrepreneurs decide with the latter, then they would end up paying more for a basic product with limited stocks in hand. Should one decide to go with the former, then initial start-up capital would be hefty and risks are a whole lot greater.

What are some important insights that you’ve learnt from working on SaltyCustoms?

King: Running a business is not always easy, in fact it could be frustrating beyond words at times but above it all, the satisfaction that I gain from working with talented people to produce high level products for our always appreciative clients and the learning that the we, the team go through collectively, makes it all worth it.

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What makes an entrepreneur successful, in your opinion?

King: For an entrepreneur to be successful in his/her venture, one has to be highly motivated, highly energized, disciplined and ethical.

So do you guys have any advice for the fighting entrepreneurs out there?

Shannon: Surround yourself with likeminded people, ditch your negative friends if you have to.
King: Do what you love and what you love would follow.

What personal values drives you guys?

Shannon: Honesty, Staying humble, Keep learning, Dream big, Reward yourself.
King: I’ll hold true to this: “Treat others with respect and integrity; and the way you would like to be treated.” Also, growth and personal development, people becoming more than what they were before, the business undergoes an organic growing phase, the brand gains international recognition; these are the key factors that would keep me going.

What can we expect from SaltyCustoms in the future?

Shannon: We definitely want to make SaltyCustoms a household brand for custom t-shirts worldwide.
King:It took us 3 years to lay the foundation for SaltyCustoms. The journey has only just begun. We’ll see to it that SaltyCustoms is to be in every company and every lifestyle worlwide in the next 5 years. There definitely is room for the brand to grow and mature over this period of time. More development plans to be unveiled along the way. Sky is the limit!
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Connect with Shannon & King and SaltyCustoms today:
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.saltycustoms.com/
Statigram: http://www.statigr.am/saltycustoms
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/saltycustoms
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/saltycustoms

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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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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