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Women on Top in Tech – So-Young Kang, Founder of Awaken Group and Founder & CEO at Gnowbe



(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.)

So-Young Kang is a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about maximizing human creative potential. She is Catalyst & Founder of an award-winning, multi-disciplinary Transformation Design (TD) firm Awaken Group that integrates strategy, leadership, and innovation to design experiences that catalyze change. So-Young Kang is also the Founder & CEO at Gnowbe, a pioneering transformational learning platform. It is a microlearning app that helps people build personalized learning journeys while on-the-go. In 2014, she was selected by the World Economic Forum to be a Young Global Leader.

What makes you do what you do?
I’m driven by purpose and the desire to develop people around the world. I believe in lifelong learning and the need to constantly improve ourselves. I feel privileged to have the chance to pursue my dreams to use technology to humanize the world.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
It evolved over time. In some ways, I have come full circle as I started teaching when I was 11 years old. I guess I have locked in my 10k hours of teaching by now! 🙂 After building corporate experience at McKinsey, Citigroup and with my MBA from Harvard, I became an entrepreneur. This gave me a platform to develop my own perspectives on business, technology, innovation, and education. I found a hidden love for communicating ideas and reflections with others. In many ways, this has broadened my reach and impact as a serial entrepreneur to become a thought leader for the work we do with transformation in Awaken Group and in mobile learning for Gnowbe.

Thought leadership has been key to having a ‘seat at the table to influence and shape the industries we play in.

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)?
Several years ago, we faced a challenge at Awaken Group on how to scale learning to thousands of people in an organization. We couldn’t find a solution that would create a powerful experiential learning journey on mobile or web. So I feel I had no choice but to solve this problem which resulted in founding Gnowbe. And if we take a step back, one of the largest challenges facing humanity today is keeping ourselves relevant in the face of technologies like robotics and AI which may replace us. I would like to be part of solutions that help people stay relevant, constantly learning and developing.

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 different mentors and advisors who I look to for different areas of expertise across industries, experience levels, and geographies. While Gnowbe is my 2nd startup, it’s my first tech startup so there are many things I don’t know. Having mentors has been critical for me to learn quickly, bounce ideas off of, and support me when things get tough.

How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
It depends on the mentor. One of my first mentors for Gnowbe is someone I looked up to and would catch up for breakfast every few months. This evolved into a mentorship relationship where he ended up also becoming an investor. Other mentors have started out as friends, peers or clients from my other professional networks. Most of my 7 advisors and 3 board member relationships came about organically as a result of the relationship, conversation, and mutual desire to work together. I’m grateful for my mentors.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I’m always looking for good people for either of my companies or for the non-profit I co-founded. I look for people who are super smart, passionate and great at what they do. For example, if I go to a restaurant and the manager is exceptionally good, I will usually ask for his/her card and name. I’m less concerned with pedigree or specific experiences. For most roles, if people have strong intrinsic, I believe that skills can be learned. Both of my companies invest quite a bit in developing people through formal and many informal tools. I believe my companies will only be able to grow up to the capabilities of our people. People are our true assets that need to be cared for and intentionally developed.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
These days I am more conscious to have a diverse and inclusive team. I think this creates a more innovative and fun environment to work. However, there are real costs to diversity such as additional time needed to understand each other, but I feel the benefits far outweigh the costs. For me, diversity is not just about gender, but about culture, personality, socio-economic background, and etc. When you look at my teams, it’s hard to see any real patterns. Perhaps the only patterns are around core values and passion.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I authored a book on this called ‘Inside Out‘ a few years ago, so I may be cheating a bit here…my conclusion after doing years of research on this is that being a great leader requires someone to be human, creative, and adaptive.

For industry-specific leadership, I believe this requires constant learning, researching, and understanding of the trends (past, present, and future) and speaking to many different people constantly with an open heart (e.g., clients, partners, vendors, content creators, investors). It’s also important to connect with those outside your industry as this provides various stimuli for new ideas. I love spending time with artists, musicians, actors, doctors, and others outside my core industry to stretch my thinking and challenge my approach.

Advice for others?
As a leader, entrepreneur or whatever path you may take, focus on being human first. All else will follow. For me, ‘being human’ is about embarking on a life-long journey of understanding yourself. It’s about walking towards greater integrity so that the things you believe on the inside get reflected in the companies you build and ultimately the impact your products and services have on other humans. My main advice is to ‘lead from the inside out.’

My current focus is on closing the growing skills gap globally using mobile technology. It’s about strategic partnerships with educators and companies to develop their people to get easier access to quality content and to apply what they have learned. It’s about redefining how we teach and learn.

If you’d like to get in touch with So-Young Kang, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about Awaken Group, please click here

To learn more about Gnowbe, please click here

Callum Connects

Sun Ho, Founder of LittleLives Inc



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:
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 (, Instagram (littlelives_inc), YouTube (, and check out our LittleLives Blog ( 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:
Download free copies of his books here:

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Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade



(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 (, 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:

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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