Scott Lawson

Impact Investment and Inspiring Entrepreneurs | Scott Lawson, SOW Asia

Through this episode of Entrepreneur for Good, I speak with SOW Asia's Scott Lawson,  about his experience as an investor looking for entrepreneurs, and organizations, whose mission, and potential to scale, are aligned with their investment thesis.

It is an interview that I feel offers a lot of insight, particularly for entrepreneurs who are looking to learn about the mindset of investors, but is equally interesting (AND VALUABLE) for investors who are just entering the impact investment space.


"Only do this if you cannot do anything else. If there is a burning issue or problem in your mind that keeps you awake at night that you have to address, then by all means do that. But understand that this is extremely challenging, risky, time consuming work and it can often be a lonely journey as well."

- Scott Lawson, SOW ASIA


About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Scott Lawson

Scott Lawson is the former CEO of SOW Asia, a Hong Kong based, donor supported charitable organization working at the intersection of social enterprise and impact investing. SOW Asia invests in organizations and people intent on creating positive social or environmental impact.


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

I'm Scott Lawson. I'm the CEO of Sow Asia. I've lived in Hong Kong for 16 years. I first came to China in 1981 as a undergraduate student and I've been in love with the Chinese culture and people since then. I came to Hong Kong in 2000 to serve as the pastor of a church. In 2008, I moved over to join the South Asia team.

SOW ASIA

Sow Asia is a Hong Kong based charitable foundation investing in the individuals and organizations that are creating positive and scalable social impact.

Sow Asia was founded in 2009. The founder needed to make a decision whether to establish it as a fund or a foundation. We decided that the focus needed to be on impact, so we chose to establish it as a foundation. As an organization, our priority is impact. We are of course trying to do that through impact investing to create the sustainability and scalability that Asia is going to need to address the big challenges it faces.

INVESTMENT STRATEGY

Sow Asia was founded in the same year, I believe, that the term Impact Investment was coined (2008/2009). So we really were amongst the pioneers in this part of the world. When the term was coined, there was obviously a great deal of the excitement and anticipation around a concept that people were really struggling to put words and ideas to. We've been a part of that development process in this part of the world.

I spent my first two years really traversing China and Southeast Asia looking for investment opportunities. Honestly we struggled to find opportunities that we thought were investment ready. That began, that began a deeper conversation internally to the organization about our relevance and about the impact investment space as a whole. Off the back of that long internal conversation, we made the decision to engage the market at an earlier stage. Really looking at younger organizations that we thought had all things equaled, the potential to grow. But, we're going to need some capacity building support to make them attractive for investment.

Because the space is still nascent here in Hong Kong and in Asia, we have had to cast a wider net in terms of the opportunities we're looking at. We are interested in the environment sector, the education sector and the healthcare sector.

WHO THEY WORK WITH

Sow Asia is uniquely placed as an organization that seeks to both invest, but is also functioning actually as an intermediary helping to bring together supply and demand in a market place that doesn't really yet exist. So on the demand for capital side, we work closely with inspiring and aspiring entrepreneurs who have solutions, have organizations that are creating positive social impact. It's actually the most exciting part of my job and the greatest privilege for me to work closely with these entrepreneurs. Many of whom are young, but as we are seeing, we are seeing more and more mid career people coming into this space and really applying their experience, their abilities to engage the social impact space.

What we try to do is focus on organizations that have reached the proof of concept level. They have a couple of founders, they have a business model, even if we will change it with them. They have ideally some revenue as well.

EARLY LESSONS

Over the past three years, we have worked with closely with over 40 social enterprises. Again, across a number of sectors, the environment, education, healthcare, poverty alleviation. It's hard to generalize about the entrepreneurs. Some of them come from commercial background, some of them come from a more non-profit background. We have learned in the process that both non-profits and for profit organizations can be successful in achieving their mission and being able to scale their impact. So this has been a great learning for us in terms of how we understand and how we can engage them and help them to grow their ability to scale.

INSPIRATION

The Impact Investment space faces a number of challenges. I liken it to the old story about the five blind men and the elephant. We have conversations about impact investing and realize that although people are all using that term, we may actually very well be talking about different things.

So one thing that we have become much clearer on, is the need to not necessarily define that term, but to define what ones intentions are around that term. What is one seeking in terms of a return? Either financial or the impact of social or environmental.

There are a number problems across the globe that we run into again. On the one side, we face a continued lack of demand for Impact Investment capital. That to say we are not really seeing enough investable opportunities coming into the market place. At the same time, we are also seeing a lack of interest and attention and awareness on the supply of capital side. So whereas I see in Hong Kong, a number of individuals who raise their hand and say yes I'm interested in Impact Investing as an investor. In fact, they are really not doing that. The reasons are clear, but I think there is certainly a gap between supply and demand as they currently exist that needs to be bridged. It's one that we are trying to address at Sow Asia, but that I would say is our biggest challenge going forward.

Those who are interested in investing into Hong Kong projects, find that even the most interesting opportunities are limited in their scalability. Hong Kong is a big city, but relatively speaking a small market. So there are have not been a lot of opportunities for people who want to invest locally and scalable impact. The bigger problem, here in Hong Kong, but I think globally is that what the space really needs now to bridge that gap between supply and demand is what I would call high risk, low return capital. Which is something that any rational investor is not going to appreciate or understand. This is why we believe there is a need for what has been called flexible finance, capital that is more philanthropic in its nature that would be that early first loss funding that allows for these enterprises to grow and creates real impact investment opportunities going forward. We have to identify that capital for the missing middle.

IMPACT INVESTING IS DIFFERENT

Potential investors bring to the conversation a number of preconceived ideas about the impact investing space. Especially if the opportunities that they are looking at are self described as social enterprises. Often times social enterprises are understood to mean a lower return financially. So immediately they're considered with I would say, greater suspicion, greater skepticism, unless the investor has said that their intention is to invest in the impact. Most investors in Hong Kong and I think elsewhere are very much interested in the idea of receiving a certain level of financial return as well the impact. But those opportunities haven't come into the market yet.

LABEL & MODELS MATTER

Social enterprise is an umbrella term that can be used to describe a number of different organizations with a number of different purposes. If we're looking at an opportunity that does have the ability to compete and scale in the commercial market, then we would advise them not only to, not describe themselves as a social enterprise, but to build their business model accordingly. In some instances, where the revenue might include earned income, but may also include government subsidies, and rightly so because these are opportunities that require government support, then I think the social enterprise label is more appropriate, if you will.

One of the things we have built into our capacity building work is immediately identifying with the social entrepreneur, what their end game is and helping them to understand a strategy around that end game and to really leave as much as possible, their preconceived ideas about how this should be working just to sent those aside. So often times we find social entrepreneurs have a preference for earned income, which is not a bad thing per say. But again, it depends on what they are trying to achieve, the market which they are trying to operate, the stake holders or clients which they're trying to serve. For instance, a social enterprise that is addressing a challenge around poverty alleviation, we've become clear that most of the models don't work or don't work well. By that I mean they are not scalable.

In Hong Kong, many of the B-C social enterprises struggle to reach sustainability because they're competing against every other coffee shop in town, for example. So we're interested in working with organizations...really rethinking their business models from the inside out. Thinking about b2b models for example. B to G to C business to government to consumer or client. But it means being willing and able to look at everything again including the legal status for a profit, non profit, in light of the end game or the overall strategy objective of the social enterprise.

ADVICE TO ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS

My advice to any potential social entrepreneur, first of all I would say only do this if you cannot do anything else. If there is a burning issue or problem in your mind that keeps you awake at night that you have to address, then by all means do that. But understand that this is extremely challenging, risky, time consuming work and it can often be a lonely journey as well.

Secondly, I would say that most of the social entrepreneurs we talk to, do have a great passion about their solution and because they have a great passion about their solution, they automatically assume that everyone else also understands the value of their solution. But in fact, you need to demonstrate that. You need to prove that and we will ask you, if you work with us to prove that to us. You make hypotheses about your value proposition, your customers, we want you to prove that to us. I think that is a growing process and a strengthening process for you to get real about where this product would actually be demanded and creates a real value in the market place.

HOW INVESTORS CAN IMPROVE

I would describe my journey with Impact Investing , I would liken it to repairing in the airplane as we fly in it has sort of exhilarating, but also slightly scary feeling at the same time.

When it comes to the Impact Investment community I'm not sure it really exists yet. We have a number of people who have expressed interest. They come to the Impact Investment space with a point of view, a certain mind set. I think we are still trying to understand one another. We're trying to figure out, for example. How we can communicate across different mindsets, across different boundaries. We are also trying to figure out how we can effectively measure social impact in a way that will be necessary if we are going to grow the space.

It's incumbent upon organizations like Sow Asia working with strategic partners, like JP Morgan for example , or the Hong Kong government, to be intentional about building the eco system that I think is going to be necessary to grow the impact investment space. We've done a pretty good job her in Hong Kong about providing support for social

enterprise, investment opportunities from seed stage straight on up. Sow Asia happens to serve the growth stage market. We need to continue the work with investors well.

At the end of the day, my sense where in Hong Kong is that there are a lot of people who are not willing to engage until they understand it and my counter argument is we are not going to understand it until we engage. We are going to need more people who are willing to jump into the space as both entrepreneurs and investors, make some mistake, learn in the process and build the space accordingly.

PAIN OF INACTION WILL DRIVE ACTION

Hong Kong, the city displayed behind me, is one of the most prosperous in the world, in this world. At the same time, nearly one in five Hong Kong residence live below the established poverty line. There are one in five adults in Hong Kong who are not getting enough food to eat every day or experience what we call meal gaps. There are a number of issues in Hong Kong related to poverty, specifically around housing, around healthcare, and around food. Basic services that any civilized city, such as Hong Kong, should be able to provide for its citizens. We need to address those issues.

The other obvious change in Hong Kong is the demographic bulge and the rapidly aging population in Hong Kong as we have seen in Japan and as we will see in China as well. There are currently inadequate facilities for aging, for the aging population and also its not just about healthcare facilities, it's about some of those things that we take for granted. The companionship, battling loneliness and depression. There are a number of places where innovative iterative solutions are really going to provide a huge difference in a place like Hong Kong.

There are a number of complex questions about how we can move the Impact Investment space forward. It may be that its really not going to move forward until the pain of not acting, of not doing because more acute. Whether we are talking about the environment, whether we're talking about the income gap in Hong Kong and China, the education gap, etc. Those problems are only going to increase. The need for Impact Investing is only going to increase as we realize that neither traditional charity or traditional public resources are going to be sufficient to address these issues.

In terms of the first mover, my sense at this point is that the government certainly has a role to play. We've seen private capital expressing an interest, but the first movers are likely to be those who are more philanthropically orientated who can provide that first lost capital. Also, the thought leadership that is required to begin to move this space forward by creating examples that work and really, I think, instilling a new kind of imagination into the minds of people about what is possible through the Impact Investment model.

WHERE IMPACT INVESTMENT IS WORKING

We already know that the Impact Investment model is performing well in particular sectors. The agriculture sector, for example, across less developed countries in Asia and Africa. For example. Its working in clean tech or green tech for opportunities that are perhaps more socially oriented. I think there's going to be a lot more activity and a lot more growth around solutions, innovations with regard to healthcare and education as the cost of education continue to spiral really beyond the means of most people in Hong Kong and that gap opens, I think, you're going to see a lot of innovation around those solutions as well.

The other obvious one for all of us in Hong Kong would be around the environment as well and this is a place where an enormous amount of work is to be done. We two years ago made an investment into a small recycling company in Hong Kong. Really the only company in Hong Kong that is recycling glass sand plastic, believe it or not, and this is a company that is experiencing some growth, but I think in the next year is gong to be well-positions to really grow and create some positive impact in an area of great need in Hong Kong.

STAYING INSPIRED

I've long believed that each of us has really one fundamental binary decision or choice and that choice is between hope or cynicism. And I think it's one that we need to, I need to make almost every day because there's obviously a lot of evidence to suggest that cynicism is well-placed. But I'm a father, I am someone who is attracted to big challenges of someone who fundamentally believes that although the impact investment space isn't working in an optimal fashion yet, it has to work. That it is indeed our only solution that bringing more private capital and investment performance into organizations, movements that are creating positive measurable social impact.

GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK HONG KONG

I've been at Sow Asia for nearly eight years. I'm stepping down at the end of June to return to the US. I leave with very mixed motions. I'm obviously excited about returning home and being closer to family, but Hong Kong is a huge part of who I am and...I, looking back on my experience, I obviously would have liked to have done more. I would like to have seen more deals done. I now understand that like these extraordinary buildings behind me, there's a lot work that needs to go into building the foundation before the structure can actually come up. I understand that we've actually done a fairly good job at Sow Asia at building the foundation and that's not just us, but our desire, our willingness to work with a number of steak holders in Hong Kong to really develop what I think is a robust ecosystem to support the growth of the entire space.

We face some real challenges. We need more investable opportunities, which requires smart, young entrepreneurs coming into the space as opposed to going into investment banking or other opportunities. That's going to happen. I think they need to know as they come into the space that they're going to be properly supported, they need to do the heavy lifting themselves, but I think they need to know that Hong Kong is a place where if they work hard, if they are true to their mission, that they have a solid chance of actually growing their enterprises.

It's my conviction that great social entrepreneurs need the best support we can provide for them.

Hopefully Sow Asia will continue to do that.

I certainly hope that that is the intention of my successor and I wish him or her all the best.


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Amena Schlaikjer

Self Awareness and Delusional Entrepreneurs | Amena Schlaikjer, Wellness Works

Through this interview of Entrepreneur For Good, my close friend Amena Schlaikjer brings a bit of levity to the belief that our ideas (as social entrepreneurs) are "the ideas" that will solve the environmental and social challenges faced by our cities, communities, and countries.

She is someone who has some of the best ideas, and there are two that we cooked up early on that are now HUGE businesses... for other people. Yeah, we had the ideas, but as you will see in this interview, ideas can often delude individuals into thinking they are entrepreneurs.

When in fact they aren't. And that's ok.

It is a wide ranging interview that is really about personal growth, self-awareness, and creating personal processes and rituals.

I hope you enjoy the interview, and if you do, please remember to like, share, and comments!

"A master is someone who's established a process or a way of operating and its connected to some level of deeper meaning in their life and they want to put something out there in the world."

- Amena Lee Schlaikjer


HER JOURNEY IS ONE OF A BALANCING A CONSTANT FLOW OF IDEAS, SELF-AWARENESS, AND KNOWING THAT NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR


About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Amena

Amena is a wellness innovator, health coach and facilitator of ideas that create change, and she is passionate about how people thrive and where health and creativity come into play in that process.

Amena grew up as a world traveler from my diplomatic childhood, enjoying the multitude of diverse perspectives life has to offer. Amena started my career by combining my Asian Studies from Columbia University and Marketing from F.I.T. to help entrepreneurs build new businesses in New York and eventually Shanghai - learning the ins and outs of attracting new markets and thinking outside the box for solutions.

Following a desire to facilitate ideas that inspire others towards healthier choices in a more sustainable world, Amena started her own socially-minded enterprise called The Wellness Works; where she co-create with brands using innovation methodology and find ways to support the community.

Follow Amena and Wellness Works:
Website: http://www.the-wellness-works.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amena-lee-schlaikjer-85b0412/


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

My name is Amena Lee Schlaijker and I have a little initiative called the Wellness Works. My mission is to basically come up with creative ideas with other partners in order to empower people to take control of their well being.

WHY WELLNESS?

So it's been now, the era of connecting dots. I think you are only as good as the dots you can connect, otherwise your life is just complete chaos.

So I think since like college burnout and like trying to learn the tools early on and how to manage my own personal wellbeing, I realize that people are really lacking these tools. I had to got through like ya know 20 years of a career in the lifestyle industry, a lot cosmetics and fashion, and that was very much the thing, the what. I was attracted to the packaging, the marketing industry, how to get really funky cool products out there and then I realized it was extremely one dimensional.

As I got deeper, and in search of a process which I think a lot of us look for later on in our career, I came across innovation.

I was asking what makes people tick? Why do people want to buy things, hat look really cool and pretty? And why would they want to buy something that's, that's harmful to them and their health?

Then I think it was the fusion of those things where I wanted to just innovate things that were healthy for people.

WHY DID YOU WANT TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR?

Since the age of 16, I surrounded myself with entrepreneurs, like you, and was very inspired by them.

I went to night school at one point so I could work all day and a full-time job, and I always picked entrepreneurs because I just found them to be fascinating risk takers who were really adaptable people. Something I understood as I had grown up really uprooted moving every 2 years in my life. So yeah, I was just attracted to these go-getters and people who are ahead of the curve a trying things in different countries, and so I just kind of followed them around like a puppy dog.

So I was around these entrepreneurs and I was like well I gotta be like them. I gotta be like them when I wasn't recognizing that there was a place for what I was doing unconsciously.

NOT AN ENTREPRENEUR. ENTREPRENEURIAL

So, I wanted to qualify something and maybe this is a bounce because I don't consider myself a pure entrepreneur.
I think there are grades of entrepreneurship, and while I think I'm very entrepreneurial, but I don't own a company, a team or throwing a, a produce or service necessarily out into the world.

I work with clients as in independent and someone who gathers ad hoc people on a project as I figure out what their problem is and then I become their best supporter of that problem and I want to solve it with them.

I have this awesome toolkit of how of how to be adaptive and how to come up with ideas that you didn't think you had and how to sense in areas that you forgot how to sense them so we can envision something really new for your company. I've gotten really realistic about that's my sweet spot, at least for now. And um, and I think that's an entrepreneurial.

IT'S OK TO BE #2 OR #3

Yeah, and I, ya know, I got comfortable with this when I went to a school of creative leadership called THNK (in Amsterdam). They have schools around the world that present themselves as a school of entrepreneurship, and they were punishing everybody to come up with their amazing world saving idea, and and it dawned on me like, actually, most entrepreneurs are delusional.

I think, I think when you can get really honest with yourself and understand what your scale and your scope is, that's when you can start seeing real shifts happen with yourself and not set yourself up for failure or create a stretch that's unrealistic only because it seems fashionable. … and you know very well as I do that we're in a phase of entrepreneurship being fashionable.

Everybody and their grandmother is trying to be an entrepreneur, and I think that's great. It's a skill set that everyone should have, but that doesn't mean that they have to be an entrepreneur. They can be in a corporation and be entrepreneurial, or they could be an innovator, startup catalyst of that kind or they could be someone who works for an entrepreneur and understand the culture of how to get things off the ground and add value.

REALIZING BEING #2 WAS OK.

I think it was, I think it was a maturation of self and that I was just accepting that, this is a really good place to be. I don't want to cut myself off from being an entrepreneur in the future.

That a may very well happen and I welcome it and embrace it, but I think I settled into like this is a horizon now that I need to pay attention to and be present to and be proud of and do really, really good work here. Instead of show up and do my consulting projects and all these amazing ideas in my computer you know?

There was a naivety about that and I know now that the way I came up with those ideas is what I had to offer.

MASTERS AND DABBLERS

So there's a big difference in working with somebody who is dabbling.

I don't know if they're inexperienced or if they came into a ton of money, and they're going to try something, or they're new to an industry and think its trendy and it’s going to be a hot opportunity, but a master is someone who's established a process or a way of operating and its connected to some level of deeper meaning in their life and they want to put something out there in the world.

There is so much clarity, in masters. They have a set of filters, a set of pillars and values that a dabbler couldn't express s they're just following whatever is hot, you know?

So I think there is a difference between like people who do a lot of stuff, like you and I. I think we are innovators, and I think we help other people also come up with ideas and be entrepreneurs.

We're entrepreneurial. You're much more of an entrepreneur than I am. But we get masterful at our process. You get so good at it, you can get in front of your class and teach it I a heartbeat. Right? Because it's the way you attack the world.

I think dabblers don't have that.

They just kind of drop whatever and move on to the next thing, and that distraction is the biggest inhibitor to success.

THE ART OF DABBLING

Yeah, ok, so I think there's a necessity in dabbling in order to achieve levels of mastery because people who don't experiment enough to land, to hone in on. Like this is the piece I want to start focusing on, and to understand if it gives (me) energy or does it zap (my) energy?

If they are honest about that, then they have kind of the cornerstone to which they can start building their mastery, right? Because you have to dabble in order to get there.

Then, I think once you get to this level of mastery, which I think you have arrived at, it is around the process. You're a master at like how do I get the startup pieces, the chess pieces in play so that I can step back from the board and approach another board with these exact same process.

So again, I think maybe master dabbler is a great way to describe that because you have honed that skill.

WHEN SHOULD YOU STOP DABBLING?

This is where the lessons of deep practice come into play. Where you can start calibrating and you're not like sort of pendulum swinging between different modes of operating, ideas, jobs, partners or whatever it might be.

So I learned this in the practice of iterating through the innovation process, which entrepreneurs do naturally because at some point you have to create enough constraints. While I spend 80% of my project setting up constraints in order to be creative, even though most people think that's blue sky creativity blueish and stuff.

For me your idea is only as good as your constraints you set up and the more you do that, the more you go ok, exactly what is the challenge question? What am I articulating? Where the values we're working by? What are the filters that I'm operating in? How am I scoping this? What are the high and lows of this project?

There are so many tools that I use to get like razor sharp, polishing down the challenge.

Then boom...something opens up to how you can create and then you have to decide how many times do I want to iterate this? Or how many ideas is enough? Because I could go forever.

Especially if you are with a creative being, you could just go non-stop. You just get better at making the call.

I think this comes into every field of any master of domain will do this.. in athletics, in entertainment, in politics, in business.

You get to a point where you know when to stop.

SUPPORT NETWORKS AND CONFIDENCE

If you look back on human history, we've had support systems that no longer exist in uprooted urban transient expat cities in particular.

That's really the bulk of your audience, but in any sort metropolitan city where you don't have elders anymore. We don't have channels of wisdom and knowledge that come to us in a very practical sense.

We're in highly competitive environments, so we don't have sober neutral advice from others. There is always something. There is always a lens that people are talking to you with.

We don't have religious people, gurus, priests, like this ilk of support that, that again give us kind of like the pillars of thinking even or kind of hone our value systems.

So without this some sort of, it's not like a, it's like an ethical support system and we've talked about sustainability, actually, frankly is just a like a new set of ethics, right? It's not this new market or new horizon, it's just the way should be operating. Uh, when you don't have those things instilled as a value set, I think people can feel really lost and I think all of us as entrepreneurs feel extremely lost at times.

I also think that's the reason why this whole coaching industry has taken off even though it has a lot of holes in it, but I think we are really lacking coaching, mentors, advisors, neutral opinions, hard constructive feedback as to why you are not doing things right.

AVOIDING (SURVIVING) BURNOUTS

So I am a long sufferer of burnout, depression in my early 20s and I think I had 3 bad burnouts in life where like, ya know at one point I didn't sleep for 10 days straight.

I mean people die from stuff like that.

It was intense and just incredible lows, and I think this work that I am doing is just trying to figure out what are the tools we can hone to pull ourselves out of that… or catch ourselves before we fall into it.

That whole process is just kind of a self-discovery process. It's just learning who you are and what makes you tick, and I just don't think a lot of people have the patience, the time carved out, the focus to go there.

So I really believe entrepreneurs need to have a dedicated practice of some kind. Somehow meditative or mindful, even though they don't have to do formal meditation. But it needs to be a checking back in so that you're able to calibrate before you totally burnout or pass out

If you have that self-awareness, and it's all about a practice of self-awareness to just check back in on a daily basis (because that is how frequent it needs to be for you to get good at this), then you won't fall to such lows.

So much of it is energetic. It's in the body. We get so used to relying on the cerebral body because we let the rest of our body be transportation systems for this is it, this who I am? If we don't tap into a deeper intelligence and I think every person let alone entrepreneur, needs that as a practice.

You also need support so you need camaraderie so you feel like you're not alone in that situation.

I think isolation is probably the worst aspect of anybody who deals with depression or deals with hard times. Making sure that you have great friendships and cultivating great friendships that aren't just acquaintances that show up to your parties or your events, but people who you can call on and they can hear it in your voice that something is going on.

I think it's those two.

Have a practice and have a support system and as you have those two modes of feedback, your internal and external, you start developing what the meaning is that you want to make in this world.

FINDING SHELTER IN THE STORM

It's just the simple things in life. It's so simple.

I'm sure it's like waking up and seeing your kid..or I know very well now the things that make me happy. Whether it's as simple like my favorite desert or my favorite thing to do on a Sunday. Or a book that I want to reread and just this practice of constantly getting present.

Ya know, a lot of people think this idea of mindfulness practices or meditation is about getting calm or being existential in some way, but actually it's honing your ability to focus and be self aware so that you can start from zero again and you can look at the world like a kid.

If I could talk to my 20 yo self, I'd say, honey, what's the practice you want to try? Right? that really connects your mind and body and allows you to kind of calibrate your self-awareness. What's the meaning you're searching for and who are you going to talk to, to develop that meaning? And then who's out there that actually has a great process?

Like the way they approach stuff just seems super ninja like and anytime they attach anything, they use the same process because there is a lot of wisdom behind that.

CAN'T HACK SELF-AWARENESS

I don't believe in hacking. I don't think hacking works. I don't think it does.

I think it works in sort of many steps when you're solving tangible problems in a business because you can kind of jump ahead, but I also think that it doesn't work in the long game and it absolutely doesn't work when it comes to self-awareness practices or getting to know yourself.

Because again, that just takes experience and maturity and time.

But I think if there were a way to sort of hack it in a sense, it is just understanding that failure is part of the process and all entrepreneurs say this and theorize this but, you almost need to practice it.

So I have this self-practice of 80/20. I can only control 20% of my life, and I look at it like if you were to look on it at in terms of time management and draw yourself a wheel and you know you're going to try to carve out 6-8 hours for sleep.

How would you carve up, that's maybe a good 30-40% of your day, how would you carve up another 30% of your day on stuff you are just like hardline focused on...you're always going to show up to that on a daily basis whether it's creation or connection or something very specific in work.

The rest of it you just let fall away.

You don't know who you are going to meet, know what crisis is going to come into your board, you don't know what economic down turn that's going to throw you off your game.

You just need to have kind of control on that 20% and be okay with failure as an option and practice it.

Actually go, I'm going to do this project for the purpose of failing and see if something else comes out of it. If I can detach enough from my ego to go there is something else in this that's not this thing that I'm going to learn from, that is a great exercise to take on.

Do these mini projects for myself. Not start-up companies, but mini initiatives where you learn little bits and you get feedback and I think if you get good at throwing things out there and reading the feedback.

Then you start to get elegant as an entrepreneur, as leader, as a parent, whatever it might be.

CHINA AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

I think the big things that pop up for me and keep me here is one is the dynamism.

So, things keep reinventing themselves and I'm constantly surprised. There is never a point that I get to where I am an expert in this area, I know better than someone else so it challenges me in its dynamism.

Another one is you're constantly surrounded by smart people so it's a place that attracts interesting talent, even if they are coming in and going back about. You have access to these people to have great conversations.

Another one is it's pretty easy to set up a business in a sense and to experiment that business. So you can get your hands on pretty inexpensive resources to trial stuff quickly. Now it might take a lot longer to get to success here, but the experimentation phase is really easy. And I love, like there are a lot of things about China that drive me crazy, but I love the optimism and sort of the beautiful nativity sometimes of Chinese people.

They're just always ready for something new, something positive, something interesting, and I think in a lot of sophisticated markets you deal with cynicism. You deal with bogged down thinking or a lot of competitive attitudes and sarcasm.

Where as here, it's like..yeah, cool, let's do it!!!

And you're like right on, lets go for this and it's not easy.

It's definitely not an easy place and it's getting harder as it gets saturated with everyone and their grandmother and every wealthy parent telling their child to go be an entrepreneur, but I think for those who are dedicated to it, it gives them the playing ground to sort of witness and be aware of who is really good at the game and who's work listening to and then being really careful with your time and not wasting it with random people and random shit.

Shit full circle!


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Annie Chen

Impact Investors and Investments in Asia | Annie Chen, RS Group

Introducing our latest interviewee in the Entrepreneurs for Good interview series: Annie Chen, founder and chair of RS Group.

Before terms like “conscious capitalism”, “philanthro-capitalism”, or “blended values” began floating around in conversation in Asia, Annie Chen was developing a new strategy that has broken the mold in the industry.

Impact investing is about providing the support for others’ endeavors, backing a powerful cause, concept, or innovation. It’s requires the ability and willingness to look beyond short-term growth for a better long-term future.

However, the realm of impact investing opens up another, socially minded approach to business. These investors don’t stop at donations, charities, and fundraising – and especially in China, this kind of outright philanthropy carries a unique set of connotations.

 

“If enough people actually engage in thinking about how, through conscious and intentional placement of their capital, they can invest in the future that they create… it's only when more people do it that we have a chance of transforming the system.”
– Annie Chen, RS Group

 


HER JOURNEY IS ONE OF CONSTANT LEARNING, PATIENCE, AND COMMITMENT TO VISION.


About The Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome. It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Annie Chen

Ms. Annie Chen is the Chair of RS Group, a family office with a focus on sustainability. RS Group makes investments and grants following a “blended value” approach that ensures its total portfolio can make a lasting and positive impact for future generations.

Ms. Chen believes that one of the most pressing challenges of our time is moving the planet and its inhabitants towards sustainability. To align her values with her investments, she has committed her financial resources to socially and environmentally responsible investing. She also dedicates her time and resources toward social and environmental causes with the potential for generating positive systemic change and sustainable development. Believing the potential for change through social entrepreneurship, she is working to enhance the development of social entrepreneurship in Hong Kong and Asia.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Ms. Chen obtained her BA from Brown University and her LLB from Columbia Law School. 

Follow Annie and RS Group
Website: http://www.rsgroup.asia/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rsgroupasia
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/rs-group-asia/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/rsgroupasia


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

Annie: My name is Annie Chen. I am the principal of a mid-sized family office that's based in Hong Kong, called RS Group.

For the last six years, we have been on a mission and on a journey. And our hope is to become a catalytic force in transforming our economic system so that it doesn't jeopardize the well-being of the planet or the people, but will actually us towards a path of sustainable development.

Getting Started

Annie: I did have a prior career in life as a tax lawyer. That translated very well when I moved into the family office that my parents set up. And so I was actually bringing my skill set into play by helping my own family create the appropriate legal structures to do a wealth-management setup that would achieve all the goals that family offices are supposed to achieve. A preservation of capital, and good, smooth transition - or smooth succession – plan, and also to do philanthropy.

Six years ago, I think I realized out of many years of working in that larger family office that we never asked ourself the question of “why we were doing it.” We were working under the assumption that “Well, that's what family offices do.” And I decided that there has got to be something more. And I was trying to find the meaning and the values behind doing it.

And so when the opportunity came, and I had to take responsibility for my own portfolio, I wanted to try to come up with a way of managing my capital that is in alignment with my own values.

Early Challenges

Annie: In one respect, I was very lucky, because my my parents are actually very unusual in the sense that they're very democratic. And they have never interfered - I had to take responsibility for my own pool of assets, and I had relative freedom to develop it how I wanted. The challenges really came from not having the - not being able to find people with the right expertise to help me in Asia.

We started with going to the banks, which is typically where you go out in Asia when you say “Well, I want to invest responsibly. So help me find the solutions.” And six, seven years ago, I have to say: Banks didn’t understand. They didn't know what the principles of responsible investing meant, let alone be signatories.

They had some product offerings that they were trying to sell - like, “Oh, we have water fund,” or “We have a solar fund.” But I was looking for a more holistic approach to investing. And it wasn't until I found an advisor based out of Europe that we actually start making progress towards building a sustainable portfolio.

All right, because we take a portfolio approach, we actually invest a lot through funds as opposed to directly into projects. The space where we did the most in terms of direct investments would be in Hong Kong, where we obviously are more familiar with the landscape, we are more familiar with the players. And what we decided to do there was, we wanted to encourage the building of the field or ecosystem for impact investing.

And for investors to be able to impact investing, obviously you need the projects. You need the social enterprises to invest in. And so we did a few things. We invested in some new initiatives that had no track record - for example, Social Ventures Hong Kong. I think we were one of the first batch of investors into their efforts, knowing that it would be high-risk.

So what they brought were a number of social enterprises that they incubated - but at the same time, we weren't simply investing through them into these social enterprises. We were also investing in the team at the SVHK who were trying to promote this idea of social investing, social innovation.

And even though they didn't have a track record, we were hoping that these projects eventually would be self-sustaining and might even return some capital that you can then re-invest - this whole idea of patient capital, but then recycling your dollars. We were hoping that would happen, but there was no guarantee. But we felt that in order - if nobody played, if nobody took the first step, you would not have a pipeline.

So we tried to invest strategically in a few places to start creating that ecosystem and community. Another example on this theme would be - we contributed to the creation of The Good Lab, which created a space for social entrepreneurs to exchange ideas, and to just come together.

And it's hard to say exactly what the impact of that was, but we felt that with some of the players who were supported during those early years so that they could actually grow team, grow talent, and grow projects. I think there is a lot more experiences being created out of them that would enable more people to experience what it means to invest in a social enterprise.

Well, it actually - there are numbers. I'm just not a numbers person, so I tend not to talk about them. But in our report - the impact report that we put out a few months ago - we actually try to be quite transparent about not only our journey, but the projects we invested in, and how we invest in those projects.

I know the report isn't for everyone, because the way that we look at our investments in taking a portfolio-level lens, rather than an individual investment lens, you tend to lose people because they're not all in that situation of looking at their entire capital that way. But we do share, in that report, our financial performance.

Maybe the differences in the way that we set our target - most people would say, “Oh, well we want to maximize our financial return, the highest that we can get.” How we started by looking at what we want to earn on a financial level is: How much do we need to sustain ourselves? How much do we need to generate to sustain our team, our activities, so that we aren't going to run ourselves into the ground?

So we set ourselves a relatively modest target that would be sufficient to cover our expenses, if you will. And our expenses would include our own activities, our team, as well as our grant-making. And we've achieved that objective.

I don't think my job is to tell other people how to do it because I haven't gotten my own learning journey in this. I think the strongest motivation has to come from within, not from what other people tell you you should do. If they don't find that interest, they don't find that passion, they don't find that motivation within themselves, they'll find it very easy to give up - or just stop doing it.

And I think the reason why we've been at it for so long is because we truly believe in it. And not only that, but we feel that if enough people actually engage in thinking about how, through conscious and intentional placement of their capital, they can invest in the future that they create - it's only when more people do it that we have a chance of transforming the system.

I think it has to - the conversation has to start from, if not values, then the question of what it is that you're trying to achieve. What is the problem that bugs you that you want to solve through impact investing? Get to, really, the issue that that motivates them, and then start building up from there.

So if this is the problem, let's look at the problem. What are the - are you trying to just treat the symptoms of the problem, or are you interested in the root cause? And then you start looking at – well, if that's the root cause, what are some of the possible solutions? And how does impact investing play into this, versus the philanthropic route, for example? Or, does it take both?

Whoever is interested in this space really have to ask themselves the hard question, which is “How much do I want to invest myself into learning about this?” We didn't - we started from scratch. But I did a lot of research and educating myself.

Whether it was through just Google searching stuff, “what impact investing was”, reading all sorts of reports that other people generate, the research that they've done, feeling overwhelmed - but still intrigued enough to want to wrap my head around that. Did trips, went to conferences, met people, made visits, so that I can see - really understand different viewpoints and what other people are doing.

So you've got to invest time into the learning, and not expect that, “Oh, I just make an investment, and we'll deal with that problem.” A lot of times, I think in the impact investing space, what has made it less robust than it could be is simply the fact that people are too busy to invest a lot of time.

Fear and Inspiration

Annie: I’m actually very much motivated by fear! Yeah, so of course there are the inspirational elements, but I think I'm first motivated by “fear”, in terms of really not knowing where climate change will lead us. I think we as a human race, as clever and intelligent as we think we are, we haven't really evolved to be able to really do - make very smart choices. And so I'm fairly pessimistic about where the world is headed.

I worry a lot about the future that my kids will face, and the problems that they will face. But that said, I think one has to have hope. We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't at least have some hope that, well, we can still change things for the better. So I think that's where the inspiration comes in. But no, first and foremost, I think I’m motivated by fear, unfortunately!

We are trying - we haven't perfected anything yet, but we are trying to invest – see, the phrase that I use was “We're trying to invest in the future we want to see, or create.” Because every one of us can only do so much, right?

We see the problems with capitalism in the way that it has been operating for the last 50 years. We know that it's a very powerful system, but it's broken in places. And what we're trying to get people to see is that capital markets are still the most powerful force around if you are looking for big-scale transformation.

So the challenge, then, is how to shift the capitalistic system so that it actually works towards making progress and making the world a better place, rather than contributing to problems. So, I mean, that really to me is the beginning and the end of our quest.

Finding the Transformative

Annie: I think we do look for the transformative factor in what that proposal is. We are less interested in enterprises that produce some useful results, but are limited in terms of scale. If it's simply about – it's something that other people have tried, it's just about doing it “better”, executing it “better” - we're less interested.

We're interested in bigger ideas, but done strategically and in a way that eventually could bring very significant changes - either in behavior or in the markets. So those are few and far in between.

And that's also part of the reason why we don't do a lot of direct investment, because you could - it calls for a lot of resources, from the due diligence to the monitoring, and there are a lot of things really with not within your control, and you have very concentrated risk. So we prefer to diversify through investing funds. But we are interested if the right opportunities come along. But like I said - for some reason in Hong Kong, we find very few ideas that are truly transformative.

Well, I think we need everything to change, right? Entrepreneurs may eventually become the multinationals. It might take time, but even the multinationals now started somewhere, right? So we don't say, “Oh, it's only the really determined, passionate, creative social entrepreneurs that can make change.”

No, I think we need all kinds of change, we need change to happen at a much quicker pace if we're going to make enough progress. So we need the multinationals to play a la “shared value”. If they really transform themselves into businesses that put squarely the question of “value” - and not shareholder value, but value to society first - well, we need those, too. And small/medium businesses - they actually form the majority of our communities, so we need them to play as well. So we need everyone to pitch in.

Everyone is a Change Agent

Annie: I think different impact investors - that's just one hat that they wear. They could be a business owner. They could be an employee somewhere, but they have some money to invest, and they want to invest it for impact. They could be large corporates wanting to start a new business line.

So it doesn't - so “impact investor” doesn't describe just one type of animal. They can come from everywhere, they can come from any different type of background. So I think it's really the mindset, is that if you truly believe that you can invest to generate values – and by “values”, I mean not only financial value, but social value and environmental value.

If you believe in that fact, then there's no reason why you wouldn't question, say, if you're a business owner, then “How do I create value – social, environmental, and financial value – through my own business?” Or if I'm an employee, I would ask, “So how is the company that I work in generate all those values? And if it's not, and if they only think about the financial value, am I in a position to also be a change agent? To start asking questions, like ‘Where is the environmental value that we're creating? Where is the social value that we're creating as a business?’”

So I find it interesting that people try to pigeonhole impact investing as just this one thing and kind of miss that, if you buy into impact investing, then you’re, by definition, buying into the fact that investing generates not simply financial returns - but that it could have possible positive social and environmental value generation. And if that's the case, then why shouldn't that apply across the board to all kinds of businesses?

I think, probably, younger people get it more easily - especially if they have not been already brainwashed into thinking that, while you really can't jive financial value generation with the social and environmental value generation, there's still some of those around. But by and large, I think a younger people either get it or want it to be true.

But not a lot of them are in positions of authority or power in order to do enough impact investing to make significant change. This is an overgeneralization. I think in different places, the transitions - or the succession - is happening at a different pace.

And I'm not - and I don't think that age or what generation you come from defines you in the sense that you really can't see outside of your own experience. I think everybody has the potential to look beyond that. It's a question of: Do they have the motivation? Do they have the time? Do they have the interest in looking beyond that?

If you want change to happen quickly, then obviously, those who are in positions of power are the people that you want to influence and change. But by definition, they are also the most difficult group to change, because they are in those positions because they benefited from the way the current systems work. So why would they want to dismantle that? It takes some courage, and take some, I think, insight to want to do that. So I don't have a good answer!

Some Parting Advice

Annie: I think, first of all is: Be honest with yourself as to how committed you are to get on this path. Because if you want to follow through, it will take a lot of effort, and it will take a lot of time on your own part - and resources, if you want to do it properly.

The second thing would be: Find others. There’s no need to do it by yourself and reinvent the wheel. Read our report - we do share our entire journey there, so maybe there's some bits of information there that could help make that transition easier for you. And find not only examples, but people who can actually go on the journey with you. It makes it a lot more fun.

And I guess the third thing is: Develop a sense of urgency. I think, by far, the biggest difference between people who've gone down this path much faster and further are the people who feel that there's an urgency to do so. If you think that, “Oh, this is a nice thing to do, but we have plenty of time,” that's your choice. But I don't think the world can wait.


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Tom Stader

Bringing a Business Mindset to the NonProfit Sector | Tom Stader, The Library Project

In our latest interview in the Entrepreneur for Good series, Tom Stader of The Library Project explains how running a non-profit is no different than running a business.

At the end of the day, you have customers, you have a business process, you have teams, and you have a vision. Navigating these shared realities bring in unique challenges for an NGO, from raising money, driving a team forward, or nailing down great partnerships.

Just as with any company, you have to be committed to providing the highest quality of service to your beneficiaries, providing a high quality of service to your clients – in this case, your donors – and finding ways to inspire all your stakeholders to aligning to your vision. Further professionalizing this donor-organization relationship is one critical step to improving China’s overall culture of philanthropy.

"For [my team], it's literacy, its programs, its libraries. It’s that, our first school in Cambodia that we donated a library to – that school, six months after we donated the library, won the best reading competition in the region. That's what gets them up in the morning. What gets me up in the morning is giving them the space to build the best organization that they can."
– Tom Stader, The Library Project

 


Tom's story is one of commitment, integrity, and pragmatism.


About The Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome. It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Tom Stader

Tom Stader is the Founder and Board Chair of The Library Project, an organization that donates libraries to under financed schools and orphanages in Cambodia, China and Vietnam. He believes that education is the key motivator to breaking the cycle of poverty that exists in the developing world.

In 2006 at the age of 32, Tom had a simple idea to donate libraries to two orphanages in Dalian, China. Soon after those libraries were complete, Tom founded The Library Project. Since then, Tom and his dedicated team have completed 1800 library donations, impacting over 500,000 eager young readers.

Tom is passionate about International Social Entrepreneurship and improving rural literacy.

Follow Tom Stader and The Library Project
Website: https://www.library-project.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tomstader
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomstader/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tomstader/


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Tom Stader, Entrepreneurs For Good: Full Transcription

Tom Stader: My name is Tom Stader. I run an organization called The Library Project. It’s an organization I started about 10 years ago – we're on our 10-year anniversary, so we did it. And I think when I say “we did it”, I believe our greatest accomplishment is we stayed focused over the past 10 years.

We are called The Library Project, we donate libraries, we continue to donate libraries, and that's all we do. We focus on children's literacy, and throughout the years, we have been pushed into building schools, to working on any number of other projects – and we've said “no” to all that. And I think that is a huge reason why we have been around for 10 years and why we’ll be around for many more years after this.

It wasn't because of children's literacy. I'll say that. I became a believer in our mission years after the organization actually started. It was really because I saw that there was a basic need, and I saw that I was making a small impact. That's what kept me going. Now, I guess – how did we start an organization? That came after we donated nine libraries. Someone on our “board of directors” – which was a very loose group of friends – met someone at a conference, I think in Florida. And that guy said, “You know, I really like what this guy is doing in Vietnam” – where I moved to.

Rich: Okay.

Tom: “I want to give this guy $10,000 to start an organization.” But I had to quit my job, I had to move on and actually do this full-time. And honestly, I hated my job, so it was really easy decision for me to make.

Rich: But $10,000 isn’t a lot of money, so… you know.

Tom: Well, it's a lot of money when you're broke. I mean, today: Is $10,000 a lot of money? I would say that it still is, but it's not – it was enough for us to take a risk, for me to take a risk.

And I think, putting into context – $10,000 in America, I doubt you could even start anything in America with $10,000. But in Asia, I was able to hire an employee, I was able to implement a couple of programs, a couple of libraries, so your dollar gets stretched out here a lot more than in Phoenix, Arizona or San Francisco. I couldn't even make rent for that in San Francisco.

But I do remember the first time I got a donation from someone that I’d never met, and it was guy named Alan. He read about us on some blog, and said, “Hey, I want to give you $1,000 dollars.” And I’m standing in an airport, and I'm like, “Really? I'm gonna remember this.” And then a couple years later, I actually got to meet him and let him know, like: “You were the first donor that wasn't my mother or my friends.”

Rich: The little wins, right?

Tom: Yeah, man! It really was. I mean, I think that was one of those turning points where I realized, “Hey, this could grow into something beyond myself, I guess.”

FAILURE ISN’T AN OPTION

Tom: Failure kind of really wasn't an option, so when we ran out of money, or when we ran into any number of issues that we were facing, it wasn't an option to fail. I mean, I have 27 staff members that work for the organization right now, in three different countries. We’re registered in six different countries, we've got hundreds of donors on an annual basis – failure kind of isn't an option. And it's something that drives me as an entrepreneur: to continue to grow the organization.

Rich: What do you do?

Tom: Like, what phase of the organization? Like right now, we’re 10 years in. We're doing financial forecasting for two or three years out, that we're planning two to three years out. That doesn't mean that our – what we like to call our “go broke date” is three years out. What it means is we're planning three years out.

But when I started the organization, I was planning 30 days in advance. I was like, “Do I have enough money to pay my team of one, or two, or three people at the end of the month?” That's what I was worried about.

I wasn't really worried about if our programs were going to be implemented to a high quality, or our libraries were going to be of the highest quality. That was my team's job, and that's why I hired the best people to do that. But what I was more focused on was, “Am I gonna be able to make payroll?” And that, I think, is true of most entrepreneurs in the world.

I think most entrepreneurs don't focus on the product or service at a point. They focus on, “How do I support my team so that they can do the best job?” Giving them space to implement the best libraries. I can honestly tell you, today – well, I mean, back up a bit.

Nine years – the first nine years of The Library Project, I was what you might call the “CEO of the organization”. Last year, I hired a CEO. I hired what I like to call my “boss”, which is kind of fun – and it was the best decision I ever made for me, personally.

I kind of lost the passion to grow an organization – thinking about all the finances, and the HR, and the compliance of six different countries. I mean, I did it and I was really happy about it, but I wanted to step back into the programs – and really, the reason why I started this. And get back into communication, where my professional was.

PASSION IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE

Tom Stader: What gets me up in the morning is my team. 100%. Programs are very second. The literacy that we provide is very secondary – for me.

For them, it's literacy, its programs, its libraries. It’s that, our first school in Cambodia that we donated a library to – that school six months after we donated the library won the best reading competition in the region. That's what gets them up in the morning. What gets me up in the morning is giving them the space to build the best organization that they can.

BUILDING THE TEAM

Tom Stader: I think that it's hard to find people globally that… I think that once you start thinking about your teams being fundamentally different – whether they are Chinese, Vietnamese, American, Canadian. European – you're gonna run into some… You're gonna have a real issue.

I think that, fundamentally, when you come down to the basics: All teams need training. All teams want to make a pretty good salary. All of them want to feel as if they're part of something larger than themselves. They want to know that the company is going somewhere, and that they're going to be learning along the way, and that they're going to be empowered and making an impact.

I do believe that if you bring people that believe in your mission that just don't want a job – you can do an interview, and if they come in and say, “I want a comfortable job,” just don't hire them. It's the wrong position for them. We look for people that are inspired by what we do, believe in the mission, want to make a difference – whether they’re our accounting team, or whether they're the project managers on the ground doing the literacy programs at the schools, to our fundraisers.

And what I would say is, the one thing that we have not done is, we've never hired people that have experience, I would say. We've hired for passion, and then we train. And that training can occur over a six-month period, or it can happen over a seven-year period. But I personally believe its hiring for passion.

And age, gender, nationality, race –it doesn't matter. It really comes down to the passion for whatever you’re doing.

CHINA

Well, you know. I mean, I think that the world is a really big place. And I think that: Why do people donate to the organizations they donate to? Why do they donate to the issues that they donate to? Well, it’s because it's a very personal experience.

I mean, I want to support rural literacy in Asia. I've got a friend that wants to support women's issues in North America. I've got friends that want to do HIV/AIDS in Africa. And so these are all needed, and they're all relevant – and for me, I like China. I like Chinese people, I like Chinese food, I like the culture.

And getting back to why I started here: Honestly, I had US$10,000, like I said before. I got a free office space, and that was a big reason for me. I was like, “I only have $10,000, I want to start this organization, I have a free office here, and I have a potential employee might want to come on. And I like China, and there's a need.”

So it just all lined up, and it's very serendipitous that it just kind flowed. And it really was the best decision we ever made. China has been very good to us. We will be donating our 2,000th library this month. I don't think I could have achieved that if I would have set this organization up in Cambodia first. Now, Cambodia's our third country. So it's just the way it kind of played out.

And if a donor – whether it be a corporation, a foundation, or an individual – if they're not willing to support your team, do not take their money. Do not take their money. It is hurting your organization, it is hurting the industry, and it will eventually bury your organization in debt.

IT’S A BUSINESS

Tom Stader: One of the hardest things that a lot of these entrepreneurs have is that they are having a very, very difficult time coming to the realization that starting a nonprofit organization – a charitable organization – is a corporate entity. I think that produces a lot of anxiety, and they have a hard time communicating that to themselves, and also to other people.

Rich: But what do you mean it's a “corporate entity”?

Tom: It is physically corporate entity – we’re an incorporated entity based out of Phoenix, Arizona. We are an Inc. The only thing that makes us different than a bookstore down the road is that we have a tax ID that makes us a “nonprofit status”.

And that defines what we can do with our profit, and what we can't do with our profit – meaning we can't pay it out into dividends for our board of directors. You can only do that with a corporate entity. We have to reinvest it back into the organization. We can issue tax-deductible receipts. We still have to pay tax, but it's just an ID.

And I think that is that's the biggest thing: It's coming to grips that you need to find – you have to hire salespeople to fundraise for it. They're just not called “salespeople”, they're called “fundraisers”. It’s not called “revenue”, it’s called “fundraising” – but really, it’s revenue.

We have expenses, we've got income statements, we've got balance sheets, and it's a business you're starting. I think that shock occurs about six months in. And it is a rude awakening, and it’s a scary one! Because you’re like, “Oh, my god. I've got two employees. How am I gonna pay these people because I have no money?”

And then it comes down to building a quality product, a quality service, reflecting on your mission to make sure that whatever you're doing and you're creating is of quality – and staying on point, keeping a razor-sharp product service for your mission. It’s just hard.

MANAGING CASH FLOW

Tom Stader: Fundraising isn't the real challenge. I mean, yeah, you're always going to have that problem. Like when someone asks me, “What is your greatest challenge you have right now?” Like, it’s fundraising.

But really, it's cash flow. That, whether it's a for-profit, whether it's nonprofit organization: It's managing your cash flow. That, I think, gets challenging as you grow.

Well, that depends. I mean, we’ve got 10 years of history here. So I mean, the first two years. We literally had no money. We did it hand-to-mouth. We would raise money – we would raise $1,000, spend $1,000. Raise a $1,000, spend $1,000. Raise a $1,000, spend $1,000.

And then we got a donation for US$50,000, which was like, “What? Woo! We got money in the bank!” But then what happened was, we had to hire two new people to be able to implement that program to a high level of quality – which changed how we asked for funds. Then, we weren't just asking for a $1,000 dollars. We were going in looking for $10,000. $20,000. $50,000.

And the organization changed fundamentally at that point. And so as you scale, and as your revenue grows, and as your programs grow because of your revenue growing – everything grows exponentially.

There's not a lot of times where I stand back, and I say to myself, “Wow, this was a really easy day in the office.” It is hard. But then again, there are moments that keep me going – very finite moments.

Like, two months ago, I went and saw the best library donation I have ever seen at the organization. We were at like 1,950 libraries or something, and I found “the one” library that I was like, “We did it! It just took 1,950 to get here.”

If it was easy, I wouldn't do it. I'm just not interested in easy. I mean, if I wanted easy, I'd go get a job in America. You know, you get a job description, and you sit down, and you do your job. And you’re kind of protected by this insulated box.

And I'm not saying that it's easy in America, but for me, I was bored. I was sitting at a desk doing this box. I couldn't get out of that box, it was a job description, and it just was really uninteresting. And I didn't move to Asia to do that – and I didn't even know what an entrepreneur was, really, in America. It wasn't really even an option for me.

But once I started this organization, I realized, “Wow, this is really interesting. It’s really hard. It's rewarding – it's really hard. It's really hard!” And I think that… I don't know. I mean, I think that I can just say entrepreneurship is really hard, but it’s also for people who are looking for challenges and looking for something that…

Yeah, I don’t know. Yeah, I hope that answers your question!


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Sherry Poon

Sustainable Fashion and Taking the First Entrepreneurial Steps | Sherry Poon, WoBaby Basics

In this episode of Entrepreneur For Good, I speak with Sherry Poon, founder and CEO of wobabybasics, about the motivation she had for starting her first social enterprise, and the lessons she has learned along the way.

Sherry combines her experiences as an architect, environmentalist and parent to re-create children’s basic apparel with sustainable materials, simple, nostalgic styling, and modern practicality. Inspired by observations of children in action, during play, and everyday activities, wobabybasics offers uncluttered design, quality and functionality that appeals to both active children and their parents.


Her story is one of originality, catalyst, and action.


About The Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome. It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Sherry

Sherry combines her experiences as an architect, environmentalist and parent to re-create children’s basic apparel with sustainable materials, simple, nostalgic styling, and modern practicality. Inspired by observations of children in action, during play, and everyday activities, wobabybasics offers uncluttered design, quality and functionality that appeals to both active children and their parents.

Follow Sherry and Wobabybasics
Website: http://www.wobabybasics.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sherry.poon
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/wobabybasics/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wobabybasics


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

Sherry: My name is Sherry Poon, and I’m from Canada, I’ve been in Shanghai for 15 years. My background was actually in architecture, so I came to Shanghai as an architect, and then when we started having children, I started designing baby clothes for wobabybasics, my own brand of organic children’s clothes.

And now I also, I am the founder and one of the organizers of Eco Design Fair, which is a community event for anything that’s sustainable, tied to… so Eco Design Fair is a sustainable event to try and promote sustainable lifestyle and innovation.

It Starts with Family

Sherry: Family. For me, it really was the children. I had one child, and I was pregnant with a second one, and architecture and design is very time-intensive. I was still working part-time when I was pregnant, and that was eight hours a day. And I thought, “This is crazy.” Because my own desire was to be able to spend time with my kids and to be able to see them grow up, and – that early days is so important to make them into better people, and to create the little people that they are. So I wanted to be part of that.

But at the same time, my personality is that I do need something to do. I need a goal. I need to work. And so entrepreneurship – or starting a business – was the best way.

Getting Started

Sherry: No, it could have been anything. As a designer, obviously I wanted to design something, to create something – but it could have been cups, it could have been pencils, anything at that point. But exactly at that time, I was also designing clothes for my firstborn – just little creations that were in my mind, sketching it out and having a tailor make it up for me.

And then we went home to Canada, and there were at least four or five people who asked, “Where did you get that little coat? It’s an amazing little coat. Where can I buy that?” And that was sort of the spark of, “Okay, maybe clothing could be a good direction for me.” And at the same time, also I was looking for organics for my children, and so creating something that was sustainable clothing for children was something that I could explore.

The Little Details

Sherry: Well for me, the big thing was that it had to be organic. And organic, because it’s the safest material for your baby. We looked at a whole bunch of different materials – my daughter had a bit of eczema, a bit of sensitivities in terms of skin sensitivities, but also anything that sort of touched her was very “present” in her mind. We would arrange socks for like five minutes before it was perfect, just because of the seam. So for me, to create something that she could wear that I would feel safe having her wear was very important.

So we looked at a whole bunch of different materials – including bamboo, soya, whatnot – all the different types of eco-materials, but came back to organic cotton because it is one of the oldest, one of the safest clothing, one of the safest textiles there is – for children or for anybody. So that was very important for me, was to make sure that it was safe.

The other big thing was also – as a parent – was to make sure that the clothing were easy for parents and for children. I saw my husband struggle with clothes, I had struggles with clothing – when my daughter was older, she would wear clothing backwards, and you know, you don’t have the heart to say, “Oh, take it off again and try it again.” So we created clothing that was functional, stylish, but also super easy to use – and just by little details that would make a huge difference.

Challenges

Sherry: Well, not having a fashion background. I think I started from square-one, which is, I think, a very good thing, because a lot of designers start with patterns, something that’s already been set, already been used in mass-production. But as somebody not coming from that background, I started from zero, which is great because having an architecture background, I think in 3D. Children are in 3D, so I thought clothing must be in 3D as well.

And so there’s little details, like we have little patch under the arms where it serves quite a few purposes. One that I noticed was you often pick up children under the armpits, and that’s exactly where all the seams are coming together, which cannot be very comfortable for the little baby. So we did away with that and put a little patch underneath, which allowed for more comfort, more movement because it becomes more 3D, but it also – that little patch was able to – you can sort of insert it anywhere in the pattern cutting and be able to save fabric waste as well. That’s one of the details.

Getting Help

Sherry: Well, the first thing I did was look for mentors – people that were in the business – and just ask them questions. This is even before having any conceptual ideas what I was going to do, just looking for ways – looking for experience, basically, from people who have done it before.

So I found somebody who was very much into organic textiles. He used to work for an organic clothing company – actually, an organic baby clothing company – and now, he was at that time at an agent for organic textiles in Shanghai. So he gave me a lot of background, and a lot of help in terms of where to look for suppliers – because that’s often the biggest problem in production, is finding the actual suppliers, or good suppliers.

And then I also hired a fashion designer, for obvious reasons, just to help me go through the process. As an architect, I already knew a lot of the design aspects of it – you know, like colors, and how to draw a sketch, whatnot. But she taught me more of protection – so she taught me how to make patterns. I made my own patterns, which are very similar to architectural patterns.

But she also taught me materials, field materials, different types, what do you use, how do you spec it – and more of how to get it from your sketches to actually produced in a factory, which is very different process than it is from [architecture].

It Took a Year

Sherry: Well, it took a full year from the idea of “Okay, let’s get this started. I know that it’s going to be organic baby clothing, and I want to try this out as a small brand in Shanghai.” So there was a lot of testing. Often with a lot of my friends, they have a lot samples, early, early samples – obviously I tested them on my own children as well. Tried to get a lot of feedback in terms of, for the branding, for the clothing itself, from anybody that I knew. Yeah, I really just grabbed anyone. So thanks for all of those people who supported me in the early days, because I probably was very annoying.

That time where it was just, you know, everything was home office, having two people to sell those clothing. Because we were new, we weren’t taking pre-orders, so everything was coming in hoping that it would sell. Yeah. I mean, it’s not a huge investment, but the time investment to try to market this – beyond just the clothing, there was also the branding, and we had the website up, just the whole production, the going-through with the fashion designer, the patterns.

So there were – it was more of an investment than just the 3,000 for the production. It was definitely adding up. And when you’re just starting, you don’t see any returns coming in yet, obviously you get a bit skeptical.


For anyone starting a business from scratch, you often have these days where you’re like, “What am I doing? Am I going the right direction? Is this going to work? Is it not?”


There’s a lot of things, a lot of concerns, and it was the same for me. I mean, there were a lot of questions, and at the same time I was still working part-time as an architect, and I didn’t want to take that risk to let go of my job just for this idea that I had, in case it did not work out.

So there were a lot of worries, and I think just before production started, I remember asking my husband, “Do I do it? Do I not? This is a huge risk. I’m putting in an order. This is it.” And he was the one who was like, “No, just go for it. So we lose a bit of money if it doesn’t work. Just do it. Otherwise you’ll never know later on if that’s what you want to do. Just do it now and get it out of your system. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If it does, then fabulous, keep going.”

Go for a Swim!

Sherry: I went swimming. I took a swim. For me, that’s like meditation, so if ever I had a problem or was feeling down, I’d just go for a swim, and by the time I finished, the problem would be worked out, or at least I would feel more relaxed and be able to just go for it again.

I think all entrepreneurs need that. They need a downtime, some time where they are just not thinking about their business, or are able to just let go – and often you have a clear mind, and you can go back to your task at hand easier and getting the job done faster.

Work-Life Balance

Sherry: It’s tough, finding that balance for any mother who is a working mother is tough. And it’s going to be that eternal question that I don’t know if anybody can ever answer. In the early days, of course I could have put a lot more time into it. It became more of a part-time job because my other part-time job was taking care of the kids, and obviously that was my priority.

So there were often were a lot of late nights trying to get things done. The business was intended to be very local, to be selling to China. I think we came in a bit too early, because there was not that market originally in China yet. We were selling a lot to foreigners in the early days, but obviously that is not Shanghai. We needed to reach out to more of the locals, which that market was not there.

So after a few years of trying to do markets, small-time markets, and still balance between life and work, I decided to actually do more of a – upscale it, take it to trade shows, and sell it outside of China. At that time, I was not working anymore at an architecture firm, so this was like “the business”. So it became bread-and-butter.

It was more than just a hobby, so it was a conscious decision for my family, “Okay, let’s give it a try, to make it – take it one step up.” And that meant also that I was not able to spend as much time with the kids. But the ayi would have to take over a lot of the work, and it was just one of those decisions that we had to make.

Going back a few years afterwards – now I’ve switched back. We’ve done the trade shows, we’ve done the markets, we’ve seen the business grow over the past eight years. I’m a different type of entrepreneur now – I know where my priorities are. I’m not as self-conscious or feel guilty to let go of the company a little bit more, for my priorities.

I’ve seen where the business has been able to go to, and I’m very satisfied with it, and so with our third child, I was able to go, “Okay, let’s just not grow the company. Let’s actually let it go a little bit, let the sales go a little bit, and lower it down. Try to maintain – I mean, still maintain the quality of the clothing, and the designs, and the branding as we’ve always had, but lower production so that I can be able to actually spend more time with the kids again." And that was, again, another conscious decision of my own.

Making Hard Decisions

Sherry: Yes, definitely – I mean, when we downsized, we had to let go of some staff, we had to move offices. There were a lot of decisions that we had to make for the business, but – and also, you know, I had to take a lower salary obviously, with not a lot more sales – everything, all expenses had to be very, very tight. And that was something I was willing to do just so I could have more quality time at home. This is an ongoing discussion between Rick and myself. Yeah, I’ll let you know in about half a year!

Yeah, no it’s something that – I mean, as an entrepreneur, I think it’s great to have that availability to be flexible with time, but also with the business direction, that you can slow down, you can speed it up, and at this moment, we are just trying to maintain the branding of wobabybasics and the quality of it. And I think for at least the next couple years, it will maintain at that small scale – and then if we need to, it will still be there ready to ramp up again.

What Makes China Hard?

Sherry: I think it’s because there’s no one way to do things. You can’t just go to a bureau and go, “Okay, I want to go from here – A to B. Get me there.” What’s the process? There is never – nobody will give you the same answer. There’s not – any one entrepreneur has had the same direction, or experience with the same direction, so you can never get from A to B the same way. You always have to find your own way. It’ll be like A-B-C-D, and then eventually you’ll get to that spot.

And it’s always a learning process, it’s always that discovery, I think, that is very tough. In Canada, you just go to the Small Business Bureau and go, “Okay, this is what I want to do. Help me out.” And it’ll give you all the steps, and you’ll follow those steps, and you’ll get there. You just can’t do that here. Every single person has to discover their own way to get to where they want to go to. And that’s really tough.

And obviously, language is another one – language and culture, not being from here. Having to depend on your staff to try to understand what you want to do and how to get there is also a big challenge. I depend a lot on Chinese staff to be able to operate in China, and that’s a lot of trust that you put into somebody.

I think there’s two ways. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of distractions when you’re trying to figure things out that could have been so much easier if you were somewhere else. And these distractions, obviously when your time limit on working hours is so limited that – yes, it would have been much easier if it was in Canada, and I would have been able to go from A to B a lot faster.

But saying that, the skills that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur here is invaluable, I think. Any entrepreneur, I think, has to be malleable – you have to be able to see what the problems are within your company and be able to fix them quickly. If you can’t do that, it’s hard for your business to thrive. And being in Shanghai, and having these daily problems that you have to fix, my skills are really good at that. Because that is something only being here can teach you so easily. I’m really thankful.

Sharing and Success

Sherry: What’s different from here and maybe other places is that entrepreneurs here – isn’t not as competitive here, I think. Or… how do I word this? I think, for a lot of entrepreneurs who have succeeded, is that they’ve been very open in sharing what they want to do. If they’ve got an idea, they’ll ask whoever they want, whoever they need. “Okay, I’ve got this idea. What can I do? How do I get there?” They share their idea. They’re not really protective of it.

Whereas I think, maybe in the West, you’re always wondering, “Okay, who’s going to steal my idea? So I’m just going to keep it to myself and try to work on it.” Whereas I find successful ones here just blast it out – “Okay, what can you do? What can you help me with?” And that’s partly because Shanghai is a “We’re all in the same boat” kind of thing, where there’s only so many opportunities here.

We all try to help each other, if we can. It’s all about networking here. Who do you know? “How can that person help me?” So I often see that successful entrepreneurs here are very good at networking, and being able to share their ideas, and being able to get it out – and I think the results do come in.

Staying Inspired

Sherry: I think children – the family still keeps me going. In terms of design inspiration, it’s definitely them. I watch them every day and see how they wear their clothes, use their clothes. That’s definitely the design inspiration.

In terms of getting the business going, it would have to be the clients. I intentionally do markets within the community here – even though at some times I know I may not get that sales coming in, but I will get the feedback from the clients. And overall, it’s always good to meet the clients to just get feedback, but also just for your own sanity to hear all these great comments about your products – always gives me that energy to keep going.

Chinese vs. Foreign Clients

Sherry: I think the Chinese market and the foreign market are very different here, in terms of – we’ve even had to change branding, and what we write in Chinese and what we write in English is a little bit different. For the Chinese, obviously it’s more about health, especially for organic products. They don’t care that it’s going to help save the world, but they do care that it is better for their own children. And I think that’s a very valid concern to have – it’s just a different concern than foreigners might have.

So when they do come to see the products, or feel the products, they do want to know – first of all, where’s the cotton from? If it’s Chinese cotton, or if it’s imported cotton. And actually, ours is imported cotton. When we originally started, I actually wanted everything to be sourced, and supplied, and produced in China. At that time, it was very hard to find good quality, organic cotton in China, so it isn’t being imported. And luckily, that is something that the Chinese are looking for, so it does help the brand. So they want to know if it’s a local product as well, if it’s made in China or not. They’re very concerned about quality.

They’re very concerned about, also, if I actually have a store here somewhere. Because I think that makes it more of a valid business, instead of just a hobby, just going to markets and having a table. It’s very important for them that it’s a valid business that they can trust that company and then trust that product. I think they’ve had too many reports, too many news of products that are – food products and whatnot – that are not safe to be of concern about this.

For our local clients, they’ll ask a lot of questions, and if they’re satisfied with the questions or with the product, sometimes they’ll just buy one piece just to try it out. But I’ve often seen – after that one piece and they love it, they’ll come back and buy ten, twenty more pieces, and they become very, very loyal clients. And price is not a concern for them.

For foreigners, it’s often the other way around. They’ll love the products, they’ll understand the brand, but they’ll just be able to afford one piece or two pieces – and price is often a concern. I’m often asked, “Okay, can I get a discount?” from people that I did not think I needed to answer that question to.

Environmental Premium

Sherry: The environmental part is always a second thought. I mean, obviously for products, they’re looking at – first of all, do they like the product? Do they like the design? Then, you know, is it affordable? Then, okay, if it’s eco, then that’s either a bonus or – yeah, let me grab that, because the one beside it is about the same price but not eco.

So that kind of affects their decision – and then that’s for both foreigners and locals. The foreigners are often buying because it is a new piece. We often have a lot of more Chinese-inspired designs that they like to take back home or they like to buy as gifts. So it’s something that is memories from Shanghai.


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.