Seng Choon Koh

Employing the Unemployable. Profitably | Seng Choon Koh, Project Dignity

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good I speak with Seng Choon Koh, founder of Dignity Kitchen, an organization whose mission is to build and return the dignity to the disabled and disadvantaged through vocation.

When I arrived to meet him, I thought I had the wrong address as his office is literally in the middle of a hawker market that serves as a live training ground for a wide range of "unemployable" individuals.

It was a wide ranging interview, and one that gets super tactical in areas of process, business planning, and remaining grounded during the tough times.



From 0 to 25 you learn. You get your degree, you learn
25-50 you earn. You earn your money. You earn your reputation
50 onwards you must give back


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 Koh Seng Choon

Mr Koh Seng Choon is the founder and Executive Director of Project Dignity, Singapore’s first social enterprise for the disadvantaged and people with disabilities.

The aim is to help these people regain a sense of dignity through their work. Project Dignity comprises of

  • Dignity Kitchen – hawker or street training centre for disabled and disadvantaged
  • Dignity Mama – second hand bookshop managed by the mothers and their challenged children
  • Dignity Cottage - bird’s nest processing for lower functional disabled youth
  • Dignity Meal – free meal for foreign workers and the poor
  • Dignity Angels – engages professional to support charities and corporate in their corporate social responsibilities

Mr Koh Seng Choon is an engineer by training and holds a MSc in Computer Integrated Manufacturing. His career spans UK, USA, India and China. Authored of three books – Elements of Success: Business, Elements of Success: Education and Elements of Success: Living – of which the first book mentioned is a best-seller in India.

He is also the owner and management consultant of Christopher Benjamin Consultancy Services which help Chinese companies to develop business in India and Indian companies for the China market. He is an adjunct lecturer at SP Jain School of Global Management.

Follow 
Website: http://dignitykitchen.sg/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sengchoon.koh
LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/in/kohsengchoon


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


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.


Christoph Langwallner

Aspire, Discover, Translate, and Scale Innovation | Christoph Langwallner, NAMZ

Since meeting Christoph Langwallner nearly three years ago, I have come to understand that he is one that sees the biggest challenges that we face as opportunities to disrupt markets, and I wanted to find out about his process.

Already in a position to reach more than a billion consumers, he has built an organization where aspirations lead to discoveries which translated into products, that can then be brought to the market. It is a process that is codified throughout the organization, their exploration processes, and is a driving force for his 20+ team.

It is a quick, and highly tactical 15 minutes, and I recommend it for anyone that is still in the ideation phase... or may be stuck between a couple of great ideas, but only have the resources to execute on one.


Turnover is vanity. Profit is sanity. Cash is the only reality.


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 Christoph

Chris is a serial entrepreneur with a solid track record in Austria, the UK, Russia, India, China, Singapore and the ASEAN region.

In 2014, Chris co-founded NamZ – a bio-science based, consumer minded incubator who, in in less than 5 years, enabled the establishment of three differentiated subsidiaries each equipped with an IP portfolio and its own set of competitive strategies.

  • The first, is about to profoundly change the way 2.6 billion instant noodle portions are being made through a three-stranded technology which will make the additional deforestation of about 130,000 basketball courts worth of primary forests redundant.
  • The second, will replace coconut sugar through the novel use of the tall perennial true grass of the genus Saccharum.
  • The third, is the 28cubed direct-to-consumer skin care brand that makes use of molecules commonly used in foods and beverages instead of syntethic ingredients, and delivers their products in a 100% recycled plastic dispenser..

Through these three technologies, and their products, the NamZ Group is on its way to be experienced a billion times!

Follow Christoph
Website: http://www.NamZ.com.sg
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christophlangwallner/


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

RICH: So welcome back everyone. I'm here with my good from Chris from Namz. Just had an amazing interview with this...I'll call him a serial entrepreneur. What he's doing here back here, future of food, also outside the body looking at resources and how to better allocate them. We just had a great discussion about how you approach a business, how do you get ....how you build your team and how you try and scale to where you become the real market and market disrupter and everyone follows your standard.

INTRODUCTION

RICH: Thank you very much for your time. Do me a favor and give me a little bit of your background as a personal introduction.

CHRIS: MY name is Christopher Langwallner. I am the co-founder of a company called Namz. We are a science/bioscience based organization that looks into disruptive technologies for what we called the outside and inside of the body in sustainable manner.

CORE IDEA

RICH: What is the core idea and what is the disruption you are hoping to bring to the market?

CHRIS: The core idea was to basically say, there are big companies out there who try to come up with sustainable approaches with regard to what we call the inside and outside of the body. That means personal care products as well as food and beverages. However, doing something different in a multinational is almost impossible or very, very slow moving. So we decided to basically say lets take an opportunity to step outside of such an environment and lets look into opportunities with an unmet needs. Wherein you can actually say if we could resolve it, if that were to happen, what if we can resolve it, what would happen? How would we actually impact.

What we did was try hard for about a year, 9 months to come up with 15 ideas and we launched a company and took 12 ideas into the lab trying to say ok, how do we approach this? What is it that we have to do or can do with regards to technology advanced and sciences, applied sciences in particular in order to fulfill or meet these unmet needs particularly on a consumer basis. That within the view of being sustainable.

RICH: What are the issues that you are dealing with? What are scarce resources that your most concerned with?

CHRIS: We are all living in a world where, we all know that by 2050 we will be 9.6 billion people, whatever depending on which reference point you are trusting more. We are going to be that many people and we need to increase the production capacity by about 70%. Now if we have to do that, the approaches that we had in the last century are not available to us anymore. They are more luxurious because we could actually take the forest down and just increase acreage in order to increase production. That to us is not available anymore particularly because, particularly in the context of food security, water scrutiny and energy security.

REALIZING THE BEST IDEAS

RICH: You mentioned that you start out with 15 ides, you brought 12 into the lab. Generically without getting to technical about your secret sauce here, what's the process that you took from going from 12 to the 1 or 2 you knew had the most potential that technically could deliver to the market that you could get your big Z...which is your scale.

CHRIS: It took us 4 years to be able to communicate that. I think what it really runs down to is our strategic pillars that we call aspire, discover, translate and size. In order to be able to filter something to apply a filter of ideas, bringing them forward and getting them from ok I have an idea, and you try out an approach and you probably have an discovery. You identify something new to use or an invention. That may or may not have any great economic value at the end of the day.

So what we are really, really trying to hard at the beginning of each and every single project to ask tough questions what if. Also, allow yourself at the beginning of a project even before you go into the lab, to dream about a different future. Travelling in your mind. We call it aspire, dream. Travel into that future and say so if our technology truly can make markets, meaning disrupt the market, how does that future then look like? How would the industry behave differently? What is our role then? I think that is one key aspect of it.

Then we take it forward to what we call a discovery phase. Whereby we say let us talk to consumer. Then we start it off talked a lot to industries and industry players. But we very quickly figured out and we learned that talking to individual brands, you get a very, very biased few. The biased few from an angle, from a few of the brand and how the brand of that particular potential customer fuels the world. That maybe consistent with a larger needs within the consumers, but it many, many cases it isn't. It is very, very tainted in a way.

So we do a lot of that work to start with. We are working together with recognized people in the industry. We have people in-house that are doing consumer insights. Then we take it into the lab and say if that is a true unmet need, how can we actually, what can we do in order to help a process and new way of doing things to come about in order to really be able to disrupt?

This discovery process and the aspiration are aligned to it may take years. Once we hopefully win and say that there is something that we can take forward, we then look into can we carve this out? Can we create a subsidiary company? Can we equip subsidiary company with different skills? People that are actually good with translating science into how to process factories, and so on. Then lastly, scale it up from there and go on the market and succeed.

SUCCESS

RICH: What does scale look like for you? Hop do you define success of a product or an innovation that you bring out of this lab? What is your big goal?

CHRIS: I think the moment we wake up in the morning. We come to work because we would like to be experience a billion times. We are on the path to be experienced 2.6 billions times a year., which is great. Now we can actually drill down and can we now create, can we replicate what we've done with this first partner to be able to be experienced a billion times in a quarter, in a month, etc.

That's behind that aspiration aspect of being experienced a billion times. If I were looking tomorrow, the financial aspect of it. I would say lets try to analyze it to what's the minimum size required to actually make markets. So that your technology finally becomes the norm, the standard, the status quo at some point and time. So that you have the technology, the go to technology and how can you leverage from there. That will be more of the aggressive a business aspect of it.

RICH: What's that number? How much of the market to you have to own before you really that impact that you want?

CHRIS: If you look at the entire life cycle of a business it would be about 30% of the market. Whether or not we ever get there, who knows. But unless and until you aim high, how can you get there in the first place?

STAYING FOCUSED

RICH: Between achieving 30% and today still in the lab, how do you keep yourself kid of mindful that's your goal, but keep everyone moving on a day to day basis in a grid?

CHRIS: I don't think it's me. I think actually its the folk around me. Because what we've done in this business we've set out the company and how it functions like a system I keep on telling everyone I am not the CEO, the project is the CEO. If the project needs a particular CEO because the CEO has a particular skillset or experience, so be it. Take over. Run with it.

That helps you tip toing on each other, helps you be focus, helps you stay alert, that helps you having your big goal in eyesight. So, I would not to do justice to what we stand for if I would say it is me. No, it is not me at all. I'm just one of many here who are really driving this project.

RICH: When you're going through this process you hit this challenge you know that on the other side there is something amazing. How do you get yourself through that, that challenge? Like you can't get the experiment to work. You can't get the team to buy into your idea. What's a process for you to get through a challenge that's worth getting through?

CHRIS: I never find it difficult to be self motivated. An experiment, a failed experiment is just a data point, it's just one learning. It's just saying ok, this approach didn't work lets try the next one.

SUPPORTING ECOSYSTEM

RICH: Do you have a support network outside of this albeit investors, advisors, friends, family, things like that. That you're able to call on when you have a questions that can't be answered by yourself or by the family in the company here?

CHRIS: Yes, we do have. We are fortunate to have what we call the three F's behind us. We are first to family, the friends and the fools. This is a support network that we have that the function is supporting partners, sponsoring goals. The function is counselors, advisors. They are here to ask the difficulty questions. They are here to ask those questions we haven't asked yet.

I don't think any single person, any single companies own right can be successful unless and until you built this ecosystem around you. The ecosystem includes not only the three F's as I've explained, but also the partners that work with you on saying, hey I have an appetite to translate my business.

RICH: If you were going to be advising the 25yo Chris who is entering the market, food entrepreneurship, what advice would you give him to just take it to the next level?

CHRIS: The 25yo Chris. I think the 25 you Chris didn't have a problem of taking risk. That was always the sort of aspect of mind I probably scared a lot of my family members on the way. But I honestly I think as an entrepreneur, I have done an MBA throughout my career and what you learn doing an entrepreneur is that you can quantify risk, or you think you can quantify risk. Therefore, if you think you can quantify risk, you become more risk adverse than you should be as an entrepreneur.

At the end of the day, 25yo Chris I would say take the risk and make mistakes. Learn from them. Implement a better of yourself and don't believe you have wisdom. It is a collaborative approach that brings people forward. It is not a single person. You can have an idea, but unless and until somebody else picks it up. Like in football or soccer. You can have the ball all 90mins without scoring a goal, but if you have a team that helps you out, you could win the match. The same is with a company. Your really have to think like that.

I think that's what's really, really important. Of course, then comes the more tangible aspect of becoming an entrepreneur. A crucial aspect of being an entrepreneur is always making sure you're not running out of cash. The best idea can become meaningless the moment....the best idea, the best business proposition can be meaningless the moment you run out of cash. If you are lucky, somebody else takes over but then you're not enjoying the fruits of your labor.

So cash management is of utmost importance. Always make sure you are not running out of it. I have learned in my past that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is the only reality. That holds true for that sort of entrepreneurship.

I think theses are the core aspects of really being daring to go out. Daring to go out and if you start something with friends, make sure you are ask the right questions. Make sure that you have an honest approach to things because...Actually I didn't tell you, but my very, very first entrepreneur exposure was with two other friends and we failed because we didn't ask the right questions. We only burned cash. That's life.

ORGANIC VS INVESTMENT LED

RICH: Some of the most valuable lessons I ever learned was actually through a crisis of cash flow management. I'm a completely organic entrepreneur. Everything is about how much I can sell. How much I can sell. How may I can reinvest. In that vain, you've taken on external funding and you also put all your own in. What is the balance for you? Organic vs Investment?

CHRIS: I don't think that we have a formal 90/10, 10/90, 80/20 whatever it might be. I think all formulas we would like to work on in what we call strategy partners. Money that is of strategic importance.

We at this point in time are not it the capital market that seeks venture capital funds neither private equity funds because that particular industry is not really yet geared up to support an agri kind of food setup. Particularly in this part of the world. Maybe not the part of the world, but I don't know the ecosystem in California and places like this. Probably there is money that is better suited for that sort of industry. But here, it isn't.

You don't want to go into you know getting a license, a factory license takes you 9 months and then you have a funding you who wants to sell you in like 12 months. It just doesn't work. There is a misalignment from what the cash wants to do to the business aspects are. So I think the expectations with regards to the cash management of what the cash ought to do for the business has to be considered very, very smartly. If that is align, doesn't matter who owns what stake, but what's the value that we can generate. It could be something very, very small, but hugely big in terms of return. It could be very, very small loan, but a huge return on something that is greater.

The recipe as of now for us is work with strategic partners, you can call it smart money. In the true sense it has a to have a strategic impact on the business. Just bringing in money for the sake of bringing in money ends up with managing balance sheets and P&Ls and it doesn't really help you on the project.


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.


Karen Farzam

Know What You Want to Build, Iterate, & Build Community - Karen Farzam, wHub

In this episode of Entrepreneurs for Good, I speak with wHub founder Karen Farzam about the work that she has been engaged with developing a community of entrepreneurs in Hong Kong and in changing the perceptions of women (and girls) in STEM and tech through conversations with academics and families.

It is a journey that had no plan, has had several iterations, but over the course of the last few years has grown tremendously, and I hope you enjoy our conversation about the work that she is doing.


quote


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 Karen Farzam

Karen Contet Farzam is the co-Founder of WHub, Hong Kong’s biggest startup community. She is a community builder, connector and passionate about Tech and Startup.

Karen is a founder and board member of the FinTech Association of Hong Kong, international speaker (Vivatech, Web Summit, RISE,), a French Foreign Trade Advisor, ambassador of the FrenchTech, community leader for Techstars and mentor for several accelerator programs.

Follow Karen
Website: www.whub.io
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karen.farzam
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karenfarzam/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/chleozam


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

Welcome back everybody, Rich Brubaker. I'm here with Karen here, who has started a couple of organizations here in Hong Kong. A Hub platform for startup entrepreneurs, but also she started or was part or core to the woman's echo system here. Fantastic conversation about her own journey as an entrepreneur, but then also aspiring and learning from that process. So, thank you very much Karen, this has been fantastic.

KAREN: Thank you very much.

RICH: So thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate your time. I know this is a busy city. You're a busy person. Do me a favor and give me a little of your background and what you do in Hong Kong.

KAREN: Ok, so I am French. I grew up in Tokyo and I'm an engineer, studied computer science. I moved back to Tokyo for JP Morgan to be an creative electric trader. Then moved to Hong Kong, switched to web development and build my own startup.

RICH: Before you made the jump, do you spend time with the ecosystem at all? Or was it a complete like there's a whole different pool and I'm going to jump in. What was your process to get into this?

KAREN: Basically, totally randomly we, the co-founder and myself, met a lot of entrepreneurs and they were so passionate about what they do that you know, we were like ok it seems they need a lot of help to recruit or to get new users, early adapters. How can wee help them based on the passion that they have? Because when you hear an entrepreneur, you want to help. You're totally into it. So that's why we build Whub

HONG KONG STARTUP SCENE

RICH: What are some of the things you've seen over the time since you started that because when you started it was a very different time. How have the needs changed? Was your first idea the right one?

KAREN: No, my first idea was definitely not the right one. We iterated a lot like every startup. You really need to be flexible, but in terms of the ecosystem. So when we started them it might have been maybe one event per week. Less than 10 co-working spaces. We didn't really know who was doing what. Which is really why we build Whub. We are not talking about syntax or edutech or anything, it was more just about tech to start with. People were saying that 3 years ago there was about 1,000-2,000 startups and on the platform we have like 1,700 startups. Just ya know, on our own platform. It means that it grew so much over 3 years, it's just amazing.

RICH: How many of those startups are going to be foreign backed? How many of them are going to be local,Hong Kong backed? Is there a difference between the two in terms of their own, like the access to resource or the challenge that they face?

KAREN: So when you are looking at the ecosystem you feel like there is about 50% local and 50% foreigners. I think we all face the same challenge. The difference is where you want to expand whether you want to go to China because you have your own connections or whether you want to go to Southeast Asia. Because at the end, Hong Kong is just a spring board for something else and a good place to ya know, start, iterate and test your product or service.

RICH: Why not just go into Shanghai, Beijing where they have a real deep....

KAREN: I agree. I think if your end goal is to target China, you need to go and start directly in China. But you know sometime its a matter of also connection, and who you meet that will lead you to once place or another.

WOMEN WHO CODE

RICH: So you are the founder of Woman Who Code. Tell me a little bit about what that is and why you started that.

KAREN: So basically I switched from you know, really financial background, into web development. I attended when I started a lot of web development events and there was like 50 guys and 2 women. So we were just really were wondering where all the girls were because there must be like more than that. That's why we founded Women Who Code.

RICH: So what is it..like how were you trying to promote, or what were you doing to maybe build the ecosystem and what's the output sense?

KAREN: Basically for Women Who Code is was really here in Hong Kong about bringing more women into web development. Because you know its the sectors that is really booming, a lot of job opportunities and a lot of women who were considering it. They wanted to have more information about it. So they came to us and that's where the knew their first started to code and learn about new things. So that's really how it got started. Then it was also going to universities and talking to students. Because it needs to change from there as well.

RICH: Ok, sorry. It's a little bit younger than say...what I would see in the press about women and tech and the challenges that women face.

KAREN: Yeah because Women in tech was more studied in Europe or US where you have more mature system, but here tech was just starting so it was a little bit different.

CULTURAL (&OTHER) BARRIERS TO WOMEN

RICH: So, what was some things that you found maybe in the education system, or in the culture or in general that were holding women back from getting into.

KAREN: I think at the end, we need to education the parents. You know that actually it's good to have your daughter try to code, maybe it's not for her and it's totally fine with it, but just to try and you know to think that it's not only for boys. I think that this thing even when it's high school and you have a coding class and suddenly it's like 99% guys. That's really a problem for me. I never felt any discrimination here in Hong Kong or in Asia. The truth is that you have less women studying STEM class anyway, in general. So it's more about telling them that they can try it, but it can also be for them. They need to have more roll models.

RICH: What do you think is behind that? Because in many it's up to the individual to sign up for the classes in school, right? So why do you think that there's a disparity? Is it?

KAREN: I think it's just this pressure that we have without even knowing it. It's always there and you feel like it's just not for you. I think that's one thing. It's how the media also advertise. When you have a women you know raising 20-30 million for a startups the title is like "a woman in tech raised like money." It's not like...whoa, there is a new startup with this amazing product that just got released. You know, it's all about the fact that it's a women. That for me is really an issue.

TACTICS FOR BETTER ENGAGEMENT

RICH: So, like at the tactic level, how are you trying to deliver that to the communities that you are trying to reach? Like what was the things that worked really well?

KAREN: I think going to talking to university works well. Even when you're talking to 50% and only one them you know after that is writing to you saying oh this was great I'm going to look into it. I was not sure I could try, but this is something that could change. You have the Woman foundation which is doing an amazing job. You have a lot of small communities that are really making a big impact. I just think that it takes time. It's difficult.

KNOWING WHEN TO ITERATE

RICH: So when you got started albeit with the hub or with the network, did you have a plan for either one? Like how, like what were the things that you started off doing and how did you know when you need to iterate?

KAREN: So for womanhood there was absolutely no plan. It was just like there must be more woman in tech or codding somewhere, let's try and grab them. Thanks to Facebook. So this was one thing.

For Whub, it was more like about really gathering a community and trying to showcase all this passion for entrepreneurs. Then we ya know expanded with like job opportunities. We did talent database with an event we were organizing and more partnership. It's always about you know, finding new way to reach more people.

BUILDING COMMUNITIES

RICH: How do you do that? You know because you mentioned Facebook. But in both cases there communities that are surrounding that for support. How did you, what were some of the things that you did that really worked to bring community into your cause or onto your platforms.

KAREN: That's a good question. That's a very good question. I don't know. We organized alot of events. We were very present within the different communities here in Hong Kong. There were like small communities, but they were all very fragmented. For us it was more like how can we bring it all together. Without doing what they were doing. How did we do that? I cannot have a real answer. It's time.

It's like ok, for example. I'm a runner and I think what makes a difference is being very consistent. I think it's exactly the same thing. You are consistent week after week. You keep trying. You keep pushing. You keep making new connections and trying to bring very great content. You need to make a difference. It's not just the talking, but really doing something that can help people, in real. I think that's really what makes a difference and really that why you know, people came to us and how we grew also.

RICH: Are there certain things that you have to remain consistent on all the time and some things that you can....

KAREN: There are some things that you can pivot. I mean for example, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. You need to try them and see. You cannot do it all. It's impossible. It's way too much work. So you need to try them and see which one will work. Which one won't work and for like which purpose. Then you can just push it so definitely you're not doing the same thing again. It's about really having KPI from the start knowing what you are going after from the beginning. Otherwise you will feel like you are always getting it.

EARLY LESSONS

RICH: Like if you just have Facebook, you're developing your community. What are the some of things you did early and look back like, oh wow that was really not helpful. But then what are the things you did that you actually started to learn. Like what were the key lessons from there?

KAREN: I think we tried a lot of different things, different type of inspiration of talks or tagging and some of them really didn't work. I think also in terms of blogging, so like we switch at tome point to medium instead of having our own we have help also to promote. I think it's really having a strong branding that people can recognize from the start. And it's evolve (??? 10:46) When I look at the first design of the website I'm like oh my God!

LEARNING FROM FAILURE

RICH: So, need to learn. What was the biggest I mean, learn from failure. What was your failure that you think that you learned the most from?

KAREN: I think sometimes you need to learn to say no. Because at the end of the day, it's just 24 hours a day. I have two kids and you cannot say yes to every event, every coffee, every lunch, every new connection. You cannot do it. So you need to learn to say no. You need to learn to delegate not to do everything by yourself. Because when we start, I mean when I start my co-founder so we really doing everything. Which was great because it's the best way to learn and to you know, to try to get it right. But then you know you grow, you have a team so something's you need to let go, you need to trust people they do it in a different way. You need to say no.

RICH: What does balance mean to you?

KAREN: The good thing I think about what I do now compared to trading is that I can do it from anywhere. So I just my laptop and that's it. So I can go back home at 7, spend time with the kids and go back to work at 9. So this is really, really great in terms in finding balance and finding the right time to work. So I think now with new technology, you can definitely find it.

ADVICE TO ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS

RICH: For anyone like watching this video, we have aspiring entrepreneurs, we have want-trepreneurs, we have mid career entrepreneurs who are trying to make their way through the weeds. What are like a few pieces of advice that you would give to someone about getting through it? About growing? About, ya know achieving, driving impact?

KAREN: I think first is that when you're an entrepreneur you have a lot of people giving you advice. At the end you need to make up your own mind. it think that is one thing that is very important. Always list listen, but in the end it's your decision and you have to be actually liable for it. So that's really one thing.

Second thing, whatever you have in mind it's going to take more time. Whatever you have in mind. But it's good to have a target, ya know? That's the second thing.

The third thing is, it's really a rollercoaster. I mean you know people say it all the time I know. But it's true. Sometimes like oh my God it's amazing things are going so well and sometimes like why am I doing this? It's never going to work. So I think what really makes a difference is to be surrounded by the right people. It's life changing. My co-founder is also my best friend. My team its people that, we've met we had relation with and really grow together. There is a huge trust. We're really going in the same direct. That's what is the most important.

It's really the people that surround you. When you are surrounded by amazing advisors or mentors or people that are really pushing you up, that makes a lot of the different. I know it's what everybody says, but it's true that and one thing I'll tell you that you cannot do alone. It's so hard. Being able to find the right partner for this is really key.

GETTING GOOD ADVICE

RICH: You mentioned advisors,. You mentioned giving good advice. Can you give me some insight to that? Because there is a lot of good advice that's actually not applicable. How do you find your mentors? How do you find your advisors or do you really just pick and choose?

KAREN: It's really about your good feeling. The one advisor that I have, the first day I met him it's like we clicked so well. It was such a connection. He really saw exactly what I was going to do, the missing, where we were going to be in 5 years, the whole plan I had in my head, he saw it right away. So we have a really like deep connection. I don't know it just works super well.

RICH: Then how much do you, how much information do you get about the business so he can make a good decision for you or give you, like do you give him the financials or...

KAREN: Yeah, I can share everything.  You need to trust people. Also the thing is that when you're talking to and advisor or somebody who's like, they're' not as emotional about your business as you are. Because for you everything is so personal. So they can...how do you say in English when you step back and it's good sometimes to speak to people that can step back from your business and say, ok take a deep breath an look at the whole picture. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? That's also what is important because when you're working on it like all the time, sometimes you just need to breath a little bit.

RICH: If you're gut doesn't agree with what your advisor say?

KAREN: I won't do it?

RICH: You won't do it?

KAREN: No because at the end, it's still my company right? I mean me and my co-founder of course, but at the end we take the decision. So advisor are there to advise, they are not there to run your company. So at the end as I was saying, it's your decision.

RICH: Any last words you want to give to our aspiring entrepreneurs?

KAREN: I think being an entrepreneur is just really great, but I think also we need more people that join startups. Not all of us have the right ideas, the right time, and even though its really exciting to build your own company, there are still a lot of companies that are recruiting and that need talent and still be part of an amazing adventure by also joining a startup. It think that's also really important as I was saying it's all about the team. Like me, myself alone....like it just would never be this. It's because of the people I'm surrounded with. It's really important.

RICH: Anything you would say differently to a woman entrepreneur? Or an aspiring woman entrepreneur?

KAREN: It doesn't matter if you are a woman or not. So that I think that's really the first thing is like just don't take it...right now, it's good to be a woman because right now there is a lot of things to apply for, diversity so lets just embrace it and you know, go for it.

RICH: Thank you very much for your time.

KAREN: Thank you very much.

RICH: That was fantastic.


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.


Simon Vogel

Food Entrepreneurship, and Bootstrapping, in Shanghai - Simon Vogel | Entrepreneurs For Good

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with Simon Vogel about his attempt to build health food delivery platform, from the 17th floor of an apartment building.

It is an amazing look at how creative entrepreneurs can get when bootstrapping!


Simon's Story is one about bootstrapping in China, failing fast, and (hopefully) learning faster


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 Simon Vogel

When coming to Asia a couple of years ago, he wanted to open a restaurant but quickly realized that it would not be as easy as he thought. Instead of that, he launched a business in delivery food.

Follow Simon and Saucepan:
Website: http://saucepan.co
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/simon-vogel-87055715/simon


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
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Transcript

SIMON VOGEL, SAUCEPAN

My name is Simon. I'm from Switzerland. Working here what we set up a company called Saucepan, which is a food delivery company. Been here in Shanghai from, lets say almost two year now.

WHY SHANGHAI?

Well, I, well basically me and my partner both came, we cant to Shanghai because we had like some family members here and definitely the markets is very interesting market to be part of nowadays. Previously, me, I was studying in a hospitality school in Switzerland and also I was working for sometimes for hotels, different 5-Star hotel brands.

WHY BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUER?

Well, to be honest, like I said like we were always like involved in a food in the food industry, in the food and beverage industry. Me coming closer to the thirty year, but the age 30 I was thinking like I need to do something which has more meaning. Well, looking at the market like Shanghai or China or if you take the big picture Asia, I think there is a lot of things you can do here in terms of foods. Especially delivering clean and trusted food to people's home.

THE FIRST STEPS

To be honest, it was more that we didn't had like a clear plan. I'd say like this because we came here with the idea of more opening a restaurant. So, we came here in 2014 and then we just realized it was like at the time where all the rents was getting higher and higher and it was just commenting suicide if we would have open a restaurant at least back then in the days. So, then more and more we were looking about what was existing in the markets and what we saw. How the consumer behavior. How they are like ordering delivery food delivery form time to time. We were saying okay, this could be like an interesting concept like to actually bring the food to people's home.

Initially, we started with a three specific business model, which we completely failed. Then, we had to privates back in December last year and now we are like right on track on a food delivery ready-to-eat business.

THE FIRST CONSUMER

Well, we specifically targeted expat at the beginning because we were feeling much more comfortable with the expat markets. We were coming form what we both know this how I conduct the consumer behavior of an expat. However, more and more we were like working on our concept. More and more we were realizing that the locals were also interested in a healthy food delivery concept. So that's how we realized that our concept would be both, as a market fit for both expats and locals.

So we started targeting the expat markets because we both, the two founders of this company are true expats and for us it was much more easier to tie it to stats with a consumers that we knew in the past. It was much more easier for us to target this clientele. However, more and more we were operating, we realized that Chinese, local customers were also interested in this concept. Now we feel that we have the right market fit for both locals and expats.

PILOTING AND PIVOTING

Well, I said we had like low capital to start with. We could not, this is also why we switch the concept initially not to go into a restaurant idea because rent wise was too expensive. So we were really looking about how we could save maximum amount of money. Initially we started from an apartment. Then we said okay, where can we find a place where we could operate. Then we checked a bit around the market and we saw ok, we could like here we're in China. We could maybe rent out an apartment and really like renovate it and then operate from there. This is how we decided really like to inject money like step by step and first to see if the concept is working before like investing a higher amount of money.

For instance, with our initial plan it was more, how do you say? We could say the first five months we tested the product, we tested the market and it the way we say the initial, our initial idea, there was no real demand bind it. This is where it pushed us to pirate the business model in December and this is where we now are fully operational.

EXTENDING THE RUNWAY

I believe first, was the rent issue because running a food and beverage business you need a good location. We could not afford this at the beginning so this is why we initially started off in an apartment.

Second thing is definitely manpower. Manning represents a very high cost and this is where we initially had and still today, have hands on in operation and try to avoid, just like hiring a lot of people because we can do it ourselves. We need to be in operations.

The third thing which represents also high costs. If you don't have an IT team. It definitely building up the website building up an app or building up a WeChat store. This is where we looked into our friends and family network. If there was not someone who could like assist us in building a website, which also we found.

I think these are three major expenses that we're going on us. Definitely the personal expenses because we can't like, how do you say? Give us a payroll at this early stage. So, making sure that we are outside work we are living on a very low profile and making sure that we can survive here without spending all the money from the company.

BOOTSTRAP MARKETING
Since day one, we spend zero on the company marketing. The only cost we had in marketing was maybe was like for some like fairs that we took part of, but it was very, very little cost. The thing is we could, we don't have, we didn't have the budget for this marketing and we believe more in word-of-mouth. So, we believe that if we have a product which is, how do you say? Good enough, people will talk around this product and talk to their friends.

How we also managed to have a very low marketing cost was like doing like partnerships with already existing startups, existing company's we have already renamed here. Food bloggers, everything that we can do where we are increasing our visibility, our brand image in the city.

LEVERAGING SOCIAL MEDIA
We don't pay for influences. Again, I said, it's more we are going to food bloggers. We would maybe pay them in foods like we are trying to do this strategy of influence the influences. Where food bloggers who would try our food and then write on a blog post about us. Or, for instance, now we recently also started with some brand ambassadors. Like people who are working out in the gym or working out as a yoga teacher that they can influence their class. The people who are joining them in their class. Otherwise, was mainly social media was managed by ourselves. You have like WeChat, which is very strong here. Posting, accepting friends, trying to get like a big network of friends. Let's say posting on the asking people to post on their movements and so on and so forth.

BEST WAY TO INFLUENCE CONSUMERS

Yeah, basically it's a mix. It's like on a way its food porn in terms of food. So like attract the customers towards our foods, like showing them images of our food that we are doing.

BOOTSTRAPPING
Yeah, well hire the right team is definitely one of a very important factor. Then also yes, spend your money but wisely on marketing for instance. We didn't have money and we achieved pre a successful milestone without spending any money into marketing. So I think you don't need to get funding and suddenly like just spend all over marketing. You need really like to make like, I don't know, smart investment in this kind of field.

Another thing would be like don't spend all your money on like useless equipment, especially like in kitchen. You need a lot of equipment whereas it's fridges or knives or whatsoever. So, better to choose like a more safe way to spend money and like really like see what you need, really need rather than just buying all kind of equipment. Packaging as well, for us was like a big waste of money at the beginning because we were testing the waters. We were testing our concept and we were just buying packaging right and left.

Finally, we found ourselves with, I don't' know, more than 2,000 boxes which we were not using. So definitely these are important things.

WHAT'S THE MISSION?
I think we are trying to change the future of food delivery. We really want that people have access to health foods, trusted meals with healthy meals using trusted ingredients. So we really want to disrupt this market of food delivery and fast foods by giving like products which are very like healthy for your body, but also like very using like clean ingredients. Like something that you can really trust.

So what are we, what we are trying to solve here and what we are, our mission really to disrupt this food delivery market. We want to give people access to clean food and healthy meals. So this is where we are trying to disrupt all this food delivery and fast food industry.

SCALING WITH LIMITED RESOURCES
Well, I think we have a pretty smart business concept where it's pretty easy to scale because you can all like produce centrally and then dispatch in like further delivery units. You don't need to control or build up a kitchen for each of your units. You just need to build up delivery hubs. If you go in cities and then just like build up a central kitchen and then be able to dispatch to the oldest units you can scale pretty fast in a short period of time.

CHINA. IT'S HUGE
I think China is a huge market. That's what makes it so interesting. It's so big and there's so many people here. Which makes it like anyone, not any conept can be successful here. But it gives you a lot of room even if you have, even if it's highly competitive market, it gives you enough room for you to get your customers and then operate your business.

YOUNG ADVANTAGE
Well, at the end of the day, we both, we don't' have a family so if we fail and now we will try to do something again. Maybe fail again and if we don't have like something that, yeah that where we have to succeed in the first concept we are launching. I think is even if we proven with our old concept we failed fast, we modified the business model, we switched, we made a pilot and then we try it again.

This is what we are both strongly believe in. We will keep moving and keep trying until we have the right market fit and keep failing, that's for sure.

BIGGEST FAILURE
I think you know, we were I think we were pretty frustrated at the beginning when we tried this initial concept. Because we believe in our, in one concept, but it was not what the market was asking for. So this is where we learned on actually you need to listen to what the market is demanding rather than listening to yourself and just think this could be a great concept.


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.


Brian Tam

Overcoming Fear and Excuses | Brian Tam, Let's Make Great!

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with my good friend, and co-host of Behind the Grind, Brian Tam, about the fear that holds many entrepreneurs back.

His insights on how to get ideas off the dashboard, the importance of small wins, and in learning quickly through rapid failures, are all spot on.

 


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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 Brian Tam

Brian is a Creativity Catalyst and co-founder of an innovation consultancy, Let’s Make GREAT!

Born in America and having graduated from the University of Maryland, Brian saw China’s dynamic growth and decided to make a leap back to the mainland in 2007 when he came to Shanghai to create more growth and innovation in China.

Follow Brian
Website: http://www.letsmakegreat.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brian.tam.56211
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tamonline/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/letsmakegreat/


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

Brian: I am Brian Tam, I am the founder and CEO of Let’s Make Great!. We are a creative consultancy focusing on the next hundred years of innovation in China. So basically, what that means is that we do everything and anything to help people become more creative in China.

We were doing some Google research, just looking at different words that are popping up. And if you search "creativity in China", it’s very very low. All the new top 10 results are all negative results. “It’s not going to happen." "Education is not going to allow creativity to happen." But then interestingly, what’s changed is that if you search "innovation in China", the results are going up.

So it’s all positive news about how China is becoming more innovative, Chinese companies are becoming more innovative. So there is a change happening. It’s in wordplay, but I think it’s a real change.

China’s ecosystem for innovation

Brian: It is changing a lot. I started about three to four years ago now. And since I started, I can see that larger scale organizations are now starting to reach out to start-ups and build up connections and collaborations. So BMW now has an incubator. OMD is working with China Accelerator of course. Unilever and another New Zealand milk company, Fonterra, is also working with internal entrepreneurship and building up that innovation game that way.

So I think it’s happening, it’s starting to change. Three to four years ago, when I started, I was like “Entrepreneurship! This is the way to the future! This is going to make everything/the world a better place. You build a company inside a bigger company, how great is that? You get all the joined freedom of your own business and also you get the power and distribution of a large company.”

And I thought that was gonna be it. But companies don’t like that a lot of times. They are like, wait, you want them to be the boss? Then what is my job gonna be? So there’s a lot of people pushing back on that. But there’s also a lot of people making it happen ‘cause they do see it as a way for it. So those are the front runners and there is hope!

Do foreigners understand China?

Brian: I think there’s a lot of people who don’t get it. They are not really doing the homework of talking to the people who are going to be using it or getting in touch with their ideas. So that needs to change.

Rich: Do you think they really think that they know it better than the Chinese?

Brian: There’s a certain arrogance. Everybody has arrogance, so that’s always gonna be the case. "We are from the West, and we know better. This is what we should be doing." But is that always true? No. I mean, somewhere in the middle through the process, you figure out, “Okay, I do need to change.”

Hopefully, people are figuring out that they do need the change, because at the end, money shows how much impact you are really making or how much traction you’re getting. So I think there needs to be a significant/true metric. So a lot of entrepreneurs — actually let’s not call them entrepreneurs yet. They are not entrepreneurs yet, I can’t even say that.

They are just guys with ideas or people with ideas, and that’s nice and good. And usually, those ideas are about making impact and helping people to something better. But how realistic and driven are they? A lot of these people I work with are entrepreneurs, creatives, designers, architects, consultants — all knowledge-based people. They are not really thinking about, “How do I make this happen?”

They are thinking about thinking about thinking about making it happen.

Brian: They are several ways away from that. And it’s good, we need that. We need thinking. It’s important. But where’s the rubber meet the road? And that’s where I’m trying to push these people to get to: interacting with the Chinese market. Making sure that their idea really works for whoever they are targeting. That’s always an interesting thing to get people to move towards, because they are afraid. They don’t know.

Because if you actually — if you start meeting the road and you get resistance, then everything changes. You’re not sure if can really do it. You’re not sure. You hit reality, and reality is hard, and it sucks, and it hurts. So people are gonna get scared of that. It’s getting pushback. In idea land, in the dream world, anything is possible.

And that is fun, energetic, sexy, and alluring for a lot of these creative leaders to think about their ideas over and over again. But it doesn’t go anywhere. I think that’s one of the biggest things that needs to change for a lot of people. I don’t care if you’re a teacher, go make it real. I don’t care if you’re an artist, actually do something with it. Everyone got ideas, and it’s not about ideas, it’s about execution. But it is fear that’s preventing them.

No excuses

Brian: It’s interesting — I couldn’t say "on the Chinese side", because I’m not working with them — but just looking at the things that are coming out, I can see that they are very much based on other ideas. But they are mixing and matching, so it’s more plug-and-play and collecting different ideas together. And I think that’s a type of innovation as well. With the foreign entrepreneurs, maybe they are trying to do something different.

They are a little more disruptive. It’s just two different strategies. I don’t think either one is right or wrong, it’s just two different strategies. Yeah, so there’s a lot of entrepreneurs here. The community here has been developing, and that’s kind of cool. There’s a clear divide, though, between the Chinese entrepreneurs and the foreign entrepreneurs.

I mainly work with the foreign ones and the foreign creatives, and so they are pushing the line — but their impact is somewhat limited, as we talked about earlier. They are always looking for a Chinese partner, and they are always looking for the way to get their products into the Chinese market — a little bit more localized, right?

Or, they wait and make those excuses that say, “I can’t do that because I don’t have that partner. I can’t do that because I don’t speak Chinese. I can’t do that because…” I think those are excuses, and I really try to get these people to keep pushing on their own side to do what they can and what’s within their control. So that’s always been an interesting mind shift for a lot of these people, because we think we need help rather than we need to create momentum to attract help. And I think that’s a complete mental shift that a lot of people need to get towards.

Challenges of entrepreneurship

Brian: They are afraid of failure, is the biggest thing. They build up these fantasies in their head and they've got these big dreams. I mean, I got them, too. My big dream is a hundred years of innovation in China. That’s pretty big. Let’s think about that. One hundred years. China. Innovation.

This is like the three biggest ideas in the world right now. It’s scary. It’s unrealizable almost. But it’s not supposed to be realizable right now. It is supposed to be realizable in that time. So I try to separate people’s ideas and thinking into short-term and long-term.

And short-term, you need to have that action but be guided by that long-term vision. So that’s something I’m trying to separate for people, so that they do start taking action — because the fear of failure is this kind of ambiguous fear. You don’t know where it’s coming from. You don’t know what might cause that failure, and so it could come from anywhere. Here, there are different factors/drivers at play. The government have their rules, and we’re here playing by their rules. That’s the name of the game.

Dealing with fear

Brian: How do you deal with fear? It is everything. I say fuck fear, first of all, because it’s always going to be there. I’ve been doing this three to four years, and I’m still afraid. It’s just a part of it. If you are afraid that means you’re doing something new, which means you’re on the right path.

If you’re not afraid, then what are you doing? You’re so comfortable that you don’t have to think about. You are not putting yourself out there. Then what value are you adding to society, to your team, to your company and to the people around you? So you need to be doing something a little bit scary at least so that you can start to realize it.

So I say, first of all, fuck fear — it’s there, deal with it. Second of all, start small and get that feedback early so that you know if you’re on the right track or not. If you have those small wins, they build up to a big win at the end. So that’s a super critical step.

What is a small win?

Brian: Small wins are even just people smiling as you talk about the idea, and people are smiling and nodding, and they go, “Okay, I kind of get that." A small win is even, they give me feedback that I can use to improve it [the idea], so maybe sometimes a small win is everything. You just try to switch your mind into looking for the small win rather than looking for the failure or the reason that you shouldn’t do it.

And I think a lot of people who are very smart — these educators, consultants , designers — are very smart and creative people. But because they are so critical, they start looking for all the reasons they shouldn’t be doing it, all the “NOs” — and that adds up, so you don’t do anything. There’s no action then.

You just stop. You are paralyzed by fear. So I’m saying, look for that small win no matter what it is. There’s always a small win. You gotta look for it. And as long as you take action, you got a small win. So that small win and taking that small step is the key.

Is social entrepreneurship different?

Brian: So for me, I don’t give a shit about it. It’s not for me to label. I don’t care about labels. You can call it whatever you want — as long as you’re doing good, adding value, making the world a better place, I don’t care what you call that. But make sure that happens. If you are an entrepreneur, a businessman, a politician, or even a homeless person, make the world a better place. That’s it.

Why else are you alive? Why is your heart beating? Why are you breathing air and consuming things if you are not giving back in some way? My girlfriend is really amazing, because she’ll give to all the homeless people. I’m like “you can’t do this”.

But if they are playing music, she’ll take out the 10 RMB or the 20 RMB note. She’ll give them a little bit more. I think it’s because they are adding value. They are creating this atmosphere of positivity and enjoyment, right? Just like that. There’s a positive atmosphere that we can all live and love by. It’s amazing.

Ideas do not equate to action.

Brian: So everyone is different. I can’t give you an answer for how to start or where to start, but just start! That’s the wrong question to be asking — just starting, right? So, if you have one tool, go with that tool right now. If you have a million tools, maybe it’s time to start using some of them. All these ideas are all really nice, but the ideas are pointless until you start to realize them. And that’s what an idea is for, right? It’s for action, to make it come true.

I had that problem. I was a marketing guy doing project management. Then I was an English teacher. Then I was another marketing guy in another leadership development company. This was just ideas about ideas about ideas. And it drove me crazy. I wasn’t satisfied. And I thought, "Why not?" Because they were just in my head and weren’t in reality, and they weren’t a part of my reality. So I went out, and I quit my job, and I started Let's Make Great!.

And I decided that this would be my vision: By reflecting on my past, I looked at the "why's" of my past, and I saw that these "why's", these motivations, were all leading toward something that I didn’t even realize until I reflected. So I was lucky to have built up six to eight years of working experience before I started reflecting.

I know when you are a little bit younger, you don’t have enough experience to know "why" yet. You just haven't connected enough dots — some people say that, but I don’t think it’s true either. I think if I reflected earlier, I probably would have seen it earlier, but nobody was pushing me to think about it. So that’s on me, it’s just circumstance.

Self-assessment

Brian: Are you taking action? The first assessment. Are you taking action?

Research, and preparing, and planning is not "action" in my definition. Getting feedback, talking to people and building something, that’s action. I’m gonna call you out (points to Rich). I see you are stopping and starting, but have you actually put them altogether yet in video? I tried to shoot a video before, and I stop and start, but I couldn’t bring them altogether because there are these weird cut points.

That drove me crazy. So I was like “Are you taking action? Are you really following through with that?” All right, thank God for you (to Rich's assistant).

China and entrepreneurship

Brian: I think two things about this question. First is that entrepreneurship is the modern-day spiritual journey.

Because what is that? In entrepreneurship you find out who you are, what you are about. What you are trying to do, and what value you have to society? If those aren’t spiritual questions, I don’t know what is. It doesn’t matter. It just happens to be that if you do follow entrepreneurship, you’ll figure out these things.

And in China, it’s nice, coming from the West at least, because you end up in this place where all of the rules are different slightly or majorly — and you just go “why?” And by having that huge impact on your expectations and beliefs that not everybody is crossing the road the same way, not everybody is dressed the same way, not everybody is talking the same way, not everybody is treating me the same way.

All those expectations that flipped you around — that flipped you mentally around — is very challenging, frustrating, and difficult. But that creates a better environment to think creatively and differently about doing something. So, China is great because of that — for now, at this time and place, there’s no better place in the world.

Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs

The 20-year old fresh arrival in Shanghai. I think there’s so many opportunities to go explore. A lot of times, we fall into these patterns. We want to be comfortable so we find people who look like us, talk like us, think like us — and that’s good to a certain extent, but where are you expanding yourself? Where are you pushing yourself? Again, feeling uncomfortable, feeling afraid, that is a good thing. So use that as your barometer for right or wrong.

How much does it scare you?

One of the biggest question is “What am I supposed to do?” I’m like, “What are you most afraid of?” and that’s the answer. That’s what they should be doing, because they already know, but everything is an excuse.

“I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do this. My mom, my dad, my sister, and my friends don’t get it. The market says I shouldn’t do it. The advisor, Brian, says you shouldn’t do it."

Fuck that. I’m wrong, you’re wrong, everybody is wrong. You got to figure out your own way. And so if people are telling you you’re wrong, listen of course, and make sure you get that — but move forward too. But don’t let it paralyze you. A lot of people let it paralyze them. It is really annoying and scary.

And when those people become 41, and they haven’t gone their own path, they become different people. They become shells of their previous self, where they aren’t really pushing the boundaries as much. They forget that they should, they forget how to — they forget that it’s natural, and everything becomes an excuse on why it won’t work, why they shouldn’t do it, why they it’s not their responsibility, and all this sort of stuff. So it is a strong contrast between these two types of people.

Advice to our interns

Intern: I’m thinking about all the ideas that I have, how do you pick one?

Brian: So what have you done?

Intern: So far, I have interned with Collective Responsibility and I’m trying to find my basis.

Brian: Good start. Big win.

Intern: My original idea is… but now my idea is…

Brian: Stop... stop... stop… I like all these ideas here, but what have you actually been doing to work towards it? I think the thing about taking action, small steps, and those small wins is that through those small wins, you’ll find your way.

But if you are just thinking about it, nothing happens. Like you started with “I’m thinking about…” or “I’m preparing to...” that’s like several layers away. That’s what I was talking about the “thinking about thinking about thinking…” We’re trying to get you to action right away in a small way, and that’s what needs to happen.

And through that action, whatever it is, it could just be these videos you can reflect that you don’t like interviewing idiots like this, "This just doesn’t help me in my career." Now you know that’s not what you want. Or, you find out that, "This is great, if I can do this times a million, whatever it is, in a city out of nowhere, I’ll be very happy." So you start learning from there. But it requires small steps, small actions.

Intern: So how do you pick just one?

Brian: You don’t pick, you just do.

Intern: Even if there’s all of these ideas, do you think I should take a direction and run with it and see where it develop?

Brian: I think a lot of times we are looking at different directions, and any direction is a good direction but until you know why. So why are you doing it? So list down all the 10 different directions that you might have and just do 10, please. Just start with 10. And then looks at all the "why's" behind it. So don’t look at what it is, but the "why" behind it, and look at which ones make the most sense. And probably from that "why's", you can even see that pattern in it — and then whichever one feels that most powerful to you, go with that and just do that and start.

Intern: I’m a very indecisive person. How does that play into finding an action and just going with it?

Brian: Indecision comes from those people who aren’t tapped into their emotions. I don’t know you, but typically that’s what happens. People are too logical, too smart, and they’re analyzing, and they are not feeling. So I’m going to ask you to feel the right answer — that’s why I asked you to look at the whys. And from the "why's", you feel that this one resonates with you, so you’re going to go with that. Of course, these are all ideas that you’re coming up with, so they should all resonate in some way — but we are talking about the ones that make you go, “Oh shit, I have to do this. This is it. Oh of course, why didn’t I think of that?"


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.


The Next Big Thing For Entrepreneurs

[In] the last century [the thinking was], if you wanna grow as entrepreneurs, you should find a good opportunity. But today, if you want to be a great company, think about what social problem you could solve.” – Jack Ma, Founder of Alibaba

When looking for leadership on sustainability, and for those who are going to deliver the solutions that are needed, the search typically begins with big businesses like Wal-Mart and Unilever and their leaders.  The search tends to focus on firms, and leaders, who have large platforms from which they can announce their commitments to changing products, processes, and people as they execute their vision for sustainability. At times these announcements have been backed up by significant investments in time and energy.

However, as the challenges of maintaining balance between economy, environment, and society has grown more difficult to maintain, it is the role of the entrepreneur as visionary and solution provider that has begun proving the power of business, and markets. They have the power to not only solve crises, but to create a new business model.  One that starts with a vision of sustainability at the core, and captures an ecosystem of customers along the way that shows that a “sustainable business model” isn’t an unprofitable one.Take for example the food sector, one that is rife with consumer scandals and resource challenges in China, where large brands have been largely focused on risk mitigation, resource efficiency, and crisis prevention. For traditional “big food” players, the challenge is compounded by the size and scale of their supply chains plus the speed with which China, and other markets, is growing.  Firms need to identify, assess, and engage tens of thousands of farmers on one end of the value chain, while creating thousands of new distribution points that will deliver product to the market on the other.  There is no time to slow down or go back to do things “right”

For the Hong Kong-based OceanEthix, their aquaculture (fish farming) systems were built with sustainability in mind in an industry that is known for numerous environmental impact, social, and consumer safety challenges. Their system, one that is closed loop and modular, has water efficiency, transparency, and product quality at the core of its design, and their modules are now being deployed at various sites in Asia.  For the Shanghai-based FIELDS China, a food delivery platform, it was a business model born from the entrepreneur’s own experience with trying to find clean, safe, food for his family, and has quickly grown into a multi-million dollar business that is scaling into China’s second tier cities.

Entrepreneurs that once occupied the long tail of the economy, and applauded for being “nice” as a result, are now gaining the interest of “traditional” business as they are now seen as market leaders . Leaders who have created products and services with loyal ecosystems of consumers, and markets that are moving from niche to scale.  Dynamics that are leading to a shift in mindsets across the board:

  • Business leaders are looking at social issues as new markets, and successful social minded enterprises as potential investments .
  • Consumers have begun looking for safe, reliable, high-value products, and more importantly they are showing that they are willing to pay a premium for them.
  • Employees are now willing to leave comfortable lifestyles and jobs behind for the prospect of building a new model for change.
  • Governments are now investing significant time and energy to help solution providers incubate and scale their business models, while looking for ways to decouple their economies from models that are seen as risky, resource intensive, or destructive.

These shifts are helping entrepreneurs validate their vision and markets, creating the awareness needed to help reach consumers, bringing economies of scale and profit, and most importantly bringing exit opportunities.

As China’s economy transitions towards maturity, where conversations of “balanced growth” replace those of “growth at all cost”, the opportunity for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to develop new markets for sustainability has never been better .

It is an opportunity being supported by consumers who are willing to pay a premium and governments who now understand that the challenges that have plagued them for years have become a threat to their development models. For those who are able to meet this need, China will only be the start.