Benjamin Ang: Forbes 30U30 Startup Founder talks Transparency in Leadership

A firm believer that maintaining transparency between all employees benefits communication, Benjamin shares how this has helped him grow Genesis Motion Design to what it is today.


In Benjamin’s words, “Genesis was formed to bridge the gap by infusing a positive blend of both cultures; the Asian hustle and the open playfulness of the other. Repeatedly told impossible due to the local societal norms of overworking, over-competitiveness and hierarchies, which till this day, is my motivation to prove others wrong and that a balance is still possible if entrepreneurs embrace the persistence to try.”

TL: DR, Key actionable take-aways:

In this interview, Benjamin shares how he shapes the culture of his team and the industry by:

  1. Merging the Asian hustle with western open playfulness
  2. Maintaining transparency in all communication b/w the team 
  3. Having a flat hierarchy and listening to employees’ feedback with humility
  4. Expanding at the right pace and hire the right fit
  5. Balancing his own physical and mental well-being 

Introduction

Benjamin Ang is a 29-year old Singaporean who founded Genesis Motion Design in 2015. He graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic with a diploma in Motion Graphics and Broadcast Design in 2011 where he was inspired to grow his interest in video editing and visual effects. More importantly, he saw how versatile his skill could be, as it could be incorporated into different forms of media and hasn’t looked back since. Over the past five years, Genesis has established itself as an international business, working with blue-chip clients from all over the world.

He has also been featured on various prestigious organisations such as Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur and also media company, Vulcan Post.

In your opinion, what makes a great leader?

There is no simple answer to this question as there are several styles of leadership, which has pros and cons for each method. My style of leadership would lean towards ‘the servant leader’.

This leadership style came about naturally as I progressed from starting the company alone to the 10 man team now because I constantly try to put myself in the shoes of my employees.

I do believe that having the ability to put one’s ego aside is something that helped me along the way. With this, I am able to ask my colleagues for their suggestions and how to improve the business or workflow. 

I have heard horror stories growing up with the people around me, talking about the horrible work culture that required people to overtime without compensation, being called back to the office while the staff was in the middle of a live-concert they paid tickets for, basically just burning them out before releasing them back into the job market. Working in the industry myself, I understood the work hours required and why people get burnt out easily. 

Having worked both in Singapore and Los Angeles, California, when I noticed a disparity of approaching work and the importance of culture, between the two motion design industries. Genesis was formed to bridge the gap by infusing a positive blend of both cultures; the Asian hustle and the open playfulness of the other. Repeatedly told impossible due to the local societal norms of overworking, over-competitiveness and hierarchies, which till this day, is my motivation to prove others wrong and that a balance is still possible if entrepreneurs embrace the persistence to try.

There are still some stories where people left my company because they were burned out, and I can’t blame them. I can’t change the demands of the creative industry we are in, but I can make an effort to try and keep my team involved in the decisions that we make together. I think that idea of working together as a unit and being a servant leader builds a culture of going against the grind and supporting one another in this constant battle.

I am also a firm believer in transparency and explaining to the team why a certain decision is made if it seems off-track to what we are doing. Transparency creates trust and reason why the team has to push harder during certain periods. The clarity in communication also plays a huge factor in making a great leader. A clear, precise and well-strategised flow of information would also be ideal.

Finally, a firm decision-maker that is aligned with the company’s vision and mission while still keeping an eye on the financial status is equally important.

What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

As we have a very unique open and hustle culture in the office, we develop a no-barrier bond between the staff and employer. The company culture is built on this line, ‘Make It Better’. With this, comes a few traits that encompass this, like the need to put your ego down, to be open-minded, to push work to the next level and to understand that work never gets to perfect the first time around. We encourage this by building a culture based on supporting each other, teaching one another, being accountable for our work and putting the effort to improve one’s self.

It is unique in a way because we’ve been told that coming into work feels like you are back in school. Which, I kind of understand, as I did not have real working experience personally; which may have created a culture of freedom, hard work, learning and play at the same time. The greatest difficulty is standing firm when the time arises and the lines are blurred on a usual day basis.

How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

As our work deals with being able to tell great stories through motion graphics and animation, I understand the power of storytelling. I utilise storytelling when I give back to the design community when I get invited for talks during conferences or design festivals.

Sharing the story when I started the company at 24 and looked young and inexperienced.

How are you approaching marketing your business/getting clients?

We use different marketing strategies to build our brand image and connect with our followers.

Our website serves as the main tool to display our work, credibility and showcase our team and office. Social media channels like Instagram and Facebook also helps us to push content out to remind audiences about our existence and what we are up to. We’re currently working on pushing out our corporate email newsletters as well to clients and partners.

The strongest marketing tool is the word of mouth, which creates warm leads which understand the value we provide.

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

As I started Genesis alone, I was used to doing things by myself and getting things done at a pace I was comfortable with. Of course, this led to me sacrificing time from my loved ones and friends, which was my biggest regret. I felt alone at times and with no one else that could relate to the daily issues and stress I was having, it multiplied the weight of the issue.

If I could give my past self a tip, I would have encouraged myself to constantly communicate, or find a group of entrepreneurs that can relate with the struggles and hardships.

Five years in, I’m running a team with people handling different aspects of the company, so it enables me to make time now for the people I love.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice I’ve learnt was from an online video, which mentioned to study and follow the footsteps of a company or an individual. As I didn’t have a partner or a mentor to lean on when I started the business, I could only observe and study why companies made certain decisions and sacrifices, and what was the value of that exchange. I also had to weigh in the vision and mission I had for Genesis and to see if it would make sense if I followed in their footsteps.

If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting out or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?

To watch your pace, take a breather and to learn how to take care of your own physical and mental health. Leading a team will be tough on all fronts, and accepting that it would only be human to feel extremely stressed out in situations. Taking a deep breath is a simple but powerful thing you can possibly do.

What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?

This year, Genesis as a company has evolved into being transparent as a company. My decision to share with our team the overheads and profit and loss margins was to further create a culture of accountability and transparency. When someone brings a strong and different opinion about a decision, the most important thing to do as a leader is to listen. Everyone in the company experiences a different side, have different values and strengths and might be something I didn’t analyse and think about. Bring it up personally first, if it’s a valid opinion, bring it up to the team and hear different opinions about the situation and make a sound decision after with an explanation. If it doesn’t go their way, they will know that you’ve heard them; and that is what counts to be a leader rather than a boss. There will always be points in the business journey when the decisions made are questionable and not aligned with the vision and mission, hence, this helps everyone in the business understand why and creates solidarity to push through together.

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

As a business owner, I have always heard of this phrase to not expand business too quickly as different people bring in different mindsets which will affect the culture of the company.

I expanded a little too quickly recently and was reminded about this, not just about how it would affect the culture, but also, financial commitments, communication and expectation management were also affected. It also reassured my initial thoughts to keep the team lean and flexible.

As we brought in people, they came in with different backgrounds and work cultures. Some for better, some not so great. It affected how we work, our communication within the office, etc. I realised it will take effort and time to fully immerse them with our way of doing things. We needed time to understand them as individuals with different weaknesses and strengths. I found a quicker way to do this, introduced by a friend of mine, to use Clifton Strengthsfinder (non-sponsored, haha). But it pretty much shows the individual strengths of a person through a simple half-an-hour test. Integrating this has been worth it so far!

Our financials took a hit as well when we didn’t account for the amount of revenue that should be coming in consistently before we’re able to commit to a hire, it took a painful hit to our financial progress after looking through our financial report at the end of the year for tax submission. I learnt the hard way that we needed to do accounting updates quarterly to see our financial state and find out what was causing unnecessary financial losses.

As a leader, you’ll regularly face situations where you need to get buy-in against the odds. How would you overcome a hurdle like this?

There would always be situations where you can sense that you are on the losing end of the deal or pitch. There is no guarantee but I power through them with hard work, sincerity and empathy. Essentially, doing my best with the circumstances given to me to demonstrate resilience and persistence.

What is one book you would recommend that every new leader or storyteller be reading?

“The Win Without Pitching Manifesto” by Blair Enns. This book is a must-have for every creative professional that teaches you how to take control of the pitch process and run a sustainable creative business.

What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?

Notion, a fully customisable internal Wikipedia system that we use on a daily basis to write notes on, create a digital version of our company’s handbook, brand guidelines and even, CRM.

Float, a simple and straightforward project management system without all the extra features and just gets the information out to our staff clearly.

YesWare, a Google Chrome and Gmail extension, that allows me to keep in touch with my clients by doing personable email with follow-ups. It also has a report function which allows me to analyse my campaigns and see what works and what does not.

How can people connect with you?

You can find our company’s portfolio of works here:
www.wearegenesis.tv
www.instagram.com/wearegenesis.tv
www.facebook.com/wearegenesis.tv

Or reach me directly at,
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.benjaminang.tv/
Instagram: @benjaminang.tv
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/angbenjamin/

 

Stock Photo Site Review: Jumpstory

INTRODUCTION

Jumpstory is a site providing a source of inspiration and help when you need it to better the outlook of your piece. Not only do they produce outstanding visuals, but the collection they have is also vast. They tell a story of their own and inspire others.  

These days it is difficult to find good visuals without flouting any rules. Or dealing with copyright issues. With Jumpstory, finding the best visuals are easy. With the click of a button, you can get access to an extensive library collection. With a Jumpstory membership, you gain access to millions of eye-catching visuals.  

At Highspark, presentations are our forte. One thing for sure: an outstanding presentation is nothing without great visuals. Hence, we gave Jumpstory a try. It simplifies the entire process for you. Somehow, the right images appear for you when you need it. Moreover, the visuals eliminate low quality and poor standard work, when you use their many high-quality visuals. 

With Jumpstory, you can work through any situation. Be it for recreation, or work, tailored for your needs. You are not alone.

Here’s how we did it.

OVERALL THOUGHTS ON JUMPSTORY

HUGE VARIETY OF HIGH-QUALITY VISUALS

Jumpstory generates more than 20,000 fresh images and content for its members daily. It has hundreds of different collections which allow you to choose the best photo. The one you were looking for. The Jumpstory library consists of over 30 million visuals. It is extensive, relatable, and does not compromise quality. They offer not only studio-approved images but also natural-looking, authentic ones. With this software, it saves you the need of finding a photographer. 

 

ORGANISED, EASY TO USE

Jumpstory’s website layout is neat and organised. Their unique and useful tools are all tucked into easily accessible pockets. The best part: There is no learning curve needed. 

Navigation is highly intuitive and it takes you three minutes to get used to the interface. Being a tech dummy myself, I found the site pretty clear and easy-to-use. I ended up appreciating this website because it is easy, fun, and dishes out great results.

 

FUNCTIONS

Once you sign up as a member, that’s where the fun begins. You no longer need to strive to find the perfect image, instead, find the best photo with ease. With no more copyrighting woes, the limits and boundaries disappear as well. Jumpstory promises to give the best results to its users, with its many functions. Along with it come many tools and features for its users, which I would share with you now. There are many ways to get your visuals fast, and here are some helpful ways to make your journey smoother.

 

Normal Search 

Like any old search engine, Jumpstory provides a primary search function. Type in keywords of what you wish to find, and get access to over 30 million visuals. Search ‘Street Fashion’, and all results related to street fashion would appear. 

Using Jumpstory’s filter function, you can narrow your search to make your search simple. Filter results based on image colour, image orientation, to even location. Get what you want with just a click. Exactly what you need. Within seconds.

 

Photo Editor

Begin making magic recreating it using Jumpstory’s special editing features. How often do you get a photo editor in an image library? You can create memes, crop and filter your photo, blend it, remove the background. All these functions are achievable on the spot with ease. With JumpStory, you don’t need Photoshop anymore. 

Jumpstory’s editing tool has a gentle learning curve. All functions are straightforward and labelled. Looking for consistency in your content, perfection in your images? Jumpstory has your back.  Jumpstory’s image editor is best for bloggers, marketers or small business owners. And of course, those who crave consistency and a good old aesthetic picture.

 

Search Help 

The thing about Jumpstory’s search help function is that things get done for you. The hassle of searching for visuals can be lifted by the Jumpstory help team. Very often we get preoccupied with our daily tasks and get lazy to perform the menial, tedious, mundane tasks. Jumpstory’s free, photo guarantee Search Help function saves the day. Sit back, relax, and have the work done for you. All within 24 hours.

Type in what you want in the white box given. Then send it to the Jumpstory team. A good list of potential images would be waiting in your inbox within 24 hours.  I used this function a few times and have never been disappointed. Once I needed to look for photographs of presenters confidently presenting to a classroom,

 

Image Categories

The vast variety of image categories offered in Jumpstory makes things much easier. Click the right category, and your search will be narrowed. 

Speed during work is important, and using this saves tons of time. Software or web developers, graphic artists, designers. Listen up. Anyone looking for a variety of photographs from similar categories for their work will find this a lifesaver.

For my scope of work, I scale through professional images that can fit into my clients’ slide decks. Often, I turn to the easy tool of ‘Categories’ on Jumpstory, to look for photos under the broad categories. I find myself often turning to the ‘Work’ and ‘Industry’, as well as ‘Media’ categories for photos that fit into the character and style of my clients’ slide decks.  Sometimes I click into the occasional ‘Animal’ category or even ‘Crafts’ category. Different clients have different styles, hence the large variety helps. I just select the category that suits my needs, filter through using the Filter tool, and choose my image from there. The selection Jumpstory comes up with no lack in variety, and extra points for the natural-looking photographs offered. 

 

Text Match

This is yet another interesting function unique to Jumpstory that drew my attention. Textmatch is an advanced AI software that can convert text into images. You can enter a text or a paragraph of words which you have prewritten, and Jumpstory will find the images for you pretty quickly. 

It doesn’t get simpler than that. Looking for pictures of happy babies eating on high chairs for your baby care writeup, or struggling to find a perfect fit for your website or blog gets simple. Insert the text which you have generated, and the right images would appear through your search.

 

High Jumper

After using Text Match, Jumpstory swoops in again. Say hello to High Jumper, a little orange icon that could save you hours of your time. You get to save time searching with this new platform.

This icon only shows up on images Jumpstory’s AI recommends for you related to your search. High Jumper fulfils Jumpstory’s promise of delivering with impact. And of course, solves the problem of people not knowing which image to choose. The technology will pick up at the best visuals which it thinks would garner most online traction based on your text.

Of course, it is important what you type in Text Match is enticing. The images would be more applicable and helpful. With High Jumper, you can better pick images which give you more traffic to your site. 

 

USING JUMPSTORY FOR WORK

Using Jumpstory has been a very smooth ride, It always is 100% hassle-free afterwards. Its stock image library consists of photos I could never find on the net. I tried subscriptions with Pexels, Unsplash and other image libraries. But Jumpstory’s versatility and additional functions truly jumped out to me. There are tons of new tools, with a choice of more natural-looking pictures that can reach out to the masses to a whole new level. Jumpstory offers more than other image libraries. Their background removal services,  A picture is worth a thousand words, you cannot afford to pick the wrong one. With Jumpstory, after one sign up, the pictures find you, rather than you find them, it seems. Its smart software does wonders to your search.

I would recommend Jumpstory to content generators. Marketers, bloggers, and small business owners. Individuals who need outstanding visuals – fast. Their features are especially applicable to bloggers from small corporate organisations. Their many business-related visuals also fit well for entrepreneurs of small start-up firms. That said, it would be useful for many other uses due to its A to Z extensive collection.

That said, paying $25 USD a month, despite having a free one-month trial may not be within the budget for some. If you rarely engage in content generation, think twice before subscribing to it. Otherwise, it is safe to say that Jumpstory would be a great investment, and would make the 25 bucks worth it. Guarantee.

Their developing AI could be a cause for concern as well. Though developed, it is still learning every day and has yet to reach its peak. Their gallery would better cater to broader, more common subjects. Hence, business owners of very specialised fields may need to reconsider using Jumpstory. Otherwise, Jumpstory’s functionality and great content make it a great investment for businesses.

Here are some pros and cons when considering whether to get Jumpstory:

 

PROS:
  • No learning curve needed; easy to use
  • Natural-looking, and professional images
  • Free image consultancy service
  • Able to edit your photos on the spot
  • Delivers with impact using unique High Jumper tool
  • Hundreds of categories and variety
  • Professional AI setup for easy searches 
  • Unlimited downloads 
CONS:
  • It’s a little pricey
  • AI not extremely developed for complex topics
  • Icons, vectors, video collections not extensive enough
  • Sometimes buggy and loads slowly
  • Results not 100% accurate sometimes
  • It’s not a fully finished product
  • Unable to edit images without adding to the archive

 

Adrian Sng: First SARS, now Co-Vid 19- Leadership and Tips on Overcoming Adversities

As we yearn for this pandemic to be over, it’s more important now than ever, to trust the process. Hear from Adrian on his tips to tide your company through times of crises.


 

What’s your story?

From 2014 -2018, I led the Events Business of SingEx Exhibitions, the events arm of SingEx Holdings. SingEx Exhibitions owns, develops and manages a portfolio of events through collaborations with local and international partners. As its General Manager, my portfolio included growing the Events Business globally through organic development, strategic partnerships and acquisitions as well as establishing in-country show teams. In the last four years, I have set up as well as grown events and subsidiaries in India, Indonesia and also partook in acquisitions of a UK based company and a China-based company to expand SingEx’s geographical reach and portfolio of events. Some of the award-winning events that I have had a strong hand in growing include Singapore FinTech Festival and IoT Asia.

Till end March 2020, I led the Community Business of SingEx Holdings as Chief Community Architect to develop innovative solutions using technology to drive engagements and business value within and across the industry communities SingEx serves with their proprietary events such as Singapore FinTech Festival. SingEx Holdings is wholly-owned by Temasek Holdings, a Singapore-based investment company.

Since April 2020, I’ve been busy starting up an advisory company (MICEvolve) helping Trade event organisers grow, scale and evolve their event portfolios and companies in Asia.

As a believer in continuous learning for my staff, I lead by example; having graduated with an Executive MBA from NUS.

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

I was already interested in the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE in short) industry when I was at NTU doing my Bachelors in Business with a focus on Hospitality and Tourism Management. My interest stemmed from my University activities and my role as the Recruitment Fair Chairperson. The Recruitment Fair is the first exhibition that I have ever organised. It is an exhibition in the University that my committee put together for all the Clubs, Societies, Sports Groups to exhibit their activities and recruit new members from Year One undergraduates in University. For the new undergraduates, it was a one-stop location to meet and speak with all the representatives of the various clubs and to know what’s available to them and the criteria to join each club. While still in University, I did my 8-month internship at a Professional Conference Organiser for my final year and joined a German Trade Fair company for my first job upon graduation.

After my internship stint and first job, it made me realise how much I enjoyed and learned from the work I do within the MICE sector. Developing, growing and scaling a trade exhibition or conference teaches me great skills of being an entrepreneur as you dive into many facets of business such as:

  • Brand Building
  • Product Development and Pricing
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Operations
  • Partnerships
  • Financial budgeting and Cashflow
  • Market entry strategies etc

Being in the exhibitions sector also allowed me to know various companies and the products that they are launching into Asia or Global markets and it helped me in my personal investment strategies too.

In your opinion, what makes a great leader?

A great leader to me is one who uplifts his or her people and motivates each and everyone they lead to be performing at the best they can be towards the common goal. A great leader mentors, inspires and leads by example with good moral values.

What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

I have been a founder of a company and also a leader within a larger corporation and the greatest difficulty I had faced were very different in both scenarios.

When I was an entrepreneur, my greatest difficulty was in managing cash flows during periods of crisis, like the SARS period in 2003. That period mirrors what we are facing with Covid-19, though it pales in geographic and economic impact with what we are going through currently. During SARS, where business and revenues were affected, costs were rising due to the implementation of increased sanitisation measures for our staff members and the headcount costs we had to maintain, it was tough to carry on the business. I managed to overcome it due to 2 main factors:

Trust: Carrying out your work as an authentic business leader, manager and person with the utmost integrity and dedication towards your staff and clients all the time is extremely important. It reaps positive returns in unthinkable ways, especially during times of crisis or your darkest moments as an entrepreneur. Staff members would rally around you and volunteer to take pay cuts or to receive their pay with a delayed time frame for those who had savings to tide them through. Even bankers can be negotiated with to work out a payment plan for outstanding loan amounts when you show sincerity, gumption and a wish to pay them. Some clients would engage more services with you or ensure their payments are not delayed to help you through those periods.

A positive mindset and pivoting to new opportunities: In any economic, financial or pandemic crisis, new opportunities and scenarios arise which can pivot your business towards where your organisation and staff have related competencies. During the SARS period, I operated a home cleaning business and pivoted our business to take on sanitisation activities for childcare centres and playschools- both to serve the community’s need at that time and obtain some revenues to keep our cash flow going when the home cleaning activities dropped. Even in this current Covid-19 situation, in my current industry (Events) many companies are in the same boat with zero revenue for many months. Maintain positivity and seek a way out with peers and staff who share that same “can do” spirit. There are new streams of income to develop and new ways of conducting our business.

It will be important not to lapse into a negative spiral psychologically as you will, in turn, attract negativity and it would limit your ability to pivot or take certain steps to “evolve” the business.

When working in a corporation, my greatest difficulty is in rolling out new innovative ideas and change management. Many times, internal stakeholders (Senior Management, Board, Staff) may be the ones in a state of great inertia and prove to be the greatest resistance to new ways of operating and new products. They have been conditioned for many years in the existing models and are uncomfortable or simply do not have the understanding about the new models, new technology and are fearful for their own jobs or are risk-averse to these investments in new models as it may fail.

If you are a leader, you need to: Create an environment- give strong management support and direction toward the whole organisation to future proof the business. Help the team working on these new innovations to build quick tests, wins and share the mini successes with the Board and staff. Encourage innovation from throughout the organisation. Ring fence your innovation units and provide them with a Sandbox to create and try different solutions. The Sandbox environment created can encompass various areas in procurement methodology, vendors, financial frameworks, success metrics etc.

If you are a staff member or a lead within that innovation unit, it is important to focus on the outcomes you are driving towards and be simple in your presentation to ensure your target audience understands what the new innovation is supposed to do or help with their business. Don’t lift your own ego by throwing in technology jargons. This will make their resistance levels go higher as they will reject the new innovation for fear that it will make them look stupid for not understanding it. Storytell in a coherent and simple manner to get the audience engaged and understand the points you are trying to convey.

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How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

I was not aware of the need and importance to have storytelling skills as a leader until situations appeared where I had to address a large number of staff members in a presentation on our business directions and other separate investment projects where I needed to get the buy-in from sceptical stakeholders.

I have since worked with professionals on various aspects of storytelling and communicating effectively and succinctly with clear visuals and simple articulation to ensure higher audience receptivity and understanding. It is an art worth mastering that includes pre-empting naysayers and their comments and using images that helps etch the impression that you wish to underscore. I have now applied this to conference presentations I have to give, presentations to potential clients, work teams and to Board members.

How are you marketing your business/getting clients? Is there a unique way you use to differentiate yourself/your firm?

For the advisory business that is just starting, it will be marketed through the following:

  • Networks (Personal networks, Collaboration Partners)
  • Multipliers (External Trade Associations in Asia for trade show organisers, Community Groups)
  • Trade events
  • Focused direct outreach (Linkedin outreach or a direct letter/email or call to the Founder, senior management of a targeted company
  • Online search
  • Content Leadership pieces via my Linkedin

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

I would say the greatest lesson for me as a leader in my work is to grow the company in a calibrated manner. Sometimes, many projects and new opportunities will come our way and there is a tendency to take on too much growth that the organisation and its talents may be insufficient to take on the load or insufficiently skilled that will lead to a failed outcome.

It will be a constant struggle for leaders to reject business at times but it is necessary for sustainable growth of the company than growing too fast on unstable foundations and inappropriate systems for the larger scale.

Some of the factors that I use to consider include:

  1. Is this new opportunity strategic or core to our business now? Or will it be a distraction?
  2. What are the tradeoffs? Vs Wins? (staff, supplier’s time committed and financial resources vs benefits (cash and in-kind)

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Through the years, I am grateful for the many pieces of advice I have received from mentors, peers and family members in various aspects of my life whether it is for the business and work front or in my personal life.

However, there is one piece of advice that I received from our family doctor once that stuck with me throughout the years that has taught me to remain focused.

“Your life at work or in your business can sometimes be viewed as a driver in a Formula One race. You blink. You die.”

It may sound harsh but it was to train me to be focused on what matters and the direction ahead towards my purpose or mission. Disregard and do not get involved with the noise and distractions. In this day and age, there are countless meetings, messages and notifications that will distract us from our main goal or which will lead us to be inefficient. “Busyness” is not necessarily a good thing. It has to be a constant reminder in our own minds to stay focused.

If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting out or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?

Lead by example in all facets. Do what you say and say what you do. You will not win the trust of the team or people in the organisation if you do not live by and reflect the values and processes that you are espousing. You will be surprised how the culture of the company will be built just by you leading by example.

If one of your company values is that of pursuing Growth and Learning, then as a Leader, you have to be creating learning and growth opportunities for all your team members whether through informal situations, small projects, formal career progression or courses for all your team members. Do not hold back or be protective over sharing your experience or competencies to guide your next in line. You will be surprised by how much more growth you and your staff will experience. For the company, you are “unlocking” your talents for them to grow and flourish.

What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?

I used to be very busy with my whole workday packed with meetings with clients, various team meetings or discussions with the subsidiaries. There wasn’t time set aside to think, strategise, ideate or just learn.

In running a business and growing it, many a times, there are many many issues to resolve and which keeps you up at night. This year, I have made it a point to block a timeslot early morning to have this time set aside for me to think, ideate, strategise or just learn from reading. I have found this beneficial for myself and in the way I lead as I am clear of each day’s purpose, prioritisation of activities and also to learn new ideas and spend time reflecting on its applications on the business.

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

I have been reading this book Platform Revolution recently and it has changed my perspective of our trade events industry to now view them as knowledge and network platforms. Platforms now thrive greatly on a different set of business drivers and metrics, business architecture and systems and are asset-light compared to traditional pipeline businesses.

It has changed me this past year on how we should evolve our traditional face-to-face trade exhibitions and conferences to include strong digital platforms to enable sharing, learning and networking amongst the community online and also open up opportunities and monetisation to those who could not come to our events. Use data and appropriate recommendation engines to facilitate interactions for greater business amongst the community. I think it will help many new leaders to understand the concept of platforms and how it will impact or help evolve their business.

What is one book you would recommend that every new leader or storyteller be reading?

I would recommend this book, The Leader, The Teacher & You by Lim Siong Guan and Joanne H. Lim.

This book is the 2014 winner of the Singapore Literature Prize and depicts the everyday applied leadership based on the principles and experiences of Lim Siong Guan, former Head of the Singapore Civil Service and former Group President of GIC Private Limited. I recommend this book for every new and existing leader as it gives a fresh take on the notion of leadership as being other-centred so that we can all be the best that we can be.

What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?

Microsoft Sharepoint and Google Docs that enables everyone to work collaboratively on a single document across teams/offices

Trello – It is a good tool to manage projects across different teams and different workstreams.

How can people connect with you?

They can connect with me on:

my Linkedin. https://www.linkedin.com/in/adrian-sng-a03a0b14/

My email at: [email protected]

4 Things for Successful Co-VIDeo Conferencing

You zone out for the umpteenth time to the sound of your dead-pan colleagues reading off their to-do lists. You think “God… work hours are getting longer… but we’re not getting more things done.” We know how this feels – virtual meetings are a pain, for good reasons. 


 

This is how a video conference usually goes for many of us:

  1. You set a time to discuss with your team members. 
  2. Everyone goes online at different timings and wait for the host to start the call.
  3. Once everyone is on… then some of you will start to break the ice by making some small talk. 
  4. Then the team leader would start leading the call. People will be reading off their to-do-lists. As everyone rambles off their tasks, you’re bored and zoned-out because… you don’t exactly need to be there. 
  5. From time to time, the audio breaks up and you lose the flow of your discussion. 
  6. When the call finally ends, you find yourself thinking what was the point of the whole call anyway… for you get no clarity out of it. 

Worst of all… if you’re working in different teams you’d find yourself having to check-in to different video conferences out of formality. (even though you don’t need it). 

As the COVID-19 pandemic goes on, countries are enforcing lockdown and businesses have to collaborate online. This affects internet bandwidth worldwide. This also disrupts our call quality which in turn affects our productivity.

Let’s face it: Video-Conferencing done wrong – is a major energy and time sucker. And this is why we want to address it. When done right, video conferences can help ensure smooth business continuation for companies. Hence, this is why we want to help you better facilitate video meetings.

Without video conferences, it might be tough to work together. Simply because it’s difficult to align you and your teammates on who-does-what.  You’ll experience people are not sticking to deadlines, unclear of what to do next or worse- completely missing-in-action.

In this post, we’ll explain a few simple tips on how to conduct more effective video conferencing calls.

First of all, it might be a good idea to standardise on one video-conferencing platform. This ensures everyone has clarity on which app they should use. At HighSpark, we use Zoom or Workplace call because it’s tailored for remote teams. (it is intuitive and user-friendly).

 

Do an AudioVisual Check

Starting off, it would be useful to do an audiovisual check to ensure everyone can hear each other. 

Once everyone is online, you can encourage your team members to say a short greeting so people can hear and see each other. In case of poor network connectivity issues, use a set of hand signals when you want to speak during the call so that you won’t be interrupting others. 

For example, a closed fist represents you would like to speak soon and a “T” signal shows you would like to excuse yourself. Hand signals allow you to express yourself without disrupting others. 

The use of gestures helps to reduce interruptions which create better team dynamics. This can improve the working environment for everyone and help communication flow better.

 

Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking

Another tip is to mute your microphone when you’re not speaking. 

This helps to minimise any unwanted noise which allows the speaker to focus better. If you mute your mic, you can use the chat function to take notes since your typing will no longer be distracting.

Then, create a simple set of rules for all video calls with your team. 

For example:

  • No eating/drinking 
  • No loud background music 
  • Being 5 minutes early. 

 

Simple rules can maintain a sense of work discipline (which can be difficult since everyone’s at home). This will also help to keep your team on the same page so that discussions can flow well.  If you are the team leader, we recommend you to set an example by following the rules all the time. This keeps your call focused and efficient.

 

Keep it short

Now, the work discussion has started. A good tip to keeping your team focused is to keep everything short and simple. 

You can achieve this by:

 

  • Making an agenda for the meeting, 
  • Giving out tasks to your teammates or 
  • Inviting the key people involved in the call. 
  • Setting a fixed duration for the call to keep discussions short and focused. (Zoom offers a function where the host of the call can set a fixed call duration which forces the participants to speak succinctly.

 

Visual guides such as  Powerpoint or Keynote are good tools to express ideas. They help make your presentations interactive which keeps your teammates more engaged.

One bonus tip is to lift the spirits of your team through little games and quizzes during the break! This not only makes the meetings more fun but also more memorable.

 

Give a summary

Remember the notes you took using your call’s chat function? 

This is where they come in handy. Before ending your call, it is a good habit to round it off with a summary of the discussion and propose areas of improvement for future calls. Your summary should list only the key points covered. 

This is extremely important for longer discussions. Lastly, you could start scheduling the next meeting so your team members will have ample time to plan their schedule. 

 

That’s all for now, we hope you enjoyed and found this article useful!


Want to see more of our content? Join our exclusive email list below where we share tips on how to ace your next high-stakes presentation. 

Erik Cheong: Under 30 Leader on Turning Idea Into Thriving Business

Serving those whom you work with is just as important as leading them. After switching from a finance and investment background to logistic technology, Erik Cheong embraced storytelling and servant- leadership to grow his simple business idea into Park N Parcel, one of Singapore’s fastest growing logistics networks.


 

What’s your story?

I am Erik Cheong,  the Co-Founder of Park N Parcel. Heading the company’s business developments such as partnership, marketing, and public relations. I got nominated as Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia in 2019 (Consumer Technology), awarded Quest Ventures – EDGE National Youth Entrepreneurship in 2018 and member of Founders Fellowship South East Asia by Alibaba Global Initiatives

Beyond my bachelor’s degree in Finance and Investment banking background, I have an entrepreneurial soul with a passion to leverage technology to enrich modern lives sharing expertise and experience with the community of entrepreneurs). Park N Parcel is a South East Asia based logistics startup funded by TRIVE (previously known as “TRi5 Ventures”) and supported by the National University of Singapore Enterprise.

We provide last-mile logistics solutions to enhance the current mailing ecosystem. Our main focus is to provide online shoppers with an innovative way to collect parcels in a hassle-free manner by directing their parcels to nearby neighbours or neighbourhood stores – known as Parkers. Since our launch in 2016, Park N Parcel has successfully built the largest network of collection points with over 1600 Parkers islandwide in Singapore and expanding into Southeast Asia.

We work with an array of local and international partners such as FedEx, Cainiao and Singapore Post as well as serving major E-commerce platforms like Alibaba, TaoBao and Lazada to prevent logistics companies from facing re-delivery and making their delivery much more efficient and cost-saving.

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

I’ve always wanted to start something of our own. I left my job in the banking and financial industry and took the plunge into the field of technology that seemed a lot more exciting for me because of the growth opportunities.

 The business idea was conceived one day when I was having lunch far away from home during the weekend. 

Little did I know that the delivery man would reach my home with my parcel in hand with nobody to receive it. He left me multiple missed calls and we could not find a resolution. I would have no choice but to head to the post office to collect my delivery directly causing great inconvenience and wasted time.

With the growing e-commerce landscape in South East Asia, my partner and I saw a huge opportunity to solve this problem that affected us individually and to turn it into a thriving business. We hope that what we build will become an integral part of every online shoppers’ lives.

 

In your opinion, what makes a great leader? 

 “Once you’re determined to be a leader, whether you like it or not, I have to tell you,  your job is to help others be successful.” -Jack Ma

This is a quote that I live by when leading my team.  I firmly believe that a leader’s job is to help others succeed. Period.

Largely, I believe that what most people misinterpret is what makes a good leader versus what makes a good manager. Leaders inspire, set common goals and drives change through core values. Whereas managers are more procedural, systems-driven and are effective executors. 

Leaders develop a following, while managers tend to keep a unit of subordinates humming. There is an element here of choice. 

We don’t necessarily choose our managers, but we definitely choose our leaders and who we want to follow.

 

What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

Specifically for startups, the biggest challenges are pretty common among similar businesses. One of the challenges that I still continue to face and that I feel is the most important to address as a leader is this:

Hiring and retaining talent

For a small startup company to succeed, we need to attract talents that are motivated to go the extra mile and who are personally invested in the success of the company (though they may not hold shares). We need people who will hustle and call the company their own though other employers may be more competitive.

I’ve found that the best way to begin thinking of a talent management strategy is to first have a clear picture of where you want the business to go and set small milestones that lead up to your eventual goals. This provides direction to yourself as a leader as well as your team.

For example, Park N Parcel wants to become the largest collection point network with 2000 ‘Parkers’ or collection points. All my team members know this and we celebrate every significant milestone on our way there. 

At each point, I also ensure that staff are well aware of our grander plan for their careers, our runway for the business and that there is some certainty ahead. 

It’s hard to get people behind you when you don’t even know where you’re going yourself.

Some ways I manage this:

  1. Ensure that every team member has a certain level of autonomy in their role and they feel that they belong to the wider nucleus. 
  2. Forgive small mistakes and encourage learning and experimentation.
  3. Open communication and horizontal hierarchy – in a small firm, you need self-starters who dare to do and provide constructive feedback when you need it
  4.   How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

 

I believe storytelling is one of the key strengths of a leader.  It’s important to let your team, partners, customers believe and feel your passion and what you are doing can impact the industry, the region or the world.

Over the last 4 years, I have spoken at over 100 events across the region such as Move Asia 2020, Home Delivery Asia 2019, Post & Parcel 2019 APAC, URA Urban Lab: Delivering Together & Transforming Urban Logistics, Applying Supply Chain & Engaging New Technology by Supply Chain Management (SCM), Startup Go Global by Sharing Economy Association, OCBC Future Smart, Youth Entrepreneurship Symposium 2018, Techsauce Global Summit 2018 and more.

Interviewed with Squawk Box Asia by CNBC, Nikkei, Postal Technology International, Ashley Talks Podcast, The Logician, The CEO Library, Supply Chain & Logistics Podcast, The Straits Times, Lian He Zao Bao (联合早报), MoneyFM 89.3, FM 93.8 NOW, FM95.8 Capital, Tech In Asia, E27, Vulcan Post, Asia Tech Podcast, AsiaX, NUS Enterprise Block 71 and Profit Aside.

With these storytelling skills, it is much easier to strike partnership/collaboration with like-minded entrepreneurs and investors.

How are you approaching marketing for your business/getting clients so that they choose you over others?

If you want your business to be ahead and be known for excellence vis-a-vis competitors, it’s not going to be an easy journey. At our company, I’ve always made it a point to do the difficult things that don’t always scale.

For example, in our business, our strong collection point network is the bread-and-butter feature that keeps us competitive. When we first launched in 2016 – we had more than 10,000 applications to be part of our network, but we manually selected only a minute fraction of them. 

It took us weeks to sort through the applications, but I’d say our customers and stakeholders are much happier because we did the hard thing which was to sift out only the quality partners. I hold that philosophy for everything else we do in the company – we cannot shy away from the hard stuff, because only by doing those well, can we win.

Aside from our team, we also need to manage an ecosystem of ‘Parkers’ by educating them and engaging them as they provide their services. If we receive multiple complaints, we make it a point to take swift action to rectify teething issues. We hold the same principles for our team – though we have open communication as a core value, we must never take it for granted or our dynamics will fall apart.

We’ve managed to acquire some of the largest players in postage and transportation in our local space as customers and partners like Singpost and FedEx over the last 4 years. This is no small part due to the fact we personalise our communications and work on getting the bits that don’t scale with technology right.

 

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

I’d say I have a few lessons that have stuck by me since our first ventures.

Build a great team and don’t settle

Prior to our current business, Bryan, Gan Hong and myself used to manage a hostel. That was a testing ground for our abilities as business people and also a litmus test for our team dynamics. I’ve heard horror stories of business partners turning years of toil upside down in an instant and as a result, I choose to only work closely with people I know that have complementary skills and the right attitude.

Anything less is a risk.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that though I have a useful set of skills, no man or woman is an island and we can always do better working together with other specialists.

You won’t get everything right, but that’s okay

Leaders need to acknowledge that they will make mistakes and learn from them. My partners and I come from industries that have nothing to do with the current line we are in – logistics and tech. Naturally, we underwent plenty of trial and error. There will be some things you can only learn by being on the ground and doing it – don’t let your assumptions govern your decisions or it could be your downfall.

Be proud and pitch often

I believe 100% in what we do and I do want everyone to know about it so they can partake in the value we’re creating. This means I don’t shy away from opportunities to speak to other business owners, partners, investors to pitch our vision and what we do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advising leaders to show off. Quite the opposite. The more you talk about your business, the more feedback you’ll get on your pitch and you might garner insight you never thought you’d get.

My only advice here is to pitch your least favourite people first before speaking to high-stakes contacts like ideal investors. You’ll still want to sound polished when it counts!

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What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?


It might sound cliche, but ‘Knowing Your Customers’ was the best piece of advice for me.

Because there are hundreds of industries, every customer is somehow different. Watching them, understanding them has become our greatest source of learning. You can discover the best solutions, the best ways to serve them and the best ways to market to them all through listening and speaking to them in person.

That said, in our years of business we’ve seen both happy customers and ones that sometimes detract from our vision and service. However, I believe that unhappy customers are not bad customers. The fact that they bother to complain means they still want you to be better and service their needs. I see these as service recovery opportunities and I implore leaders to explore this line of thought as well.

Again, ‘know your customers’ can apply to every single type of person you meet. If you truly know someone inside-out, their fears, desires and pains – there is little you can’t do to help them and convince them to see things your way.                       

If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting out or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?

 I have a few key things I think would be useful for someone starting out:

1. Take action and take risks

As a leader, you should have the autonomy and the mandate to take risks and get things done. Your teams can function on their own, but they need direction. Even if you aren’t always sure about what’s next, you might have to find a way to be sure fast regardless because people are counting on you. Commit to an action plan and take some risks. You won’t always be right, but you won’t always be wrong either.

 2. Be indispensable

Think about the companies that are around after centuries of being in business. Why are they still around? It’s because they’ve cemented a place in the minds and hearts of their customers and audiences. We need to do the same. We need to become an essential aid to our organisations, essential motivators for our team members and essential service providers for our customers.

Being indispensable or something people can’t go on without is the strategy that many have proven will stand the test of time.

This applies to products and ourselves. People will rush to the store for a painkiller, but you hardly see anyone do that for a vitamin supplement. Can you position you or your products as ‘Painkillers’ solving problems rather than ‘Vitamins’ appealing to emotions versus functional needs?

3. Learn from other leaders and places

Read books, expand your social circles and immerse yourself in the company of other leaders. Travel to other places outside of your country and see how people run companies and teams. I went to the US and China and it opened my eyes to how these people drive technological adoption and evolution in those geographies.

What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?

You only have 24 hours in a day. As a leader, sometimes you’ll feel like you have less. Time-management is a skill I am honing and aiming to master this year. Every night before I head to bed, I sort out a to-do list of priorities and meetings for the next day. We also have a synced calendar within the company so everyone is aware of events or deadlines looming.

We do sync-up meetings in the morning at 10 am every day and each member has a minute to highlight key issues they’re facing and whether any additional support is needed.

Managing time along with being keyed into the progress of your team as a unit will do wonders for productivity and morale moving forward.

If I could add one more thing we enforce – we always reiterate our core values: Integrity, Teamwork, Trust, Collaboration, Take Action. These guide our decisions and ensure that even though we might go into our own little caves to finish our work – we are always aligned and moving in the same direction.

 

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

At the time of writing, Singapore has been locked down for 2 whole months – disrupting close to 9 out of 10 businesses. This is not something we expected and many companies have been caught off guard.

That said, we cannot rest on the laurels of our previous successes and sit still while change is happening around us. We’ve taken measures to pivot our human collection points to introduce contactless deliveries that have since brought us some liquidity and new business opportunities.

Leaders have to be comfortable dealing with uncertainty”. Even if you’re not sure, you have to maintain a strong and decisive front for the teams that are counting on you.

At every step, you can choose to give up or respond and try other means to ride the wave into new opportunities.

As a leader, you’ll regularly face situations where you need to get buy-in against the odds. How would you overcome a hurdle like this?

My advice remains the same. You have to do the work and you have to know who you’re dealing with. You need to figure out what’s in it for them and what their hot buttons are to prepare for any curveballs they might throw in your conversation.

For example, before meeting someone new I usually:

  1. Do basic research on Linkedin.
  2. Visit their company websites to understand who they are, what they stand for and who their partners are
  3. Set the agenda of the meeting beforehand so we are aligned on the value add of working together

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. ” Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In the course of the research, you’ll typically get a much better understanding of the values of your counterpart and this makes negotiations easier too.

What is one book you would recommend that every new leader or storyteller be reading?

  • My Startup Bible  (Read more than 10 times)  – The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

    I will strongly recommend anyone who wants to run his or her own startup should get this book. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup, how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere and grow a business with maximum acceleration. I applied the Build-Measure-Learn model into my own startup Park N Parcel, the key is to validate all your assumptions and gather market feedback of your services/product via the minimum viable product (MVP). The first 8 months we spent on building our company through prototyping, testing, conducting market research, conceptualising design and fundraising. In January 2017, we started with 100 parkers as collection points who were mainly from roadshows, flyer distributions door-to-door surveys etc. We relied heavily on the surveys to attain feedback about our idea which we felt were important because ultimately, they would be the ones utilizing our platform. We also have a presence on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and, also leveraged on influence and bloggers which have helped us tremendously.
  • Alibaba – The House that Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark.

    I am a big fan of Jack Ma, I have 4 different books talking about Jack. He is a top entrepreneur & visionaire, who started out as a modest English teacher and built Alibaba into one of the world’s largest companies, an e-commerce empire on which hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers depend on. I am impressed with how he overcame his humble origins and early failures to achieve massive success with Alibaba.

What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?

  1. Online  – DingTalk  (Similar to Zoom but with more features)  – 100% free of charge & more work-friendly. Provide constant reminder & alert and Support huge File / Documents upload. It’s like all in one app for work-related stuff.  My top recommendation – it’s  widely  adopted by Alibaba Staff
  2. Online -Google Calender  – Super useful, especially when the team is growing. To keep everyone on the same page and notify everyone about where and what you are doing.  Allow easier schedule planning for internal or external meetings.
  3. Offline  – Maintain a Huge Whiteboard with our latest KPI number, to keep track week on week growth. To motivate the team ( to push harder the following week if we fail to hit targets) or celebrate small wins (if we exceed or hit target growth)

 


How can people connect with you?

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/erik-cheong
Email: [email protected]

Alvin Poh: Leading Vodien from Small Tech Firm to a $30M Business

Countless sleepless nights, unstable income and brutal rejections, a good leader should stick through them all. But what does it really feel like to lead a team through unchartered business concepts in a highly competitive market? In this post, we interview Co-founder of Vodien, Singapore’s #1 Domain Provider: Alvin Poh


What’s your story?

TLDR; At the age of 33 years old, I sold my Internet business for S$30 million and began seeking out my life’s passions and travelling the world.

My business partner and I started the company from zero dollars in revenue all the way until the company became Singapore’s #1 domain provider with 35,000 clients and a team of 150 before the 8-figure exit.

I spent the next few years travelling the world, exploring new hobbies like snowboarding, kite-surfing and many more activities that I never got to try before.

After that journey of rediscovering myself, I’ve made it my focus to help budding entrepreneurs just like myself when I was starting out to scale their business, achieve breakthrough profits AND attain freedom in time to pursue pleasures of life.

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

It all began from a small IT company we started at 17-years old and ran for a number of years. The hosting market was in its infancy then and we decided to start Vodien, which eventually became Singapore’s largest provider of web hosting services.

There was one specific, incredibly valuable lesson we learned that changed the way we did business.

We learned that running a service-based business was a great way to get your feet wet in entrepreneurship. It’s low-cost and much lower-risk compared to developing products.

However, the real lesson was when we soon found that services are almost impossible to scale without hiring more headcount.

That was when we decided to pivot the business entirely to focus exclusively on web hosting – buying physical servers, and renting out virtual space to customers at scale.

In your opinion, what are a few qualities good leaders must have?

Leaders need to possess many skills, but I feel one of the most important skills or the most important is effective communication. Just as well-known billionaire Richard Branson describes, communication is the “most important skill any leader can possess.”

I was a very shy boy growing up. I remember that I used to be so shy, I couldn’t even muster the courage to speak to stall owners when I went down to the market to purchase something.

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After I started my business, I was literally thrown into the deep end of the pool. Even the task of finding a solid business partner was something that you need decent communication skills to accomplish.

Essentially, leaders need to understand people and be able to get the right message across when it counts. Try convincing someone to commit to a long-time partnership with you if you lack the right communication skills. It’s an uphill battle.

Leaders also need to have a logical mind, be creative and learn to be able to take calculated risks. But in my opinion, almost every aspect that leads to success will require a certain level of communication skills to work.

What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

For me, time was my greatest sacrifice.

I spent half of my life building Vodien. That’s time that I’ll never be able to get back even if I had all the money in the world. That said, I don’t look back with regret. It was a necessary cost that I had to pay in order to improve my circumstances.

I didn’t come from a rich family. My background meant that I had to work doubly hard to break out of what my life was back then.

Any free time I had as a teenager in my early-20s was dedicated to growing our business. I’d take on roles like customer support at the beginning when we didn’t have the manpower. I’d personally handle issues that were brought up to me by customers. It was truly a time vortex, but I learned a lot about each aspect of the business because of that. I’d recommend leaders try to get their hands dirty every once and a while to be able to spot areas of improvement and empathise with your teams.

As a young business owner, I had many ups and downs. My peers were graduating from universities and many went on to bring home massive paycheques while I had to continue to plough my income back into the business. Many times I would reflect and ponder if I really made the right decision.

Truly in life, you’ll never really know, but there were patterns along the way that gave us the confidence to move forward. We had a strong team, a profitable company and each other’s support.

It was only many years later did the company grow to a decent enough size that my co-founder and I could take a step back and engineer ways to strategically remove ourselves from the day-to-day operations of the business.

My advice: Don’t shy from hard work and stay focused on your vision.

How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

Storytelling is an essential part of communication skills as it’s the medium in which we, as humans, can best connect with others. Thus, it’s a must to know how to communicate and appeal to our emotions.

These days as an entrepreneurship mentor, I find that the best way to connect with my students and peers is through stories. My experiences and the lessons I’ve learned are more effectively received and remembered when I include anecdotes and vivid imagery in my conversations.

Whether I’m looking to stand out in my marketing efforts, speaking to a large audience or helping people/businesses – I make it a point to humanise my messaging and relate my experiences to theirs. That’s the only way to connect on a deeply personal level.

Aligning the content I share to storytelling techniques has made a huge impact on the engagement I get from readers. Some techniques I use in crafting narratives are:

  1.  Including elements of conflict,
  2. Making my stories conversational and relatable
  3.  Using visual imagery to frame my stories

As a result, I’ve achieved thousands of meaningful interactions on my social channels as well as qualified traffic for my mentorship programs.

It might sound simple, but the potential positive impact is profound. Understanding how to communicate with people in a common language is one of the most powerful ways for you to have your ideas accepted and grow your brand.

How did you approach marketing your business/getting clients?

I’d say I’ve been quite lucky that the success of my first venture has left me with quite a bit of a following as well as positive news coverage of our acquisition deal.

As a result, I have an existing audience that already is interested in how they can replicate what I’ve done with Vodien for their own businesses.

As such, I’ve embraced social media as the best means to reach out to my target market by providing educational content as a mentor. I post on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Most of my posts contain a story or anecdote from my journey at Vodien which I am well-known for. This helps them understand that my expertise comes from application and also helps me develop a connection with potential mentees.

Again, marketing requires a very different approach to various kinds of businesses. I’d say as a leader, you need to become or at least appear more approachable and show that you can empathise with your target audience. Be aware of your persona on your various channels and ensure they all sing the same song and tell the same story.

What would you say has been the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far as a leader?

I’ve learned that to scale up a business, it boils down to having a few key fundamentals done right. Doing these things well will make things a lot easier, but not doing them right can result in the journey being fraught with difficulty and frustration.

Because it’s made up of several concepts that become complex as a whole, I’ve come up with a framework to layout all these fundamentals in a simple, step-by-step manner that any entrepreneur or leader can then follow.

I call it the Triple-E Growth Engine, and it’s the culmination of all the entrepreneurial lessons that I’ve learned, distilled in an easy-to-follow framework. This is the framework that I use to mentor the entrepreneurs and founders that I work with.

The Triple-E Growth Engine is made up of 3 components:

Envision

This is the base of the Growth Engine. Everything starts with the vision that the entrepreneur or founder has in their mind. The key is to translate the vision into an executable strategy. Many businesses face problems finding clients or having cash-flows issues or getting more sales. The Envision pillar of the Growth Engine refines and re-defines the business so that these problems are no longer an issue. For leaders in general, a clear vision is bedrock to your business success. If you have no idea where you’re going – you’re going to be in for a rude awakening when you find you’ve been digging in the wrong place from the start.

Empower

Once Envision is worked on properly, the entrepreneur or founder will find a greater sense of clarity and purpose moving forward. This is then when we work on the 2nd pillar of the Growth Engine: Empower. I teach them how to attract the talent that the business needs to build and retain an A-star team. Most importantly, I also show them how to work together as a team of one instead of working together as a group of individuals. Culture fit and foundational intellect are nothing to snuff at. It can make or break the dynamics and operations of your team if you overlook it.

Execute

After the first two pillars, we look at the third, which is Execute. This is an insanely powerful pillar. However, if the first two aren’t done properly, it’ll be like having a world champion taking part in a running race, but running in the wrong direction. I show founders and entrepreneurs the tools and systems and frameworks that I learned and used in my business to create legendary levels of efficiency, focus, and incessant growth. This creates an unstoppable momentum that absolutely crushes goals that the business has. One of these tools is to use SOPs and a hierarchy chart to align your operations to move without your involvement. Leaders need to avoid playing the role of a technician too often and leave those bits to the experts. Leaders need to focus on the big picture and execute on the vision. Period.

If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting out or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?

For the off-chance of it sounding cliche, leaders absolutely need to be crystal clear on their vision. Your vision dictates how your company or team culture is, and how you differentiate yourself from your competition. It will also translate into determining what pain points of your customers or stakeholders you’ll want to work on as a priority.

It is so easy to be focused on the wrong things. For example, a lot of new business ideas focus on solving problems that don’t exist, instead of creating solutions to ones already faced by people.

Without having the right vision, you’ll find it incredibly difficult and frustrating to find a foothold in the market. You’ll find that few customers will be interested in what you have to offer, and you’ll find that you’ll have all sorts of business issues, such as cash flow problems and worries about meeting payroll.

Some basic questions to ask yourself:

  • Who am I serving?
  • What are my top priorities?
  • Do I know my next steps?
  • What does my A-Team to accomplish these look like?

What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?

I personally believe servant leadership is something every leader should try and adopt. Potentially, I feel it could be the best form of leadership there is. Even while growing Vodien, I believed that my role as a leader was to serve, not just my customers, but also my employees.

Leadership and culture come from the top. How you respond to and treat your team members will shape the way they become and by osmosis treat your end customers. This shaped the way that our company culture was, and I continually looked at putting my employees’ needs and development as a priority, even above my own needs at times. That meant pushing my teams to grow professionally, think critically, and to enable them to produce their best work while working with me.

I believe if you are not invested in your team, you won’t be able to get the feedback and commitment that will help propel you to greater heights as a leader.

As such, servant leadership has been a huge part of my leadership and life philosophy. Recently, I’ve been demonstrating that I live my life by the values and traits that I continually highlight.

I am very vocal about my philosophy to leadership and I’ve received very positive responses for this brand of leadership. Granted it’s worked well for me, I acknowledge that it might not work in its entirety for everyone else. Yet, I don’t see why not.

My new obsession is to create valuable content for my audience. Every time I receive their words of thanks for the content that I share, it energises me to give much more. That’s the kind of feeling I hope every leader can experience. When you get more as you give more unconditionally.

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

In my first business, I went around without a clear plan of what to do. It’s sort of like feeling around in the dark. I know most leaders have been there. It’s a dark place where you just go with the motions and hope that things play out.

Having a strong mental game and framework or paradigm to follow is key to eliminating this from happening.

Whether you might want to try my Triple-E system or you adhere to your own, the best leaders to my knowledge all have their own mental models that lead them to success.

It’s never just a ‘throw things at a wall and see what sticks’ approach. It might be my developer background, but I believe that we can create systems to help us organise many aspects of our lives. Using frameworks to help us achieve our goals in leadership is one of them.

Create your own system or adopt someone else’s. You’ll find that it adds a lot of clarity to your journey ahead.

As a leader, you’ll regularly face situations where you need to get buy-in against the odds. How would you overcome a hurdle like this?

I’ve been in business long enough to know that appealing only to logic won’t get you anywhere. Emotions play a big part in how we make decisions and we need to leverage that fact to have people share our views and ideas.

Understanding my stakeholders

The way I get buy-in is to first understand my stakeholders and their considerations. What might they be worried about? What might they feel about my ideas? What do they want out of this discussion?

 Incorporate into conversation

Then I have to piece together a cohesive proposal that not just addresses the benefits of the solution that I’m proposing, but also tackles the priorities and considerations that my audience has.

For example, if I was leading a product team, I might propose a project that would require 6 months of R&D before the launch of a commercially-ready product. I’ll not only have to get the buy-in from engineering but also the buy-in of the finance team, who might be more risk-averse.

As these two groups of people are inherently very different. A one-size-fits-all approach might cause some backlash.

Show feasibility and handle objections

One trick I love to use is to include details like finances. This gives people some level of assurance that decisions are measured and that there are no hidden flaws in the plan we haven’t discussed. I’d research exactly how much the whole project will cost, and cover a few examples of how risks are mitigated. Any other reasons for them to say no will also be taken into consideration when preparing my story.

Getting buy-in is like a dance. We need this person to dance with us too if not it’ll just be a solo performance. For that to happen, their needs have to be taken care of so that they feel safe enough to participate.

What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?

Ideas can hit you in a split-second and you’ll need to be prepared to document them on the fly.

I use StandardNotes a lot, which is free for most use-cases. The reason why I use a plain-text-based note-taking system like StandardNotes is that I like to keep things simple. Plain-text syncs fast, the system operates cross-platform, and if I want to, I can always export my notes out anytime. I keep my to-do list, my thoughts, and even my bookmarks in StandardNotes.

How can people connect with you?

Instagram: @alvinpohofficial
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alvinpoh
Website: www.AlvinPoh.com
Facebook: @alvinpohofficial

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