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!

 

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.

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

Ways to Convince and Switch a Tough Crowd

Every time you go up on stage to speak to the audience, it’s ultimately to establish and develop a good relationship with them. To win the heart of the audience is to gain their trust and their respect all while providing engagement and credible information during a speech.

With that being said however, most speakers worry about whether their audience will like them or not – especially when they have to speak to a tough crowd.

How to Approach Tough Audience Members 

These tough audiences can come in many forms. They’re either unimpressed, unconvinced or  will jump at any opportunity to scrutinise and judge your every action. If not, they could just be plain uninterested.

This is every speaker’s worse nightmare. But while it can be daunting to face these groups of people, there are ways you can get them to switch to your side. All you need is a lot of determination, patience and effort.

So let’s start with knowing the audience. In order to get a tough audience to switch, it’s important that we understand what type of tough audience members we can typically find. This is so we can frame our presentations to adapt to their needs.

Here are the four types of difficult audience members and how to approach them:

1. The Entertainer

Just like their label, they love the social part of public speaking and this is often more important to them than listening to you. They participate by offering comments and questions to entertain and make the attention shift towards them rather than on the speaker.

At times, they can be of great entertainment but if you’re trying to bring up or convey a serious issue, their energy can undermine your efforts.

Here’s how to identify one:

  • They constantly promote themselves
  • They crack jokes

How to Handle This Type:

a) Bite Your Tongue

Do not challenge them unless you wish to make a new enemy. Resist the temptation to give a witty comeback or to crush his or her ego. Instead, be polite and answer their question before quickly moving on.

b) Leverage On Their Energy Skilfully

Sometimes, it’s okay to direct the attention towards the entertainer. Keep them involved by constantly asking questions and giving plenty of eye contact. However, to give the other audience members a chance to participate as well, only ask the entertainers a very specific type of question.

If that doesn’t work, cut short any comments that do not relate to the question.

c) Maintain an Easygoing Approach

Avoid being too serious or you’ll seem like a wet blanket. It’s okay to go with the flow with the entertainer at times. You can laugh at their jokes and give your audience some fun via this entertainer.

This helps give your audience a break – especially when the topic is difficult, complex or boring – before pulling them back to focus.

d) Bring Them Back on Track

Sometimes your talk may require the scene to be much more serious due to the depth of the issue. To ensure, that the entertainer does not lead the talk out of point, gently get them on track by mentioning the purpose of your speech and how you’d prefer the audience to behave.

2. The Rock

This person does not budge. Literally. No matter how much you try to engage with them, they won’t respond or provide any sort of reaction at all.

This is because they’re often socially anxious and will try to avoid participating or interacting in speeches. Despite so, these very people are also aware of how you, the speaker, behaves towards them.

How to Identify One:

  • Shy
  • Lack of response
  • Not expressive
  • Does not like to participate

How to Handle This Type:

a) Do Not Assume

You won’t get much opinions or questions asked from a room full of these individuals, but don’t judge a book by its cover – they may not necessarily dislike or are bored of what you have say to say. This brings me to my next point.

b) Warm Them Up

Try welcoming them into the room with a smile on your face, so they’ll feel much more comfortable and relaxed. This creates a positive environment which makes them much more keen to voice out their opinions as well.

c) Ask for their thoughts

The Rocks are usually the most reflective members of an audience. Due to their detachment from the group, their opinions and thoughts are mostly unbiased and offer a fresh perspective into your topic or issue.

3. The Critic

This audience member is every speaker’s nightmare because all it takes is one mistake. One mistake and these people will jump on you like a pack of hyenas that finally cornered its prey. They will scrutinise your every detail and action before they deem you as a trustworthy or credible speaker.

How to Identify One: 

  • “Hi yes, I noticed that the second slide with the third paragraph overlaps the fifth paragraph with the second column on the first row”
  • Constantly questions your every intention while looking you up head to toe in scrutiny
  • Has a hostile or cynical attitude towards you or your topic

How to Handle This Type:

a) Welcome Them:

Listen to their comments and do your best to work with them rather than restricting them. This not only enables an open discussion; you may even get to gain a few insights from another person’s perspective as well.

In the end, they will also perceive you as a humble speaker who believes that their opinions matter too.

b) Agree with Them

If you still firmly believe your opinions are right, it’s okay to provide reasonable and tangible evidence to support your point. Just, make sure to do so in a calm and objective manner to avoid sounding defensive.

4. The Rebel

The rebel is basically someone who just wants to disagree with everything you have to say. Their reason for opposing you can vary. Sometimes it’s because they just hate your guts or worse – they do it because they think it’s fun to make the speaker squirm.

Either way, it’s important not to let them push your buttons or all the effort you’ve built for your image and credibility as a speaker will be thrown out the window just like that.

How to Identify One:

  • When You say the sky is blue, they yell back in protest, “No! Look out the window! It’s grey!”
  • Constantly finding ways to irritate you with irrelevant questions or statements

How to Handle This Type:

a) Turn the Tables

Most comics deal with this type by turning them into the target of the joke. This is good if you are naturally very good when it comes to improvised humour.

b) Do Not React

These types of individuals’ main goal are to fire you up so the worse think you can do is to let your emotions get the better of you.

One very quick way to stop them from constantly finding ways to get under your skin is to just stare at him or her with a neutral expression. They will eventually grow more irritated instead of the other way round since you’re not falling for their trap.

Winning Your Audience’s Trust

Now you know what to expect from the type of audience members you will be facing, it’s also equally important to know what you can do to gain their trust as a whole.

According to experts, trust affects a speaker’s credibility. This is because your audience view trustworthiness as your motivation to be truthful. Furthermore, gaining trust often makes audiences believe in your message as well.

Hence, here are the 7 Tips to help gain the trust and respect of your audience:

1. Embrace the ‘tough crowd’ 

“Embrace each challenge in your life as a an opportunity for self-transformation”  -Bernie Siegel

We all have to face a tough crowd at least once in our lives. It’s inevitable. But, instead of seeing this as a challenge, try turning the table around so that it works in your favour.

Come onto the stage with a positive mindset and approach them like they’re the best crowd you’ve spoken to. The key is to look at every laugh or any sort of interest in your speech as a gift. Think this way: Every laugh or moment a listener engages in your presentation is an affirmation that you’re doing my job.

Focus on what is working and put your insecurities and doubt aside. This is so you can free up your mind to work on the good things and go from there.

2. Don’t take it personally

So far, we’ve been talking about how you can gain the heart of your audience. But one sure fire way to lose them forever is to take their comments to heart.

We, as humans, are naturally driven by emotions. But sometimes, letting them get in the way prevents us from establishing a good relationship with our audience. To ensure this does not happen, focus on the result that you’re looking for and not on how the process is making you feel, or whether the person offended you.

Although this sounds simple, it’s easier said than done. This is especially so when we encounter a rude and unreasonable individual that steps out of line. Don’t stoop to their level. Instead, take a deep breath, remain calm and try to deal with this individual patiently.

In return, the audience will realise that you are being treated unfairly. Not only that, the audience will have a better and positive image of you as well. The rude individual on the other hand, will look like a jerk as a result.

3. Addressing the Elephant in the Room

There will be a point in time where something unexpected happens or the audience knows something embarrassing or controversial about you.

For example, it could be someone in the crowd that was insulting or throwing food at you before you could speak or a ‘scandal’ that you allegedly got into.

Either way, it creates an awkward atmosphere between you and audience. Hence why you should address it even more to get it out of the way.

If not, you risk losing your audience’s attention because they’re too preoccupied by the unspoken issue that you did not clear before your speech. This ‘elephant’ that surrounds the room is what’s hindering them from paying attention in the first place.

President Barack Obama strongly believes in this saying. He openly acknowledges his discomforts which often include his race, his ‘funny name’ and the fact that his father comes from a developing part of the world and once lived in a hut.

This is an uncomfortable topic for him as his background may make him seem less eligible than the other leaders in America.

Despite the discomforts he faces, he still addresses them head on with humour, easing the comfort of those to whom he speaks. The outcome? He successfully manages to lead his audience back to his main point.

4. Show you understand

No one and I repeat no one likes to be told that ‘they don’t understand’. So when someone in the audience decides to challenge your idea, don’t fight it; embrace it. Say: ‘Tell me more’ so you can have an effective, enlightening and calm discussion.

This will show your effort in trying to understand your audience and you are doing so by addressing their concerns.

Here’s an added tip: constantly ask for their opinion or thoughts from time to time. This makes them feel wanted and appreciated as they feel that what they say matters to you as a speaker.

5. Find the common ground 

A famous speaker for this is none other than former US President, Barack Obama. He has the uncanny ability to bring people together despite their differences. His method is simple, and it’s to focus on the similarities of him and his audience. This is how he manages to bring people of different backgrounds, race and ethnicity together.

So when you’re about to present, always ask yourself what are the shared beliefs, values, message or opinion you and your audience can agree on. This can help you gain their trust, flipping them from a tough crowd to future loyal fans.

Here’s a famous ‘I have a dream’ speech by Dr Martin Luther King Junior that brought people together despite their differences:

In this video, Dr King kept using the words, ‘I have a dream,’ before bringing his audience together with a common vision – the dream and the hope for a brighter future for America regardless of race, language or religion. This shared vision helped unite these people despite their differences in beliefs and values. 

6. Through storytelling techniques 

According to experts, recent scientific work is putting a much stronger emphasis on how stories change individuals’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.

It has been scientifically proven that stories engage more parts of our brain as compared to data and statistics. Our brains activate on all our five senses which allows us to broaden our imagination and be part of the story itself.

If used correctly, storytelling can be a very powerful communication tool due to its ability to connect, gain the trust of and pique interest amongst the audience.

One example of a simple yet extremely effective storytelling technique is none other than ‘The Hero’s Journey Approach. This technique has a proven framework that never fails to keep your audience glued to their seats!

Here’s a video of Sir Ken Robinson talking about how school kills creativity. In the talk, he makes use of storytelling techniques to engage and hook his audience.

You’ll notice that he makes references through the story of others such as Picasso as well as his own personal stories to build rapport with his audience.

7. Ace your Q&A

It’s vital you Master the Art of Q&A. Many speakers are intimidated in this area but who wouldn’t be? It’s unchartered territory since you can’t know the questions that will be coming your way.

In short, this session will demonstrate whether you truly know your stuff.

This is the crucial moment where you either gain the trust and loyalty of your audience, or you completely lose them and your credibility. Essentially, it’s the segment of your talk where a two-way dialogue takes place. It’s not just a matter of conveying the message – it’s also receiving on your end as well.

In Q&A sessions, you may face a difficult questioner from time to time. In this setting, it’s important you know how to respond knowledgeably, calmly, and confidently. Don’t fear this obstacle but rather, embrace it. If you understand your content from the presentation, it’ll be half the battle won. All that’s left to do is to prepare questions to anticipate in advance and practice.

Summing It Up

So there you have it! These are the ways to handle and convince a tough crowd. Identify and understand the behaviours of a tough audience member so you can best approach them without compromising your credibility and image as a speaker.

Seize the opportunity to convince and switch a tough crowd with these tips:

  1. Identify the type of tough audience members
  2. Understand their behaviours and patterns
  3. React and approach them accordingly
  4. Embrace the problem and turn it into an opportunity
  5. Don’t take things to heart and dare to address the issues or problems
  6. Find common ground and show you understand your audience
  7. Engage your audience through storytelling
  8. Build your credibility through Q&A

Leave a comment below if you’ve applied these tips and if it worked for you!

The Ultimate List Of Resources For Effective Leadership

“Your true test as a leader is to inspire greatness when mediocrity is acceptable.”

– Dan Waldschmidt

Quotes like this get people pumped to be effective leaders. Yet it is no easy feat.

Indeed, some qualities required for effective leadership has stood the test of time, such as decisiveness and conflict resolution.

On the other hand, technological advances and a globalised marketplace has called out for new leadership skills in order to thrive. For instance, being able to communicate compelling missions in the midst of top talents is a highly-demanded skill globally.  

In this list, we have highlighted top skills needed for effective leadership in the modern age, accompanied by useful resources for further reading.

To break it down, they are:

  • Providing Clarity & Ambition In Your Vision
  • Sharing Captivating Narratives Through Storytelling
  • Cutting Through The Noise With Your Authentic Voice
  • Amplifying Your Influence Through Persuasion
  • Building An All-Star Team With Hiring & Delegation
  • Developing A Compelling Online Presence
  • Building A Culture That Attracts The Best Talent

Let’s dive into it!

#1 Provide Clarity & Ambition In Your Vision

In a chaotic environment where industries are constantly experiencing disruption, strong leaders are being sought out to navigate the way for their followers.

In the above video, Simon Sinek covers the psychology behind people unifying behind a common cause. As a human species, our survival boils down to surrounding ourselves with people who believe what we believe in. That is where articulating a compelling vision comes into play.

One example was the late Steve Jobs. While he had personality flaws such as being unreasonable and eccentric, his fierce vision enabled Apple to be successful.

Leaders can learn from him by setting ambitious and clear goals that make their teams strive for causes bigger than themselves.

Here are some resources to help you craft a compelling vision: 

How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek

Why the Best Leaders Set Unreasonable Goals

Leadership Success Always Starts With Vision

3 Key Concepts For Successful Goal Setting As A Leader

#2 Share Captivating Narratives Through Storytelling

Storytelling has shifted from the bedroom to the boardroom.

Since the caveman days, storytelling has been instrumental in communicating messages. In a digital age saturated with content, it’s function is about to get even more important.

In the above video, Gary Vaynerchuck talks about how brands and people need to step up their game in telling stories. Given that we live in an attention deficit world, the volume of information we are currently consuming on a daily basis is unprecedented. Yet our attention span has shrunk drastically. With the intense competition for attention, crafting compelling stories is your best bet to breaking through of the noise and reach your audience.

Here are some resources to charm your audience through storytelling: 

How to Use Storytelling as a Leadership Tool

7 Tips For Storytelling As A Leader

Storytelling As An Effective PowerPoint Alternative

#3 Cut Through The Noise With Your Authentic Voice

More than ever, leaders are being closely scrutinised. Media platforms like Twitter and blogging had lowered the barriers between them and the public drastically.

Imagine this – You can actually tweet President Obama!

With the lines between your public persona and private self are blurring, this calls for leaders to be congruent and authentic.

In the above video, Brene Brown shares about her studies in human connection – our ability to love, belong and connect. In order to facilitate this, we need to tell stories that builds rapport with our audience. In particular, telling stories that expose our vulnerability.

In contrast to the majority who attempt to pass off as “perfect” online, you give people the gift of viewing you as a multi-dimensional human being.

Hence sharing your vulnerabilities and candid perspectives allows you to build a deep connection with your audience rapidly. This allows them to great connect with your cause at a deeper level.  

Here are some resources to connect with your authentic voice: 

The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown

Managing Authenticity: The Paradox of Great Leadership

9 Ways Amazing Leaders Demonstrate Real Authenticity

#4 Amplify Your Influence Through Persuasion

In the above video, Julian Treasure speaks about how to compel people to listen to you. As the sound expert, he demonstrates some useful vocal exercises and shares tips on how to speak with empathy. This moves practitioners towards a sonorous world of listening and understanding.

In an environment full of competition and distractions, you need persuasion to convince people to join your cause. Hence regardless of what industry you belong to, you are constantly selling.

You are selling to your investors why they should trust that your business will pay back dividends, instead of other available investment opportunities.

You are selling to your customers why they should buy your products, instead of other competitive offerings in the marketplace.

You are selling to your employees why they should work for your company, instead of other companies offering better perks and bonuses.

Here are some resources to help you increase your influence through persuasion: 

9 Habits of Persuasive Business Leaders

The Necessary Art of Persuasion

6 Universal Methods That Will Help You Master the Art of Persuasion

#5 Build An All-Star Team With Delegation & Hiring

In the above video, Joel Gascoigne talks about his journey when growing Bufferapp. One of the key factors that allowed Buffer to grow quickly was through assembling a team of ‘A’ players.

Remember – Great thing are built by teams, not individuals.

Rather than capping your potential based on your individual brilliance, building an all-star team can help expedite your progress towards success.

With outsourcing and collaborative tools emerging, the possibilities are becoming endless. This calls for more decisive yet flexible management styles.

Startups like Todoist and Buffer have popularised remote teams. It will be interesting to observe how other leaders manage this phenomena in the coming years.

Here are some resources to help you manage an effective team: 

How Startup Todoist Manages A Global Team

Successful Delegation: Using the Power of Other People’s Help

T-Shaped Stars: The Backbone of IDEO’s Collaborative Culture

What It’s Really Like To Grow A Team When You’re Focused on Culture-Fit

#6 Develop A Compelling Online Presence

In the above video, Seth Godin talks about the important of Personal Branding. There are three paths to discovering your business: The Company Brand, The Product Offering and Personal Brand.

For instance, people might buy a MacBook Air (Product) from Apple (Company) because they felt impacted by Steve Jobs (Person). By highlighting the people behind the brand, you de-commoditise the business and avoid competing on pricing within the market.

In addition we live in two worlds – the online and the offline.

Hence it is not uncommon for people to search you up online before meeting you in person. As famously said ‘You are who Google says you are.’ Hence you need compelling digital assets such as a LinkedIn profile and website to position your brand.

Yet it is not enough to simply build compelling digital profiles. You need to pour in effort into social networking to grow your connection base. In addition sharing industry-relevant insights helps position you as a thought leader.  

Here are some resources to help you create a compelling online presence: 

5 Ways Leaders Can Be More Like-able On Social Media

Build Thought Leadership Through Social Networking

7 Ways Social Media Has Changed Leadership

#7 Build A Culture That Attracts The Best

Attracting and retaining the best talent is key to leadership. In the above video, Vishen Lakhiani shares about his hiring philosophy at Mindvalley. Rather than enticing employees with high wages, he creates an environment where he can grow and have fun. 

This new mindset switch is especially critical with the global competition for talent. Collaborative tools such as Slack and Skype enables companies to access talent without geographic restrictions.

Beyond providing attractive pay packages and perks such as sleeping pods, you need to build a culture where employees enjoy working in.

Perhaps it’s best you draw inspiration out of these inspiring companies – AirBnB, Zappos and Hubspot.

Here are some resources to help you attract the best talent: 

Don’t Fu*k Up the Culture by AirBnB

The Happiness Culture: Zappos Isn’t a Company — It’s a Mission

The HubSpot Culture Code: Creating a Company We Love

To Recap…

So there you have it – A comprehensive list of resources to follow if you wish to be an effective leader in the modern age.

Just to recap, essential skills to effective leadership includes:

  • Providing Clarity & Ambition In Your Vision
  • Sharing Captivating Narratives Through Storytelling
  • Cutting Through The Noise With Your Authentic Voice
  • Amplifying Your Influence Through Persuasion
  • Building An All-Star Team With Hiring & Delegation
  • Developing A Compelling Online Presence
  • Building A Culture That Attracts The Best Talent

From how we see it, the digital transformation has demanded that leaders step up their game. To be more accountable, empathetic, authentic and human.

This comes with the opportunity to connect with a wider audience and lift people to greater heights.

That to me is pretty exciting, don’t you think so?

Are there any articles, videos or slide deck we should include in this list? Do give us a heads up in the comments below, we would love to check it out.