Walk us through the items in your bag. What is it about these items that speaks to the person you are?
First and foremost, the most important item in my bag is my MacBook Air. I can’t imagine life without it and am constantly reminded of the importance of design by it. I love everything about it. The sticker “design, build, test and refine” encapsulates the design thinking approach which my company Givola Labs (www.givola.com) practices. The yellow jerry can logo is that of Charity: Water which is my favorite charity in the world. I love how they run like a startup and 100% of the donations are used to fund water projects.
I carry a notebook to jot down all ideas, inspirations and tasks during the day. It helps me organize my thoughts in a better way. And I carry a simple water bottle just to make sure I have water when I need it. I am not a big fan of buying water in plastic bottles. I always carry Givola Labs business cards with me as I meet a lot of new people during my work day and at events I attend. I truly believe the quote behind my business card “The world is but canvas to our imaginations” and I think it dictates the approach I have in life.
Tell us the story of Givola Labs. How did it come about?
I graduated from National University of Singapore in August 2009. I had spent a year in Silicon Valley in 2008 and I had already been bit by the proverbial “entrepreneurial bug”. I had started a hobby project called GIVE.sg (now GIVE.asia) on the side to help charities in Singapore empower their donors to raise funds and awareness on their behalf. The project had received good initial traction so when I graduated, my co-founder and I decided to continue working on it full-time. GIVE.sg has now grown to https://GIVE.asia and is one of the largest online charity and personal fundraising platform. It has raised over SGD 10M for various good causes and people in need. Last year in 2015, my co-founder and I decided that we could put our knowledge of building online platforms and products to use by doing consulting work for clients. We started a new company called Givola Labs last year in August 2015 and since then we have not looked back. We work with numerous startups, SMEs, MNCs, government bodies as well as nonprofits all over the globe. We now have our team members spread across multiple locations like Singapore, Vietnam, Russia, Ukraine and Thailand to name a few.
What are some principles/ideas you live by? How do you translate them to the work you do?
Explore what intrigues you: I am curious about new people, places and things. My role at GIVE.asia as well as Givola Labs is outward facing. I attend a lot of events, meet a lot of new people, go to conferences and travel to new places for work. This puts me in places where I am constantly exposed to new ideas. I wear the explorer hat and this has worked out well for me personally as well as for the company.
Act on your curiosity: In 2008, I was curious why charities in Singapore still used antiquated ways of collecting funds via flag days when there was a much more efficient, convenient channel in Internet. The search for answers led me to interviewing around 50 charities and concluding that there was a need for a platform like GIVE.asia. Similarly in 2015, I heard about the lack of technology, design and innovation support from a lot of people who were starting out as technology entrepreneurs. This led me to co-found Givola Labs with my business partner to address that gap. By acting on my curiosity and searching for answers, I have been able to uncover business opportunities.
Care for your roots: I put in a lot of effort to maintain my well-being. So I always focus on eating well, sleeping, exercising and meditating. At work, I also set aside some time to reflect on my actions and asking “why I do what I do” so I have complete clarity. Having clarity on the purpose of my work, allows me to be full present and tackle the challenges in front of me.
Success is no accident: I remember while I was growing up my Dad used to say “You get what you deserve, not what you desire”. I think there is a lot of merit in the statement. By accepting that there are no shortcuts to success and the path to success is a long one, I am able to laugh through tough times and overcome pain, fear and laziness. At work, I put in a lot of energy and effort to achieve success. I don’t hold back and will travel, live out of a suitcase for days and do whatever it takes to win.
Do you have morning rituals? How do you typically prepare for a busy day?
My day starts with a quick workout followed by ten minutes of meditation. I start the day with a big breakfast and delay checking the phone until I am ready to start work for the day. Typically I plan for the next day the previous night. So in the morning, I look through all the things that I need to do for the day. I like to start with the most difficult and important task as the first thing in the day. I like “eating the frog” first thing in the morning as it makes the rest of the day much simpler and straightforward in comparison.
Does the concept of storytelling inform the way you approach a project at Givola?
GIVE.asia is about people supporting beneficiaries in need by raising funds or awareness. Storytelling plays a big role in inspiring people to support a beneficiary. Inspiration to do good stems out of empathy that is built using stories. At GIVE.asia, we are always exploring ways in which we can tell better stories to get more people adopt the giving lifestyle.
Give us a sneak peek into your daily media diet.
First Round Review (http://firstround.com/review/)
Hacker News (https://news.ycombinator.com/)
(Given that National Day is around the corner) What aspect of Singapore inspires/excites you? Do you have a favourite memory/anecdote about this country that illustrates this?
I moved to Singapore at the age of 16 and I feel very fortunate to be here having spent almost half of my life in this amazing country. What has always excited me most about Singapore and still continues to do so is its agility coupled with its harmony. Singapore as a country is always in experimentation mode and it moves really fast to adapt itself to the changing world. For example I am in awe of the entrepreneurial eco-system that hardly existed in 2009 when I graduated yet now Singapore is a hotbed of innovation and is recognized as a global player. While we continue to compete in the global economy and innovate relentlessly, I am pleased that as a society Singapore is putting more resources in helping the disadvantaged and the less-privileged. On GIVE.asia, every month I see hundreds of campaigns created by people to help others. In today’s world where globally we are witnessing so many countries being fractured due to racial and ethnic differences, it is heartwarming that Singapore has stood together to maintain religious and racial harmony. I hope we continue working together as one people to improve our nation, our region and our world.