PRESENTED BY MASSIMO DUTTI, AS SEEN IN HARPER’S BAZAAR SINGAPORE AUGUST 2016
Armed with elegance, intellect and an innovative state of mind, these six trailblazers zoomed in on their passions, and, today, they stand out for how they have changed the game.
What are the secrets to a startup’s success?
The startup journey is one of the most difficult paths to be on, so resilience is key. The good news is that resilience is a muscle that you can train and build with time and practice. Secondly, the best startups I know are relentless in solving a problem; not in chasing fame, power or money. Those come as by-products of one’s success. And lastly, never run out of cash—plan ahead and stay focused on what’s important.
What sparked the decision to launch The Hub Singapore?
It was inspired by the fear, rejection and loneliness I felt when I started my first company at the age of 24. The closest people around me, out of protective instincts, discouraged me from taking risks. That didn’t make sense to me—young people who want to redefine success on their own terms and timing should be encouraged and connected to one another. I then pursued an MBA where I focused on innovation ecosystems, spent time in Silicon Valley, and came back to Singapore to start the Asian outpost of The Hub in 2012.
How is The Hub changing the way we work?
It is a pioneering co-working space and community—we’re restructuring the way people work and in a way, how society can be organised. We provide a dynamic shared workspace where people can network and bounce ideas off each other, enabling valuable partnerships between entrepreneurs, corporates and individuals needed to start a startup [like lawyers or venture capitalists]. This could catapult an idea or career. Our tagline is “We sell courage, not real estate.”
Is work-life balance a thing of the past to you?
Yes, I don’t believe in the divide between personal and professional anymore—everything is personal. I believe in finding harmony rather than balance, because balance signifies 50:50, but what if you are your best version at 80:20? It’s about finding what works for you, and bringing passion and presence into everything you do—so work doesn’t feel like work anymore. It feels more like a mission.
Grace wears a nappa biker jacket, $525; halter neck jumpsuit, $175; leather heels, 195; crossbody bag (on table), $165.
What are the highlights of being an entrepreneur?
I’m a problem solver by nature, so I love the challenge of running a hotel. It’s also inspiring when people come up to me and tell me what they love about the hotel, like how much they love the cocktails at Bar Vagabond. It just means I’ve done my job right, which is a satisfying feeling. We’re currently the number three hotel in Singapore on TripAdvisor—that’s a highlight for sure!
How is hôtel vagabond changing the game?
hôtel vagabond has come to be known for catalysing a real conversation around the arts in Singapore—we’re the only hotel here to have an Artist-in-Residence programme. It’s not just the stay, it’s about the whole immersion in art—beyond the static wall displays or the beautiful furnishings—from the connection between mind and palate at our bar, to the live performances we host and the music we play, whether live or the playlists left behind by previous resident artists. The Salon in particular is a space where artists from Singapore and all over the world interact with guests as they wish.
What’s the secret to your success?
Education is so important. It builds up your confidence about yourself and what you do, and provides the tools and leverage to better yourself and others. I trained and worked as a lawyer, and that made me confident that I have the ability to pick up any skills to thrive in any industry.
What’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs out there?
Nothing is impossible if you surround yourself with the right team. I work with a group of amazing women and men, and together I feel we can accomplish anything.
What’s next for you?
hôtel vagabond is part of the bigger brand Garcha Hotels, with properties from Singapore to Santiago, Chile. We’ve got an exciting new hotel opening shortly in Singapore, another in Santiago and potentially one in ReykjavÍk, Iceland.
Harpreet wears a crêpe suit jacket, $225; silk shirt, $135; dark blue crêpe trousers, $135; stone and ring necklace, $75; leather sandals, $195.
Describe your work day.
My work day feels like a nano second because there’s so much going on. I oversee fund raising and the strategic direction of the company combined with day-to-day operations such as sales and marketing, talent acquisition and product development. We launched Perx 2.0 in July: A new app, new SaaS (Software as a Service) platform, with completely new technology. We’ve evolved our business from being a lifestyle-only loyalty app to a much greater focus on the enterprise.
How do you hope to impact the industry?
I want to demonstrate to other tech leaders and entrepreneurs that you can grow an enterprise software startup from something good to great. After my Echelon Asia Summit presentation, someone said to me, “Thank you for bringing sexy back to B2B,” because so much attention has been given to B2C startups. Perx is a predictive and intuitive mobile customer engagement platform that helps transform the way enterprises engage with their customers and manage their merchants to improve customer experience and to boost conversion and retention results that they have been challenged with for years now.
What challenges do you have to overcome daily?
Working in a startup is like a roller coaster ride. You’ll be overcome with chaos and uncertainty, which is why you need to be flexible and resilient to embrace that sense of crashing and burning, and be emotionally removed from the highs and lows to prove you’ve got that survival skill and to solve problems with composure and professional finesse.
What advice would you offer budding entrepreneurs?
Take a deep breath, have fun and embrace the journey; don’t let a few failures or mistakes discourage you; and find mentors to guide you along the way. Also, hire slow and fire fast—startups don’t have the luxury to try people out. Hire a strong initial core team who share your vision; and know when to pivot by adopting and adapting to new market requirements. And, always find a way to give back to the community.
Anna wears a twill blazer, $175; floral maxi dress, $225; bracelet with plates, $39; leather belt, $49; fabric wedges, $195.
How would you sum up your strengths as a curator?
The experience I’ve gained from each project lays the groundwork for the next. When I began curating, I worked on international touring exhibitions coming into Singapore, as well as curating local and regional artists. One might say the two have converged in recent projects, [with me] bringing Asian artists abroad.
What direction do you see Asian art heading towards?
What I think has been and continues to be exciting is how artworks and practices of contemporary artists in Asia speak to global issues from the perspective of the region.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on some research and writing. My contribution to the arts scene is in drawing attention to what the arts and artists have to offer. This is not just about having an aesthetic experience. It is also to point to the significance of art and culture in our lives, how we understand the world around us, and what we then do as individuals and as a community.
What are the highs and lows of working in the art world?
Due to the nature of my projects, I have travelled quite a bit, both in Asia and beyond. Through travel, I am exposed to a range of markedly different situations—from the high life of the world of art collecting, to the challenges and hardships faced by the artists, and the realities that inspire their artworks, which themselves can be quite raw. In encountering these experiences, one needs to be adaptable, and to also know that there is always something new to learn.
If you had one superpower, what would it be?
If we go the fictional route, I’d say flight. It would be useful when setting up exhibitions and in going places.
June wears an ecru jacket, $225; top with side slits, $125; jogging trousers, $135; feather necklace, $49; laminated sandals, $175.
What impact have you had on the tech industry?
As the first woman chairperson of the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation, my goal was to reinforce its three strategic pillars, namely to be the voice of the industry, to drive market creation, and promote innovations and enhance capabilities. And in my tenure as the first chairwoman for the Singapore Science Centre, we have successfully boosted visitor reach and won many regional awards.
As one of the co-founders of Galboss Asia, how do you see it helping women entrepreneurs?
We see Galboss Asia as a catalyst; a movement that will rapidly accelerate growth in women-run businesses. The Galboss Asia Symposium is the first of its kind in Asia, and will present engaging talks, inspirational stories and tactical insight from a mix of successful entrepreneurs; and provide a space and dialogue to help budding ones overcome business challenges and forge valuable connections.
What is power to you?
I subscribe to the idea of servant leadership, where the leader starts with the position of wanting to serve first. I also believe we gain power and influence by advancing the interests of others—it’s always paradoxical. Organisations are shifting away from hierarchical leadership to more horizontal forms of power, where strategy and action emerge more organically.
How important is work-life balance to you?
I’m a big proponent of it. I believe in being 100 percent present wherever I am—at work, I devote my energy to the business issues at hand; at home, my husband and four children take precedence. But don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes in either area. We women can be too demanding of ourselves; no one is perfect, take things as they come.
Yen Yen wears a leather blazer, $525; silk camisole, $95; linen pants, $135; metal necklace, $49; leather sandals, $195.
What led you to nanomedicine?
I’ve always enjoyed reading about science. I did a two-week medical internship at a local hospital when
I was in college, and realised my inclinations were not directed towards being a medical practitioner—I felt compelled to work on solving healthcare problems. As a PhD student, I learnt about the disruptive potential of nanotechnology in medicine and haven’t looked back since.
Can you elaborate on your current projects?
My research group is designing nanoparticles that can be used to deliver drugs to treat cancer. The nanoparticles we design have stealth features that enable them to evade detection by the immune system. In doing so, more drugs can be delivered directly to the tumour, eradicating it more completely.
In what ways do you hope to inspire others through your work, especially women?
I have given many talks to encourage young women to take on science careers. Only 27 percent of women in Singapore are in science, according to national figures. I also publish a science and technology magazine called Asian Scientist, which to date has profiled thousands of amazing scientists from the region. Without such a platform to highlight the amazing science from Asia, much of the good work may go unnoticed around the world.
How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
First, support at home—I have good help, a wonderful mother who drops by almost daily to care for my young kids, and a supportive husband. Second, delegate aggressively. This frees up my time to think of new ideas and self manage tougher projects. Third, time management. I make a priority list every morning and have learnt that it isn’t rude to say “no” to opportunities that simply cannot fit into my schedule.
Juliana wears a leather jacket, $595; silk dress, $225; stone and plate necklace, $75; plaited platform sandals, $175.
All clothing and accessories worn throughout are from Massimo Dutti.
Interview by Dana Koh
Styling: Windy Aulia
Styling Assistant: Desiree Liew
Hair/Makeup: Toni Tan/My Make Up Academy
Shot on location at Asiatique Collections and hôtel vagabond