Creating something that matters

Emily Tan is the founder of Calla Lily, a jewellery brand, which focuses on co-creating their exquisite dazzling pieces with their clients through their stories.

In this interview, Emily shares her journey from how her first step into the world of fashion design started through where she is today – creating something that matters to her clients.

Tell us about Calla Lily and how did the name come about?

Calla Lily is my brand of fine bespoke jewellery, and the first independent brand I created after entering the bespoke jewellery scene in 2011. We pride ourselves on the stories we co-create with our clients through our pieces.

I come from long design history, having previously worked with designers that include Jimmy Choo Couture and Kara Ross New York, but Calla Lily represents a real evolution for me. The calla lily is a symbol of rebirth and change, and here, we celebrate a new beginning, an opportunity to explore new directions. The trumpet-shaped flower borrows its name from the Greek word for most beautiful and symbolises triumph and strength, which aligns with the brand’s values.

Creating something that matters

Why the strong interest in gems?

As a designer, I took my first steps into fashion in footwear. I joined Jimmy Choo in London after I graduated from the London College of Fashion. Following an internship with Marni in Italy, I moved to Vietnam to work on costume jewellery. But my desire, really, was to create pieces that last. That’s why I moved back to Singapore and began designing fine bespoke jewellery and working with gems. I went to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to study, test and identify gemstones and was drawn to the beauty of gemstones. Coloured gems aren’t as easy to find in Singapore, and I liked their uniqueness – they don’t have the same uniformity you would find, say, in diamonds. I never looked back.

What were the challenges you faced when setting up your own brand and how did you overcome them?

There’s a steep learning curve when running a business as a creative and trying to stand out among the many brands out there. Hiring a good team was a big part of it – people with vision and real talent, and who can balance creativity and client needs.

What helps maintain this balance is centring our working style around co-creation and storytelling. We believe our customers can and should be a part of the design process, and fully experience how their stories get captured in their pieces. We make the time for that, and our customers really enjoy and appreciate it. That’s why so many of them return, time and time again.

Surfing your website, we see that you only see clients by appointment only. Why is it so?

It really is about putting the wearer in the centre of our design process. We want to ensure we make enough time to understand the story we’re capturing and to explore, with our client, the available options. Too much of fashion is impersonal and rushed and we’re trying to change that.

If you have to pick your best work, which would it be and why?

My best works are designs that I co-create with our clients. These are usually a combination of different ideas and sources of inspiration, and I love how they capture a story. I also enjoy breaking away from the ordinary. Right now, I am working on a bonsai-inspired piece with sliced gemstones, and different cuts of gemstones. It’s not just a piece of jewellery, but an ornament as well.

Creating something that matters

We understand that some of your clients come to you with heirlooms and older pieces that need new life. Do you see an upward trend, and why?

We’re certainly seeing more clients repurposing their jewellery – whether heirloom pieces or existing pieces. Some have heirlooms they are attached to but won’t wear simply because they don’t suit them, or tire of their old pieces. These pieces stay hidden away in a safe or a drawer.

Redesigning or repurposing a piece gives it new life – you preserve the memory associated with a piece, but it becomes a piece you enjoy wearing. There are many ways of maintaining the integrity and value of the gem while recreating how it’s set. A stone set in a ring could become a pendant, earrings could be reset into a ring, and a necklace presents infinite possibilities. The old becomes new again.

Can you walk us through what the process is like when a client wants to engage your service, and how long will it take for the jewellery to be ready?

We love to co-create. Clients tell us their stories, but also want the designer’s expert input in terms of style, setting and craft. We sometimes draw in more than one designer to introduce different possibilities. I have a keen eye for artisanal craftsmanship, my style is eclectic, and a lot of my designs are inspired by movement and nature, while Anita’s architecture background gives her a unique perspective on lines and shapes.

Our process always starts with a conversation – a client shares their story, their likes and dislikes, and we create sketches until something takes shape. Sometimes the design is also inspired by the uniqueness of a chosen stone. The process is collaborative from start to end, and we don’t rush it. That is why it is hard to say exactly how long a piece takes – it can depend on the complexity. The process can take anywhere between two months and a year.

Looking back at your entrepreneurship journey, if you can change one thing, what would you change?

I wouldn’t change a thing. The journey has taught me many lessons and I have gained experiences that have taught me how to handle different situations, and that has allowed me to grow as a person and a designer.

Lastly, what would you say to budding jewellery designers who wish to follow your footsteps?

Be open-minded and discerning, have humility and hunger, and never stop pursuing your dreams.

From working in finance to running a more than 40-year-old business

Bee Sim Pau has been around in Singapore since 1978 when its founder known as “Ah Hee” used all his savings to start what was then known as Bee Sim Snack Supplier. Fast forward to 41 years later, Bee Sim Pau has grown exponentially and its products can be found in supermarkets, restaurants, hotels and established eateries. One of the important figures behind the growth is Lee Dai Han.

Dai Han is the Managing Director of Bee Sim Pau and the second generation founder of the company. We spoke to him to find out more about his background before taking over Bee Sim Pau, how he grew the company to new heights, and what’s next.

How’s it like growing up and helping out in a family business?

The family revolves around the business, literally. I used to spend the before and after school hours in the factory. I do my homework, watch cartoons and take afternoon naps in the office. I usually spent those hours observing the workers and operation processes. Evenings before closing, I would help out with cash counting, coin-sorting etc.

As I got older, I would help out in simple operations like sorting and packing of products. I was also more interested in customer and employee relations and would listen in on my parents’ conversations relating to the business.

Due to my time growing up in the factory, I became attuned to consumerism and business planning – such as the way they operate, their strategies and their growth opportunities. An added layer of perspective when I look at the world around me.

You studied overseas and earned a Bachelor in Financial Economics (FE). Did you take this course because it’s beneficial to Bee Sim Pau?

Not really. With FE, I was looking at the bigger picture – a business world in general. Finance and economics are key elements in the world of business. I would have chosen a business programme if my school – Columbia University – had one for undergraduate students.

You did not return immediately to Singapore upon graduation. Instead, you went on to work in investment banking and ventured into renewable energy. Why?

I always knew if and when I return to Singapore, it would be to help out with the family business. Back then, my brother was already helping out so I didn’t feel an immediate need for an extra pair of hands and so I decided to gain more exposure in the States.

I was based in New York City and having the experience at one of the world’s most famous financial district would have been beneficial so I knew it was something I had to do. I think it was also a mix of interest, curiosity and peer pressure – my classmates were all getting finance or consulting positions.

How has your experience working in the US helped Bee Sim Pau upon your return?

Among other things, living overseas alone, working and subsequently venturing into business taught me how to be comfortable with uncertainty, the importance of business strategies and long-term planning. The most important lesson I learned is that everything in the business world takes time so being patient is the key to success. For example:

Operational changes are necessary but implementing those changes is a long and strenuous process.

Developing new capabilities takes time and resources so long-term planning is important.

Were expansion plans in place before you came back to Singapore or after? 

Yes, the team did a good job in putting an expansion plan in place, especially with some of the operational adjustments. When I came back, we put together a sales and marketing layer over the operational plans.

Can you share with us what goes behind the scene preparing for expanding your business, i.e. how you manage to convince restaurants, hotel chains and supermarkets to carry your brand?

I think it was pretty easy for me because of our heritage brand. The longevity of our business is a real confidence booster not just for new customers but for myself as it is a lot easier representing an established brand.

However, having a heritage brand is not always enough. We also needed to invest and strengthen our existing capabilities – for example, more refrigerated trucks, new packing equipment and materials, and meeting of new international safety standards etc.

How does Bee Sim Pau ensure the quality of its products is tip-top even when frozen?

Chilled not frozen. We don’t do frozen at the moment, all our items are chilled. We do a lot of food testing to make sure quality and safety are not compromised.

Now that Bee Sim Pau has successfully expanded its business, what’s next?

I think there’s a lot more to do ahead of us and we are constantly improving. Everywhere I go, I see opportunities for us, be it locally, regionally or internationally. Aside from revenue growth, I see technology as something I’d like to incorporate into our business.

We’re also constantly improving our operational foundation. Right now, I’m happy with the way we’re moving forward, organically at our own pace.

As Edward Abbey puts it brilliantly: ”Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

She’s a mother of one, works full-time and runs a successful side business. How?

Working on a side project is not easy, especially when you have to balance it with your full-time job, which most of the time, is the main source of income. It’s tough but manageable. In the case of, Nadia Chan, co-founder of Maiko, she holds two full-time roles – general manager in a public relations agency and a mother of one – while building up her side business.

How does she do it? Here’s Nadia’s story.

Tell us about your business and how did the name Maiko come about?

Maiko is the Singapore distributor for CANVAS. It was co-founded together with my sister Sophia to provide natural and organic solutions to women with products that contain plant extracts and aromatherapy oils.

Sophia and I learnt about the profound heritage of Maiko during our holiday in Kyoto, Japan and were intrigued by Geishas. Their graceful movements in constricting kimonos, whilst balancing on traditional wooden shoes were delicate and embodied the gentle pace of life that Kyoto enjoys. Besides the relaxing vibes they exude, their beauty, youth and purity truly resonated with CANVAS products. CANVAS restores skin’s youthful complexion with natural and organic ingredients in the purest and truest form, and they are uplifting, calming, and provide an overall sense of wellbeing.

What were the challenges you faced when setting up Maiko and how did you overcome them?

It is challenging to inch our way into the crowd especially since we operate online with no physical stores. We had to learn everything, from managing finances, building marketing materials to making the right connections, and many more. Every day is a learning curve, but the key is to focus on our passion and purpose and being resilient to find joy in the journey – the good and the bad. I think for us just being almost two years old, we are doing well. At the end of the day, we put in our 100% best to deliver to our customers, be it in service or as products. I would say the key takeaway thus far is to always keep an open mind and be ready to listen. There are no rules in business or entrepreneurship –everything lies within our hands and we craft our own success.

There are many beauty brands out there in the market, why did you choose to bring in CANVAS into Singapore?

I first came across CANVAS when Sophia began raving about the brand and how the products were more than just a formula to nourish the skin’s health, it was also uplifting for the mind, body and soul because of the aromatherapy oil content. As Sophia is someone who integrates health and wellness into her life and pays close attention to the ingredients she put on her skin, I knew I had to try the products.

I tried CANVAS as a customer and started to see the true benefits of using their skincare products. Subsequently, the opportunity to distribute CANVAS in Singapore was sent right to our doorstep and needless to say, we jumped at the opportunity as we saw CANVAS as the ideal platform to educate people about the importance of incorporating mindfulness into their skincare routine which can be achieved by using natural and organic skincare products.

How’s the business so far?

We have managed to break-even and it is now a profitable business. We know there is a growing demand for natural and organic skincare products and hope to emerge as the brand of choice.

What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and what is it about skincare that made you decide that this is the business you want to venture into?

I have always dreamed of starting my own business for as long as I can remember. My parents, who are entrepreneurs themselves, have also been an inspiration growing up, encouraging me to push my limits and beyond my comfort zone, and lead by example. It became more apparent that I wanted to be like them one day after I worked full-time for an IT reseller and ran two small restaurants.
With no experience in running a business in skincare, there were definitely risks. Sophia and I decided however that we would take the leap and see where it took us, I have to say – so far, so good!

You started the business while you work full-time in a PR agency, and you also have to take care of your child. It must’ve been hectic for you to juggle all these at the same time. How do you do it?

It is definitely not easy trying to strike a balance but it is not impossible! I am driven by the “never-say-die” attitude and what I have learnt through this experience is that sometimes, it is easier than it sounds. The key to overcoming any challenges is to never let fear get in the way and just do it! It also boils down to proper planning to ensure that I have time for everything and everyone, including myself. Callum is my top priority so running a business and pursuing a full-time PR career usually has to work around the time when he is in school or in bed. In the evenings after he has gone to bed, Sophia and I will discuss ongoing strategies for Maiko and CANVAS. I make sure I have two evenings a week to do what I want. This ‘me-time’ allows me to rejuvenate my mind and continue to inspire myself on the journey ahead.

There are many people who want to start their own side projects but they hardly get started because of their full-time job. What advice do you have for them?

So often, we get comfortable with where we are now that we forget how rewarding it is to grow and push ourselves. Don’t be afraid of the unknown! Go for it. Things will fall into place eventually with perseverance, passion, and a positive mindset. Ultimately, it is all about choices, setting priorities and drawing boundaries. That said, live by your own rules and have fun throughout the journey.

Looking back at your entrepreneurship journey, if you are to change one thing, what would you change?

The only thing I would change is to START younger. It would have been amazing to start when I had a lot more time. I’ve noticed, the older we get, the less time we have!

What’s next for Maiko?

For us, it’s really about educating our customers on the consequences of putting natural or organic products on their delicate skin. In Singapore, there is definitely a growing interest in this area, but there are still a lot more opportunities for customers to make the switch.

Making Malaysia their second home

If you are an entrepreneur who’s wondering if you should expand your operations into another market, this interview with Rhonda Wong is perfect for you.

Rhonda Wong is the CEO and co-founder of Ohmyhome, a three-year-old prop-tech start-up that has recently set up a new office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to provide their growing property services to a market that is more than six times that of Singapore. So how did she and her team decide on Malaysia and how did they determine that it’s the right time to expand their operations?

Here’s Rhonda Wong sharing her thoughts and challenges on the move with you.

Making Malaysia their second home

Why did you choose Malaysia as your first overseas market?

With the current property market in Malaysia, we see an opportunity for Ohmyhome to introduce the first DIY platform in Malaysia. We want to empower Malaysians to take charge of their property transactions, and to equip them with the relevant information before they make decisions regarding the buying, selling, or renting of their homes. We also see it as a way to help Singaporeans with their Malaysia property transactions. Singaporeans face many issues in their Malaysia property transactions, due to a lack of access to good, reliable, professional agents and a lack of familiarity.

How did you determine whether it’s the right time to enter the market or not?

To Ohmyhome, it has never been about entering the market at the right time. We started Ohmyhome in Singapore to make housing transactions simpler, faster and affordable; to be the one-stop-shop for everyone’s housing needs. With that as our mission, we ventured into Malaysia to continue revolutionising and revitalising the housing market, to provide seamless end-to-end housing solutions for all.

What were the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Starting out in any city always comes with the challenge of being a newcomer, without local traction and may come across as unreliable. We spent 12 months preparing for our entry, and 6 months on the ground in KL preparing for our official launch. Taking a real interest to understand the consumers, meeting the industry stakeholders, abiding by their rules and respecting the way things are done in the market are all important. All of these behind-the-scenes hard work will eventually translate into the real work that people see, and that’s when they make the judgement that “even though they are new, they are very good”.

How different is the process for building your second base in Malaysia as compared to Singapore?

The challenges are not very different from building Ohmyhome Singapore. While we have perfected our model in Singapore, it needs to be adapted to Malaysia’s local policies, property landscape, and market needs. Comparing our entry into Malaysia and the official launch in Singapore, we see a marked difference in reception towards Ohmyhome. Our entry into Malaysia has been very welcomed, and the demand for our services has been overwhelming. In fact, in just one month, we have received tremendous demand from the market and have closed our first few deals. We entered with a strong track record from Singapore’s success. Contrastingly, during our Singapore launch in 2016, we were a first-of-its-kind concept and had to go through an education process with our customers.

What are the differences between Malaysian and Singaporean buyers and sellers?

There are many Malaysians, young and old, who have multiple properties and therefore being able to trust their keys with a reputable company has been crucial to our initial success in KL. Because regulations are strict in Singapore, the worry that things could go wrong with your property in the hands of an unprofessional agent is significantly less. In Singapore, while there is also a degree of distrust towards agents, the larger pain point for consumers is the cost of agents.

How is the market in Malaysia, and what do you think property investors should take note before splashing their cash?

The market in Malaysia is soft, with higher than usual vacancy rates. However, because it has been on the downtrend for several years, good value properties for sale do spring up quite often. Rental yield varies for different districts within a state, and it is important to have a strong local understanding of the property landscape. A street away could be a difference of 20% in pricing. Guiding fellow Singaporeans through the policies and procedures, and providing trusted market knowledge, are additional reasons why Ohmyhome decided to expand into Malaysia. The property investors will be able to lean on Ohmyhome to navigate the complex process and handle everything for them.

Now that your first overseas market is up and running, do you intend to enter into another market in the region in the next two years?

Which one would it be? We have global ambitions for Ohmyhome, and plans to enter new markets will continue in the next 24 months. We are looking at those markets with a strong potential for technology-enabled real estate transactions, for example, Manila and Bangkok. These markets will benefit the most from our one-stop property solutions. Within Malaysia itself, a growth from Greater KL to Johor will also occur in the next 12 months. We have personally done real estate transactions in over 7 countries and realised that while localization is extremely important in each city, the overarching issues and pain points are very similar.

Looking back at your entrepreneurship journey, if you are to change one thing, what would you change?

I would be more confident speaking about my vision even if people may not believe in it.

What’s your advice to entrepreneurs who are contemplating whether they should enter into a new market or not?

Focus on getting your service model right before you consider expansion. While speed to market is important for certain businesses to secure a first-mover advantage, doing things right before hastily expanding can greatly save you from making the same mistakes multiple times across your expansion journey. For our industry, real estate is often the most expensive purchase in one’s life, so we have to get it right.


About Rhonda Wong

Ms Rhonda Wong is the co-founder of Ohmyhome and serves as the Chief Executive Officer. Rhonda’s wealth of experience in the business and the real-estate sector has helped her drive the company to become Singapore’s first one-stop property solution. The platform officially launched in September 2016, and quickly emerged as Singapore’s #1 HDB app in January 2017. Responsible for the overall management of Ohmyhome and driving its growth, Rhonda’s many accomplishments include leading the company to become one of the best start-ups of 2017. Her mission is to simplify housing transactions and provide an enhanced home search experience that saves time and money.

Rhonda is a founding member of the inaugural Singapore PropTech Association which aims to innovate the traditional real estate industry. Her astute business acumen and passion for property make Rhonda a sought-after mentor at entrepreneurial and proptech events, and she is often invited to speak at schools and business leadership seminars. In March 2017, Rhonda was recognized as Women Icon at the Inaugural Women Icons Summit & Awards. She received the award for her entrepreneurial spirit and efforts to revolutionize the way people buy, sell and rent their homes. Avid in giving back to the community, she has volunteered across the world from Detroit, Chicago, the Dominican Republic to Singapore and Myanmar.

Before Ohmyhome, Rhonda started Anthill Realtors, a real estate agency, at the age of 29 in 2014. Headquartered in Singapore, Anthill Realtors’ forte is sourcing investment grade properties from within and abroad, with a one of a kind concierge service. Rhonda started consulting for developers in 2013 and before that, she was a salesperson at Savills where she was promoted to sales director within a year and was recognized as the best newcomer. Her journey into Savills was encouraged by her personal real estate investments.

A serial entrepreneur at heart, Rhonda has gathered a vast amount of experience as she had worked on several businesses including retail in Singapore; import and export of equipment from the USA and acted as a consultant on other businesses such as children’s education in Suzhou, China.

Rhonda graduated with distinction from Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, with majors in Finance, Entrepreneurial, Accounting and a minor in Economics. While in University, she was also awarded the Carson Scholarship to study public policy in Washington D.C. Upon graduation, Rhonda joined Nico Trading Chicago and was the only female trader employed at that time.

A visit to Israel changes his career path

 

Tuition is one of the most competitive education services in Singapore. Kiasuism of the parents could be the reason why tuition services continue to thrive over the decades. Students in Singapore have two choices when it comes to tuition. They can visit a tuition centre where it normally hosts a large group of students or they can opt for one-to-one home-based tutoring where a qualified tutor will visit a few times a week for a more dedicated learning experience. In this interview, we speak with Samuel Huang, Co-founder of Yodaa, one of the popular online tuition services that match students with tutors who have many years of experience under their belt at an affordable price. Samuel shares how he got Yodaa started, the difficulties he faced and how Yodaa can help parents find their tutors in just 24 hours.

What were you doing when you had a struck of genius and started work on Yodaa?

I’d just got back from Israel on the NUS NOC Israel programme. And started going for interviews for a vocation prior to graduation. One thing that kept coming up at the interviews was what exactly I was doing in Israel all those months. That germinated something; which took root and nudge me from a corporate career pursuit.

How did the idea pop into your mind?

It didn’t actually. We’d systematically comb through various industries and verticals with gaps. There were plenty. Education was one that struck a chord with the three of us. Since we were all part-time teachers at one point, the issues we faced navigating that industry stood salient amongst us. We decided to look more into it.

There is a lot of competition, especially in education. What set Yodaa apart from the rest of the tuition services?

We knew we wanted to start off locally, then target similar demographics in the region. In Singapore, tuition is something parents are well-acquainted with. The externalities driving the industries made it so. So we didn’t really want to change anything, but just took what parents already do today, getting quality word of mouth teacher recommendations, and made it simple. No extra learning curves, no bloated features. Just an extremely simple way to get the teacher they want, while we stay out of the way. We’ve stuck to this minimal approach for the past two years, and realize parents resonated much with it.

What were the challenges faced in building Yodaa and how did you overcome it?

Tonnes. There were validation issues at the start. We needed to know if there was something worth solving here and not something we just wanted to throw technology at because it was in fad. So we got on the ground for months; went to parenting events, visited community libraries, door-to-door at various neighbourhoods. Whatever it took to get feedback and refine our directions, we did.

Then there was also the pertinent issue of getting co-founders who shared both the vision and technical prowess to get a working product up. I’m from a business finance background. So I didn’t know that many people in technical positions from the get-go. To bridge the gap, I volunteered to help out at various startup conventions; pitch at various university modules; and join as many accelerator programmes I could get access to. The idea was to know more people, put me out there, and let those smarter than myself tear the idea (and me) to bits. Perhaps if I was fortunate enough, someone may know someone who may introduce me to someone else. It sounded wishful. It is. But the stars aligned. I found my first co-founder, who together would bring onboard our second co-founder. So together, we assembled a three-person team. Then we got to work.

A couple of months in, we had a working product. We then needed to get the word out. So again, we went out. I contacted and approached over 200 education and enrichment establishments. The goal was to partner and cross advertise with them; online for offline, while keeping our costs and burn rate low. We manage to secure 25 partnerships. And Yodaa got it’s first 2000 customers on board.

A visit to Israel changes his career path | entree.sg

Who are your tutors and what’s their background?

Active tutors are always churning. The average teacher teaches between three and six years, so we get new batches every year. We specifically select teachers who are socially adept and academically inclined, with a minimal teaching experience of at least two past students. The goal is we only want experienced teachers on Yodaa, so we hold a line as to who can come on board. So far, most teachers that get accepted are university undergraduates who have prior teaching experience, NIE trained teachers, and other full-time teachers with more than ten years teaching stints.

Is there a specific subject/s that your tutoring services excel in?

English, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Most teachers with expertise in those areas come to Yodaa. Parents and students seeking help with these subjects follow suit.

If parents need a tutor for their child, what’s the process like for them to engage Yodaa?

Proceed to www.yodaa.co. Send us a request in a minute. Our algorithms will reach out to relevant tutors. In 24 hours, you will receive up to 5 teacher profiles. Each profile displays a teacher’s past referrals, education background, and rates. We also pass you their contact details. You can then directly reach out to them from there.

What’s next for Yodaa?

We’re looking at moving this service to one other geography with a similar demographic issue. For now, we aim to keep this service simple for all.

Bringing awareness of eye diseases through an app

Dr Claudine Pang is a veteran specialist of the eye aka ophthalmologist at the Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre, which she founded earlier this year.

Her passion for caring for people’s eyes motivated her to become a retinal eye specialist and that same passion also encouraged her to develop an app.

The app by the Asia Retina Eye Centre walks users through some simple questionnaires to determine if they have an eye condition that requires to see an ophthalmologist.

For that, we spoke to Dr Claudine Pang to find out more.

When was the Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre founded and why did you decide to set up your private practice?

Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre was founded officially in March 2018, although it was conceptualised one year before that. I wanted to set up a retinal-centric eye clinic because as a retinal eye specialist, I have a great passion for retinal diseases, retinal surgery and educating people about retinal awareness. I’ve discovered in my 15 years as an ophthalmologist that many people are not aware of the importance of our retina as the house of our visual receptors. Motivated to educate people about the retina and its critical role in our visual pathway, I created Asia Retina as a one-stop Centre to treat all eye diseases, with a special focus on the retina. I hoped to be able to provide patients with truly customised and attentive eye care, in addition to empowering them with simple tips to maintain their eye wellness.

Dr Claudine Pang, Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre
Dr Claudine Pang, Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre

Were your loved ones supportive of you exiting the public health care system because it’s perceived to be more stable though busier?

Yes, I had the support of my family and friends, because they understand my passion for doctoring, which to me embodies the idealism of treating patients both medically and emotionally. I thrive on building unique relationships with my patients, which takes time and is not always possible in a public hospital setting. My decision to leave the public sector was not based on how stable or busy it was. Mainly I wanted to be able to afford quality time with every patient so that they could experience truly personalised and holistic care from their eye doctor; the way doctoring was meant to be. In fact, contrary to what most people think, the private sector is even busier than public sector because I’m fully committed to seeing patients even after office hours, and there is no handing off to another doctor as in the public sector. Even when I’m on leave, I’m still responsible for all my patients, and I always come back to see them if they have any urgent issues.

For every new business, the start is always turbulent. What was it like for you when you started your centre?

Starting the new business, the biggest challenge was having to invest in all the eye equipment. In the field of ophthalmology, having state-of-the-art equipment is so vital because better machines allow us to make more accurate diagnoses and administer better treatments. I wanted my one-stop centre to be able to provide patients with such cutting-edge technology so that they have access to all the necessary treatment options at their convenience.

Another challenge was finding the perfect team of dedicated and competent individuals who share my vision of providing fully committed and conscientious eye care to all patients. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to work with some of the best nurses and optometrists who were happy to start this clinic together.

What are the differences between being a specialist in the public and private sector? Also, as a doctor becoming an entrepreneur?

In the public sector, there is very little time to get to know patients or delve into their lifestyle, habits and personal issues. Very often, I find these emotional aspects affect a patient’s health, well-being and also affects their surgical outcome. In private practice, I can afford the time to understand my patients, their concerns and solve their issues at the root of their problem.

I think being an entrepreneur, it is easy to get caught up in the financial constraints and worries, which could potentially be a source of conflict for a doctor. When I started this company, I enforced on myself stringent rules that I must never let such issues affect my doctoring. As such, I invested in a financial and operations team for my company so that I can leave all of the financial decisions to someone else and concentrate 100% on my patients’ wellbeing.

We often see health materials in the media on diabetes, dementia and cancer but we don’t see much of eye. So business-wise, it might seem as though there’s no demand for knowing the eye. So what triggered the idea of developing a mobile application for The Eye (may wish to talk about the common eye conditions prevalent in Singaporeans)?

Everyone seems to have heard about going for regular dental check-ups to clean their teeth, routine general health screening to detect diabetes, regular cancer screening etc., however, there are little words about going for regular eye screening. My objective of creating the Asia Retina App is to make people more aware about the need to go for routine eye screening (at least once a year). Most people are unaware that cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and myopia-related retinal diseases are the leading causes of blindness in Singapore. Many of these eye conditions have little to no symptoms at their early state and tend to progress in the late stage to irreversible visual loss. It is thus imperative to detect them early at regular eye check-ups so that they can be treated early to prevent blindness.

What were the challenges you faced when developing the Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre’s app?

During development of the Asia Retina App, there were some expected technical issues including slow download speeds that required multiple fixes and updates. We also wanted to be able to set phone reminder alerts to remind patients to put their eye drops as prescribed, a feature that required multiple tweaks in the eyedrop dropdown options. Currently, we are at our tenth updated app, and it has been functioning smoothly without problems.

Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre app
Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre app

Can you share with us the tests that people can by themselves using the mobile app and if there’s an issue, how can they seek medical consultation?

The App has four self-assessment eye tests including testing of visual acuity, colour vision, macular function and dry eye questionnaire. The visual acuity test allows the user to assess whether they can read small letters. The colour vision assesses for the red-green colour deficiency. The macular grid assesses for metamorphopsia (which is abnormal waviness of usually straight lines). And lastly, the dry eye questionnaire assesses the users’ likelihood of having dry eyes through a series of dry-eye related symptoms and questions. If at any point, the user feels that his/her vision might be compromised, they can immediately schedule an appointment to see an eye doctor through the app easily.

What’s next for Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre and the app?

I hope to roll out new features for the Asia Retina App including additional eye tests and chatbot functions in future. As for Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre, it has always been a personal dream to be able to reach out to other less privileged communities and provide eye care services catered to their needs. This year in June 2018, our entire Asia Retina Team travelled to Cambodia to provide vision screening, eyedrops and spectacles to the needy villagers. By doing such yearly missions, I hope to make humanitarian work a recurrent theme as part of our goal to provide quality eye care to local as well as foreign communities.

The Asia Retina app is already available for download on the App Store and Google Play Store. Do the test today!

Sayuti Damiyati, Business Development Manager at Silverstreet: From excelling in science to sales

The structured progression of a graduate is to follow the same path as what they studied in school. Due to a change in circumstances, a science graduate, Sayuti Damiyati had to take a slightly different route. He went into medical sales before going into technology sales with Silverstreet and Twizo (subsidiary under Silverstreet).

Although Sayuti did not have any background in sales, his sheer determination and patience from his researcher days seemed to have given him the right trait for the job.

Ending this beautiful week, we speak to Sayuti on his career changes and how’s it like working in Silverstreet and Twizo.

Could you share with us your background leading up to joining Silverstreet & Twizo?

I am a genetics and molecular biology graduate. A semester before graduating, I had started doing pre-research for my Master’s on the same subject. We were researching how we could improve the defence mechanism of a banana plant against a particular type of parasite using cloning technology. Honestly, the topic was less exciting compared to something like creating mutants, but it was still challenging and would contribute a lot towards the agriculture field.

Unfortunately, a few unforeseen events caused me to change direction, and I joined a medical device company as a salesperson. I would say that I learned a lot in the area of sales and marketing thanks to my boss who mentored me. Starting with no skills in marketing and sales, I managed to close many deals and build good networks in the market. Some of the great advice I received during my time that sticks out the most is the 80-20 marketing rule or also known as the Pareto principle. The medical device industry was quite interesting, but I felt that my growth was stagnating, and in my search for a new challenge, I found Silverstreet.

Why didn’t you pursue a career in research?

There were multiple factors on why I dropped my initial intention for research. The main reason being financial constraints. Our research needed funding, and there were times when the research grant got frozen. Also as a research assistant, the pay was only enough to get you through months’ end. I was planning for marriage during that period, so a career in research was not feasible.

You’ve had more than two years of experience in medical sales. What’s the difference between then and now, working at Silverstreet & Twizo?

When I first joined Silverstreet and Twizo, I was much more knowledgeable in the nitty-gritty of marketing and sales compared to when I started with my previous employer. The work processes also changed from B2C to B2B which means that I have the opportunity to explore new areas while applying the skills I acquired.

What are the challenges you face as a sales and business development manager at Silverstreet & Twizo?

The transition from doing B2C to B2B poses a few challenges by itself. First, there is the matter of trying to adapt to different processes and hurdles of the B2B cycle. I found that when it comes to securing clients, the process itself is much longer.

Another challenge that comes with B2B is each client has a different business structure and requires a customised solution. This was not the case with B2C as the product is standard for everyone.

How do you overcome them?

Through a lot of hard work. I found that the key to successfully closing deals is by continually following up. I treated the lengthy process with patience to ensure it moves in the right direction. My previous connections also helped in providing valuable information and referrals when trying to connect and understand multiple healthcare clients.

How’s it like being an employee of Silverstreet & Twizo?

In just under two months after I started with Silverstreet and Twizo, I am convinced that the company knows how to appreciate and value their employees. The open office space, agile work environment, work flexibility, multinational colleagues, fitting salary, employee well-being, engaging team building events, never-empty pantry, and most importantly, a very cool coffee machine.

All of these add up to a point where I felt as if I am working in a second home instead of being in an office. As an employee, you will put extra miles to your work and contribute more when you feel appreciated. It is a good cycle and culture where I think most companies should adopt. There is a lot of room for me to grow with them, as the company trusts and respects your capabilities in completing your tasks.

What’s the biggest draw for you to join their team?

I have always been into IT and tech since I was a kid. When I learned that work in Silverstreet revolves around tech, it captured my attention. After further discussion on how they were looking to provide their solution to the healthcare industry, we clicked. During my time with medical devices, I had similar thoughts on how the healthcare industry should progress forward with technologies. I was immediately sold when Silverstreet presented that opportunity.

Where do you see yourself in the next 3 – 5 years’ time?

We could certainly see that our world is moving towards a digital future. The healthcare industry is in any means moving closer to that future. Observing our progress now, I anticipate that Silverstreet will be an active contributor in the health industry in the upcoming years, and I would genuinely love to be a part of that success. It is when Silverstreet is not a considered foreign name in the healthcare scene, the objective will be realised. Self-wise, I would love to be a coding wizard, and keep making incredible contributions to the company.