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Stephanie Besse of Forest Adventure

Forest Adventure: A holiday, a concept turn into a reality

Ms Stephanie Besse was an accomplished executive in a world-renowned marketing and advertising corporation. But more than ten years ago, a holiday trip to France saw her leaving the corporate world to start an adventure that befits our sunny island Singapore.

Stephanie is the founder of Forest Adventure and here’s how her entrepreneurial career started.

Share with us how long have you been in Singapore, and why chose Singapore to settle down with your family?

I have been in Singapore for 21 years. Landed in Singapore with a two years contract, meet my husband few months after arriving here, had children and before I knew it, I have been here for ten years! Singapore is a great place for bringing up children.

Forest Adventure

Image credit: Forest Adventure

What is Forest Adventure and how did you get this idea?

Forest Adventure is a tree top adventure park. We first discovered the concept of tree adventure parks during a holiday in France back in 2005. I immediately thought this would be perfect in Singapore due to the year-round warm climate where an outdoor business could be open for the whole year. At that time, there were not many outdoor reactional outfits in Singapore aside from the newly launched Luge at Sentosa. Hence, we started to look at the feasibility of an adventure course in Singapore.

You were a regional director for WPP group of companies before Forest Adventure. It should be a good paying job. So why and how did you decide to drop it for something uncertain like starting a business?

After 15 years in advertising, I needed a change as this is a very demanding industry. I also had a regional position which meant that I was travelling a lot and with three young children. I was missing out on being a Mum. I wanted a job that allowed me to be home every night for dinner!

Following a passion is far more fulfilling than money!

What were the reactions from your loved ones when you announced your plans?

My husband is an entrepreneur, so he was super supportive!

What were the initial challenges to put your plans together?

Our biggest challenge was to find a piece of land!

How did you secure the funding to set up Forest Adventure?

A mix of personal fund and investor.

In general, Singaporeans do not come across as the adventurous type of people. How was the initial reactions from the locals and has it changed over the years?

The business was very well-received among the adults when we started. It took a little time for the Kids Course to pick up and now, we have almost as many kids as adults! As the only rope course open to the public and designed for the sole purpose of outdoor reaction, Forest Adventure is a unique activity for visitors to come and have a fun day out together with family and friends while enjoying the sense of achievement that comes with overcoming all the obstacles and challenges.

Technology has taken over the daily lives of many young people including parents, in your opinion, does the outdoor still appeal to the masses? If not, what has been done to attract them?

We still have a growing number of customers coming to Forest Adventure even after ten years, so it looks like there is still a place for outdoor activities! This is especially so with the launch of our new course early this year.

Forest Adventure is located near the Downtown Line at Bedok Reservoir Station. Has it helped to bring in more visitors?

Hard to say as the opening of the Bedok Reservoir Station and the launch of the new course coincided.

 

Forest Adventure welcomes visitors starting from the age of 5 all the way to seniors in the 70s. How does Forest Adventure incorporate safety features and designs to ensure all participants can overcome the several challenges and have a great time?

The new course includes the latest development in course design and safety equipment. Participants are attached to the safety system from the ground with no ability to detach themselves until the end of the zip lines. There is no risk of falling when at height.

The climate is changing, and Singapore is getting hotter as years go by. What are the plans in place to reduce the risk of heatstroke?

We strongly encourage participants to drink and stay hydrated. The course is divided into six sections hence customers have many opportunities to come back to the ground to hydrate themselves.

What’s new at Forest Adventure, and where can we expect the business to be in the next few years?

We have a brand new design, 69 new crossing with many that were not included in our previous course. We have also launched a new Junior Course. Business has been steady, and we hope to have Forest Adventure at the top of mind for people of all ages looking for fun activities to do in the outdoors.

What’s your advice to people contemplating whether to follow their passion or follow where the money brings them?

Following a passion is far more fulfilling than money!

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See Wee Heng

The brain behind AspirantSG

See Wee Heng is a social media and digital marketer. But what many don’t know about him is that under that disguise, he is also the man behind the popular blog, AspirantSG, which over the years have garnered a strong following. So how does he manage his time between his day job and a blog that has an audience that craves for new reads? Also, what is his advice to people who aspire to be an influencer in this day and age?

We caught up with Wee Heng to find out more.

What is AspirantSG?

AspirantSG is a food, travel, lifestyle and social media blog in Singapore with a readership of 400,000 page views monthly. The blog reaches out to Professionals, Managers, Entrepreneurs and Businessmen (PMEBs) – generally working adults with spending power and a penchant for lifestyle, travel and more exquisite things in life.

How long have you been running Aspirant SG and what inspired you to start the blog?

AspirantSG started in 2012, so I have been running it for six years. I have a passion for good food, travels and photography hence I wanted to share my experience with folks who ‘aspire’ for similar pleasures in life.

Back then, I was also ‘foolishly’ inspired by the ancients – Pharaohs & Emperors who left legacies behind after their death. I wanted the blog and my experience to be available on the world wide web long after I am gone in the future, which unfortunately was quite a silly concept because the website goes down once you stop paying for your domain and web hosting.

What were the challenges you faced when you started AspirantSG?

Well, the biggest challenge was readership. It can be demoralising curating content when no one reads. I had to find channels to get my content out to potential readers and learned the hard way that I must curate contents that people want to read and not the other way round.

See Wee Heng

How long did it take for you to hit your first million page views and how did you feel when you saw the figures?

Wow, I forgot how long that took me. I was more obsessed with keeping traffic up month on month than to track the increasing traffic. If I am not wrong, it should have taken me between 2 and 2.5 years.

We know that you have a full-time job. How do you manage your time to keep the popular blog afloat?

Having made friends with PR agencies and communications folks, I now have the luxury of picking the releases and experience that I wish to focus on.

Content curation for the entire upcoming work week has to be squeezed within the previous weekend.

Did anything change after being acquired by TIN Communications?

Dennis Toh and William Ang have their style when it comes to content curation. I supposed I was fortunate that AspirantSG was not overly reliant on my persona hence my readers were able to tolerate slight shifts in writing style and content line-ups.

Now that I am with a progressive and supportive employer, I am glad that I can regain editorial control of AspirantSG and continue to pursue my blogging passion.

As a veteran blogger with loads of digital media experience, what are your thoughts on the current influencer hype?

I feel that we are the heyday of the ‘Super Influencers’ and they should seriously reap their worth when the sun still shines. Micro-influencers may be the next upcoming trends when people want to see things through the lens of numerous ‘average person’.

What’s your advice to people who want to start their blog/website or be an influencer in this saturated market?

Blogging or running a website if you have the passion and commitment can develop into an excellent secondary source of income for rainy days or retirement planning. But to activate this source of income, you must have good business sense, hungry and be on an active lookout for various income streams. I have met many passionate bloggers who are good at their craft but not able to get their worth of secondary income.


Charli Prangley - CharlieMarieTV

A designer with a heart to share

Charli Prangley is a web and graphic designer from New Zealand who is currently living in London, working for ConvertKit. However, this is only the prelude to what she also does on the side.

Other than her day job, Charli also runs her brand, CharliMarieTV, on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Not to mention, she does podcasts with her friend, Femke for Design Life and owns an online apparel store called Liner Note Kids.

It is incredible how Charli manages to do so much within the same amount of time we have and that we still complain about not having enough. So what is her magic to be able to do all these and still able to find time for her travels?

entree.sg speaks to Charli to find out more.

How old were you when you started your YouTube channel?

CharliMarieTV

Screenshot of CharliMarieTV on YouTube

I started my YouTube channel back in 2013 when I was 24. My younger sister had started a channel, and she introduced me to the world of vlogging. She’s the one who opened my eyes to the fact that YouTube was more than funny cat videos!

What was your aim when you started your channel and had that aim changed over time?

I started my channel because when I got interested in watching vlogs, I wanted to subscribe to a channel by a designer who didn’t just post tutorials, but talked about their life and the issues they face as well. I couldn’t find any! So I decided that was a sign that I could start producing that type of content. My aim from the start has been to showcase the life of a designer and to help young creatives learn what they need to be successful in this industry.

What was your very first side project? What gave you the idea for your first side project idea/business idea?

My very first side project was an apparel company called Liner Note Kids. I created designs inspired by music and printed them onto t-shirts and hoodies. Unlike my side projects these days that have a lot of planning go into them, Liner Note Kids evolved from something very small: posting some lyric graphics on Tumblr. I had a few people say they’d like to see the design on a t-shirt so I decided to investigate how to get them printed, and a little business grew from there! I didn’t intend for those initial designs to become a business, but they did. Once I knew the interest was there I had a great time learning more about business and things like profit margins, and about t-shirt printing too.

How did you manage your time juggling your day job and working on your side project?

I started Liner Note Kids around ten years ago when I was in university. While my studies kept me very busy, I didn’t have 9-5 hours as I would have a day job. That meant I could spend an afternoon at the printers getting shirts made, and taking 20 packages to the post office if I needed to. I spent many nights staying awake late peeling vinyl designs to prep them for print, updating my website and working on new designs. While I got pretty good grades, I probably could have done better in my classes if I wasn’t spending so much time on my business. But the way I saw it I was learning a lot through running Liner Note Kids that university wasn’t teaching me. So it was time well spent!

What were your obstacles and how did you overcome them?

In both my apparel business and now with my YouTube channel and podcast, the biggest obstacles have been entering an entirely new world and learning all the unspoken rules and the things that sometimes it seems everyone knows but you. How do I source blank t-shirts to print on? How do you get brands to sponsor videos? How do you get a podcast episode you’ve recorded into an RSS feed? I overcame them with a lot of googling!

Another struggle I’ve faced (and still face now and then) is hitting burn out. When you have so much on your plate, it’s easy to let the work/rest balance swing too far to the work side. One day you’re feeling super productive for getting everything done, but when you try to maintain fast pace overtime, you start to get very tired, stressed, maybe even ill and then you hit burn out. Reaching that point, while terrible, really teaches you the importance of rest.

Ever since you moved to the UK, you started your podcast, continue to make videos, work at ConvertKit, manage your social media profiles, maintain your Liner Note Kids store, gave talks here and there and travel. Many people always say that they have no time to work on things. How do you plan your time? Are there apps that you use to help you manage your time?

Charli at Sean Wes Conference - CharliMarieTV

Image credit: Charli Prangley

My best advice for this is something no one likes to hear: wake up early. – Charli Prangley

Everyone can make time for the things that are important to them! My best advice for this is something no one likes to hear: wake up early. I found I was always exhausted after coming home from work and didn’t have enough energy to put into my side projects, so I gave waking up early a try and spent a few hours on side projects before I left for work. It gets my day off to a productive start! And the best part is that I can then fully relax in my evenings knowing I already achieved enough that day at both my day job and on my side projects.

To fit everything in, you need to get good at prioritising and being organised. You always need to know what you should work on next. I’m continually writing lists, and last year I started using the bullet journal system to keep track of what I need to be doing each day, and it’s been an incredibly useful tool. Every evening I write two lists: one for the tasks I need to achieve for ConvertKit the next day, and one of the things I need to get done on my side projects. It means I can start my morning knowing exactly what I need to be doing. This analogue system works better for me than any app has, but I do use apps such as Trello to keep track of all my content ideas, and Silo (a Pomodoro technique timer app) on my Apple watch for those times when I need extra help focussing.

How do you stay focused when you have so many things happening around you?

I have way more side projects and ideas for how to improve them than I do time in the day, so I’ve found the best way to move them forward is to pick one particular thing per month to focus my side project time on. That doesn’t mean I’ll ignore all the rest of my projects; it means I’ll do the bare minimum on them for a month so that I can push one ahead. For example, coming up soon I’ll be giving a talk at Craft + Commerce, the ConvertKit conference. This next month my primary focus is on getting my talk finished. I’ll still produce my weekly videos and podcasts episodes, but I won’t, for example, take on my channel rebranding project or rebuild my website in the same month. If you try to do too much, you’ll end up executing on everything at a mediocre level. I’d instead do one thing well than get a bunch of really average stuff finished!

What are the challenges ahead for you?

Managing my work/life balance and staying on top of my email inbox will always be a challenge: there are so much to do and so many emails to answer! I’m also constantly struggling with imposter syndrome, but I’m trying to get over it and stop it from affecting me taking up opportunities.

What advice do you have for people who are planning to start a side business/project or a YouTube channel?

Successful side projects are formed over time, and if you can spare even just an hour in your morning to put towards your project, you’ll get somewhere. – Charli Prangley

First and foremost, you have to love what you do. If your primary reason for starting a side project or a YouTube channel is for the money or the fame you’re going to find it incredibly hard to get through those early days (or years even!) before your project starts to pick up steam. You have to be in this for the long haul, and the only way to do that is to be genuinely passionate about your subject matter. Once you’ve got the passion nailed, let it fuel your motivation and make sure you get one thing done every day (even if it’s only something small). Successful side projects are formed over time, and if you can spare even just an hour in your morning to put towards your project, you’ll get somewhere.


Raymond Tan_Madebettr

Designing his own keep

Raymond Tan started Madebettr in 2015 after feeling jaded from climbing the corporate ladder and the constant need to justify his worth to the company. So far, it has been a great decision for him. Today, amongst his clients include Soup Restaurant and NTUC Membership. So what’s his story? We asked him.

What does your CV look like before you became an entrepreneur?

I started off as an in-house graphic designer at Challenger with no design education besides fiddling with photoshop during my poly days. A lot of stuff was self-taught from theory to technical skills. Then I realised that the job was stagnant, so I switched to a marketing role in another company, changed again to a marketing/design role, then went back to being a designer, then finally switched to the position of marketing communications.

Having a stable job is the default rule to earning a living in a structured society not just in Singapore but all over the world. What made you take the plunge to start your own business? 

I think I told myself when I was young that I want to be a boss. I realised the possibility of starting my own business is real after I got my first freelance gig, which was designing a simple catalogue. I told myself, “Hey, I can bring in more income from this!”. Eventually, I started freelancing for about five years, before finally taking the plunge. Another reason why I did it is that I was quite tired of climbing the corporate ladder, where good work and performance are just a small part of the equation. So yes, it tipped me over to starting out on my own.

What were the initial considerations you thought through before deciding to quit your job?

Lol. Money, for sure. With commitments from phone bills to insurance to saving up for marriage and future home. I also considered the worst case scenario if I had no income, how much money would I need to set aside so I can maintain my lifestyle and necessities.

Did you start your business before or after you got married? What were your wife and your family’s reactions to your decision as it also means goodbye to job stability?

I started Madebettr before I got married. My parents and my wife were supportive. My parents told me as long as I know what I’m doing, by all means, go for it. My fiancée then (wife now) was also supportive, because I shared with her my plans such as my contingency plans, and also I have set aside an amount which I think would be enough for us to get married even if my business did not work out in the end. Without her full support and encouragement, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

How did you start Madebettr, your thought process? Was there prior research done on a need for design services or it was driven by the passion that you want to pursue? Why?

It was purely driven by a long-burning passion. I didn’t do any prior research as my previous work experiences and industry knowledge have already told me that there are plenty of agencies around, both big and small, and those who produce high-quality work that is price-driven. So I asked myself how I can position Madebettr to make myself unique?

Everyone’s creative ideas are unique to themselves. So what I can provide is to fuse design and my experience in marketing from the client’s perspective, together with the brand’s positioning and philosophy. On top of that, I believe my quality of work is better than the agencies who are price-driven, and my charges are more affordable as compared to the bigger and more established agencies.

What were your initial struggles and how did you manage them?

My initial struggles were self-discipline and complacency. There were days when there was no work to be done or rushed, and it’s often a struggle to utilise that time to grow the business. I depended heavily on the regular clients for work and forgot to court new clients for new projects. I came to a realisation when revenue dipped in my second half of the year since I established Madebettr.

I began to worry and started to think about how I could get more clients. I did up my website, polished my portfolio, drafted cold emails and did cold calls, and got myself out there to link up with some old contacts. Thankfully, I managed to get some referrals through that.

How long did it take for you to stabilise your finances?

Depends on how you define “stable”. When you’re in a business which is paid on project basis there won’t be a moment when it’s considered stable I guess? For me, I am blessed not to have encountered any problematic moments so far, because I don’t have much overhead or operating cost, and I did plan my finances properly before I started everything.

Have you ever regretted and thought of going back to the 8 – 5 jobs? What made you shake that mindset off?

A big “NO!” Haha! I have not regretted my decision so far, and the thought of going back never cross my mind. On the contrary, it is one of the many factors that pushes me to want to succeed. I have never liked the corporate environment, or climbing the corporate ladder, as my experiences have not been enjoyable. I cannot fathom the idea of boasting about your achievement each year during appraisal to fight for that bonus and promotion, and the routine life of an 8 to 5 job. And there’s no real 8 to 5. More than often you have to go the extra mile, so if I have to go the extra mile anyway for a fixed salary, why don’t I put in the effort for my business where the profit I earn is based on how much effort I put into it?

What’s next for you?

I would like to be more active in getting my brand out there, through social media and the digital space, improve my quality of work and the ideas behind it. I would also love to expand my network through events, but I’m not an extrovert at such events, so maybe the next thing for me is also to improve my self-confidence.

Raymond Tan_Madebettr


Josh Loh - Rehab Pro Movement Therapy

From Army Fitness Specialist to Rehab Pro

Josh Loh is the founder of the Rehab Pro Movement Therapy. Taking a quick look at their Facebook page, and you will see many proven records of how the company’s Neuro-Kinetic Therapy (NKT) have helped many regained control of their body through the specialised technique.

However, long before Josh became the entrepreneur he is today, he spent seven years of his earlier part of his career serving the Singapore Armed Forces as a Fitness Specialist.

So what changed? Here’s his story.

How does your CV look like before you started Rehab Pro Movement Therapy?

I was a Physical Training Instructor with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), training men and recruits who were in the service, and I eventually became one of the Fitness Specialists in green. After my tenure with the SAF, I sold fitness equipment for a short period before moving on to managing a rehab gym owned by a Physiotherapist. That’s where I picked up my skills in rehabilitation and refined my knowledge of fitness.

What made you start your own business?

I was pushed into starting my business when my former employer decided to sell off her business. It was at that point where I began to question myself about what’s next for me since I was having my second child. What made the decision even tougher was that I am the sole breadwinner for my young family.

My professional qualification was in economics and finance, as well as an instructional designer. To stay in my field with my certificates may not be the most beneficial as local companies still tend to look at papers more than experience and capabilities. That’s when I decided to start my own business.

What were your family and your wife’s reactions when you broke the news that you want to do something of your own?

My wife prefers for me to have a stable employment so I can spend more time with her and the children. Sometimes, we do get into some disagreements because my work may at times require me to begin work at 7 am and end later than 9 pm. It’s demanding running a lean startup.

But we make small compromises here and there. I am happy that my wife supports my work by helping me take good care of our kids and the household and all I have to do in return is to allocate more of my weekends to spend time with them.

What were the considerations you had when you were planning for the business? Did you draw up the pros and cons?

I guess a good friend gave me a good nudged towards starting my own business. In a way, I was consulting with him, a serial entrepreneur, after losing my job. He reminded me that he had not had a similar experience as he had never been underemployment before.

The pros of running your own business are taking away the negative experience of being out of a job. However, it does come with other stresses. My business partner and I worked hard to keep the company afloat as we strive to get more people to experience our treatment. We are happy that those who came through our doors are happy and thankful after our therapy sessions.

I took over the space that my former employer gave up, and that, together with my existing patients helped a great deal in the beginning. It allowed me to spend less and yet able to enhance the survivability of the business.

To start a brick and mortar business requires serious investment. How did you manage to secure the funding or did you pour all your savings into the company?

I took a loan from my aunt, and I am still servicing the credit now. Thankfully, I have a strong team, and we are making enough for our operations to stay afloat.

I believe that our goal of delivering the best solution and care underlines our growth. It is also our best possible marketing strategy, which is serving the business well. This mentality has helped us grow our followings slightly, and it helps with our bottom line.

When did Rehab Pro Movement Therapy start its operations?

We begin operation in September 2016. Operating out of Camden medical centre, in the gym space that I designed and managed for my boss over the five years before calling it our own. Now we have relocated to Clarke Quay area for the convenience and accessibility of our patients. This new space is also bigger and allows us to design and deliver more innovative movement that can help in their recovery.

We are also looking at using this space to bring in more therapy-related courses that are beneficial for the industry as a whole. This helps our company stay true to continuous education and learning so that the best possible solution is provided.

What were the difficulties faced when setting up Rehab Pro Movement Therapy?

Aside from funding, we started out as a rehabilitation clinic staffed with strength and conditioning coaches. Our skills and knowledge were not the ones that people would go to for their body conditions, which limited our outreach.

When I tried collaborating with a golf coach, he commented that he is the first person people go to, and my company was not. Although I helped with resolving some pain and imbalances issues for his clients, our partnership never kicked off. It’s sad, but we eventually moved on.

We had also done subcontract work for a physiotherapy clinic with a 10-day credit term. They bullied us by owing more than six-month of debt, and it effectively transferred their risk to us. To date, they still owe my company payment, and we have to resort to legal means to recover the fees.

Moving our business to a new location was also a big challenge. We found a suitable place to settle down, but the agent backed out of the deal after we agreed to their proposed price. It is disappointing that we met people who didn’t keep their words. But we moved on, and thankfully we managed to emerge from these experiences a little wiser and stronger.

What’s so different between working for a company and owning a company?

I guess the most significant difference is that you are accountable to yourself. Running a company is challenging and stressful, but it allows me to drive ideas of care and treatment. I’d like to think that I take responsibility, whether by proxy of my employment or by running on my own, so it’s not too different in other aspects.

You have an impressive record of certifications in sports and wellness. Why did you decide to focus on therapy and not fitness training?

When I left the military, I didn’t know what my destiny was. By God’s grace, I was offered a role in a rehab gym as the manager. There, I learned and experienced the joy of helping patients get better.

In the USA, Physiotherapists are known as Physical Therapists. It was there where we learned about highly educated athletic trainers with specialised knowledge on performance. Though Singapore is still a distance away from this standard, I believe that we, as rehab coaches, movement therapists or whatever you like to call it to have a role to play in patient care.

We fine-tune and optimise individuals through highly customised programmes with the aim of getting them better and granting them pain-free movement.

Therapy is also more fulfilling. Imagine your patient telling you how your treatment had allowed her to carry and bathe her baby. Priceless.

If someone was to tell you that he/she wants to start their own business, what advice would you give them?

I’d say go ahead and give it your best shot. We all have the same opportunities ahead. It’s how we manage the opportunities and leverage them to our advantage. However, the caveat is that they have to be prepared to put in hard work. Push through, and stay true to the reasons for starting out. If that reason is that you are unhappy with status quo, think deeper. Our goal for being in business is because we believe in the modality of treatment and sincerely want to help more people get better through movement.

I originally wanted the business to be called Inspire Movement because it stands for the importance of movement. The human body is designed for moving like how we need oxygen. The other meaning for this is also that we hope in a tiny way, we encourage and inspire non-movers to start moving more.

So what’s next for Rehab Pro Movement Therapy?

Well, I guess, for now, we are trying our best to get the word out about our work. Marketing is not our strength, but I believe that our results and our patients’ testimonials speak a lot more than us blowing our own trumpet. We are also big on developing future therapists, and we do so through our internship programme where they spend a great deal of time learning from every one of us. On that front, we are actively hosting study groups and live seminars of therapeutic modalities that we use. We hope that the industry grows so more people will enjoy movement as we do.

As a knowledge-driven practice, we spend a lot of time furthering our education and that allows us to be at the front of techniques that may help us achieve better and faster results for our patients.

When things stabilise, it is my goal to spend more time giving back to the elderly population. We try to do a bit here and there, but more can be done.

So with hope, we will sustain and survive the short run!


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