Andrew Lim is the founder of Drewperspectives. He specialises in commercial and underwater photography and it is the latter style of photography that sets him apart from others in the industry. At age 26, Andrew has already worked on projects that brought him to places such as Maldives, Bali, the Philippines to shoot amazing underwater pictures.
So how did he get everything started and what’s it like to be an underwater photographer? We caught up with Andrew to find out about his story.
When did you pick up the interest in photography? What was your very first camera?
When I was 17, I first witnessed my Shi-fu (Teacher), William Tan, a world-renowned underwater photographer, shooting marine life when I was on a dive trip with him. It captivated me so much that I got myself a Canon 450D and an underwater housing and started shooting.
There are so many styles of photography. Why choose to specialise in underwater photography?
Mostly due to my interest in marine life since I was little, and I love the challenge of shooting in perhaps one of the most challenging elements to shoot in. Also, the photography industry is incredibly saturated, and I believe in offering something different is always a good thing.
One of the common questions that people have about becoming a photographer is whether one needs to sign-up for a certified course to be regarded as a professional. What’s your take on this?
Disagree. Perhaps a school is good to learn about technicalities and basics of how a camera works, but anything more might limit a person’s imagination and creativity, especially when it comes to tests, teachers grade photos according to their personal preferences. Sometimes it works for them, but many a time it’s subjective, and it doesn’t mean a picture isn’t good if it is poorly graded. Right now, we are blessed with the internet and YouTube so you can learn tonnes of camera knowledge from there.
What were the initial challenges when you started Drewperspectives? How did you overcome them?
My expertise revolved around photographing marine life and not so much about humans. The initial challenge was finding a way to ease my clients into making them feel as comfortable in the water as possible. Previously, you’d probably only see supermodels doing underwater photoshoots, and that is what I am striving for each of my clients, which is with the use of water to bring out the beauty of everyday people.
What was your family’s reaction when you shared with them your ideas?
I am super blessed with a very supportive family. They thought it was worth a shot. Also knowing my personality, if I want to do something, I’d do it anyway. Haha!
Can you share with us the photograph that leaves the deepest impression in you, and why?
This image is of Danial Ashiq and his wife, taken during the maternity shoot I did for them. I grew up watching Danial in some of the local TV dramas and working with him was a great pleasure. They were the sweetest couple and were so natural underwater despite being eight months pregnant!
This particular image stays as one of my favourites because it looks incredibly ethereal. The lighting that day was perfect, the dress was beautiful, and you can almost see the love between the couple from this still image.
Has entrepreneurship open doors for you and what were your best moments?
It has opened doors. But before all that I had to close some (significant) doors to pursue this business. For example, I was offered an attractive position at Temasek Holdings after my book got published but I knew working in an office setting would kill me. I took the plunge and went ahead with Drewperspectives soon after. To be honest, the best moments are the little things like being able to rearrange my schedules around and travel whenever I want to. The freedom Drewperspectives grants me is something I value much.
Have you ever regretted doing what you are doing now?
Never regretted, but gone through moments when there aren’t many sales, or when dealing with tough clients.
If you were not a photographer, what would you be working as now?
I would’ve pursued my other business venture.
What’s next for Drewperspectives?
World domination! Haha! I’m kidding. But I would want to reach out to more countries and offer my unique and exclusive services there.
What is your advice for people who wish to venture into underwater photography?
By all means, please go ahead! It’s loads of fun and something remarkably different from the usual photography. However, it is also not the best industry to be in if you are looking to make good money as it is too niche a service.
Jeshua Soh was only 19 when he started Singapore’s first peer-to-peer camera gear and spaces rental platform, J Rental Centre (JRC), in 2015. Thereafter, he established another company, Startup Media SG, to help startups with their marketing and video productions.
At such a young age, Jeshua has accomplished a lot that people of his age are probably still wondering what they want to do with their life or the university they want to apply for their next level of education. So how did Jeshua do it and what’s his philosophy when running his businesses? Here’s his story.
JRC’s mission isn’t to make a million dollars, but to connect a million people (or more) – Jeshua Soh
How did the idea of JRC come about?
JRC.sg began as a Facebook page with just about 25 personal items that I wanted to share with others while I wasn’t using it. The idea then started growing organically, as customers and associates I knew also wanted to rent out their equipment. We created our first proper website in the middle of 2015 and the current site in 2016, where people can easily find and rent camera equipment from the respective owners islandwide. JRC today isn’t a traditional business, and we aim to connect people. We have been operating as a functionally non-profit company by putting revenue not spent on operations and marketing, into community initiatives such as filmmaking and photography workshops, events and competitions.
What were the initial challenges?
Having to explain the concept as well as our vision to partners and customers was and still is somewhat of a challenge. We hope that the ‘kampung spirit’ that is talked about by politicians and ordinary citizens alike will triumph over individualism and materialism in the long run.
What were the lessons learned while putting JRC together?
I have learned about the importance of focus as well as working with the right people (since that is essentially everything we do at JRC is about). The kinds of people I get to meet are very diverse, some more similar while others quite different in our background and goals. I believe that everyone has a story, and listening to another person’s needs and seeing how we can meet them should not just be a starting point, but something that may need to be done over and over again to build trust and community. On a practical note, I have also learned to keep operations lean to achieve other goals such as running the community initiatives that I mentioned above.
You run Startupmedia Singapore that helps startups with their marketing and video productions. How do you balance your schedule between work and family?
Work-life balance is honestly non-existent for me. Thankfully, the Startupmedia.sg and JRC are quite synergistic, being in the same industry and dealing with things that I’m quite familiar with. I have to prioritise important family events, keep reminding myself of the importance of adequate rest, and take breaks to recharge. In fact, I just came back from an 18-day trekking trip to Nepal!
Speaking of your family, what were their reactions when you inform them that you are starting your own business?
My family has been generally supportive of the decisions I take, though there were differences in opinions to some degree, I am thankful that I have their support to go through this journey
There are a lot of partners listed on your website. Who are they and what’s their role in JRC?
Our partners are equipment/space owners and they are the community of individuals who share our vision to connect with people. They provide their items or spaces, along with their professional expertise and support us for ad-hoc promotions and other community initiatives that we embark on (more on this later). Without them, there is no JRC!
What’s the selection criteria to be one of your partners?
There are no checkboxes or rubrics, but we do have a conversation with anyone who is keen on joining as a partner. What we look out for are our core values of collaboration, service and trust. If someone is looking for a good way to connect, has a good number of kit in good condition to rent and the availability to meet others, those are typically good starting points.
Browsing through your website, we noticed that besides having more than 1,000 listings and 50 partners, there’s also the mention of 10 spaces? Are you referring to co-working?
These spaces are mainly studios at the moment – targeted at photographers and videographers. We do hope to list more creative spaces as well, which may be good filmmaking sets or places to conduct workshops, training, meetings and events. The move to list spaces was in direct response to demand from our renters, some of whom needed to use these facilities for their school or work.
Where do you see JRC and Startupmedia in the next five years?
Five years is a long time, but in general; JRC’s mission isn’t to make a million dollars, but to connect a million people (or more); Startupmedia could end up becoming a lot of things, depending on where technology advances and how we choose to adopt it. Today, we have AI video creator software, speech to text, OCR, image recognition among many new technologies already being used. My hope is that we would be helping more startups and SME’s with getting their story out to the world, and help large corporates to market with a startup mentality (move swiftly and act decisively for maximum impact).
What’s your advice for people who wish to start their own business?
I am no business guru, but I’ll say that in general, asking a lot of good questions is better than having a lot of knowledge. Maybe this comes from my background in media and interest in current affairs/economics, but when so many things need one’s attention, it is better to have a robust framework of dealing with the issue than an answer to provide off the top of one’s head.
Anything you wish to add and say?
JRC.sg is now having our second run of a community photography/video project called PictureTogether. This free competition aims to showcase what the community can achieve together and how WE see Singapore. Participants will be given three random themes upon signing up at the link above and have until 15th July to submit their entries. For the video component, this year’s theme is ‘Boring’ Singapore in 360 (Free equipment rentals will be provided for VR/photography equipment for those who are joining in the competition).
159 images (53 for Singapore’s age, in 3 canvas’) would be exhibited, together with the compiled VR/360 video at Scape from 1-9 August, in line with National Day. There would also be 115 prizes worth $14,000 given our during the exhibition as well! This competition is one of the ways that we hope to connect people- with workshops, networking sessions and the collective showcase of talents that will be happening from now through 9th August!
Ms Tricia Young started her YouTube journey in November 2015 in her dormitory while she was studying for the Bachelor of Business Management at the University of Queensland, Australia.
Fast forward to today, even though Tricia is working full-time as a Human Resource Specialist at a local social enterprise, she continues to follow her passion for creating content for her beauty channel on YouTube. She now has almost 4,000 subscribers on her channel and 22,000 followers on her Instagram account.
In this interview with Tricia, we find out how she got into the YouTube scene, what’s her motivation, amid her busy work schedule, behind her undying passion for churning out content, and more.
Why did you start a YouTube channel on beauty?
Funny enough, before going abroad for my studies, I never had interest in beauty (makeup & skincare) unless the situation called for it like prom, severe acne outbreak, etc.
When I was in university, I had severe acne and saw a Dermatologist that prescribed me potent medication that made my skin flared up and had redness to the extent that it looked like rosacea. As you probably had guessed, I didn’t go out much, and when I had to, I was uncomfortable in my own skin, and I had to put up a front that’s just not me.
At that time, I began to surf on YouTube a lot more since I stayed in my dormitory and I would shy away from social interaction. I eventually stumbled across ‘Estee Lalonde’ back then ‘Essie Button‘ channel. For some reason, she inspired me to make content like hers. I could relate to her older content, and I was inspired to do the same.
So I started off by learning more about makeup and skincare, practising on myself, learning techniques that enhanced the way I looked, and eventually began doing makeup tutorials on Vimeo before moving over to YouTube.
Has it opened doors for you?
I must say that it did not open doors for me for the majority of the time when I was doing it. Practising makeup techniques on myself and collecting makeup was a hobby and it still is. Only when I came back to Singapore after graduating, I got to know about the influencer scene, which was booming in Singapore. Like what an acquaintance told me, “Just throw a stone to the nearest person, and that person will likely be an influencer.”
I continued to create my content based on what I was interested in and the content I was inspired to make through the recommended videos from my friends, family and subscribers.
As most things go, with more views, more subscribers and follower count, companies of various beauty brands started to contact me for collaboration. Most of the time, I still reach out to brands and to propose content that I am passionate to make to them. The brands do not always accept my proposal. They do reject me at times. At the end of the day, it still feels like the ‘opening of doors’ is through my effort and the people who follow me on the various platforms. So it’s sort of like “multiple people pushing the door open.”
What was it like when you first started?
When I first started, I honestly had no clue about other people who were doing beauty-related content in Singapore or internationally, other than the YouTubers I follow.
It’s hard to describe how it was like when I first started but I can say that the person I was had no clue about the influencer scene and I just churned content that I wanted to do for myself (and no one else) with no expectation or worry of viewers not wanting to come back again.
What was your family or your loved ones’ reaction to you doing YouTube?
Haha! I laugh because my family reaction was pretty much true to what I had expected, which was full of worries, concern and anxiousness, but in a loving way, of course!
Perhaps it’s just the Asian mentality of in a cyber generation. I do not get many compliments from my family over the content I produce. But when I do get them, I’m often caught off guard because I am usually surrounded by their concerns.
Does viewership bother you?
Yes and no. I mean it is disheartening when the content I feel is really good doesn’t get many views. However, I find enjoyment in doing up my storyboards or seeing my ideas actualised. At the end of the day, I take my beauty content creating as a hobby. My real passion is in social advocacy in Singapore, which I hope to explore on creating media content in the near future.
What are the pros and cons of being a YouTuber?
There’s a monetary incentive.
I prefer the medium of videos rather than blogging.
It’s an exciting platform that’s constantly evolving in the way stories are being told.
Sometimes, Youtube feels almost otherworldly to me with the large content types it has to offer.
If you find a YouTuber you trust and has the same struggles you have, more often than not the YouTube channel transforms itself into a confidant or at the other end would be like a TV series that you regularly go back to.
Constant change in algorithm annoys me, especially in the beauty review content segment of YouTube.
The content found on YouTube can be deceiving. Majority of the time, the reviews are not honest as some content-makers don’t care about what they are promoting.
Many people on YouTube get started with the intent to make it big and want to be the next big thing, which makes them susceptible to do or say anything, which is not true and it can be pretty toxic on YouTube.
What is the no. 1 myth about being a YouTuber?
That is all YouTubers make content that’s authentic to what they stand for!
Many people out there dream about being an influencer, do you see yourself as one and why?
I can quite confidently say NO. I have always grown up in a religious household and I believe that the concept/culture surrounding influencer is pretty much grounded in greed, lust, envy and otherworldly perspectives, which I do not subscribe to. I try to put out content that I would give back to people who are in my position a couple of years back where I kept myself from the world due to skin issues I had. I try to have a simple perspective on it (1) do content I love based on what inspires me/ do content surrounding products I love (2) what would I want to know about beauty products as a beginner (3) where to start if I’m starting out with makeup/skincare.
Who are your favourite YouTubers? Name one that you wish to collaborate with?
Joanday/ Joan Kim
For now, my favourites surround beauty content. I would love to collaborate with Estee Lalonde since she probably was the biggest influence going into YouTube.
Can one survive on just making YouTube videos?
Probably not. Never say never, but for me, it’s unlikely unless the traction is there but even then there’s no guarantee that it’ll only go up.
What is the equipment you need to make videos? What are yours?
For YouTube, a decent camera, a mic, laptop for editing and video editing software.
I use a Canon 80D with a rode mic and a ring light. My editing software is Adobe Premiere Pro and Movie Maker.
What’s next for you?
I wish to explore curate content in the area of Social Advocacy (preliminary phase is now on my current channel) in the future probably on a channel of its own.
What advice would you give to aspiring YouTubers?
Ask yourself why you are doing it. And if it’s not authentic to your personal story or if it’s not to give back to others then take time to find the real reason. Use them as the cornerstone of your YouTube journey.
Wong Chee Kui is the founder of Recherche, a curtains and blinds company. Before setting up his venture, he was selling curtains to businesses for his previous employer. After learning the ropes, he decided to dive into the world of entrepreneurship, something that he had always wanted to do.
So how did he get started, especially when his business has high overheads? Here’s Chee Kui’s story.
How did you get into the business of curtains and blinds, and why the name Recherche?
We wanted a unique name so that if we go into other businesses, we can still use it. Recherche means exotic here. We hope we are different than the others.
I have always wanted to do some business since young. I even thought of doing some AV rental business previously. However, I did not have the guts to start one as I lack the experience and contact. After working in my former company and learned the ropes, I decided to start this business as my first step into entrepreneurship.
Were your loved ones supportive of you starting out on your own?
My dad was very supportive of my idea and is always very concern about my business operations and profits. My mum, on the other hand, was quite unsure of the business and she would rather I work for someone than to start a business.
What were the challenges you faced when setting up the curtains and blinds business?
When we started, we had a hard time looking for end consumers to buy from us.
When you started Recherche, did you require a massive amount of capital? Can you share how much did it cost you to setup and how did you raise the amount?
We kept most of the expenses low when we started to the extent that we only bought one laptop to share among the three of us for those paper works and quotation typing. We raised about $150k to start off. The balance was used to roll the business as we believe that we should not owe any suppliers money.
We often hear people talk their business ideas but do not do anything about it because of capital. Do you think that it is a legit reason for stopping them from starting their business?
I think it is essential to have a strong capital. Although most suppliers give us 30 or 60 days credit, we believe in paying them early, either C.O.D (Cash on Delivery), cash in advance or on a 2-week credit. By paying first, suppliers are very much happy to work with us and are more efficient when we need help. However, if capital is a problem, start-ups can try to get more partners, investors or crowd-fund.
What are the challenges ahead for Recherche?
I think challenges ahead for Recherche is innovation. In terms of getting new products or unique products.
For people who want to start their own business, what’s your advice to them?
If you can, try. Entrepreneurship is fun although tiring. Watch your expenses and try not to have debts. Networking is important, talk with more entrepreneurs and learn from them.
Ms Ng Lay Peng founded Bask Communications in 2016 with less than S$4,000 in her bank account and six years of public relations (PR) experience. As one could tell from the savings, you are right; Lay Peng did not put too much thought into what’s to come after quitting her stable job to start her PR agency. Was it a wrong decision?
When and what made you decide to be your boss and to start Bask Communications?
Surprisingly, it was more of a spur of the moment decision than anything. I love being in the communications industry, meeting people from all walks of life and learning little nuggets from them, the adrenalin from tight deadlines, etc. However, I was feeling uninspired in my previous workplace and thought hey, what’s the worst that could happen even if I failed?
At that point, I could not visualise how my career progression would be even if I had switched to a different agency or go in-house. It was a toss between going solo and leaving the communications industry altogether.
I’m glad I made the move! It’s been such a steep learning curve and every day provides a different challenge.
How long did it take for you to plan before leaving your full-time job?
Less than a month! It was a classic case of doing it now or never. The more time you spend thinking about leaving the comfort of a stable income, the less chance there is of you doing it. I had less than $4,000 in my bank account, but I thought if I spent sparingly, it would last me a couple of months while I go about finding my first client.
What were the initial challenges when setting up Bask Communications? Does it take a lot to setup?
It takes a lot of grit to be a solo-preneur. In the first month, I was texting my ex-colleagues almost every day as it took time to get used to working alone. It takes time to build up a supportive network of people around you, and I’m super lucky that my first client, Kara Bensley from The Wyld Shop was exactly the kind of person I needed. She’s a beautiful ray of sunshine and radiates so much positivity that even at my lowest, the sky’s the limit.
In the life of an entrepreneur, the highs are very high and the lows are very low. It takes a lot of time to learn to manage one’s emotional and mental wellness, especially when you are trying to “chiong” as much as you can. Regarding skill sets, I had to learn to build my company website – a task I procrastinated for almost six months as I just couldn’t figure out how to build a WordPress site, learn to hire better, be a better and more compassionate leader and an employer, manage finances, the list goes on! I’m still learning every day!
Why the name Bask Communications?
The PR answer is to let my clients’ businesses/products bask in the spotlight. I’ll let you figure out what’s the non-PR answer is!
What were the reactions of your loved ones when you told them that you have decided to leave a stable paying job to become your boss?
My father is self-employed, and I think it excites him that I’ll be able to take control of life in my own hands. On the other hand, my mother is ultra risk-averse, hated the idea of instability and wanted me to go into government agencies so that I will have a “metal rice bowl.” However, throughout the whole journey, they have been silently supportive with simple things like making sure that I remember to eat, sending me to do my media drops, allowing me to get away scot-free when I occasionally turned the house into a mini-warehouse and media library. It’s the simplest things that speak the loudest.
When a client engages a PR agency, what they are buying is the service of the executive who is running their accounts. Similarly, when a client engages Bask, they are essentially engaging me.
There’s a sea full of PR agencies already in the market even before you started Bask Communications. How did you position yourself and what did you do to get clients?
When a client engages a PR agency, what they are buying is the service of the executive who is running their accounts. Similarly, when a client engages Bask, they are essentially engaging me. What I try to bring in to every meeting and execution are positive energy and good vibes. As simple as that sounds, it helps to set the tone for your relationship with your clients and your business.
My first client was Kara Bensley from The WYLD Shop who was referred to by my friend Susannah Jaffer, former creative editor at Expat Living. Subsequent clients were also through word-of-mouth.
How did it feel to get your first client?
There was the fear of the unknown, excitement and motivation to do well, and gratitude for the trust, leap of faith and support.
The road to entrepreneurship can be lonely, and sometimes one may have doubts about whether it’s the right path. Do you have those moments and how do you stop yourself from sinking into negativity?
All the time! Finding the right people to speak to is vital, so is hoping that those people have the patience of a saint! At the end of the day, it’s important to question yourself on what do you want to achieve out of this journey. Give yourself both short term and long term goals to work towards so that you don’t lose track of your achievements. Recognising one’s progress is one of the easiest things to lose track of because we are often so hard on ourselves, always trying to be better, faster.
What are the key differences between being a boss versus an employee in a PR agency?
It’s a very steep learning curve in being a self-employed person. In addition to the execution of day-to-day work, there’s also learning to manage finances, interview new hires, and learning new skills via free online tutorial so that you can save cost on hiring someone to do it. That was how I gained my knowledge on building Squarespace site and SEO! It’s important to be resourceful. Ultimately, as a boss, you are responsible for the quality of your work, your agency’s reputation and how much income you generate. As an employee, there are more windows to sit back and relax. I love to travel so the number thing I miss is being able to apply for leave and leave work behind!
What is PR and why should companies value it?
I think it is difficult to box in what is the definition of public relations as it evolves so quickly, especially since the acceleration of the digital age in the past decade. At its core, public relations is about communications and the building of relationships across the various stakeholders, be in the public, customers, management, employee engagement. We focus on earned media through crafting strategic, timely and newsworthy stories that would interest both journalists and readers. Increasingly, owned media has also begun to play a significant role in our line of work regarding generating relevant content to engage public/reader we well as increase search engine ranking or web traffic.
I’ve met my fair share of people who understood the value of PR and those who don’t. PR professionals have very little visibility in the front line, but we are the people who help to create conversations around your business and products, manage and build a company’s credibility and reputation.
Are PR and marketing the same thing?
There are differences and overlaps between the two functions, but I do believe that both go hand in hand alongside digital strategies! I usually craft my PR strategies based on the business objectives, amplifying marketing strategies and brand stories, and then filling in the gaps to ensure sustained communication efforts and publicity. Where applicable, especially when it comes to marketing promotions, we will also advise on content creation and digital marketing strategies to complete the consumer journey.
What’s your advice to aspiring PR practitioners who are considering a life in PR agencies versus doing communications in a corporate environment?
It’s no exaggeration that life in the agency is a whole lot more hectic, but to those who enjoy the pace of life and having different and varied portfolios to work on any time, you’ll appreciate how dynamic agency life is. In a corporate environment, your role is more streamlined, but you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the business as a whole beyond your work function.
Six years ago, Susannah Jaffer was a fresh graduate who moved to Singapore from the United Kingdom in search of work. At the earlier part of her career, Susannah spent more than half a year in a PR agency working as an intern before being recruited for a job at Expat Living magazine in 2013, where she took on various roles such as a fashion and beauty editor to a creative director. Although everything seemed to be going well for Susannah’s career in editorial media, in October 2017, she decided to call it quits and left her full-time job to start her first business, ZERRIN.com.
Why? Here’s her story.
You were a fashion and beauty editor turned creative director at Expat Living. Future was bright for you. What made you decide that it’s time to quit full-time and start ZERRIN in the world’s most expensive city?
I got to the point that what I was doing every day was clashing with my values, so I needed to make a change. That was always on my mind and was negatively impacting my mental health. At the same time, while the spark of an idea for ZERRIN was in my head, I decided “if I don’t follow this now, then when?” It seemed crazy at that time, but so do many things before we put our mind to them, do the work and manage to achieve them.
What is ZERRIN and what are its unique selling points?
ZERRIN is Asia’s first multi-label e-commerce platform for sustainable fashion and beauty brands. Through a mix of responsible retail, content and events, our goal is to enable, educate and empower women to #ShopMeaningfully, and to reignite a sense of connection to our purchases in an accessible, down to earth way.
ZERRIN makes it more convenient for women to shop and discover independent conscious brands in one space. We’re the opposite of other fast-fashion marketplace concept retailers out there. Instead of a message of mass consumption, low prices and deals, we advocate slower, more thoughtful purchasing and appreciating quality over quantity. We’re also working hard to build and bring together a community through our blog, pop-ups and educational events. I see ZERRIN as more than just a retail store, but a movement, lifestyle and mindset.
Yes, Singapore is expensive. Luckily, the overheads of running an online store are a fraction of the cost of renting a physical space. I’m thankful that my career path, and mentors I’ve met along the way, have taught me resourcefulness, which meant I was able to set the business up and not break the bank.
What were the initial reactions of your loved ones when you broke the news to them that you are going to be an entrepreneur?
Call me lucky, but they never really questioned me. My dad was an entrepreneur from a young age, moving over from India (where he was born) to be an accountant. Eventually, he was earning enough to bring his family over, and he went on to start his own business. He likes to joke that I got it from him. He’s still working full time and managing two businesses at 78.
My partner has been a big support too, in a constructive way. He also works in retail, so there are aspects of my business that he could relate to and give feedback.
What were your challenges when putting your plans together?
Setting up the business while working full time in a demanding creative role. That got tough at times. I didn’t leave till after ZERRIN had launched. Thankfully, my boss at the time was very supportive when I told her about my plans. I’ll always be grateful for that.
Another factor was my budget. I had no external investor, and everything was on a shoestring. This got me down at times, but I learnt to pick myself up, revisit my long-term strategy and make informed decisions from there. I prioritised investing in areas of the business that my gut told me were the most important, like branding, essential website coding and some photography. Everything else I did myself – PR, marketing, additional e-commerce/blog photography, digital marketing, social media, accounting…the list goes on. Despite being on a budget, I didn’t want the vision of the company, and what I put out there, to come across as so.
What were the things you learned when setting up an e-commerce store?
There’s a lot to do. As a retailer carrying multiple brands, there’s so much to market, which is a blessing and a curse. Some days, it can feel like I’m not doing enough.
Also, you can’t just put a product out there and hope it sells. Consumers today are way more savvy than five years ago, and will see through your brand if it’s offering is lacklustre. The quality and authenticity of your message are also crucial, as is the strength of your brand story and vision. As a multi-label retailer, I think it’s vital to tell that story (in various ways) continually and not let it fade into the background, otherwise what’s your value proposition and how will you scale?
Where do you see ZERRIN in the next five years?
If all were to go to plan, we’d be an international name, and trusted as a destination for conscious brands, serving customers all over the globe. We’ll also have established a full lifestyle content channel (online and offline) which brings together our community of customers, brands and inspiring individuals paving the way for more responsible retail industry.
Will ZERRIN eventually open a brick and mortar store? If yes, why? If no, why not?
If it does happen, I don’t think it will be in Singapore. It doesn’t seem sustainable. Rent here is astronomical and I’ve seen enough stores open and close throughout my short career to know it’s not a wise move. Physical touch points are essential though, so pop-ups will always be key throughout the year. If we do eventually open a brick and mortar store, it will be more than just a retail space!
What’s your advice to people who want to start their e-commerce store?
It’s always going to take more work than you think. If you’re not digitally savvy or are not willing to learn, then forget it. Above all, starting any business is always a risk. You have to be willing to take it. There’s no guidebook, and you have to depend on yourself to get things done and make it all happen.
Whatever your concept, know your target customer and market, and do enough initial research to determine whether you’re product offering will stand out. Write a business plan! It doesn’t matter if it’s not the most detailed document on the planet (unless you’re pitching to investors from the start, of course.) It helped to gather my thoughts, guide my thinking and strategy. Being prepared is always a good idea!
Justin Fernando is a videographer and an award-winning photographer. He has recently left full-time employment to further his passion for camera works in the world of freelancing. So why did Justin trade a stable job for one that has no guarantee? Here’s his story.
Where were you before started freelancing and why did you leave?
After graduation, I joined my first company doing videography and editing for a year before I was approached to join another company that was starting up. In that company, I was the primary videographer and did editing and graphics as well. I was there for seven years and left just a few months ago to start off on my own. I guess I felt it was about time to venture out on my own and into the unknown. We all like to be comfortable, and I just decided to take the leap of faith and see what’s out there.
How did you conclude that it’s time for you to start out on your own?
I still love my job. However, after seven years I was looking for more progression. I decided to risk the safety of a monthly salary to start off on my own. It was a difficult decision, but it just felt right.
After almost half a year, I enjoy owning my time and developing relationships with my clients to understand their visions. It has become less of a touch-and-go, and more of coming together with them to create contents that are engaging and visually stimulating.
What was your loved ones’ reactions to your decision?
My parents have always been supportive of me pursuing my passion. Never have they told me to get a better job like banking or engineering or what most Singaporeans deemed as a “proper” job when I was growing up. This is the one thing I am grateful for – having parents who are supportive of what I am interested in doing.
What is your photography style? Portrait, architecture, landscape, etc.?
I love taking travel landscapes and portraiture. In my travels, I like heading into the rural parts of a country. The innocence and purity you can capture speak for itself. It’s a unique experience each time when you smile and ask to take a picture of them, show them the photo and see the gleam on their faces as they look at themselves and return the smile. It is humbling, heartwarming, and goes back to the basic of strangers connecting in a foreign land, even when we don’t share the same language. I usually get their contact and send them a print. In Singapore printing out pictures is not very common anymore, and it’s easy to forget the joy of having something physical and tangible to hold, look at, and maybe even passing on to their family in the future.
What was your most memorable work for photography and videography?
Having completed a countless amount of projects over the years, it’s difficult to pick one. When I first started off roughly 9nineyears ago, the Canon 5DM2 came out and changed the way videos were made. At that young age, I was tasked to shoot and edit my first television commercial. It was a surreal experience to have the opportunity to shoot a TVC and doing up a car rig when these were usually left to the veterans to helm. Seeing it broadcasted on national TV was tremendously memorable.
Since starting out on my own, I have had the pleasure of partnering Bask Communications to work with Red Bull Racing for Formula 1, revolving around the concept of Dan & Max trying durian for the first time. We had to work with a tight timeline of having only 15 minutes for the shoot, and editing it overnight so that it will be ready for timely dissemination the next day. The video garnered over 13 million views worldwide and won two PR awards – Best Use of Broadcast/Video and Most Creative PR Stunt – for the campaign.
Freelancing market in photography seems to be saturated. Just browse through Instagram, and you’ll see tonnes of them. So what differentiates you from them?
Yes, these days it does seem like everyone with a camera is a photographer! I try to let my work speak for itself and it’s equally important to provide good service and build the relationship with clients.
One of the most common questions asked in photography and videography is whether gear matters. What’s your take on that?
Gear to me is absolutely secondary. While it does play a big role in aiding you to achieve your final product, I have also seen great stuff done on a shoestring budget. Sometimes not having the luxury of expensive gear pushes you to think more creatively about what will generate the best results. Having always wanted to go against the grain, I decided to go with Sony instead of the obvious two choices around and have not looked back. Of course, every brand has its pros and cons, it’s a matter of knowing what to use to attain the needs of the clients.
What are the gears for both photography and videography would you recommend for beginners?
Sony Alpha makes great, small full frame cameras that film great videos. As mentioned, there is no one size fits all formula, it all depends on how comfortable you are with your gear. Samyang makes awesome glass at affordable prices so starting off on those primes is a sure win start.
What is your advice for people who aspire to be freelance photography?
My advice is just to go for it. The most important thing is that it should bring you joy. You should wake up in the morning not dreading going to work and that is how I know the work I do is not just a daily requirement in life but a joy that completes it.
Ms Erin Chen’s professional revolves around a topic that many Asians, including Singaporeans, still find it hard to talk about even in this open society. It’s about sex.
Erin is the Founder of SPARK Fest Asia. She is also a Sexual Wellness Advocate, Sex & Relationship Counsellor and Speaker. She started SPARK Fest Asia with the aim to provide a curated space to get people to begin conversations on sex, pleasure and relationships openly, and to encourage the next generation of local innovators and problem-solvers to overcome current challenges in this area. This is why at this year’s SPARK Fest Asia 2018, there will be sextech hackathon.
How long have you been in the sex therapy industry and why did you venture into it?
I’ve always been a sex geek at heart. Some people grew up loving fashion, or cars or cooking – I had an affinity for sex. Not the act of sex, but a curiosity about the human sexual experience and its connection to culture, psychology, wellness, relationships, etc.
I would be that friend who would share every new fact that I came across about sex with friends. I was that friend with whom friends felt safe confiding in when it came to talking about sex.
Though I’ve always known that this was something I was passionate about, what inspired me to take action was when I came across a company called Blue Bella, which has since pivoted to become a lingerie company. At that time, it was a home party company that did at home workshops for women where they can also purchase pleasure products. What inspired me was the woman who started it – she was Oxford-educated and the company also had a social mission to help educate and develop young women. It was the first time I saw that it was possible to do something different in this industry. And so I realized how much room there was to do things better and differently in this space.
After ten years in the corporate world, I decided to dive right into it and received my Master’s Degree in Science in Medicine (Sexual Health) from the University of Sydney.
Before starting my sex and relationship counselling practice in 2017, I owned a pleasure products company where I ran workshops for women and couples on various topics related to sexual wellness. That gave me a lot of insight into the psyche of women and men when it came to the questions and interests they had in this area. I started noticing a common theme in these workshops that also extended into my private practice – people are not used to talking about sex. There is a lot that most people miss out on because they never or rarely had the chance to explore this area without judgement. This is what inspired me to start SPARK Fest.
What were the reactions from your loved ones when you told them that about what you do?
My parents questioned me on my decision; it is, after all, an unconventional one. However, since I embarked on this career and over time, it has opened up conversations about sex with my parents. These days, they are very supportive, and my father is a business mentor for me.
What were your initial challenges starting up your business?
I’ve started three social enterprises in sexual wellness – a pleasure products retail company, a sex and relationship counselling practice and SPARK Fest Asia. And the challenges that come with each are similar, as they are related to the perceived taboos of sex on an institutional level.
For the pleasure products company, the primary challenge was the ability to advertise through traditional means. Facebook and Google have a stringent ban on anything related to sex. For example, for areas such as gambling, financial services, and alcohol, Facebook’s policy is to follow local advertising laws. However, with sex, businesses in this area often find their ads banned or removed, even when they are not explicit in nature and could be of a more educational nature.
For SPARK Fest, the challenge has been to educate and create awareness around what sexual wellness is and how it can be different than the way we are used to seeing sex portrayed in the media or porn. Seeing sexual wellness as part of overall wellness is a very new concept — similar to how mindfulness was a foreign concept to most a decade ago. It’s difficult to imagine something you’ve never experienced before. And so it takes time for people to trust what we are creating.
That said, we do find that once people get a glimpse or experience the kind of new conversations and approach we are creating, they are very receptive and enthusiastic. For SPARK Fest, I think this is because Sinnead (my co-founder) and I have always maintained the philosophy that SPARK is not about telling people how sex should be or not be. We are not here to give positive answers. Instead, SPARK Fest exists as space for people to get accurate and diverse perspectives so that they can choose what will empower their sexual wellness journeys.
What inspired you to start the SPARK Fest as well as host Asia’s 1st sextech hackathon?
Through my work in private practice and also hosting workshops and events related to sexual wellness, it became clear over time that there is a general need for better access to understanding and exploring the area of sexual wellness. Sinnead, my co-founder, also made similar observations when she worked in the mental health area and now as a yoga instructor focused on women’s health.
There are so many myths, misconceptions and unnecessary shame and awkwardness accompanying this area that is hurting relationships, overall well-being and general quality of life. And when we looked at what was available for people – their options were either porn or adult novelty type events, product-focused expos, medical-focused conferences or tantra centric gatherings. All of these events are great – and not everyone feels comfortable engaging with this topic in those various settings.
We saw a gap that needed to be filled – making sexuality fun and normal! Like any other area in wellness be it yoga, nutrition, mindfulness – no one has yet to take this approach and we wanted to provide that platform for the community to connect with the multidisciplinary and wide range of professionals and change makers that bring sexual wellness to life.
Ultimately, we are doing this for our future children. For them to grow up in a world where sex is not shrouded with shame and embarrassment, and where they feel free to make informed choices that give them fulfilling sexual experience and relationships – however that looks like.
In general, our Singapore’s society is still mostly conventional. What were the considerations made over the years when planning for SPARK Fest?
Our main priority is to normalise the conversations about sex. It is very common for people to think of sexual intercourse when they hear the word “sex”. That is why we emphasize that SPARK Fest is a sexual wellness festival – it looks at more than just sex (and by the way, sex includes so much more than just sexual intercourse!). There are many elements that are at the intersection of healthy sex and sexual wellness – from physical well-being to emotional well-being to self and relational well-being and on a bigger picture, a community’s well-being when it comes to the quality of life of its citizens.
Sexual wellness is something that universally affects everyone, at all stages of life – whether you are single, a parent, or retired. And SPARK Fest aims to be the place where everyday people like you and me can gather to learn and take away something that can be actionable to improve their sexual wellness.
For example, you can attend a talk on how to talk to your kids about sex and how to go about navigating it (Having the talk: Do’s and Don’ts When Talking about Sex with Your Children), or sit in on a panel discussion on how intimacy can be kept alive (THERE IS NO NORMAL SEX). You can even participate in the first Future of Sex sextech hackathon ever in Asia to innovate ways to improve challenges in the sexual wellness world.
As you can see, we’ve curated the programming carefully to address various topics from pleasure to sex ed to relationships to the various health aspect of sexual wellness to gender roles. Fundamentally, we want to empower people to fulfil the experiences that they want. We are not here to tell people how sex should be – you are the expert of your own sexuality. We are the platform that supports your discovery of that.
It is also important to involve the innovators and change makers because they are the people who will keep creating solutions that help improve sexual wellness for everyday people! We wanted to showcase these individuals as well because we believe it is powerful for people to see that there are people driving change in this area – and who knows, someone in the everyday crowd might be the next Steve Jobs of sexual wellness. How cool would that be!
How did the idea of hosting Asia’s 1st Future of Sex sextech hackathon come about and why is it important to organise it?
The overall mission and goal of SPARK Fest are to normalise sexual wellness as a part of the whole wellness conversation. To accomplish that, we strive to bring together a community and space for people to explore and approach the topic of sex with thought leaders, brands and advocacy groups in this space. Part of that means also to seed ideas and solutions that will improve and impact change in the sexual wellness world.
When we saw the sextech hackathon being held in NYC last year, we knew that it was a great way to help bring about more conversations in this region. Afterall, change requires action and hackathons are all about action and problem-solving.
At the same time, we knew that Bryony Cole from Future of Sex was organising the 1st sextech hackathon in Australia this year as well. What began as regular calls to exchange ideas and best practices organically turned into a natural collaboration for Singapore to be the first city in Asia to host the Future of Sex sextech hackathon.
We both believe when we start to remove the taboo and shame around sex and see it as a typical and universal to the human experience, we will naturally begin to seek solutions for the current challenges that exist in this space — that is what makes this space so exciting!
What can we expect from the hackathon?
Firstly, we are very excited to be partnering with Bryony Cole of Future of Sex and Disruptor’s Handbook to run this pioneering event in Asia.
Secondly, it is important to point out that this is not a hardcore coding or technical type of hackathon. In fact, if you are not techy – you can still participate! A great team actually includes people from various backgrounds – from business, to design/creatives, to those who have a passion to make a difference in this area.
The 48-hour event will provide participants with opportinity to collaborate and get involved in the fast-growing sextech indiustry. Speakers, mentors and panellists from around the world will come together with participants to address a set of challenges at the intersection of sexual wellness and technology.
Example challenges from previous hackathons include “How to make condoms cool?” “How to make the sexual expression more accessible for the 1 million Australians with disabilities?” and “How to reinvent sex education for teenage girls?”
Other potential areas that can be explored include fertility, access to sex ed, the gender gap, sexual violence, and the list goes on! The specific set of challenges chosen for this particular edition will be shared with participants in the week before the hackathon.
Over an intensive weekend of team-building and creation, a variety of solutions will be generated.
Hackathons specifically encourage a diverse range of voices to participate in order to discover better solutions to current social issues. We will provide the tools and frameworks to bring ideas to life, along with mentors providing workshops and recommendations to help the teams deliver a final pitch – shark tank style!
According to the Guardian, sextech is a USD 30 billion industry growing at 30% a year, potentially outpacing high growth sectors like drone manufacturing. Why are we not hearing more about it?
Sextech is being discussed a lot more in the West, in particular in the United States. NYC is currently the epicentre of new and exciting female-led startups in this space. It has been covered by the New York Times, the Guardian, BBC, and many other mainstream publications. It has garnered attention in the US because issues around sexual harassment, women-centric healthcare, diversity and women at work have gained more spotlight in recent years in the American media. These conversations gained speed partly because of political and current events. As they become more aware of these issues, the natural question would be to look for potential solution and innovation ideas.
I think we are not hearing more about it in Asia because we are at the beginning of these conversations, which makes for an exciting time to come!
What’s the traditional perception and some misconception of sextech, and how can we expect it to evolve?
In the past year, The New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian, and many other global media have covered sextech. However, what you know of sextech is likely limited by three common storylines that tend to dominate media in this space: sexbots, VR pornography or female-designed vibrators. These three headlines have perpetuated the idea that sextech is only about sex itself. No doubt, innovations around our orgasms are important and fascinating conversations in their own right, but sextech goes beyond robot girlfriends, virtual reality dates and sex toys. Sextech is defined as any technology designed to enhance sexuality.
Bryony Cole from Future of Sex had shared with us that, this area breaks down into four major fields: remote sex, virtual and immersive sex, robots and augmentation. Cryptocurrency tokens for the adult entertainment industry to ensure the privacy of transactions, VR experiences to swap genders, apps to turn your smartphone into a microscope so you can measure the number and speed of your sperm. The possibilities are infinite, awe-inspiring and at times, somewhat terrifying. In many ways, we don’t know where we will go. Hackathons are a way of inviting a wider audience to ponder the future of sex and have a hand in its direction. Plenty of areas need improvement in sexual health and education, the world over. We can expect to see those innovations emerge in this second wave of sextech. Of course, there will also be unexpected ways this evolves and impacts society. Technology has always influenced how we have and think about sex and fall in love. In the last few decades, the invention of the Pill, online video streaming, and dating apps have all radically changed sex, companionship and the cultural attitudes toward it. Where we go from here, is up to us.
The participants at the Future of Sex hackathon in Singapore are pioneers in a new and exciting industry setting the agenda for human experience and sexuality in the 21st Century and beyond.
What are some of the exciting trends, opportunities and potential in the sextech industry today?
A tremendous opportunity for forward-thinking entrepreneurs is to address issues that impact sexuality beyond the obvious, from sexual violence and abuse to global health crises like AIDS and STDs, and to education models that can help us live healthier lives. This is the true intersection of sex and technology.
We can also serve grossly underserved markets for sex, such as the ageing population, and those living in isolation and people with disabilities. Dating apps for the ageing population, better access to sex education and sexual partners through immersive technologies like VR, and telehealth platforms for sex therapy are all examples of how sextech is accommodating the unique needs of these populations. There is so much untapped potential in sextech when we reach beyond the obvious.
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.
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!
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.
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.