For me, Sentosa Island was a chance to get to know the rest of my team, the venue was absolutely beautiful with palm trees and white sand, it gave me a great first insight into how amazing Singapore really is. The water activity served not only as a fun team activity, but as a different view of Singapore altogether; an army of cargo ships on one side and a beautiful metropolis on the other. This really was my first big realization, I had never before seen so many cargo ships in one place ever, and I had never thought of Singapore as important to the world's economy, but seeing it for myself made me learn something you could never fully comprehend from a textbook. My coach for the exercise was amazing and full of laughs and jokes, she explained how Singapore had changed in the past and how some of the social systems work, it was a great learning experience for me as she pointed out that a lot of Singapore is pure engineering prowess; everything was made to look a certain way, even the rocks surrounding the bay were secretly made of concrete, while you would never notice. Afterwards, being able to sit at a restaurant for a while was the perfect way to relax and regain our energy, we sat and mingled with the Singaporean students learning each other's names, backgrounds, and funny stories; a team bonding exercise in of itself.
Haji lane was one of the standout experiences for me on this trip, it was where the Singaporean culture really stood out, and where in my opinion the management of the trip was spot on. We started off by walking past skyscraper after skyscraper, and ended up at a little street entrance, to me it felt like a scene right out of a movie, bustling streets with market stalls, street performers and hidden artisans. For a country so focused on expansion and modernisation, it was weird to see such an old street in the middle of a concrete jungle, a reminder of the past that they so desperately wanted to change. Singapore to me seemed like a country that was evolving at light speed, many countries tend to start caring about the past and preserving it over the course of hundreds of years, while in Singapore they have already managed to start-up, expand and industrialise, and then preserve the old in the course of 50 years. Haji lane represents the culture and root of Singapore, where it came from, and offers a stark contrast to where it is now. Business wise, the amount of SMBs in Singapore was crazy, most of them operating cash only, this is so different to NZ where the week before the trip I went up north to Cape Reinga and even the roadside shipping container turned pie stall had the ability to accept cards. This to me highlighted a lag in Singaporean culture; an inability to keep up with such a rapidly developing landscape. Buildings and infrastructure can change in a matter of years, but culture is sometimes a habit that dies hard, when only 50 years ago Singapore was a small fishing village, it makes sense that the culture hasn’t fully adapted to its high tech surroundings.
Monday came around and we were off to GEMS world academy, I was expecting this to be one of the biggest culture shocks of the trip, with the schools being super strict and uptight, not allowing for the same freedom of a NZ school, however as I attended some of the classes, I found that Singapore has recently really tried to shake up the school systems to drive more innovation and creative thinking, a NZ strength. I felt oddly at home as I shared my knowledge and made connections with the wide spread of cultures and people at GEMS, it was interesting to me that countries globally are trying to adopt parts of New Zealand to try and replicate our best export, our number 8 wire ingenuity. I was lucky enough to then have a workshop with Tracey Hamilton, who provided me with one of the most interesting workshops of my life. While I came to Singapore with a vague vision of what I wanted to achieve, I never fully thought about it in depth until this session, putting my thoughts onto paper solidified them and allowed me to better understand what I wanted to achieve from this experience and how I could achieve it. The Science and Art Museum was a great showcase of art and science. From this I finally got an understanding of what I was seeing all around Singapore; the beautiful buildings. Almost every building was visually stunning, from intricate patterns to slapping a boat on top of three buildings to join them, the buildings of Singapore aren’t just buildings, they are art pieces on display. This makes Singapore a very livable city, it’s nice to walk the streets and awe the buildings, a stark contrast to many of the world’s most built up grey, square, urban areas. This culture in my mind is the key to Singapore's strengths, while it works fast, it doesn’t lose its elegance and does the job right, making it a trustable partner for its international trading partners.
Tuesday saw us visit the high commission, where we got many amazing talks from NZTE and the High Commissioner himself, while being a great honor, it was also an incredibly eye opening session which fully and forever changed the way I saw NZ in the international market, and the importance of Singapore for SEA and the world at large. Before this visit, I had no idea about how close the two countries were and what our similarities were, we were given ample time to make connections within breaks, allowing me to ask away to some of Singapore's best experts on Singapore-NZ relations, that’s what made this trip so special to me, it was direct knowledge from the leading experts that fully flipped the way I work and to business. I loved the insane amount of knowledge the High Commissioner had about Singapore and the local expertise of Charles Chow.
Wednesday saw us enter Marina One to pay a visit to Facebook, which was absolutely surreal; to see one of the worlds biggest tech companies and how they work globally really changed my mind on how I saw Facebook, I had no idea that they had a dedicated team to work directly with companies for their advertising on Facebook. It was interesting to see the meeting rooms and tour around the campus, it really put a human face on such a large conglomerate. We were spoken to companies like Shuttlerock and Grab, which was absolutely amazing for me. On one hand learning how such a small, rurally based NZ company made it big was incredibly inspiring, on the other, I found it incredibly interesting on how one company processes millions of requests every day and how they manage the databases with that, especially for a unicorn company that grew so fast. Next up was Tradegecko, this talk opened my mind to the importance that SMB companies like Tradegecko and XERO have in SEA, it makes sense as there are so many SMB’s in Singapore from Hawkes center stalls to WeWork startups. Finally we were treated to Chinatown for dinner, it was so incredible to be in what seemed to me to be like a scene from a movie, or in a lonely planet book; bustling city streets full of life and culture. Being in a safe country like Singapore provides the best entrance to SEA and Asian culture in general and being able to explore these stalls was such an amazing experience that I will never forget, throughout the entire trip we got to try new foods where often, I had no idea what I was eating! The experience of just going all in on something new is one of a kind and something I am forever grateful for about this trip.
To round off the day we were treated to VR Room which was my selected company to talk about. While to most people the arcade is dying, companies like VR room to me are just taking the arcade to its next logical step. Just like arcade machines that were too hard or expensive for the average person to own, VR has the same issue, with VR headsets often costing in excess of $2000, far too much for the average gamer. It was interesting to hear about the evolution of the arcade into the 21st century and even more exciting to be able to play with the hardware myself in one of the funniest team bonding experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking into, we were singing and dancing the whole way saving the world slowly piece by piece.
Thursday and Friday was the time where we used all our knowledge to that point to help us with the business challenge, to help a NZ company enter the Singaporean market. At this point, even though I had only known my group for a couple of days, we were already so close, often checking in on the other teams just to share ideas and see how things were going. My Singaporean students were an absolute blast to work with, we would bounce around ideas, and with their help ground them convincingly into the Singaporean market, we used our knowledge, tips and tricks of the culture we been exploring to help us along the way. I really loved the pitch coaching sessions, they helped me to deliver a more natural and powerful pitch. Again, I loved the ability to ask anything to my heart’s content, while normally I would have to guess in between the lines in my textbooks or videos, being able to have such an expert is so immensely helpful.
To round it all off, after handing in our 2 page report and presenting a 3 minute pitch, we were subjected to 7 minutes of hard questioning, an experience that tested my ability to pitch to a whole new level. However, through the advice of our pitch coach to learn the numbers inside and out we were able to convincingly answer most of the judge's questions. What I took away from this was that while at school and in YES the judges are mostly supportive and impressed with your company, in the real world, investors are putting their money in you, and they’ll want to know every little detail and poke holes in your idea to make sure it won’t fail, I enjoyed the challenge as we as a team prepared beforehand for any potential questions we may have gotten.
This trip to me was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, it has completely reinvigorated my ideas about business and I leave it with so much knowledge and skills that I could never have learnt anywhere else, not to mention 9 new friends that I have kept in contact with to this day. I am forever grateful for this experience and I cannot wait to share and implement the knowledge I learnt into my life and businesses to come!