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Feb 04, 2019

Singapore Reflection - Nicole Kawondera

About 50 years ago, Singapore was a tropical fishing village. But as I walked amongst the intricately designed corporate jungle, I was amazed at what a long way the business hub of today has come

nicole k

The worlds third biggest GDP.


An airport of 950 vessels;140 planes taking off each day. A water demand of 430 gallons - predicated to double in 2060.


The 7th largest trading partner with New Zealand. And 1 in 30 of its residents, millionaires.


About 50 years ago, Singapore was a tropical fishing village. But as I walked amongst the intricately designed corporate jungle, I was amazed at what a long way the business hub of today has come.


We first began our business challenge accustoming to the Singaporean way of life. Business etiquette, hawker markets, ‘red envelopes’ stashed with cash. And the scenery? Breathtaking.


On Monday, we spent our time with the beautifully eccentric Tracey Hamilton. We were sitting in one of the many international schools in Singapore. This one being a $40,000 annual tuition academy called GEMS. As Tracey pushed us to connect with our self-awareness and align our intent with the other in the room, I began to release that business really is about people. I remember feeling humbled yet energised for the upcoming week. It was then when we scurried amongst the iconic Marina Bay, led by the NZ Chamber of Commerce Singapore executive director Danica. Danica explained how most of the spectacular building, 8 years ago, did not exist. The island is constantly developing but was once a strategically  located port. The multinational city now is driven by wealth. And what is interesting to see, if filled with a caliber of innovative kiwis working here. For example, Hayden Hughes studied Law at Auckland University and is now a blockchain wiz involved in cryptocurrency. And Hitesh from ShuttleRock, who uses his identity as a New Zealander to create engaging marketing content for some of the biggest companies globally. And Hannah Walton from Grab who runs the South East Asia version Uber, executing about 2 billion rides, over 8.5 million ‘micro-entrepreneurs’.


The main reason why Singapore has 1.6 million foreigners, 6000 of which are New Zealanders is 1: the low tax incentive and 2: It westernized culture that is described as ‘Asia light’ by Clare Wilson from NZTE. The easy environment of Singapore makes it easy to be do business. For example, Sharmin, a tech enthusiastic at NZTE, demonstrated that technology will be New Zealand biggest contribute to GDP. The kiwi tech industry alone attained a revenue of $10 billion in following years, and its innovation is valuable in the South East Asian market. Charles Chow is a highly educated Wealth Manager who explained how Singaporeans admire the creativity of New Zealanders. And what’s more, the low corruption culture adopted by both countries is mutually beneficial when doing business. It became highly motivating and energising to hear this – not only did I discover that a New Zealander identity is beneficial to doing business and is a competitive trait for future job prospects. On the other hand, Chow also explained how the business culture differs in other Asian countries. Like Japan ‘who dislike innovation’ and in Hong Kong, as Mike Matthews put in ‘it is very hard to build trust and can take a considerable long time to achieve’.


The Singaporean culture itself is unique and polite. For example, as we ventured through the bustling Hawker markets I saw packets of tissues placed on seats. Terry and Pavee explained that this is how you respectively reserve your seat as you go order you food. Another mannerism which I learnt about Singaporean culture is receiving and handing over business cards with two hands. This has become such a habit of mine, that I have now adopted it within my everyday life, even back in New Zealand.


One off the more valuable talks was the talk with Sam Gibb on investment opportunities for start up companies. Sam explained to us the pros and cons of various investment types including venture capital, angel investment and generators. We even had the chance to talk to New Zealanders who went through generators, such as Angela who is being paid $6000 to carry out her technology compliance company through EF (EntrepreneurFirst). Similarly, TradeGecko is a kiwi founded startup which received series A funding after completing the JFDI Asia accelerator. It was helpful to see the possibility of how far my own business could go, and how funding would sustain growth. As Tim Norton earlier told us, ‘most businesses fail because they run out of money’. 


Another office/experience I thoroughly enjoyed was visiting the Facebook offices. Again, it was motivating to hear familiar kiwi accents and conversate with employees about beaches along the North Shore. The philosophy of Mark Zuckerberg was repeated by these employees: “We make money to build great things. We don’t build great things to make money.” And respectively, Tim Norton from 90seconds and Mike Matthews had the best talks. Tim is a determined entrepreneur who candidly showed us the up and downs of his company. His energy channeled through the room (and although we were all still pretty jet lagged) his talk inspired us all to be tenacious and purpose driven. Another talk which was highly useful for me was Mike Mathews and his session educating us on pitching which was very worthwhile for the business challenge. With the tips I now know, I will use them in all my presentations and future pitches. For example, less is more, and your slides should only reiterate what you have included in the business plan and throughout talking.


The overall trip was successful. I had built the intent to discover more about a culture that was not my own and maximise the short space of time I had with such amazing people. I can happily I have successfully achieved both these intents. I tried food I didn’t even know the name with. And I have over 20 new connection on LinkedIn. Outside of tangible key metrics, I feel that I myself as a person have grown. I am now more confident, more inspired and not solely driven by materialistic things. Business is about people. And the people I have spent time with in this business challenge have made the experience inspiring, enlightening and most importantly fun.