What’s your story?
I studied Chinese language and culture for many years eventually achieving a master degree in Chinese Studies. Having become fluent in Mandarin, in 2007 I was hired by a US company to be responsible for establishing and growing the business in the Greater China region. After four years of exponential growth the business was bought out by a Fortune 100 company and continues to grow to this day. In 2013 Matt Davies, one of my colleagues, began to discuss how we could potentially pioneer a company in Hong Kong that would be more meaningful. Having traveled extensively throughout Asia, we both became aware of the extreme social and environmental challenges being faced by local communities. After about 12 months of research we discovered that there were in fact many initiatives that had been started to help address these issues, but despite their great intentions, lacked the sales and marketing skills to take their development projects to the next level. Since we both came from Sales and Marketing, we saw an opportunity to become the missing piece in the puzzle.
What excites you most about your industry?
Regular reports are released containing consumer studies, showing that over half of people in Hong Kong said that they would be willing to pay more money for a product if they were confident that it was made in a socially or environmentally responsible way. The statistic still surprises people in Hong Kong when we share it, but we believe that although Hong Kong is not a large market in terms of scale, we believe strongly that this is the right place to be PhatRice’s launchpad to reach Asia and eventually the whole world.
Just in the last 12 months we have seen an eco magazine launch in Hong Kong as well as a number of new initiatives, many of which will have social impact all over Asia. I believe every person has the potential to do something good, if they are given a good opportunity. We hope that PhatRice is that opportunity!
What’s your connection to Asia?
I spent High School and University studying Mandarin and spent the summers doing internships and traveling throughout China. One such internship took me to the mountains of Yunnan where I was working to source hand-crafted goods from local Minority groups. Seeing the incredible impact of this business on their lives and culture was one of the main inspirations that eventually led to the founding of PhatRice.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although not at the top of the list of best place to live, Hong Kong is most definitely my favourite city for business in Asia. For starting a new business there is an incredible amount of talent, expertise and finances right at your fingertips, making the speed at which a business can operate unlike anywhere else in the world.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
A lot of people tell you to just “go for it” or to just take a risk in order to be entrepreneurial. In contrast our founding team spent over a year doing market research, organizing small events, securing outstanding advisors, and developing product partners well before we actually started building the site. We needed to prove that the model would work before we could raise the investment that we needed. Certainly there is no replacement for acting quickly, but it also takes a lot of patience and humility for someone to become a truly successful business leader.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The Alibaba IPO in the US was a real eye-opener for me, as well as a lot of people around the world. It really gave me a sense of confidence that not only are we in the right location, building a dynamic online platform is something that can truly change the world.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. Every great decisions and every mistake have been key to getting to where we are now, so I treasure every experience equally.
How do you unwind?
I play American Football on the weekends and I play music in my church worship band, as well as in my free time.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand. Great beaches, great food, very hospitable people, and affordable. Everything you could want.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Start Something that Matters, by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes.
Shameless plug for your business:
PhatRice finds, curates and features the world’s most inspirational products, that are not only ethical and sustainable, but are also extremely well designed. Let everything that you wear or use be a statement to the world that you believe in change, that the real value of our possessions is not the price tag, but rather the story of the people and resources that go into creating each item. Join this consumer revolution and help us make a real difference for good!
How can people connect with you?
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing has started, built, bought and sold half a dozen businesses in a range of industries across two continents. He is the owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 11 countries and he is also the CEO of Entrevo Asia, a company that runs 40 week Growth Accelerator programs.
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