Working ringside at the most influential internet companies wasn’t enough for Chris. A preference for his passion led this young entrepreneur to his own freediving venture.
What’s your story?
The short version: I’m a recovering lawyer, a freediving instructor, competitor and traveller.
The long version: I spent 20 years as a lawyer in the consumer internet space. During that time I had the unique privilege of working in the legal departments of Yahoo!, Google and then finally, Facebook. It was an amazing time to watch the development of the Internet ringside at the most influential companies in the space.
Then last year I decided to follow my passion for freediving to see where it would take me. I founded a freediving school in Singapore and have been teaching and competing around the world since. In the past year, our school, Zen Freediving, has become the top-rated freediving school in Singapore. I’ve competed in two competitions and also had the opportunity to catalog mantas off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, cave dive the Cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula, and dive with tiger sharks, bull sharks and blue whales. It’s been an amazing year!
What excites you most about your industry?
It’s an amazing time to teach people about freediving since the sport is young and growing. There are many misconceptions about freediving (the largest of which is that it’s a dangerous extreme sport) so it’s exciting to talk to people and see their perspectives and attitudes change. It’s also really cool to watch our students exceed their expectations of their own abilities. It’s like showing them they possess a secret super power they never knew they had. Ask someone how long they can hold their breath and most will say something like, “30 or 45 seconds” when in fact most people, with a little instruction and coaching, can hold their breath for 2 minutes or much longer.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I grew up in Canada and worked for over 12 years in San Francisco but as a Korean Canadian, Asia has always held a special place in my heart. As a kid I spent many summers with my extended family in Korea. It was during the 70s and 80s and Korea was a very different place compared to the ultra modern urban country it is now, but it left an indelible impression on me. I knew that I wanted to live and work in Asia at some point in my life so when Facebook offered me the opportunity to relocate to Singapore in 2012, I jumped on it and haven’t looked back.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
LOL. I am biased but I would say Singapore! My friends are always accusing me of being a total Singapore fanboy, but I really do admire what has been built in our fair city state. Transparency, ease of business, low taxes, and a world-class airport are high on my list of why Singapore rules for business. One thing I really wish Singapore had, better water conditions. While we find the waters around Singapore just fine for training and teaching, it would be great to have better visibility so we could enjoy the reefs and sea life that are there, but hidden. Luckily, there are many wonderful locations to dive that are only a short flight away and Changi is an amazing airport to fly in and out of.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Several years ago I asked a good friend of mine what he would do differently if he were me. He said, “Chris, you are great and you have your work life together, but who are the eight people in your life that are family outside of your family?” What he was pointing out by this somewhat cryptic question was that it’s important to take time to invest in and cultivate key friendships and make those friends a core part of my life — like my immediate family. That advice really stuck. I’ve tried my best to follow it and invest in deep, meaningful friendships. Today “my family outside of family” is my support group, my lifelong companions and they make my life richer and more connected.
Who inspires you?
Mark Zuckerberg. I worked at Facebook for eight years and had the opportunity to watch him work and grow over almost a decade. He’s the real deal. Some things have changed over time. He has become much more comfortable in his own skin, more articulate and polished. Some things will never change. He is super intelligent, never afraid to question assumptions and maintains the strength of his convictions while also being willing to change direction in the face of strong data. I honestly believe that he is trying his best to make the world a better place and he has only just begun.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
One thing that the ongoing US election has demonstrated to me, much to my chagrin, is that in an Internet-enabled world, truth is less relevant and opinions are much more extreme. This really blew me away. Having spent my entire career in the Internet space, I’ve always assumed (as did all those around me) that the Internet would be a force for good. It would allow everyone to share information and views so that common consensus and truth would prevail and that people would be brought closer together. However, it seems to be having quite the opposite effect. By allowing people to select the information and news they consume, they are only surrounding themselves with the sources they agree with. People are creating an echo chamber of opinion where their own views become more and more strident and extreme and facts become less and less important. Nowhere is this clearer than in the ongoing US elections where dogma has trumped reason (pun somewhat intended) and where insults and lies have replaced informed opinion. It’s a sad realization.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I’m not sure I would do anything differently. I love my life and feel extraordinarily blessed. Where I am now is the result of the decisions I’ve made, including (if not especially) the mistakes. I’d rather consider what I would do differently going forward by applying what I’ve learned.
How do you unwind?
Two ways. I meditate in the mornings which helps to clear my head and start the day right. It’s a great way to relieve stress. Secondly, I train five to six times a week and luckily for me, freediving is very relaxing. Long breath holds and long underwater swims slow your heart rate and make you feel calmer and more relaxed.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Tough question! I would say right now Lombok, specifically Selong Belanak, is top of my list. It’s a direct flight, only a few hours, plus a very short car ride so it makes a great short-trip destination. The beach is beautiful and there is great surfing. For freediving, you can head up the coast a couple of hours to the Gili Islands. Perfect!
Everyone in business should read this book:
One of my favorite business books is “Good to Great.” I say business book, but the principles described are so fundamental they apply to anyone who is trying to build something great. “Good is the enemy of great” and this excellent book explains how to think about transcending the huge gap between those two standards. A must-read!
Shameless plug for your business:
Freediving is more than just a sport. It’s an attitude, a discipline and a lifestyle. It brings together mind and body, offers endless challenge and opens up experiences to you that only a tiny fraction of the people in the world will ever be able to enjoy. It can change your life. We at Zen Freediving (www.zenfreediving.org) would love to open that world to you — it is our passion.
How can people connect with you?
Best way to reach me is by email at [email protected].
Not a big user of Twitter. I did work at Facebook for eight years so colour me biased. You *can* find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ckim.
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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