Gabriel Chan, serial entrepreneur is revolutionising telephone and customer service industry with his new app, Skipmenu.
What’s your story?
I graduated from Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo in Canada. I am an inventor and serial entrepreneur. Among the technical startups I co-founded and led were social bookmarking app Soeie, collaborative notebook platform Thinkpanda, sports-betting decision-support system Sportschimp, peer-to-peer marketplace for school notes and exam prep material Notewagon and cross-platform classroom and lecture management suite Coursemodo that was bought in 2014 by a Fortune-500 multinational in a bid to enter the ed-tech space. As the Skipper-in-Chief of Skipmenu, I understand every aspect of the business and technology and oversee its overall strategy and development.
What excites you most about your industry?
There has been no innovation on the most used app on your smartphone: the phone, nor has there been any innovation on call centre technology. This whole ecosystem has reached a plateau for a while and is ripe for revolution. We are excited to set the new standard for the future of telephony and customer service solutions.
What’s your connection to Asia?
My ancestry is Canton (Guangzhou) and I have relatives all over the region, including Hong Kong. I was also “forced” to attend Chinese school as a kid, like most overseas Chinese growing up in Canada.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I should be cheering for Hong Kong, but sorry, Singapore seems to have a healthier startup scene. The Singapore Government has razor sharp focus and the resolve to get stuff done. The Hong Kong Government is good at crisis management and fighting fires, but does not seem serious about growing the startup ecosystem here. Perhaps it has other priorities.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t make assumptions. And that you’ll be dead soon, so you have nothing to lose:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
I have not worked with Steve Jobs but I have worked with a terminally-ill engineer. It puts this excerpt from Jobs’ Stanford 2005 Commencement Speech in perspective.
Who inspires you?
Võ Nguyên Giáp (VNG) is one of the greatest military leaders of all time, though no one in the West knows about him because he was on the “wrong side of history.” Despite overwhelming odds of success and very little conventional resources, this former history teacher assembled and trained a team (Vietnam People’s Army) that would go on to defeat the Japanese, then the French, then the Americans. They employed endlessly creative strategies, tactics, logistics and life hacks to ultimately win. Running a startup is guerilla warfare: odds of success laughably low, fighting against the establishment and a life of sacrifices. VNG is a reminder that the struggle could be won by being relentlessly resourceful and pervasively persistent.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Computer programs that can write themselves. Dynamic Program Generation interprets raw human language into intent and generates a program itself to react to the input. This is how Viv is approaching sentiment analysis. This is the beginning of the Industrial Revolution 3.0 and this may be the beginning of Skynet. GG, humanity!
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You mean if I could time travel or jump into a parallel universe to a younger me with my current consciousness? The answer is obvious: jump straight into entrepreneurship right away!
A younger me had many conflicting opinions from adults, advisors and so-called experts. This is fine, because a younger me needed to discover myself: discover my likes, discover my dislikes, discover my bottom line, discover my passions. Self-discovery is a part of life. All the failures, triumphs and plot twists contribute to my identity today.
So I would obviously do everything differently or “better,” and if/when this question is asked, I would still answer the same.
How do you unwind?
There is a punching bag in my office. I also like any sports or physical challenges, because pushing yourself to the limit is the best way to discover and redefine yourself.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Kansai region of Japan. If you like the big city, stay in Osaka. If you like to immerse in old Japan, get lost in Nara (especially Wakayama and Ikaruga). If you like to explore the wilderness, go out to surrounding areas. If you like food, don’t miss the Kobe beef. And of course, Japanese hospitality to visitors are legendary.
Everyone in business should read this book:
If you are in the world of startups, you need to read the Torah and the Bible of our culture by Steve Blank: The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual. They are both related and the former is the predecessor to the latter and both are authoritative summaries of how to not waste time.
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie also made an impression on me.
Shameless plug for your business:
Skipmenu is a smartphone app that serves visual phone menus. Skipmenu helps callers skip through automated phone menus in seconds by showing all the options on the screen. Released in 2016 May, Skipmenu offers users access to over 1000 hotlines and growing. Skipmenu is available on iOS and Android in Canada, United States and Hong Kong and will expand in the next few months to the United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
How can people connect with you?
LinkedIn — please do not send me a generic message, but rather remind me where I met you or why you’d like to connect. I believe that everyone should have at least one chance to make an impression so don’t be shy.
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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