I worked for Microsoft for 14 years; started on the product development team working on Excel based at their HQ in Redmond (Seattle). In March 2003 I transferred to Singapore into a regional developer evangelism and community management role. In 2008 I saw a standing sushi bar while in Tokyo and thought the idea would work well in Raffles Place and in August 2009 I opened my first branch. It was a bumpy transition into F&B and it took 3 years to stabilize the business so I didn’t leave MS until 2012. At the end of 2014 the business has grown into 8 branches, multiple concepts (Shinkansen, a Japanese salad bar, Tanuki Raw, a fusion cocktail and oyster bar, and The Secret Mermaid, a bar focused on American craft spirits), and an outpost in Jakarta.
What excites you most about your industry?
F&B is fast-changing. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to travel frequently and see what’s happening with restaurants, bars, and other hospitality spots around the world. It’s funny to see similarities start trending in different countries and see what could be brought to Singapore. F&B is a very “immediate” industry. People are coming to celebrate life events, connect with their friends, or just to get a little comfort after a hard day. Being able to provide an experience that helps with these moments is pretty cool.
What’s your connection to Asia?
My parents both grew up in Asia; they met each other when they were at university in the US, and I was born in the US. I came frequently to visit family when I was growing up and always felt there was a lot of hustle and energy going on here. It seemed like there was more opportunity for growth in Asia than back in the US.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
With my new alcohol distribution company, Liberty Spirits Asia, we’ve set up bases in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. I’m most familiar with Singapore and feel the ease of getting started and the clarity around regulations and processes makes it a great place for doing business.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
People remember generosity. Be generous, be kind, be direct, be remembered.
Who inspires you?
There are a lot of people I admire, but rather than name a single person I think common traits that I hone in on is someone who displays perseverance, passion, and sacrifice. Everything in life is a tradeoff, and what’s most important is that you’re cognizant of what you’re giving up to do what you have to do right now.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
http://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/ – a page I regularly go to in order to be informed and surprised… though it’s mainly trivia and entertainment nonsense. Which is addicting…
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have made more out of my university experience. I had a great time, worked hard, met awesome friends and all but it’s only after I entered the workforce when I appreciated that at university it’s one of the last time periods of your life where you’re surrounded by people that you can just have theoretical discussions with and explore subjects deeply without needing a purpose.
How do you unwind?
I enjoy a lot of time alone. Drinking whiskey, hanging out with my cats; basically imagine what an 80 year old lady surrounded by cats would be like. Aside from that my wife and I like to check out different restaurants and bars as there is always something new to experience.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taipei. It’s a crazy food city and their service and restaurant concepts are off the charts. It reminds me a lot of Tokyo or Hong Kong but with nicer people. The cooler weather makes it a nice change from Singapore’s heat.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Not really for lessons from the book or because one should expect to be like Steve Jobs, but the insight into his life and how someone incredibly intelligent, creative, and talented is as human as you or me. Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton is also a great read; how ideas are borne from all kinds of random happenings and it takes luck, work, and hustle to capitalize on a creation.
Shameless plug for your business:
Standing Sushi Bar is one of the top-rated Japanese restaurants in Singapore, voted as best sashimi and sushi on the community portal HungryGoWhere. With fresh fish and handmade sushi, Standing Sushi Bar provides high quality Japanese food at a great value. With the reputation that the restaurant was able to establish, Tanuki Raw was spun off as a fun, fusion bar experience noted for one of Singapore’s best happy hours and oyster hours.
How can people connect with you?
This interview is part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur: