Kevin Williams is using advanced algorithms to target the right people for the right job.
What’s your story?
I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. At the age of 8, I moved to the United States with my mother to pursue a better life. I went on to study Speech and Hearing Science at George Washington University in Washington, DC as an aspiring audiologist, prior to getting my first taste of the startup space in 2012. Since then, I have launched and scaled many startups, many in a General Manager role, in the US and abroad. Some of the companies I’ve worked in include car2go, mytaxi, Hailo, Breeze and more. With the skills and experiences I have gathered, I decided to create my own path to affect change here in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Now, I am the Co-Founder of SmartRetail in Singapore and Co-Founder and CEO of FindWork.
What excites you most about your industry?
The retail space is going through constant innovation, from accepting credit cards, to e-commerce and so on. Today, many retailers still seek a brick and mortar experience for their customers. At SmartRetail, we offer vending machines with intelligent smart vending technologies to businesses looking to provide the brick and mortar retail experience for customers, without the traditional brick and mortar setup costs.
In Southeast Asia, there is a huge problem in the blue collar recruitment space. Most recruitment technologies focus on startups or white collar jobs, so the blue collar jobs are neglected. However, with the FindWork app and a skills-based approach, we connect blue collar workers and educate the less skilled for jobs. Utilizing advanced algorithms, company job offers are placed in front of the correct target audience in the app and on paid social media campaigns. At the end of the day, it’s marketing and getting the word out there.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and spent most of my early childhood there. At the age of 8, I moved to New Jersey with my mother to pursue a better life. After meeting my father for the first time only a few years ago, I was motivated to move back to Indonesia/Southeast Asia to be closer to where I grew up, my family and the Indonesian culture. Although I lived in the US for a long time, I feel most connected to Indonesia; the food, the language and the people are where I call “home.”
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
After having lived and worked in the United States, London, Singapore and Indonesia, I can definitely say that Singapore is my favourite city to do business. Singapore is enveloped in progressive people and technology. It makes business more fun when people are open to new technologies, the government is supportive of new companies and competitors move quickly to solve a problem. It’s the combination of a modern society and its proximity to the emerging Southeast Asian markets, which makes Singapore the best city in Asia for business.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
While I was at Hailo, my ex-boss told me to stop focusing on what competitors do and instead, focus on building better connections with current users and finding more ways to better connect with future users. This goes back to the overarching idea that, “we’re in the people business.” No matter what the business is, software or not, making yourself accessible and your content personable is very important. Brand affinity and loyalty will always compete with price. Price is the aggressor, but people and relationships are what gives you loyalty.
Who inspires you?
My mother inspires me. She raised me as a single mother in a third world country during a difficult time. She then fought to find a way to bring me to the US for a better life, away from Indonesia. Through many hardships, I learnt a lot, and was always on the path towards success. It’s her perseverance and love that inspires me.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I recently became a little obsessed with watches after getting a collector’s Heuer Autavia (only 6 were available in Singapore). I didn’t know all of the mechanisms that went into making a great watch or why watches were so expensive. So, I read and watched a few YouTube videos and to find out why. The internal mechanisms of great watches are so complex and amazing.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have focussed a bit more on basketball and tried to play professionally somewhere for a season.
How do you unwind?
Most weekday nights, I watch Netflix and/or catch-up on sports highlights. Then on the weekends, I try to find the best coffee shops and channel my inner Instagram food blogger (which I’m not) in either Singapore or Indonesia. I love to travel, so as long as I’m travelling and taking photos, I feel at peace.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I am in love with Bali. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I met my girlfriend in Bali and lived in Bali for a bit, but the island is amazing. The vibe, people, food and friends make the island my second home.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Everyone should read Shoe Dog. Whether most people realize it or not, Nike exerts an influence that only a few brands in the world can. The journey that Phil Knight went on to start Nike is really interesting, and if you only have the time to read one book this year, let it be Shoe Dog.
Shameless plug for your business:
How can people connect with you?
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.
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