What’s your story?
This December will be my 20th ‘Chinaversary’ and over the last two decades here in the Middle Kingdom I’ve been involved with 8 startups, 3 as an exec in private companies which went public and 5 as a co-founder.
My back story is that I was born and raised around Boston – my mom’s parents were Irish immigrants, my pop’s family were all bakers who had been in the States for some time. As a matter of fact my old man used to say that we came from a very long line of procrastinators. Our family missed the Mayflower, but ended up eventually coming to America on the Julyflower! I grew up working in his donut shop/diner called Humpty Dumpty Donuts so we always talked about me running my own business.
I shot off to warmer climates for college at USC in Los Angeles and as they have the longest running exchange program with Cambridge University I studied there in 1988 and fell in love with Europe and travel. I spent the next few years after college working my way around the world as a bartender in the Virgin Islands, a concierge/ski bum in the Swiss Alps, an English teacher in post-revolution Prague, a house painter in Norway, a grape picker in France and a BMW factory worker in Munich. Then in 1993 I travelled overland from Switzerland to Hong Kong via the Trans-Siberian to Beijing and fell in love with China.
From there I got my MBA at the Rotterdam School of Management in The Netherlands since I was seeking the most international MBA experience and in the 90’s that was found not in North America or Asia but in Europe and while there, I fell in love with the internet.
After graduating I did a solo 4,000 kilometre bike trip through Africa from Nairobi to Capetown as a last crazy adventure before starting my career. It was awesome. It was a bit reckless. It kicked my ass. I loved it. Kind of like being an entrepreneur. Here’s a schlocky vid I lovingly crafted about my bike trip for my local cable TV access channel back in the day https://vimeo.com/22348199.
I have been here in the Middle Kingdom for the past two decades combining my passions of China and the interwebs. I built a Chinese-style courtyard home here in Beijing and put all my chips on red as it was with a lovely entrepreneur wife and three little guys made in China.
Two labors of love to exercise/exorcise my creative muse:
– Writing children’s books with all proceeds going to charity;
– Producing / MC’ing stand-up comedy shows across Asia with top comedians called ChopSchticks. I’ve opened here in China for Marc Maron, Russell Peters, Jim Gaffigan, Louis CK, etc. My job is to get up, tell a few jokes and in doing so make the professionals who follow me look just that much better in comparison to me. And I do my job very well!
What excites you most about your industry?
The fact that it’s already so amazing, but it’s still very much early innings. Still another 3 billion users to come online in the next few years. AI, AR/VR, robotics, drones, new and ever improving cat videos all combine to make it a giant steaming mug of ‘awesomesauce.’
What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve been in China for the last 20 years, but I have a fairly decent mini-shampoo collection from around the region for business and pleasure and speaking at conferences. I love the groove and sophistication of Tokyo while also heavily digging the vibe and chaos of Vietnam and Indonesia. I love the hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong and spent a lot of time in India in the zips. It’s home to 60% of the world’s population as I’m sure you and your readers know but it’s probably home to 80% of the world’s dynamism and energy.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I refuse to pick a favorite child, but I love all 20,000 restaurants in Tokyo. I dig the hiking around Hong Kong. I love that trips to Singapore can be sandwiched with kick-ass weekend getaways around the region. And Beijing and Shanghai both share this certain “hot noise” vibe (热闹 rènào) that keeps me living here.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Structure sets you free.”
Constraints and frameworks can be hugely constructive and empowering as an entrepreneur.
Who inspires you?
Tony Robbins. Sounds corny but if you’re familiar then you’ll know. If you’re not then watch the recent hit Netflix documentary about him, I Am Not Your Guru.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That there have been over 100 billion people who lived before us. I’d always assumed that since it took so long for the global population to reach 7+ billion that there were roughly the same number of people who’d lived before us, but in fact there are 15 dead people for everyone living now. Blows my mind since certainly the very vast majority of those humans died well before the age of 30 and had markedly different living conditions than what most people living today enjoy, especially in developed countries. So easy to lament our trials and tribulations but most people reading this live better, longer and fuller lives than the kings of yore, nevermind most of the people who have ever walked this earth yet with hedonic adaptation, as Louis CK says: “Everything is amazing. Nobody’s happy.” http://bit.ly/2c1nhjH That’s why gratitude is so key.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, no regrets. It’s all about feedback and learning. Can’t change the past as much we’d all love to.
Oh wait, can I modify my answer real quick?
How do you unwind?
It’s very important to recharge https://theenergyproject.com/
I prioritise and ritualise sleep, diet, exercise, meditation and time with family and friends.
Also I started a charity with my wife called Creatribute where we create children’s books with all proceeds being contributed to awesome causes.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Malaysian island of Rawa. Close enough to Singapore but far from it all.
Everyone in business should read this book:
The Hard Thing about Hard Things
Shameless plug for your business:
My latest work got a strategic B Round from Sina Weibo (Twitter of China) and as one of two co-founders (my other co-founder started renren.com) I moved to the board to become more strategic. Since then I’ve become an adjunct professor at Peking University teaching about entrepreneurship at the Guanghua Int’l MBA program.
I’ve been doing some advisory work helping companies crack China/Asia or helping Chinese companies crack the rest of the world.
How can people connect with you?
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.
Take the ‘Key Person of Influence’ scorecard <http://www.keypersonofinfluence.com/scorecard/>