Going full circle. Shawn Heng started as a management consultant, dabbled in the food and beverage industry setting up two businesses and has now returned to consulting to share his hands on experience in the start-up world!
What’s your story?
I was previously a management consultant and during my third year started my first restaurant/bar with a childhood friend. After six years in consulting I left in December 2013 to run my food and beverage/nightlife business full time (by then two brands). In 2014, we grew our portfolio to four brands but have since streamlined the business to focus on our strongest nightlife brand, The Mad Men Attic Bar. During the last two years, I’ve also invested in 3 other start-ups (one in fashion retail, two in tech). As of this month, I have made the decision to return to consulting with the belief that I have more to contribute to the start-up community as an advisor or investor than as a founder. I re-start where I left off with my old firm in January 2016.
What excites you most about your industry?
Nightlife – Seeing customers belting out lyrics to familiar anthems and singing along with our live bands on Friday nights. The energy that comes with it is so powerful I sometimes cannot believe we managed to create it and makes every struggle to date just seem worthwhile.
Tech – The entire tech start-up scene in Singapore now is getting increasingly vibrant. Being surrounded by high energy, positive individuals with new ideas and visions of changing the world is exciting. What really excites me though comes from brainstorming with start-up teams on issues or problems and eventually seeing them get solved. The feeling that comes from celebrating these small successes is incredibly addictive.
Consulting – So much still excites me about consulting, but what excites me the most are the people I get to work with. I constantly meet and have access to smart, driven and down to earth individuals who continue to impress me everyday.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred a Singaporean (4th generation). My paternal great grandfather migrated to Singapore from China in the early 1900s and married my great grandmother who was of Peranakan descent from Malaysia.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
After living and working in Bangkok for three years, I see it as a very interesting city for doing business. As modern as the city may be, with much to offer consumers, much of that offering is focused on the wealthier segment. There are still many opportunities to serve the majority segment who are slowly seeing rising incomes and are craving more options.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
If you don’t try, you’ll never know for sure.
Who inspires you?
My father. He started out as a bank teller at age 19 with an American bank, and eventually climbed his way up to become the country head of the bank in Singapore. After 34 years with the same company, he prematurely retired at the age of 53. Instead of continuing in the industry, he proceeded to focus on his passion and started his environmental non-profit organization. 15 years later, his non-profit boasts 500 volunteers and he has received a multitude of awards for his service to the nation including the Public Service Medal in 2005 and more recently the Public Service Award, PBM (Pingat Bakti Masyarakat) in 2015. My father has always been a doer and I take my inspiration from his deeds, his beliefs and his accomplishments.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
We don’t have to be founders to feel like we have contributed to changing the world, some of us are meant to do our part by helping others through that journey.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I believe in obtaining as much knowledge and information available to me at that time in order to make the best possible decisions, because that is all I can do. Using 20/20 hindsight to question past choices is unproductive when we should be looking forward.
How do you unwind?
I have a very regular hot yoga practice, which I started three and a half years ago. I also run and swim often. My latest discovery is spinning class!
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali. Because it is gorgeous and offers the opportunity to shut yourself away from the world in a private villa with all the creature comforts including a private swimming pool, private cook and your own service staff. If you want to get out to explore, the options are endless.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Blink – By Malcolm Gladwell
Shameless plug for your business:
The Mad Men Attic Bar – The stage is set. Experience it for yourself!
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.
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