Tell us a little bit about yourself – for example, growing up what were your interests? Have they changed or did you always have a main concept/idea in your mind that you wanted to achieve?
I was born and brought up in Singapore, which I believe is the most beautiful country in the world. I grew up as a very curious kid, and so from a young age I was put into karate, danced, debated, and played sports, including basketball and cricket. At the same time I was also incredibly inclined academically. I grew up in a house of professionals, with my dad being an engineer, my brother being a lawyer, and my mom being a teacher. So coming from a family of professionals, education has always been very important. Even while I was doing all these extra curricular activities, I was very focused on school. Personally speaking, I never really had an idea of what I wanted to do until I was about 14 years old. So up till the point of being 14, I had always changed my career plan, especially when being asked by my teachers during the first week of classes for the school year. Normally teachers would as, “What does each person want to do when they grow up?” One year I would say firefighter, and the next I would say Santa Claus, it was ridiculous. So when I was 14, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. This was primarily because of watching Suits, and also because my brother wanted to be a lawyer. My brother and I love each other but we’re also very competitive with each other. Whatever he does, I think I can do it better! So I wanted to be a lawyer, and started getting into debates! I debated for Team Canada in high school, went to two world competitions, never won but came out second. Interestingly, I lost to Singapore, which is my home country. Either way, the experience taught me a lot about critical thinking, and it also really gave me an awesome aptitude for foreign affairs, learning about the world, and being involved in political issues. However, the minute I came into university, the whole wanting to be a lawyer mentality got kicked out of me. I realized that I’m terrible at learning independently, and that I require something like high school where things are very structured, and where you’re held accountable for the work you have to do.
University wasn’t exciting for me. That was until I met Trevor Booker he had reached out to me during my first year, met me, and decided to invest in my early company. From there I was able to grow out that company, move and work out of the venture capital firm called, JB Fitz Gerald. This gave me the opportunity to go back to something that I’ve been into since a young age, which was selling. I remember being 10 years old, writing business plans for a bunch of companies that I wanted to start when I grew older. So it was kind of like I knew what I wanted to do growing up but I never had the balls to admit it because being an entrepreneur was synonymous to being unemployed in my mom’s generation. So I was kind of scared to start my own company but now that I look back on my life, it definitely makes sense.
What sparked your interest in studying Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies with Ethics, Society and Law at U of T?
So when I went into the University of Toronto, I knew that I definitely did not want to study a standard political science degree. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer but I also wanted a different experience. So I noticed that Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies was a part of the Global Affairs program, which was the only undergraduate program that they offered. It was really selective, as they only chose 30 students per year for it. So I knew I wanted to do, so I set that goal and got into the program! What was really awesome was that my classes for my main degree only had 30 people, which was great because I had a lot of 1-to-1 learning, which felt like high school. This was comforting for me because I studied in a private school prior, and those classes smaller. I also decided to study Ethics, Society, and Law because once again I wanted to have a legal career. However, looking past wanting a legal career, I have always had the dream to run for political office, so I wanted to learn about politics in Canada. Specifically delving into conflict resolution, and learning about morality, what is right, what is wrong, who dictates that, and how did we come up with the very philosophies that we live on, and that our legal system is bent on. So I wanted to learn all of that for when I run for office one day but I don’t even know if I will remember everything that I learned in my first year of university.
How was balancing your entrepreneurial endeavours, public speaking talks, and consulting roles with academics?
So...I didn’t, short answer. In second year, I think I went to a total of 5 classes, 3 of those were in orientation week. I was travelling for speaking, consulting at the same time, as well as creating my own company. I was doing so much outside of school that I really didn’t have time to attend class. Therefore, the classes that I chose in second year were those that did not have any participation marks. I kind of knew that by the second year that there might be a possibility of dropping out. I didn’t want to drop out without having an opportunity ready to go, instead, I wanted to drop out and say that I’ve been continuing something that I have been building for the past year.
What sparked your interest in pursuing entrepreneurial ventures in the tech sector?
Technology has been a big passion of mine for a long time, even when I didn’t get into entrepreneurship, I was always a nerd when it comes to tech. So anytime there was a new Apple product that came out when I was younger, I would be the first to buy it! Anytime I could get my hands on a new piece of software that was either for music, production or gaming, I would get it. I knew I wanted to do something there. When I moved to New York in the summer after my second year, I started working with a guy named Elliot Robinson who created Dunk. Dunk had about 2.3 million Instagram followers, with a total media network of 11 million followers across all accounts. So when I came, I helped out and became a co-founder of the media company, which enabled me to learn a lot about marketing, advertising. However, I wanted to bring a tech element to it!
What was the experience like of getting started on your first entrepreneurial venture, and creating Trufan?
It was chaotic for sure! I came up with Trufan December 2017! I brought on my co-founder Aanikh, who was studying at Stanford. He did a really good job of not only learning about data science, and being really prepared but also starting his own company at 15. It was called Under the Radar. So he had a background in entrepreneurship, and I thought wow this would be easy since this wouldn’t be the first time for the both of us. But within the first four months we were bogged down with hiring people, legal work, and getting the product running. We made a bunch of mistakes early on, including failed hires, product delays, and issues with the first version of our platform. Initially it was supposed to be a mobile app, not a web application but it never got built because our developer left us 6 months after we got started. We had a trademark violation because our name was SuperFan, and somebody else owned it, therefore we had to change out name 5 months into starting. There was so many things that came up when we started and we didn’t anticipate. That’s why I genuinely love this company so much, more than ever I have grown so much from building this on every single front -from a sales front, to product front, to a marketing front, as well as legal and finance. Having to sort out so many problems has made me go deeper into these fields than ever before.
For someone who has never heard of Trufan, how would you describe it to them?
It’s a social intelligence platform! We help companies do two things! One is re-engage with their existing customers, so if you have customers that follow you on social media, we will give you ways to reward them directly. Secondly, we’ll help you find new audiences. So if you want to find audiences off of new potential customers in a specific area, interested in specific things, we can help you build that audience and give you those sales targets to hit on social. It’s hyper-specific data, at an accessible and affordable price point.
Who are some of your clients that are currently using Trufan?
So it really ranges! We’ve had celebrities like Kevin Hart, Gucci Mane, Ka Kuzma, Dwayne Wade, all use the platform. We’ve also had brands like Dwayne Wade’s fashion label, Visionary Music Group, which represents Logic, Western Union, McDonald’s Canada, FaceClan, which is the world’s most popular esports organization. It’s been really neat to have not only a spectrum of celebrities and influencers but also big brands. Our big push over the past few months is to get smaller businesses too. Of course as a starting company we have bills to pay, and so we are focusing on high level contracts but my goal is to make this kind of data accessible to the small mom and pop shop around the corner.
How have you’ve seen the team grow since you and Aanikh founded it?
It was December 2017 when Aanikh and I set out to take this vision and make it a reality. We’re now at 11 people, on our existing team. We have 3 developers that are out in Hamilton, we have 4 people on our sales team, and one person who is our head of sales. His name is Scott Bergee, and he knew us since the beginning. Another guy named Cameron Russel is our business development manager, who we hired this month. Additionally, we have two summer interns that came on to help us out on the sales end. The rest of us are all a part of the executive team. Having a team of 11 people is really hard, and it requires a lot of communication to take place every single day. What I like is that all of us have come into our own, where we individually know what we are really good at. So from my perspective, I would consider sales as my forte, which is what I concentrate my time on. Aanikh knows that product and legal are his forte, and that’s what he mainly spends his time on. What is also really neat is that when you really think about it TruFan is really a family of more than 40 people. We have more than 22 investors, and we have around 12 advisors. We’re a big company of more than 40 people who are linked to TruFan, so for us, communication more than anything is the biggest point of emphasis.
What are you guys the most excited about with 2019 on the rise?
One is definitely from a product perspective! We started off with a product that could find a person or brand’s most influential or engaged fans, and now we can build an entire social intelligence platform that can do an incredible amount for brands to help them find a new audience. We’ve gone deep into geo-locations, where you can find new customers based on the location they are in. We have gone really deep with sentiment analysis, so on top of location we can find the people that have a negative interaction to somebody’s brand. Additionally, we have gone deep in topical analysis and hash tagging keyword analysis. So even with someone like Kawhi Leonard, who isn’t a very active person on social media, we can find his top fans based on hashtags and keywords that people are using. With that we can gauge the frequency that engagement is happening across Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
The second exciting thing that is happening in 2019 is the new markets that we’re getting into. For 2019 what is really cool is the three markets that we have seen the biggest growth in, which is esports, e-commerce and cannabis. From an esports angle we’ve got a 100___ on board, which is one of the biggest esports organizations of the world. Additionally, we have FaceClan, which is the most popular by following. Also, we have Luminosity, which is the Call of Duty team here in Toronto. Then we have had a bunch of cannabis companies on board, including WayLand, Hierarchy and Supreme Cannabis to come on and pilot as well. So from an emerging markets perspective we’re pretty excited about that.
What elements of the city of Toronto inspire you the most?
Just the people honestly! When we started our company, we were growing out of Vancouver, and this is no disrespect to the people out in Vancouver but I just felt like the pace that people worked in Vancouver was so different than here. People here are on the go, if you wanted to get a deal done, and if you wanted it to be done very quickly, go to Toronto or New York. I find New York to be too much to the extreme. I think Toronto is like a happy medium between L.A and New York. Toronto is a place where you can go into certain areas and get that calm vibe, while at the same time it can be the place where you can meet people who really want to get work and to hustle their ass off.I also think that culturally Toronto has grown so dramatically in the past couple of years. Even since I came to UofT, 4 years ago, I’ve seen that the city changes every single year. Toronto has held the greatest festivals that unite people, and ignited the greatest moments that unite people.
What was growing up in Calgary like, and how has that environment differed from Toronto?
I grew up in Singapore until I was 9 years old, and then I moved to Calgary. It was definitely a big change. I went from high skyscrapers everywhere to what was flat, and dry. Calgary was a really nice small town, I think! It is definitely a city but you never get a big city feel from it. When I moved from Calgary to Toronto, I really got that big city feel. The big buildings, and big corporations are here, which will definitely give you that big city vibe!
Do you still have family out in Calgary?
Yes, my mom lives there! I sometimes go back but not as frequently as she would like me to. We still have a house, and so sometime during the summer I take some time off to visit. Calgary is actually a great place for disconnecting in my opinion because it is not like a big city that can sometimes get on your nerves! So if you really want to disconnect and appreciate nature or appreciate the people around you, Calgary is the place.
What helps you maintain your drive, preventing burn-out? What motivates you each day to do what you’re doing?
I think there are two big motivating factors for me! One is definitely providing for my mom. My parents got divorced last year, and it has been super rough on my mom. When I see her handling all her shit so well, I think “alright well if she can handle everything when it comes to her personal life, the home, and living independently on her own, why can’t I manage my life.” So from a motivation factor, I’m not only doing it for her but also doing it with her hustle and her vibe in mind. The second reason is primarily because I’ve been given gifts, I don’t know by who as I’m not very religious in a way to think that it was God that gave me all these gifts. However, I know that I’ve been given all these gifts and I don’t want to put them to waste.
In terms of burning out, definitely I’ve burnt out multiple times. I think that the key thing when you feel like you’re burning out or about to burn out is to take a step back, and relax. For example, every Saturday at 3pm I play basketball at the YMCA! I think that it is a great way to sweat out any stress or any negative vibes. Also I find that basketball is a really great way to be surrounded by a good group of people that are always positive and looking out for each other. So once every week I play basketball for 4-5 hours, I chill with a really positive group of people, and that really helps me focus on the rest of the days ahead!
How do you balance relationships- whether it be your friends, family or what not?
So that’s been a big big lesson for me, especially with my parents splitting up. This past year I’ve learned the most about loyalty, and what it really means to be a friend. In my opinion, being a friend isn’t just someone that just checks in on you when you need them but it’s somebody that equally checks in on you when you don’t need them. So I’ve made it a really big part of my life to find out who are the closest people in my life, and make sure that I keep them as close as possible! Whether that means checking in on them randomly, always keeping them in mind for opportunities, or always trying to find ways to help them. Now more than ever I’ve tried to keep my inner circle small, and really focus as much energy on them.
What advice would you give to a young person who intends to embark on their own entrepreneurial venture? But just doesn’t know where to start?
The number one way to start is just by starting! It might sound stupid when I say that. However, I think the big thing that you have to do is take an idea, sit down, take a piece of paper, take a pen, and write the idea. Write out everything you know about the idea, and equally everything you don’t know about it. Try to get answers within 1-2 weeks of planning, and then try to move past the planning stage as fast as possible. I believe that every early stage entrepreneur should be in a race to their MVP, which is the minimum viable product. So if you’re trying to build an app, go on Invision.com and build out a simple wireframe to show investors, financiers and clients what your product would look like. If you want to build a service, go door-knocking and ask people, “Hey, would you pay $20, for my monthly laundry service?” Get customer feedback as quick as possible. When you get that MVP, combined with feedback, I can guarantee you that 9-10 times the idea that you started off thinking about, is not the idea that you eventually build! Customer feedback will factor into that idea, hopefully making it better! Or, it’ll allow you to see if pursuing that idea you had was a good option in the first place.
What kind of music do you enjoy listening to? Do you have a favourite artist right now?
My favourite artist by far is Travis Scott! I don’t know why but every song I hear from him gets me hyped up. I went to his concert, and when you go to his concert you cannot not like him! So Travis Scott for sure. I don’t have a preference with music, as long as I have a beat that I can dance to, that’s all I really care about. I listen to spanish music, and french music even though I cannot speak those languages because the beat is quick and I can dance to it.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be. And why?
Singapore for two reasons! The first is because it is the most beautiful country in the world, in my opinion. Secondly, I’m kind of banned from living in Singapore but not really. I’m not allowed to go back to Singapore because I didn’t complete the mandatory military service there! So I think it would be awesome to lift that ban and live in Singapore.