These technopreneurs are making waves in their fields and have each founded businesses dedicated to helping others succeed. The three tech playmakers tell Annabel Tan how they are paving the way for food tech companies, women-led start-ups and the next-gen Asian workforce.
Ever since he was a child, Benjamin Wong has had a knack for identifying gaps in the market and bringing people together to help realise his vision. This often took, and still takes, the form of building clubs and communities. In primary school he set up the school choir, followed by the Scrabble club in secondary school and the public speaking club in junior college. In university, he went on to co-found The Mentoring Circle for undergraduates and was its founding president. In early adulthood, he also co-founded Atomos Watch Club and Cogito Collective, a watch enthusiasts club and a club for polymaths respectively.
“I’ve always questioned why people are not doing what I think we should be doing,” says the 28-year-old whose career experience spans family office, private equity and tech start-ups. “I understood that in order to get things done, I need to be the one to make it happen.”
Teach a man to fish
About a year ago, Benjamin Wong saw another gap in the market: The younger generation were either dissatisfied with their jobs, not suited for the jobs they were applying for or wanted more for their career but did not know how to get there. While these are problems that exist in Singapore, he realised they were more prevalent in the less developed Asian cities where universities are largely not as well recognised and resources are scarcer.
In more rural cities in countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, where Benjamin has been on mission trips over the years, he observed how driven the people were but lacking in access to the tools to succeed. To bridge this gap, he started Kinobi, a digital career accelerator for Asia’s Gen Z, together with his two co-founders.
Launched in August last year, Kinobi equips students with the resources they need to land their dream jobs. Most of these are free, such as a resume builder, a question bank forum for interview questions answered by industry professionals, on-demand video courses and more, with paid services like coaching also available.
“In Tier 2 and 3 cities, the students are super hungry for a better life and this is how we empower them,” says Benjamin, referencing the old adage: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. “I think that’s really what we’re doing; providing the skill sets to the people who really need them.”
As a young start-up, Benjamin and his team gather feedback for improvement by making it a point to interact with Kinobi’s users once a week. He brings up a particularly moving comment from a user from Kalimantan, Indonesia. “He said he really loves Kinobi because we have allowed him to experience what it feels like to be studying or working in Jakarta, and more than that, he has friends and people he can talk to in Singapore,” recounts Benjamin Wong. “By reaching out and giving them these resources and information, we are changing lives and this is amazing.”
A key advantage Benjamin recognised he had early on in his own Singapore-based career is the importance of mentors, networks and related opportunities. “At Kinobi, I wanted to develop and democratise these opportunities across Asia, and for that, we needed technology. Our belief is that technology was never meant to service the high net worth or be used for a premium platform; it was always meant for the masses.”
Technology enables Kinobi to help youth with career tools as seemingly simple as building resumes, which Benjamin says is a big pain point in the less developed cities. “Formatting a resume is actually half the job done because candidates need to make a good first impression; it is like a piece of artwork,” he says. In February this year, Kinobi rolled out its free automated resume builder allowing users to input their information into professionally formatted resumes accredited by industry professionals. Over 6,000 people use the resume builder each week.
In six months, Kinobi has already grown tremendously, reaching more than 30,000 users across its four markets of Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. “I don’t think any other Singapore start-up has advanced into any country that fast,” remarks Benjamin. The Philippines, in particular, has been booming for Kinobi with 30 to 40 per cent growth in just two months.
He credits a big part of Kinobi’s success to its mission to represent Asia and not any singular country. “We are building this idea of the Asian executive of the future,” he explains. “To rise up the ranks and be a good executive, I think you need to have this mentality of how to do business in the different countries. Our coaches represent that and our users aspire towards it.” He adds: “We are truly Asian because everyone here desires to transcend beyond their own country and live in all the other different countries. This will be a brand that perpetuates.”
Benjamin’s big-picture vision is to build a more productive society, especially in Singapore. “I’m Singaporean and I do want to make an impact here,” says the Bachelor of Science (Economics) graduate. “Our productivity isn’t very high and that’s worrying because it affects our GDP. The only way to grow our GDP is by increasing human capital through making people satisfied and fulfilled in their jobs,” he surmises.
“It’s sad to hear people complaining about their jobs all the time. When people are matched to the right jobs and love what they do, we can be more productive; we can have four-day work weeks and do six days’ worth of work. The economy will boom and that’s really my dream.”
On a more personal front, Kinobi is also a way for Benjamin Wong to pay it forward. He quotes the Bible verse: To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48), adding: “I’ve received a lot in my life because people always took a chance on me. I want to give back and do the same for others.”
Main and featured image credits: Photography: Joel Low | Art Direction: Audrey Chan | Hair: Ann Lin | Make-up: Sophia Chia/Makeup Works
This story first appeared in the June 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.