What we’ve learned from 100 Time Auction Mentors

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Time Auction was born out of a quarter-life crisis.

3 years ago, we were at a startup event. Many attendees (ourselves included) were there to explore and answer a question — How do you find your life’s passion and a career you love?

On our way out, we were chatting about the idea of Time Auction. What if we can pick the brains of people who are masters of their craft, while making the world a better place?

That night, we listed out the people we looked up to and kind of knew (“How about our friend’s dad? Or the guy you met at that event last time?”), and sent our first few emails.

Fast forward to today, our first mentor became our Board Director. We got our charity status, raised donations, and grew to a team of 8. Over 11,000 volunteer hours were raised featuring Allan Zeman and Anson Chan among many others. More than 230 charities were benefited with extra helping hands. Some of our attendees switched career or study fields with what they’ve learned.

We made our grandmas proud by being on newspapers. Jim Thompson and Ming Wai Lau became our advisors. We’ve done most of these on a part-time basis and realized that having a side hustle is possible. Personally, we’ve learned many valuable lessons which have shaped who we are today.

Here are our favourite takeaways.

#1 They craft out the capacity to think


Aaron Lee (Founder, Dash Serviced Suites) — Plan & Review Your Day

A habit that has significantly improved Aaron’s life? “Micro-planning. I plan my days sometimes to the extent of 15 minutes blocks. Every night before I sleep, I’d review my day. Every Sunday, I’d review my week and plan for the next.” Planning your schedule not only gives you structure to follow through on your goals, but also gives you space for creativity.

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Michelle Sun (Founder, First Code Academy) — Choose Growth Over Fear

“Always choose what will grow you the most, instead of what you fear.” Taking a leap of faith, Michelle left banking to study coding in the U.S., worked at various startups before starting First Code Academy. When making life decisions, we always have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety. Most often, the path we fear is what will grow us most. Before making a decision, ask yourself, are you guided by fear or by growth?

Belinda Koo (Founder, XYZ & Managing Director, UBS) — Reflect & Introspect Often

As an entrepreneur, banker and mother of three, Belinda lives by the motto of “Be an asset, not a liability”. What drives her is a goal of reaching a stage called Immanence, which is when one develops a strong spiritual mindset and links what they are doing to how they are giving back to their community, God or the Universe. As a practitioner of mindfulness and meditation, she shares that reaching such milestones come from a huge amount of reflection and introspection. Declutter your mind and listen to your inner wisdom regularly.

Tony Cheng (Founder, Drawing Room Concepts) — Make Time To Think

Despite the busy schedule of running multiple restaurants, Tony regularly schedules time just to think and reflect, which is often when great ideas come by. Prioritize the time to brainstorm, so you won’t get into the lazy trap of being too busy to focus on things that matter most.

#2 They own their education

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Renée Boey (Founder, Baker & Bloom) — Learn On The Go

Renée dedicates at least 1 hour per day just to learn. Think you don’t have an extra hour? She listens to podcasts on her commute. Since then, we’ve switched listening to music to podcasts every morning (Renée’s recommendation: The Tim Ferriss Show, How to Start a Startup). No extra time needed, we definitely recommend this way to learn!

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Fritz Demopoulos (Co-founder, Qunar) — Learn 3 Things From Everyone You Meet

Fritz’s advice to everyone was to learn 3 things from everyone you meet. Here are 3 of our favorite takeaways from Fritz:

  1. “An entrepreneur has two roles: one is brutal execution and the second is resource extraction in a very efficient way.” If you are doing things that fall into these two categories, it is a good use of your time.
  2. How to stand out to investors? “These founders you can see the electric in their fingers, they’re almost shaking .” Passion is critical and what you can’t lie about.
  3. “Focus on areas others weren’t focusing on — perhaps ideas that people think were stupid and so were overlooked.”

Cindy Chow (Executive Director, Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund) — Learn by Going Out of Your Comfort Zone

Started as an accountant, how did Cindy end up leading the HK$1 Billion Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund? By actively seeking out opportunities outside of her comfort zone from the beginning of her career — diving into Tech and China Mobile industries before they became mainstream. Most of us fear change because of the uncertainty, however the only way to grow is to constantly take on new challenges.

Guy Bradley (Chief Executive, Swire Properties) — Learn Outside of Your Scope

Guy joined the Swire group in 1987 and when he became the Director of Swire properties in 2008, he still took the initiative to study and become a Chartered Surveyor, just to learn about the technical side of the business. In today’s evolving business world, a mindset of lifelong learning is essential whether you’re a junior member or a CEO.

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Ray Chan (Co-founder, 9GAG) — Learn From All Businesses

9GAG is one of the most visited websites in the world, and Ray still spends much of his time thinking about ideas. In particular, observing successful businesses outside of the tech field — Why is a café or TV channel more popular than another? There might be commonalities that you can apply to your own business. Recognising patterns helps you become more creative.

Jennifer Ma (Co-founder, ARCH Education) — Craft Your Own Curriculum

When Jennifer leaped from banking to education, it didn’t happen overnight. Jennifer spent 6 months researching the education industry, travelling to Oxford and Cambridge to talk to professors, working in a public secondary school in Hong Kong before creating ARCH with her own curriculum. Before diving in to start your own business, perhaps you can create your own real-world “MBA” for hands-on experience and to test assumptions.

#3 They value people above all else

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Joe Ngai (Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company Greater China) — The Power of Influence

“In the age of information, the ability to influence is the most un-commoditised element.” Joe shares that at the highest level, consulting is about change. In this information age, the hardest part isn’t about coming up with the solution, but the ability to influence others to change.

Gary Liu (CEO, SCMP) — Measure Your Life In Impact

Gary pursuits life with a goal — to leave all the people he encounters in life better off than when he first found them. “That means I don’t chase after money or fame or power, but all I’m looking for is that kind of mentality in life.” Our lives aren’t measured in years. They’re measured in the lives of the people we touch around us. How will you measure yours?

Tom Mehrmann (former CEO, Ocean Park) — Leaders Speak Last

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” is Tom’s leadership motto. In order to turn around Ocean Park and change company culture, he was the first CEO to eat at the staff canteen, dressed up as one of the ghosts on Halloween nights, to go on great lengths to hear everyone’s thoughts before weighing in with his own. Practice listen first and be the last to speak, which is good advice no matter who you’re speaking to.

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Christine Loh (former Under Secretary of the Environment, Hong Kong Government) — Your Hobbies Create Your Own Unique Network

If you’ve ever wondered how a Commodities Trader become a Legislative Council member and Under Secretary of the Environment, we’ve got the answer. “I had a secret nightlife — I loved talking about public policy with a group of friends who share the same interests.” Christine loved it so much that when there was an opening at the government, she was offered the job. Your unique network is created from your hobbies. Find your tribe!

Dr. Guy Look (CFO, Sa Sa) — People Skills Are Real Skills

What’s one skill that the CFO of Sa Sa wish he had known better? “How to better judge and trust people. You can learn hard skills through reading. However the soft skills, the human relationships — knowing who to work with, or how to work with people, are not as easily taught.” We can all agree that hard skills are critical, yet skills like influence, communication and emotional intelligence is what makes the difference between a thriving team with a strong culture and one that just survives.

Garic Kwok (Director of Business Development, Taipan Bread & Cakes) — Choose a Career, Choose a Life

“You have to understand the values people have in the industry, which you can tell by the quality of their personal life. Then think about if this is the life you want?” When choosing your career, you have to consider if you identify with the industry’s shared values and lifestyle norms. As work makes up 80,000 hours of our lives, you career has a larger influence on you beyond purely the work scope.

Ronald Chan (Founder, Chartwell Capital) — How to Make a First Impression with Warren Buffet

How did a fund manager from Hong Kong ended up writing a book with and on Warren Buffett? “If you want to make an impression, either be the first person or the last.” Driven by excitement, Ronald was always the first person in line to meet and greet Buffett at his annual shareholders’ meetings, which made quite an impression on the legendary value investor. This led to a conversation, and then support and endorsement from Buffett for Ronald to write the book “Behind the Berkshire Hathaway Curtain: Lessons from Warren Buffett’s Top Business Leaders”. Genuine sincerity and desire to learn are golden truths that always stand true.

Win Mak (CEO, Mirum Hong Kong) — Look Beyond The Digital

With over 20 years of serving businesses (from Arsenal to Wynn Resorts) in digital marketing, Win says it all boils down to one thing — human connection. As a brand, are you speaking to your fans in an authentic way? Will they stand with you after a viral campaign? Digital marketing is, after all, just a means to an end.

#4 They explore by doing


Maaike Steinebach (Chief Executive, Hong Kong, Commonwealth Bank) — Get Out of Your Head

With 20+ years in banking, having lived in Holland, Shanghai and Hong Kong, Maaike’s urge for young people is to speak up. There is so much talk about how stressful it is to look for a job, yet on the other end, she reminds us how much they need young people with ideas. Do you have ideas that only stay in your head?

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Leonie Valentine (Managing Director, Sales & Operations, Google Hong Kong) — Explore, Consolidate & Accelerate

“Your 20s are about exploration, 30s for consolidation, and 40s for acceleration.” Leonie had her quarter-life crisis early, exploring many career options when she was young. Looking back, that exploratory period was time well spent, where she chose the path that was most interesting, rather than a predetermined one. In a world of instant gratification and on-demand everything, we sometimes forget that good things take time. It’s okay to not have everything figured out by your 30s. Take time in your 20s to explore, understand yourself and what drives you.

Allison Baum (Managing Partner, Fresco Capital) — Tips on Career Change

Going from investment banking in New York, to launching General Assembly in Hong Kong and now Managing Director at Fresco Capital, we learned that career change isn’t easy. It takes action (lots of people to meet and interviews with companies), patience (it’s not easy to find an exciting and suitable opportunity if you have a good and secure job), and courage (trusting your gut feeling and taking a leap of faith). If you want to venture into a new path, are you one of the few that take action?

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Sandra Leung (COO of Market Development & Head of Issuer Services, HKEX) — The Art of Asking

An accomplished young lady in many ways, Sandra says the key to achieving your dreams lies in the art of asking. “If you want to win a lottery, you have to buy a ticket. I rarely say I want to do this, but I haven’t even taken a baby step towards it.” Every big accomplishment is just a series of small wins. Progress is made one step at a time. Take the first step.

Gary Ngan (CFO, Meitu) — Find Uncommon Ways to Destination

When Gary was applying for Ivy League universities, one of the criteria was to demonstrate passion in sports. With no sports background, he figured the quickest way is to master scuba-diving by living on a boat for 3 months, which eventually helped him get accepted into University of Pennsylvania. With the mindset of “Think out of the box, find uncommon ways to get to where you want to be”, Gary became CFO of Meitu at just 28. In Peter Thiel’s words, “How can you achieve your 10-year plan in the next 6 months?”

#5 They have a side hustle


Arthur Chow (Co-founder, 6waves) — The Importance of Fun Side Projects

While Arthur was working at Turner Broadcasting, he started a side project with friends for fun — a game to play on Facebook for you to guess which Stephen Chow movie a line is from. This viral game became the basis of 6waves, the leading mobile game publisher today with presence across Asia and U.S. Never underestimate your fun side projects, as what you truly enjoy doing might be what you would do best in!

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Antony Leung (Chairman & CEO, Nan Fung Group) — Always Work 2–3 Jobs

Antony has had a thriving career spanning across finance, public service and startups. At any given point in time, he’s always held more than 2 jobs at once. “So I can learn twice as much. Once you stop learning, you’re dead!” This interdisciplinary exposure gives him T-shaped knowledge: breadth (perspective) and depth (expertise), which helps him connect the dots and be more creative.

Thomas Chou (Partner, Morrison & Foerster) — Giving is an Energizer

As a busy lawyer and partner at a leading law firm, Thomas regularly spends a proportion of his time helping non-profits and startups. This energizes him and gives balance to his busy lifestyle. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone incorporates giving as part of their lifestyle?

#6 They don’t see setbacks as failure

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Alex Kong (Founder, TNG Wallet) — Persevere at Rock Bottom

Alex’s life story is a roller coaster ride — Born into a humble family, Alex has made millions building tech companies, owning private jets at the age of 35 before losing it all in an unjust lawsuit. Picking himself up from rock bottom, he founded TNG Wallet, now Hong Kong’s biggest e-wallet with over half a million downloads. It is only possible as he truly lives up to his advice: persevere and never, ever give up.

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Ming Wai Lau (Chairman, Commission on Youth) — The Astronaut Philosophy in Tackling Moonshot Goals

Creating a youth policy for Hong Kong is a long journey with an uncertain chance of success, and Ming Wai lives a philosophy he learned from an astronaut to help him deal with setbacks. “How to become an astronaut? His advice was not to go become a pilot or join NASA. It was a philosophical advice which applies to most things in life. First, you have to enjoy the process of trying. Second, you have to accept the high chance of failing. If you can do both, it’s worth it.” Success isn’t guaranteed to the smart man or the lucky man; it takes a persistent man who never thought he was defeated.

Timothy Yu (Founder, Snapask) — Success is Defined by Failures

“Don’t listen to anyone, your parents or teachers. Success is something you define — it’s defined by tons of failures, until you can find a formula of success.” Having heard thousands of times that “this would not work” from growing Snapask, the 25-year-old entrepreneur kept his head low and worked hard, growing Snapask to over half a million users in Asia. As Tim said, “If it makes you a better person instead of having a better CV — then you’re on the right way!”

Jess Yeung (Co-founder, GinZeng) — Figure Out the Root Cause

How do you know when to quit and when to keep going? “If the failure is caused by a wrong fundamental assumption, we have to re-evaluate the whole business idea. Otherwise, if the root cause is more related to personal issue or the environment, we have to overcome it rather than giving up.” It is always a fine line between knowing when to give up and when to keep going, checking whether the fundamentals are correct would be a good place to start.

Yin-Man Tang (Investment Strategist) — Choose Your Opponents Wisely

“I like losing as it’ll be the learning ground and basis for your next attempt. You know how much better you have to be.” If you play against an average tennis player to a world champion, who do you think would help you improve faster? Take it from Yin

This article originally appeared on our blog on Medium: https://timeauction.medium.com/what-weve-learned-from-100-time-auction-mentors-777ffde2046b

Updated on 7 May, 2021
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