Empowering individuals to steer their careers

Having worked her way through marketing, youth leadership development and helping organisations change, Jael Chng is now empowering people in their career design. Combining skills like design thinking, marketing communications, change management theories, psychology and behavioural science, she empowers people to live with more life, zest and courage.

Jael believes that one of the biggest things that impact us and those around us, is our career-life. Being a huge lever for change: it shapes who we are, it impacts our relationships and our quality of life. It is a powerful tool that shapes our dignity and identity and it also puts food on the table. If we want to change lives for the better, why not change them via career-life? Therefore, in this season of her life, Jael co-founded My Working Title with Darlene, to inspire and empower people to actively design career-lives.

A recipient of the 2019 Women Icons Asia Summit & Awards, Jael Chng took time to share her journey with AsiaBizToday.

When and how did you become an entrepreneur?
I became an accidental entrepreneur.

In 2016, a friend mooted the idea of career development for youth. Initially, I gave that person 10 good reasons why I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur. However, this need resonated with me as the future of work for youth has been in my heart. As I shared this idea casually with friends and ex-colleagues, to my surprise, a few said to me “I want to join you in this.”

We then tested the idea – we interviewed 70+ people and found out that the topic and planning of career can be a lonely, murky and difficult process and people found it hard to talk about it and make sense of it. We discovered that some people made career decisions in a haphazard way, with little available information and knowledge about the job market (low opacity of information) and often focused on the job search (employment) rather than their career-life (employability).

We then ideated and prototyped solutions to solve this problem. We thought – why can’t career conversations be fun, exploratory and meaningful? Therefore, we put our brains and hands together and created Career SUPERDRIVE™, a board game that is a facilitation tool that encourages people to play to discover, plan by designing and prototype by doing smart experiments.

We launched My Working Title in September 2017 with Career SUPERDRIVE™ and since then, we’ve created experiences and curriculum around this idea. With our proprietary approach, frameworks and tools, we’ve also started consulting, designing and delivering bespoke experiences for clients and also offer a certification programme.

Since our launch, our products are now used in 18 countries and we’re thankful to have organisations like LinkedIn, Grab, Shopee, GIC, Aviva, National University of Singapore  (Business School), Singapore University of Technology and Design, Workforce Singapore Group as our clients.

We’re not stopping in our prototyping efforts. Recently, we launched Team SUPERDRIVE™ to strengthen teams – understanding of team dynamics, discuss team alignment and performance obstacles, team strategy moving forward. Currently, we are also discussing collaborations with career-tech partners and academies. With the need for agile leadership, we’re also creating an experiential game called Leadership SUPERDRIVE™. Stay tuned!

What was your motivation to get into this?
Many years ago, I went to ITE (Institute of Technical Education) for a meeting and as I walked into the school, I suddenly had a strong wave of thought – “What kind of jobs are these young people going to find? What kind of families will they have?” That thought stuck with me.

During one of the change management projects I was working on, I kept hearing employees lament “HR doesn’t plan my career for me. Why am I not promoted?” and I hear from the HR team “The employees don’t actively take up the learning opportunities we give them. They passively expect us to help them with their planning and we can’t because we are swamped.” It was clear that there was a mis-match in expectations.

In today’s VUCA world, where organisations will be gearing more towards being an organism rather than a machine, we see a great need for individuals to rise up to design their own careers. We are seeing companies not promising career paths, and working towards being more open to co-design careers with people – it is no longer a fixed career ladder, but a rock climbing wall for individuals. Business models are no longer fixed and its form is evolving at a high speed, which means jobs will be too. It is a shared responsibility, and it needs both individuals and companies to have constructive, positive career conversations. Career conversations are now an important must-have for employee engagement, talent management and learning and development.

We are also seeing more mental stress and a stronger need for resilience – skills are becoming obsolete fast, and adaptability, grit and a growth mindset is what we need to survive and thrive.

I’m super thankful to have an amazing co-founder Darlene, who is kind, smart, and not at all hesitant to roll up her sleeves (literally too), to make this work. If she didn’t suggest that we do this together, I wouldn’t have the courage to do so.

What have been your experiences running this business?
It’s a rollercoaster ride! I’ve experienced many highs and lows, high hopes and low disappointments. Words like grit, hustle become real. Often we can’t predict fully customer’s behaviour, product take-up etc and I’ve learnt that the key thing is to set direction and intention, then go with the flow and ride the waves! I liken it to being a rubber band – being stable and dynamic, strong and flexible.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?
When I feel low, wake up and question what I’m doing, I go back to my ‘why’ and remind myself of the good that has already happened.

When I hear that our work has helped bring clarity, perspectives and possibilities to people, it makes my day. When we asked our participants what are their takeaways, we hear things like “I need to grow up”, “I found out more about myself and the strategies I can take moving forward.”, “I am able to discover, learn and plan for my future career in a more detailed way :)”,  “I can place more importance on exploring my interests, passions and translate that into career planning.”, “I get to know my colleagues more, beyond just work tasks.”.

There is a power in articulating one’s goals and we’re glad to spark a thought, an action, a behaviour change that may just have that ripple effect – to bring your whole self to work. People want to live meaningful, purposeful lives, also through their work.

We’re thankful that Dr Paul Brown, Professor of Organisational Neuroscience, Monarch Business School Switzerland, authors of neuroscience books calls Career SUPERDRIVE™ “a remarkable breakthrough in how enquiry might happen and answers be found”.

These affirmations keep us going through the entrepreneurial grind.

Have you faced any obstacles in your initiatives? Do you think you have faced specific challenges because of being a woman?
Yes of course! They range from having more ideas than resources, how to keep the momentum for innovation going while keeping the lights on, testing and recovering from failed experiments and finding the joy to continue. Buying cycles from potential customers can be long and it is a challenge maintaining a good level of energy, enthusiasm and optimism while actively waiting for things to materialise.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?
I love looking out for ideas and inspiration from novel thinkers, in the fashion + retail industries especially – in particular where people or initiatives that merge design and business.

One of the things we want to do at My Working Title is to make career design fashionable and desirable, like how fitness has evolved to being ‘cool’ today.

I recently met and heard from Tim Kobe, the first designer of the Apple store. It was refreshing to hear his take on the return on experience (as opposed to investment). I enjoy watching the Netflix series ‘Stayover’ where they merge interior design + business. I also love wandering into art museums to just do this: observe how artists present their point of view in a fresh way.

What’s your proudest moment so far?
I don’t think I have a big proud moment, but I am proud of little moments along the way.

It ranges from messages from our participants who tell us that they feel less stressed because they can generate more options, they feel like it is not abnormal to want to explore different working titles and that they got to know themselves and their colleagues/friends better and deeper.

Other moments include how companies like LinkedIn and GIC took a chance on us though we were still starting out, and this paved the way for many other people to benefit from this approach.

How would you define success ?
I define success as living out your purpose with passion, practically. This means – finding meaning in what I do, and making money. Money is a vehicle to fuel good, that can come in the form of caring for my family, society, country, the world and also myself. Success to me is living daily in peace, stillness, strength despite the circumstances, and having more than enough, so I can always give. Success to me is having the freedom to create, to develop and to do that sustainably.

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?
Go discover your sweet spot of your purpose, passion and pragmatism. Be open, be collaborative and be discerning.

Helping people find the luxury health and fitness retreats in the world

Dervla Louli Musgrave, founder of Compare Retreats

Dervla is on a mission to inspire and motivate people to travel in a way that improves their physical and mental wellbeing. Starting her career in a venture capital firm followed by start-up incubator Rocket Internet, she made a career jump into publishing where she worked her way up to from intern to editor at The Antithesis in Hong Kong where she worked on magazines for Peninsula, Swire and Intercontinental Hotels.

She then moved to Sassy Media Group as managing editor before being appointed digital editor at Hong Kong Tatler and director of integrated content at Edipresse Media Asia. She also contributed on a freelance basis to the fashion and wellness sections of South China Morning Post.

Founded in 2017 and based in Hong Kong, CompareRetreats.com is the world’s first booking portal and community for Luxury wellness retreats and healthy holidays that have been tried and tested by qualified health and fitness professionals. It is a trusted platform where you can discover and book top-quality retreats around the globe.

The USP lies in the carefully curated selection that promises something for everyone, whether its detox, losing weight, getting fit fast, de-stress, reconnect or just chill out.

As the founder of Compare Retreats, the premier booking portal and online magazine dedicated to the best luxury wellness and fitness retreats in the world, Dervla also finds time to work on her passion – digital media solutions and content-marketing consulting for companies and brands to help them with their online content and platforms.

Here are some more intercepts from her exciting entrepreneurial journey, as shared with Team ABT.

Who is your greatest inspiration & Why?
Ariana Huffington used to be the first name that came to me whenever I was asked this question. The co-founder of the Huffington Post created something out of nothing when she launched the Huffington Post. She had a great idea, a strong team and the ability to execute her vision. Now, my inspiration comes from fellow entrepreneurs in my network. I have a reliable support system in the female start-up community of Hong Kong, and we are always helping each other out.

What led you to setup Compare Retreats? Tell us how did it all start?
Wellness retreats are expensive, so there’s a lot of research involved in booking one. You need expert insights, a friend who has been there before, or an in-depth review to make a decision. I couldn’t find everything I needed to make an informed decision in one place. Either the price wasn’t listed on the website, reviews completely contradicted one another, or programme outlines were vague.

While the general travel publications and forums were covering retreats, the people writing the reviews weren’t industry experts or qualified health and fitness professionals. This prompted me to create an ecosystem of expert reviews, founder interviews, and transparent listings including prices to help people find the best, luxury health and fitness retreats in the world. I had three researchers working on a database of all the wellness retreats in the world and stopped when we got to 15,000.

That’s when my editorial hat came on and I started editing down the list to only include the best ones from the data set. I started a blog called Healthy Holiday Hero and commissioned the top wellness retreat consultants in Asia to write reviews about the top 100 retreats they had already been to. Within six months the blog had become very popular, and that’s when the comparison and booking portal idea came to me, and Compare Retreats was born.

I was in my dream job at Tatler at the time, and I knew I had to make the move to Compare Retreats full time when a KPMG analyst at the Financial Times Luxury Summit told a room full of journalists that wellness and travel were the two fastest-growing markets for 2018.

Tell us more about the business model. Have you raised any funding?
Compare Retreats has been self-funded from day one. The initial investment in talent, tech, content and digital marketing meant that the costs, in the beginning, were quite high. But now it’s running like a well-oiled machine at a very sustainable price. My fixed costs are low and my variable costs are high which means I can allocate resources to different areas as I need to each month.

Not taking investors on too early was a critical element of Compare Retreat’s success as I was able to pivot fast when necessary and give the company time to grow organically. We’ve recently had interest from large English and Chinese booking engines, boutique travel agencies and travel publications looking to buy or invest in Compare Retreats. It’s an exciting time to be in the wellness, travel and tech space, especially because our business is in English and Chinese and based in Asia.

Do you recall your most cherished milestone?
The website had been live for 72 hours, and I received a desperate email from a client saying that they were depressed, unhappy and burnt out and that they urgently needed to go away on a retreat. They told us that they were so confused about what retreat to go on until they came across the highly curated collection on the Compare Retreats booking portal.

There are over 23,000 retreats in the world right now, and we only work with the top 100, our edit is everything, and it helps consumers make intelligent choices easily. Being able to help people navigate the confusing world of wellness retreats is hugely rewarding.

Do you face challenges as a Woman Entrepreneur? Tell us more.
Not at all, in fact being a female entrepreneur has opened up so many doors for me. My best friends, favourite bosses and important mentors in my life have coincidentally always been female, and I’m lucky that I have a close network and community of female friends who believe in raising each other up.

I grew up in Saudi Arabia, in a country where women have very few rights, but I have never felt weaker or at a disadvantage because of my sex. My parents brought me up to believe that I could do whatever I put my mind to and I have been lucky enough to work with men who never treated me different because I was female.

If you were to do any one thing differently, what would that be?
I don’t think Compare Retreats would be the success it is today if I hadn’t made the mistakes I made in the beginning. I had an excellent team working with me from day, so we were always able to fix any errors quickly by putting our heads together. Obstacles are opportunities in disguise.

What would you like to achieve in the coming years?
As wellness travel continues to become more popular and people realise that health is wealth we will be here to help people compare, book and educate themselves about the best wellness retreats in the world. Our numbers have grown organically month on month, and our forecast for the future is looking great.