Baptiste Designs Retro and Poetic Timepieces and Crafts Luxury Lighting
What’s your story?
I landed in Hong Kong in 2008 when I was just 22 and almost immediately started working for Kapok, a multi brand concept store, after randomly running into Arnault Castel, the founder. Beautiful and exciting years followed: Kapok was growing, and we opened shops across Asia as new people were joining the team.
As a personal side project of Kapok, in 2011, I launched, with my product designer friend Thomas Letourneux, a brand of pocket watches named (at the time) Memento. It then became MMT and now has rebranded to AUTEUR WATCHES. I left Kapok in 2014 to focus 100% on our brand, and after almost 10 years of partnership, in 2020, the brand now features a wider range of architectural yet personal and poetic timepieces. www.auteur-watches.com
More recently, we have launched a completely different project named AAASY. A more street style and retro digital take on watch design. www.aaasy.co
At the end of 2019, I took over the direction of Voltra Lighting, a luxury brand of beautifully crafted cordless lights for the hospitality industry and I find the challenge exciting. www.voltralighting.com
What excites you most about your industry?
Whether it was for Kapok, as a multi brand store, for my watch brands, AUTEUR & AAASY, or for Voltra Lighting, I feel that personal interactions are key. I have met and continue to meet a great number of people that always inspire me or help open my eyes to new ideas for products and designs.
Evolving concepts in a constantly creative business environment is extremely motivating and helps me wake up every morning with the feeling that I will learn, try, fail, try again and ultimately achieve.
It has its downsides of course, with its heavy dose of pressure and stress. However, in entrepreneurship, one enjoys the freedom to create, try, fail, and succeed!
What’s your connection to Asia?
My wife! She is half Cambodian. I was 22 when my girlfriend and I moved to Hong Kong. It’s been 12 years since we arrived, my girlfriend has become my wife, and we now have 2 kids.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I have to say Hong Kong because it is full of opportunities: the ability to easily meet with a variety of people, from creative locals to rich foreign investors, as well as local business angels and artistic expatriates. You are part of a multitude of diverse communities and that allows you to rethink how you have been told to do business. There is a more casual and direct approach here. For instance, raising money here at the first stage seems more simple as there is a non-dissimulated position for both sides: You have the money, I need some money, let me show you my idea.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I was told to choose who I want to be. It helped me balance my personal and work life, and define which is most important.
Who inspires you?
Arnault Castel from Kapok has, for sure, been an inspiration in terms of entrepreneurship! Igor Duc from Native Union is also inspiring in terms of team management.
However, more generally, I am not overly inspired by famous people or entrepreneurs. I find that I am more inspired by my artist friends who dedicate themselves fully to their artistic endeavors.
Personal experience is priceless when it comes to entrepreneurship. It may be described in a book, written by a famous business guru, but there is no substitute for hands-on learning.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The impact of thoughts and emotions on your health and their ability to heal or kill.
I have believed in the power of the mind for quite some time, but I never suspected it spanned the complete spectrum.
I feel it is actually very important to unfold these inner mysteries, or at least attempt to understand them. This, to me, is the key to happiness.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I do not regret anything I have done. I have learnt so much and have met so many inspiring people… I would do it all over again in exactly the same way.
How do you unwind?
Actually, spending time with my kids is a pretty good way for me to unwind!
I read, do boxing once a week, and a bit of hiking on the weekends. Something that has changed my life quite drastically, in the past few years, has been to move from Hong Kong island to Lantau. The moment you step foot on Lantau, you unwind.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali. Not the busy part of course, but there are some beautiful landscapes on the northern shores, even though they may be less popular than the incredibly beautiful, but busy, Uluwatu, Jatiluwih or Nusa Lembongan.
Everyone in business should read this book:
“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” by Yuval Noah Harari.
It helps you understand how we got here and is written in simple words so anyone can read it.
If we know our past and history, we are able to imagine our future.
Shameless plug for your business:
While Light is essential, wires are an eyesore (and have always been right?). Voltra cordless lighting is the answer!
How can people connect with you?
I am not so active on socials but I am on facebook and LinkedIn. Otherwise, you could probably find me on a beach on Lantau.
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connects’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder and CEO of MBH Corporation PLC. He is the author of three best-selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’, ‘Agglomerate’ and ‘Entrepreneurial Investing’.