Zhou Wenhan, CEO of Smart Walkie Talkie

Wenhan started his career in the mobile space back when apps where something on Nokia (dumb)phones. Now he is looking ahead to bring mobility to underserved enterprise workers.

What’s your story?
My career has been built around the mobile space. I got into mobile (2009) really early by trying to create a J2ME/WAP app for a taxi sharing idea that I had. Right now, that space would be known as GrabHitch or UberPool. This interest then led me to become an early iPhone developer and creating one of the app (SG Malls) that was acquired by SingTel. My company did consulting for a few years and from there, I was approached by a product manager from the Singtel Business Team to build a Walkie Talkie app.

In 2015, we began our serious attempt at the development of such a Push To Talk App app. Together with the development and a proponent of Lean Startup, we had a website site up. With very little marketing, we had customers calling us to learn more. That motivated me to dig deeper. I then learned that the demand for instant voice communication was more broad-based than I thought.

What excites you most about your industry?
“Enabling these workers and Enterprise mobility is the largest IT opportunity of the next 5 years. Field workers make up 60% of the workforce in Asia and as education and work become more white-collared, they need information, communication and collaboration tools to get their work done.”

It is a large and underserved market because the perception is that field workers do not need digital tools. However, we find that with the right digital workflow and communication, the entire company improves in profitability and visibility.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was lucky to start a mobile app consultancy in 2009 when the iPhone just entered the Asia region. 2359 Media was based in Singapore but I had the opportunity to open our offices in Ho Chi Min (2012) and Jakarta (2015). These trips exposed me to the variety of the markets and the people of different countries.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore because most of the region’s business can be done here with the frequent events and conventions. Further away from home, Shenzhen would be an exciting place to see new Asian specific technology.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I only had one real boss in my life. We worked together in close contact for a year. The advice I got from him was to know myself better (self-awareness) and find what is suitable for yourself.

Who inspires you?
I am most inspired by how Elon Musk thinks and his crazy & noble ambitions. It is rare that someone dares to plant a goal post on another planet.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I just read this amazing and humorously written book called “How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller”. Basically, it teaches you everything you need to know and make until the pre-electronic era!

Thousands of years of knowledge and civilization crammed into a book. I read the e-book version first. After reading it cover to cover in a few days, I bought a hard-covered version shipped from the US. Now I have it handy in case there is a zombie outbreak!

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing! Some people might think I was too early in the ride-sharing market but I do not think I had the right temperament to run a business like what GRAB or Uber currently is. Regret, if any, is best left for your last moments.

How do you unwind?
When shared bikes were readily available in Singapore, it was a joy to ride anywhere, grab lunch in a new place and get back home without having to worry about the logistics of the bike. A podcast accompanies me on the journey and these are the times when the best ideas and business enlightenment strikes. Now that bike shares are less common, I do a run or a walk instead.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I prefer to have a “Workcation”. This is when you move to a new and interesting place for an extended period of time. Being in a new environment gives you an interesting perspective that being a tourist can’t. The extended period also allows you to do short trips around a region. My plan in late 2019 is to have such a trip to Jakarta for 3 months.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You: This book resonated so much with me because I was involved in a consulting business and needed to see a way to break the cycle of Client Work and Talent Management. It is really important which type of business you build and Consulting is great for an early career because it exposes you to so many sectors and companies. However, there is a need to find something more “repetitive” later on in life and it was part of the consideration why I stopped Consulting and decided to start Smart Walkie instead.

Shameless plug for your business:
Smart Walkie Talkie offers a nationwide Walkie Talkie Service. Smart Walkie customers come from logistics, hospitality, engineering, and private security sectors where the users are in need of instant voice communication especially in a work team. Smart Walkie enables fast communication by providing Rugged Push-To-Talk devices, Network Connectivity, Walkie Talkie App and Mobile Device Management App.

How can people connect with you?
Email works best! wenhan@smartwalkietalkie.com

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ 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 of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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