14 Minutes of SaaS

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14 Minutes of SaaS

Listen to 14 Minutes of SaaS  Spotify Apple podcasts / Google Podcasts / TuneIn Stitcher

E88 – Anna Gong, Perx CEO – 3 of 3 – Raising the Bar

In episode 88 of 14 Minutes of SaaS recorded at RISE in HK (final part of this trilogy), Anna Gong, the CEO & Board Member of Perx tells Stephen Cummins about being bullied in school growing up as a Chinese immigrant in Florida. She talks about how the perceived difficulty of entry into south-east Asia actually represents an opportunity. In this episode Anna reflects on a lot of personal aspects of her life including challenges she had to overcome, what keeps her motivated, and people that influenced her. She also talks about challenges for women in Asia. And, like all of our guests, she’ll give advice to all the entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs listening.


Transcript:

Anna Gong: [00:00:00] I was bullied when I was in Florida growing up because it’s a very white environment.

Stephen Cummins: So you looked different.

Anna Gong: Yeah, I looked different.

Stephen Cummins: And you sounded different at the beginning, right?

Anna Gong: I knew not a word of English when I landed in the US. And then walking home and you get picked on by these boys and they punch you in the gut. And then and I was telling the story to a bunch of people on stage one day. My dad didn’t even know about it, because back then you can’t complain! You know, I’m proud of what I’ve gotten here, you know. And how that transpired. You know, my parents took me from China to the US. Now I’m back in the Far East. Singapore’s more neutral. It’s the Switzerland of Asia. We don’t have Big Brother breathing down your throat like Hong Kong.

Stephen Cummins: That’s true. Yeah.

Anna Gong: Singapore is definitely a very good hub. And Southeast Asia is one of those unknown fragmented markets that people are not sure about. And yet everybody’s trying to get in. Just do it!

Stephen Cummins: [00:01:07] I’m Stephen Cummins, and this is part three of an interview with Anna Gong, CEO and a board member of Perx. Anna reflects on a lot of personal aspects of her life, including challenges she’d had to overcome, including bullying, what keeps her motivated, and the people that influenced her in life. She also talks about challenges for women in Asia. And like all of our guests, she’ll give advice to all the entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs listening.

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS. The show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS scale-ups.

Have you got kids?

Anna Gong: [00:01:56] No, I’m. I’m divorced. No kids.

Stephen Cummins: [00:02:00] Ok. So that makes it a little bit easier as somebody with a high-pressure job. But how do you keep healthy? How do you find that work life balance?

Anna Gong: [00:02:10] Oh, I’m a big believer in balancing … exercise … and mind, body and soul. Right. And then meditate. I try to meditate three, four times a week. And on the weekends, I meditate a little longer. But on the weekdays, you know, 5, 10 minutes or even 15 minutes is normal for me. I really just believe in pausing for a little bit, you know. I’ve learned in my younger years … I overreacted to everything. And now I actually just sit back. The fire is burning. There’s so many fires burning. Which fire do I catch first? Or do I put out first? So you tend to just step back a little and not act on emotions. And so I’m a lot calmer now than ever before.

Stephen Cummins: [00:02:53] So you give things time, and respond thoughtfully, rather than react emotionally.

Anna Gong: Right.

Stephen Cummins: And it usually leads to a better outcome.

Anna Gong: Exactly.

Stephen Cummins: If you were to name somebody in your life Anna who’s had a deep influence on your career … whether close to you or whether a professional … who might you think of?

Anna Gong: [00:03:14] I think fundamentally it was my Dad pushing me. I mean, my Mom and Dad, they sacrificed so much, right. So whatever I want to do, I have to do my best. You know. No complaints. And this whole gender diversity thing. Male or female. I always thought, why even consider male or female? Just pick the best candidates based on merits.

Stephen Cummins: Absolutely. 

Anna Gong: And so I was just taught to work your ass off. But I didn’t have the ecosystem, the help or mentorship. Everything that we’ve done as a child growing up, we did it on our own – because our parents were trying to put food on the table. And working multiple jobs and whatnot. They gave up their careers to come to Asia. They were very established career professionals in their own field in China. They gave up so much. And then when I went to California, I met a couple of really great mentors. And one actually passed away right before I left California.

Stephen Cummins: Oh … sorry to hear that. Who was that?

Anna Gong: George Flaherty. He’s actually an older gentleman. I met him when he was in his early 70s. He’s founded over 60 businesses in his lifetime. Like you could think of any … he’s a renaissance man, right. Well, he was a politician, he owned music stores, he owned soccer teams, radio stations, TV stations. He redid the whole Denali in Alaska, and then built a whole tourism around conserving that entire foundation. And then he was the head of the Democratic Party. He was a mayor.

Stephen Cummins: [00:04:52] Oh wow. He’s cool on every front. It’s an Irish name as well.

Anna Gong: [00:04:57] Yeah. He is Irish. And he taught me a lot. And he was truly instrumental in letting … like giving me advice on, you know, on how to look at life in a different light. And then when I was very down, my Mom was sick with cancer during that time. And I ended a long relationship. I didn’t know what to do with my career when I was in my late 20s. And he’d steer me in the right direction and taught me how to, you know, look at something beyond yourself. So I got into a lot of non-profit work with him – and he really influenced me to look at that. And that’s how I got involved in quite a few non-profit organisations with him. So, yeah.

[00:05:39] So it’s almost like ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, but I have my Saturdays or Sundays brunch with George.

Stephen Cummins: [00:05:49] Very good. What personal qualities do you think has helped you succeed?

Anna Gong: [00:05:56] Oh, oh my goodness. I think grit … like resilience.Stephen Cummins: I can see that.

Anna Gong: … Because you’ve been through it all, right? And so I was bullied when I was in Florida growing up, because it’s a very white environment.

Stephen Cummins: So you looked different.

Anna Gong: Yeah, I looked different.

Stephen Cummins: And you sounded different at the beginning, right?

Anna Gong: I knew not a word of English when I landed in the US. And then walking home and you get picked on by these boys and they punch you in the gut. And then … I was telling this story to a bunch of people on stage one day. My Dad didn’t even know about it, because back then you can’t complain!  What are you complaining about? So until actually only last year did my Dad hear me speak on a platform in Montreal about this story …

Stephen Cummins: He never knew?!

Anna Gong: No, he never knew.

Stephen Cummins: You must be one tough cookie. One considerate cookie not to tell your parents.

Anna Gong: Yeah. You just can’t complain.

Stephen Cummins: [00:06:45] Ah it’s a bit scary, though. I hope my daughter tells me if something like that happens to her.

Anna Gong: Yeah.

Stephen Cummins: [00:06:55] Yeah, fair play to you. If you’d think back to one kind of achievement or experience that made you feel proud or, you know, gives you warm feeling remembering it … does anything come to mind?

Anna Gong: [00:07:09] One thing that I’m really proud of? … I think the self-made aspect of it, I just persevered in life. I never take ‘no’ for an answer. I think there’s always room to grow. I’m a constant learner. I believe in humility. So its just, you know, I’m proud of what I’ve gotten here you know, and how that transpired. You know, my parents took me from China to the US. Now I’m back in the Far East! They’re like asking me, ‘When are you ever coming home? Are you coming home?’ My sister’s dying for me to move back to the states. But, you know, now we’re global citizens. And I think the digital world is making us closer without having to be there in person.

Stephen Cummins: [00:07:57] Just another couple more questions for you, Anna. What drives you everyday when you get up in the morning? What is it that you think makes you do what you do? Because you’ve been successful for quite a long time. You’re doing pretty well. But you still get up and you’re doing something very challenging. You’re setting hard targets and you’re going for it. What is it that drives you every day?

Anna Gong: [00:08:20] Excellence! Impact. Am I impacting and growing myself? Am I setting a bar? And the bar’s never high enough. We’re constantly going above every bar that we set for ourselves. And what’s next? Right. And so I want to also give back to be able to set a role model for females in tech, especially in deep tech. There’s not enough STEM programs here that nurture and grow and foster these females in the space. So it would be good to finally say I have a female role model. I’ve asked many mentees and they don’t even know what a role model is in Asia [is]. It’s actually very … it’s very scary to think, ‘Oh, I was never taught to have a role model Anna. I was taught to do it all on my own.’ I said, ‘Oh, no. We got to teach them that they need resources and networks to grow!’ You can never grow on your own. So I think it’s gonna be a fun time in the next few years in Asia.

Stephen Cummins: [00:09:21] Fantastic. So you’re planning to stay in Singapore for it for a good while yet.

Anna Gong: Until this company exits. Yeah.

Stephen Cummins: [00:09:31] Well, that’s interesting that you say ‘exit’ … because a lot of people sell you the idea that they … well … sometimes they mean it … but that they want to do it for the rest of their lives. But you’re actually targeting just multiplying the value of the company.

Anna Gong: [00:09:43] I’m very practical. We need some successes in Asia. And already companies are knocking on our doors. It’s too early right now.

Stephen Cummins: They’d get you too cheap now.

Anna Gong: But yeah, if we set some examples and then have some successful exits, I think you can then talk about it even more so. And then people will actually treat start-ups with more respect.

Stephen Cummins: [00:10:04] Definitely. And why Singapore instead of somewhere like Hong Kong, out of interest?

Anna Gong: [00:10:09] Singapore’s more neutral, right. It’s the Switzerland of Asia. We don’t have big brother breathing down your throat like Hong Kong. Singapore is definitely a very good hub. And Southeast Asia is one of those unknown, fragmented markets that people are not sure about. And yet everybody’s trying to get in. And so … once you’re there and you know the market well, and you’re the pioneering startup team … I think it’s a good place to be.

Stephen Cummins: [00:10:39] So that first mover advantage is very important …

Anna Gong: Yeah.

Stephen Cummins: In those markets where people just put off by the complexity.

Anna Gong:
Yeah. Exactly!

Stephen Cummins: And when we see a bit of that in Europe as well. And you know, it it’s been shown … I gave a talk once, actually, about the S&P 500. And statistically I showed that the ones that went abroad, that internationalized earlier … they’re doing significantly better than the ones in the lower half, in terms of when they internationalised.

Anna Gong: Right.

Stephen Cummins: So it’s an interesting thing. Would you have any bits of advice, two or three things that that you would advise if you were talking to somebody now who’d never started a business before … and said ‘Hey Anna – look at all your success there. I’m really thinking you’re doing X, Y and whatever it is they’re in love with doing … You know, as a budding entrepreneur, if a person like that came up to you, what would you tell that person?

Anna Gong: [00:11:43] Just do it! I think we can talk ourselves out of everything. I had so many ideas brewing in my head before as well. I never took the chance. And then a hundred people are already doing what you just thought of. And also once you do it, just stay focused because there’s going to be a lot of naysayers and a lot of noise to distract you. And you’re going to try to do everything those noises tell you to do. So stay focused. Focus, focus, focus.

Stephen Cummins: [00:12:10] Brilliant. On that focused point I’ll say thank you very much Anna Gong for an excellent interview. Thanks for being on 14 Minutes of SaaS!

Anna Gong: Thank you Stephen! It’s been lovely!

Stephen Cummins: [00:12:27] You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills, and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoyed the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network. Subscribe to the series, and give the show a rating.

[00:12:51] In the next episode, episode 89 of 14 minutes of SaaS, we chat with Hande Cilingir, co-founder and CEO of a growth management platform for digital marketers called ‘Insider’. We learn a little bit about Hande’s origins in Turkey, what influenced her to become an entrepreneur, all her experiences internationally that helped make her the resilient professional that she is today. CrunchBase has ranked her as one of the top 3 women CEOs outside of the USA.

[00:13:28] This podcast is a labour of love, and I travel all over the world to interview the founders of amazing start-ups. I ask for nothing in return from them, other than their valuable time. And I never play dirty tricks, such as if you get five of your employees to rate the podcast with five stars and send me screenshots, we’ll publish a month earlier. I leave that stuff to others. Several of the biggest podcasts are doing just that. These episodes are so much work to produce and very expensive without the backing of a big tech company. Do your good deed for today by taking a minute now to review on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts or any of the major podcast platforms. Wherever you’re listening to us.