The value of University today you should not discount (with Benjamin Wong, Kinobi)

In episode #55, we are jumping straight into the debate of University today. While many have rightfully pointed out the advent of new innovative ways to learn, the university remains one of the most influential platforms for thinkers of today and tomorrow. Are you a great fit for it? How do you reap the most of your university years? Ben, founder of Kinobi joins us today to crack it all.

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podcast Transcript

Reggie: Okay. I promise you guys, I’m going to bring a very good friend of mine to come on the show, to share with us more and make a case why you should go to university. Of course, we are not blind. Right? We know what, what does not work, what is good and what is not, but there is so much internet content out there that talks about why you shouldn’t go to university.

Uni is eating up, your money? You’re coming out with a lot of debt and all this kind of stuff, which they are not wrong per se. Objectively they do have some points, but we want to bring about the other side of the discussion, so you can make better decisions. So happy to be with you guys again and we’re going to spend time with our good friend, Ben.

Ben: (Hiiiii)

Reggie: I got you on the show to do one thing, right. To make a pitch to people that are considering the universities. Yeah. All right. So mostly two groups of people, right? Those that are already in the university. Yeah. And the other group is the people that are considering going to the university. Right? Because I think the general pitch out there is like, anti-uni. Right. Okay. At this point in time, of course the uni people will never say its shit. But, uh, I think among all the “internet gurus” right. The general narrative is that you don’t need to go to university to succeed, which I don’t think is wrong. But I got you today to pitch to the people that are considering university. Why should they go to the university? Because I feel that you have, you know, essentially really milked the system.

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Ben: I think on my part, I would see that there are a few things that you should consider if you want to go to university. Right. I think the first would definitely be the fact that in the university itself, you have groups of people around you. And that itself is networks, you know, people and having a source of ideas. And that is akin to the past, Socrates, Aristotle, having this area where people come together to share. I think that’s very important because whether you like it or not, we are all social people. We are all social creatures and we learn by being with each other, by doing things together. And that’s what to me, the university really is all about. 

Ben: I think perhaps the second thing that I’m thinking about for people who actually want to go to university,  is that there are so many things that you could possibly learn on the internet yourself, but then when a person does it together with you, it’s a whole new, different thing.

And of course, you know, you can actually just go Coursera and Edx, do a course and do it with someone else matched online by personality traits or like, you know what, God knows what these other things do. Right. But then it’s going to be pretty much quite good, but then it’s not as good compared to that human interaction and having this person to understand that, “Hey, you know, this is a journey that I’m doing this with you.” Therefore there are certain synergies, certain benefits that we can actually do it together. So this is the second thing which I’m thinking about. 

Ben: And the last thing which I am  really thinking about as well, is that this entire thing about university really is about brand and brand, unfortunately right now we have Coursera and Edx. You have like so many other “internet gurus”, as you mentioned coming up, but these do not lend a brand. It’s as if, if I were to say that right now, I listened to this guy, I applied his skill sets and then I achieved this. But to me, to everyone around you, it’s like, is it really true? You know, are you, are you really what you say you are? How can you see that you are actually as good as the person or have all these kinds of traits or these skill sets just by listening to that, let’s say 20 hour webinar. Right? Or something that is online, you know, it’s, it’s really different versus let’s say, uh, an institution that has been there for a pretty long time. It’s tried and tested. It has been through ages. It has been through even revolutions. And I think that that’s, that’s something which the brand of the university actually lends itself. But then that is where I think things would get upended. 

Reggie: Yeah. Mm Hmm. Okay. So essentially, based on what you just said, whether it is a brand, what it is like a social circle that is in school, you know, or whether it is like the kind of quality of education that one can get, interacting with a real individual, rather than just like online webinars, which I think a lot of people can understand. 

Ben: Yes. 

Reggie: They, they can comprehend this reality that, you know, it’s really different learning face to face with a geek, essentially your professors are geeks okay. They have spent tonnes and tonnes of  their life to geek it out on some topic. And sometimes they’re not very passionate because they’re not teaching the topic that they’re really passionate about. If you’re going to read their research paper, they’re passionate about something else. 

Ben: Yes. Right. 

Reggie: It’s just not part of the repertoire. And then, you know, I need to feed myself, so  i’ll just teach something. I don’t blame them, but. If you want to learn more from your prof, maybe you should also get read a little bit more about what they really love? (their research papers) But all those things are very, um, how should I put it, very high, higher order, right. It sounds like, okay, we call it brand, you know, um, network, we’ve got, you know, better learning. How does that translate to benefits in life? Right. Like, okay, I’m going to uni. So. Why should I go? What are the real benefits that I’m going to get other than all these, I get, I get what you’re saying, but yeah. How does that translate? 

Ben: I think you really got to go back to the social aspect because the social aspect would then dictate that I am part of this group and that is what the social aspect really does. So of course we can actually create organizations that are similar to the university. That actually creates this social kind of context and so on. It’s just that most of these things, um, are like tertiary, meaning that they come after university. So I can think about, let’s say in the venture capital world, there’s like Kauffman Fellows, right? So Kauffman Fellows, essentially, if you are who’s who in VC and you want to do your stuff well and network. You need to pay two hundred thousand dollars, attend this program and then go to the U S for like a very exciting two to three months. Yeah. And it’s more expensive than a MBA, but then people say that this program itself brings you more networks than if you were to go, let’s say Harvard or to go to Stanford and that’s a kind of a tertiary kind of thing to it because they have really created a social thing. But then that Kauffman Fellows, as an example, Is something that’s really after a university where people predicate and say that, you know, I have already done this. I have already gone to this place where I am, and I just need to get more networks. And that’s where I get more networks from. But if you look at the profiles of the people who actually went for these things, they tend to be having very good degrees. Or even if they don’t have good degrees, they come, they come from good pedigrees.

Or even if they don’t have good pedigrees and they actually do drop off from school. There was someone who took a chance on them. And that percentage is extremely, extremely slim, 

Reggie: extremely slim, yes. The rare people.

Ben: So I think that, that really is what reality sometimes is. 

Reggie: So based on success rate, the chances of you doing well in life will probably be higher if you stuck to the university. In other words, that’s what those words mean. 

Ben: This is what the statistics actually mean. Yeah. Yes. 

Reggie: That’s the thing, right. It’s not learned from , you know “internet gurus”, suddenly amazing, right? You know that the success rate of startups are like super, super low. Right? I think statistically it’s about 5% or 5% really kicks off. Those that really end up there, it’s like 0.5 or like 1% of everyone that started.

Ben: agree

Reggie: That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start, you know, if you are passionate about something and you feel that there’s a market gap, do what you need to do. But for the many out there, I think going through university is still quite a natural success kind of journey. If you want to do well, you know, and get to where you are. 

Reggie: You are essentially in the private equity space, although you work for a family office, but your focus is to get deals. And it’s very much a PE job, just in a family office. Right. So, yeah. How did you get there right. Going to the university? Do share a little bit of your story.

Ben: I think like, um, I do not come from a traditional private equity background, meaning that I didn’t go to investment banking. And I didn’t jump from investment banking into private equity, and it’s sort of the way you are right. You know, like I’m in a multifamily office, slightly different private equity because, um, one, one main difference for you for you guys here, we don’t really understand the industry. It’s just very simple that we, instead of putting our money into private equity funds, we actually go direct. Yeah. So that’s really what we do. And. I think that that really necessitates a few other things, because you are not just deploying funds, but you’re also sourcing and you’re not just sourcing, but you’re maintaining a relationship. And that’s where it’s a sort of a bridge, like between private equity and private wealth, because you can not lose your money. So the returns that I have, and I look at my deals in a lot more specifics and have higher bars. So I think that’s, that’s one key difference. How I actually got here. I would say it is through a myriad of experiences. 

Ben: So. Um, like some people ask me on my LinkedIn, like, you know, when I was younger, they were like, why, why are you like doing all these other things? You know, you’re, you’re doing management consulting and then suddenly go into tech and then suddenly you go to shipping and then you do something. And everyone’s like, I mean, there is no clear trajectory. So every time an interview I needed to extend myself that hey, you know,  it’s not that I don’t have a clear trajectory. It’s just that I wanted to do something which was different and to build experiences and other things such that if I look at a business today, I can assess it really fast. So I think that was what I really want to build, but then, you know, myopically, if you’re in e-commerce and the eCommerce guy sees that you’re in shipping, he’s like, “dude men, then what are you interviewing me here for”, you know, he doesn’t understand it. So I think there was first, you know, a myriad of experiences.

Ben: Um, second, it was a sort of. This combination of various  “hard skills”, and I’ll call them “hard skills” because this would relate to the degree. So when I entered SMU, I was doing a double degree. So I was doing law and economics and law is an extremely technical subject because you need to understand the statutes. You need to understand how to apply the law. And yeah. 

Reggie: In other words, it’s pretty boring. Very dry. Yeah. You got to suck it out. Yeah. Yeah. This is the constitution, right? This is what we live by. 

Ben: Yes. And I think that what really is quite interesting about that, is that you really understand how to debate your points. I think that is very important as you actually progress in the private equity world. In private equity, when you source for deals, essentially what you’re doing is that you’re being a lawyer. You need to bring your case before “judge” , which is like to your investment committee or bring your case to your client and tell them that, “Hey, I have deal X and X, these are my returns and these are the risks and why does my returns and risk make sense?” And you’re making a case for that. And I think that’s where the lawyering skills I had really come to play. So. Oh, I would suggest that, you know, sometimes you may, um, maybe an adjudication point. You know, you may have, you know, a degree that sort of doesn’t have a certain route towards, let’s see what you’re doing, you know, but it’s fine, you know, but then like…

Reggie: Yeah, like history, literature. 

Ben: Yeah. It’s great. 

Reggie: I have, honestly, I have great friends that, uh, they study history, uh, and when, when they were studying history, people would be like, “Why you study history?! Can do what?! Be teacher ah?”, but then, uh, they got poached by the ministry to do foreign affairs because they understand history and they understand, you know, different countries, where a lot of policies come from. They stem from their history. Right. It’s like, Oh, that’s interesting. I never, I never thought it could, it could go that way. Right? 

Ben: Yeah. So I will say  at least these two points, of course, there are definitely many others, but then it would just mainly be the fact that. I actually did many different things and.

I studied something which didn’t have a bearing on finance. So I always joke with my friends. So I told them that, you know, I studied law and economics, but I get hired for my finance and marketing skills. So I think that like, you know, it brings to the point of, you know, the university thing. Right? Like, does it really need to have university? 

Reggie: Exactly. 

Ben: I think that’s the question that I think Reginald and I really want to answer today and I think it’s not that simple, you know, it’s, it’s complex topic. It’s not as simple to just dissect it and say that, “Hey, you know, you, since you are just learning what history right in school, why learn history? You know, at the end of the day, you’re not going to be historian?” You are going to come on and be like someone who actually works in MFA or worst still, you might be doing something that does not have any bearing on history. Like if you’re doing like public relations or something like that, but then how does it help? So I think this is where going back to the points I made earlier on the social aspects and as well as having the brand name, but I want to add a third point to this, which is that I think at an university, it’s where you can actually discover yourself. And unfortunately, or fortunately, um, this really depends on the university you go to. Right. So there are some universities, the liberal colleges in the US, where it really allows you to expand. And there’s no judgment upon, you know, let’s say, I am an anthropology major. And then tomorrow I tell myself that I want to study a computer science course and know that this is totally possible.

Ben: Right. But let’s see you come from NUS and then you actually, you know you’re studying, like geography and then suddenly one day you just tell the people around, “Hey I just want to study computer science.” “This guy’s nuts. You know, like this guy clearly is out of his mind.” And you suddenly find that you have no friends, like what was wrong.

Reggie: Yea this weird guy man

Ben: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I think it really depends on which school you go to and yeah, you don’t come from SMU but SMU does come in the middle ground. Like, you have people do economics and can actually do law as well. Like myself, you can actually do a double major and other things which are not related, but of course I need to, um, give a disclaimer and a caveat there.

Not everyone does it, even in SMU. You know how many people actually do it? Most of the people are in finance plus accounting, you know, it’s not finance plus sociology or something. So it’s, it’s, it’s so different. 

Reggie: Yeah. And, um, I just want to chime in on the liberal colleges. Yeah. Right. So for all of you, you know, um, have not gone to college considering college, I’m not saying that Singapore has any liberal colleges. I think we have one, the Yale partnership with NUS. Right? So you realize that in a lot of these liberal colleges, they, they. Allow you to enter university. Without having any fixed direction, right? So you’re just joining year one, what are you doing? I’m just year one here in Yale or something. One of these liberal colleges and, you know, they do cross field study so that, you know, you learn different, different stuff and you finally make a decision.

And along the way, if you want to pivot, you can always pivot. I think that’s the, that’s the beauty of a university as a discovery platform. And I mean, even for yourself, right, you’ve done all these different things. Um, whether is it starting your own clubs or, you know, going out there and trying different fields, but all, all those things, do you think you could have done it without the university?

Ben: Right, right. Because it’s a good question. The question. Yeah. That’s a good question. It’s a really great question because I think that a lot of things which I have done, um, I’ll say it goes back to the social contract thing. Like, why would. Why would you like, you know, when you start a community, like whether it is The Mentoring Circle, we just started or Atomos Watch Club or like Cognito Collective, uh, all of them start because you are in a position of authority and you can actually say that I bring together a group of experts who know these things, and I bring that knowledge or like the education to other people and democratize it. So that necessitates you to have the authority in the first place. And where do you borrow it from? You borrow from someone else? You know, like, which is like a school or university. And I think that’s, that’s where, um, being in a University really helps a lot because you are also borrowing the name of the University. And coming from an Asian culture, we are Asians ourselves, you know, you cannot go against the culture of the land. It’s tough. Right? So like, for example, when people ask me about the minimum wage thing with Jamus Lim and things like that, a contentious topic. But that is like bringing in Scandinavian things, ideas in like, it might work. It might not work. So in different cultures, l things might actually be different. 

Ben: So I think that, like, if you look at the flip side, whether I were not to be university and can actually start this. Yeah. I think that definitely I can, but would it be as successful? I’m really not sure. Um, but. If I had no choice, you know, if I had no choice, I didn’t go to university and I start this, definitely what I have done is that I’ll be the maverick. And then I’ll bring in people who are in these universities who have that brand name, that kind of like reputation and borrowed it. So to me, it is, it is no longer about. Um, you, yourself but about the organization you are starting, but then what is your competitive advantage? If you find that your competitive advantage lies in the fact that. You are better at pulling people in and you don’t need your reputation. Right. You just bring people’s reputation in and start this thing. Then it works. But if your competitive advantage is that, maybe you are better at studying, you did well in school and that works for your advantage then that is fine. You know, you should work towards your advantage, most of the time.

Reggie: So in other words, what we can agree upon is if you really want to do something, you can get it done with or without the University.

Ben: Yes, I agree. 

Reggie: But. There is some, some, some form of brand leverage, that kind of authority leverage that you get in the University, being part of the University. Right. Which I agree because, because I’m a dropout, right. So from my optics, right. Yeah. You can do man, everything can do. Yeah. You can do it on your own. Um, we live in a relatively free society, some barriers you don’t touch, but other than that, you know, you could, you could just go out and champion a lot of these things. Yeah. Right. And start whatever venture, whatever community you want to start. But yeah. It is an uphill battle, right. Because people see you as a solo kia, right. People see you as like this weird guy. And then, you know, you try to do something and then it’s like, so what? Right. But yeah, but being in a university, you have the brand, you have the kind of like thought authority in the space. You borrow that brand. Yeah. And also, I think that there’s a lot of uni kids around waiting to be shepherded, honestly.

Ben: Yes. Yes. It’s like, I agree.

Reggie: It’s like, Oh my God, you got a free market here. Everyone is here. They don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Yeah. Dance dance at SMU you know. lol

Ben: I totally agree with you. I think you’re very right on that. The good thing about Universities is that there’s a lot of talent. And like, I think we were talking about this. I talked about this a few times, but the idea is that, when you run a startup, it’s very hard to find good talent because good talent usually wants to do their own startup. 

Reggie: Yes. 

Ben: Yeah. But in SMU or like NUS producers, very good talent that don’t want to run their own startup, but work for you.  Yeah. So that is the best, you know what I mean? If you’re a business owner, like this is kind of one of the best things ever, right?

Reggie: Yeah. I totally get that. So yeah, I think we, we can. I think we have sufficiently share, you know, the viewpoint where, you know, if you’re considering university, you, you, we, we, we both recognize that a lot of things you don’t need the university to do it, even in today’s context.

Right. I think, um, I think, okay. Maybe not even like, especially in today’s context where information is so liberal, you can learn on so many platforms, right? So it is not a must that you go to the university. But by going to the university, you have all these leverages of social network, brand authority and a space. It’s just much easier to kick off a lot of these small little stuff, right. Because. That is my viewpoint. I had a lot of friends in the startup field and a lot of them that are doing better, started in the university. Yeah. Right. Because the uni has all these kind of accelerator systems, the ecosystem and talent is everywhere. All these people are pretty smart, I mean, mugger or not. Right. Even if they are muggers, they’re quite determined, Right. That’s why they managed to get to University. So you’ve got to salute them too. Okay. So like they got to university, there is a select process and you have all these people there. You work with them, you use them right. Based on their talent, and then you just kinda built your stuff or built your community in that process. So I think, you know, that is the value of the university at this point in time. 

Reggie: And for people that are already in the university, right? What are your thoughts, you know, for them, right. Okay. Since you’re already inside, right now, you’re listening to this podcast, then what, what are you going to, how are you going to make a university better? Right. How are you going to benefit through this thing rather than just going for lectures, missing tutorials, and then like when dance, dance, you know? Yeah. All of you who have not been to SMU, there’s this like underpass that runs through the whole spine of the university, the underground basement spine. And then I was like, “Wa SMU student dont needa study de yeah, everyday dance dance hip hop street street like that?” I was like, okay. So if they’re in a university yet, right. How do they better, you know, you know, Like benefit themselves in this process. How can they leech? 

Ben: I think, yeah, I think, I mean, yeah, I mean the amount they pay for university is not leech anymore. I think, like, I think that the University is leeching off them. LOL, Yeah. You’re like, well, to answer your question, I was just thinking a few things. Uh, one is definitely the fact that universities are really expensive. In Singapore. We have it relatively cheaper, right? SMU is one of the most expensive, law the most expensive, around $6,000, uh, like one semester. So it’s 12K a year. Of course I don’t account for Medicine, Medicine is different. Right. But then that is the highest anyways, NUS probably is a little cheaper. 12K a year is pretty much it. It’s not very, very high. It’s not like the US or like the UK or Australia but it is still pretty high and you’re, you’re paying quite a huge sum to be in a university. And I think as you’ve rightly pointed out, you know, how do you actually leverage on this entire system? Um, On that. I don’t think that there are really any fixed routes. So, what I mean, is it like, you know, going back to your dance point, you know you say they dance dance right, actually when they dance dance,  it also helps them a lot. Like, there’s this club called E-Mix SMU and I think that like within the community there, they actually share internships. They are pretty smart people. You know, they don’t study the hardest, they don’t get like the, I mean, some of them do get very good grades, but not everyone gets the best grades, but then they are social right, they are able to like, get things done. They’re able to, you know, wine and dine and like be a person and friend to others that people like. And that’s why they are hired. Yeah. That does play into aspects of life and somethings dancing is not a bad thing. 

Reggie: I just want to put it out there. Don’t flame me. Okay. I’m not against dancers, I’m sure we have, I’m sure we have some dancers in the group, you know, um, you know, pursue your passion. I agree with that, I believe in that. Right. So I just use dancing and joke about it.

Ben: I mean we can always joke about the people in the library. I am always in the library

Reggie: I was always in the pool yeah. LOL. My friends were like  “So you come to the country club or are you coming to school?” That is why one sem later, I stopped coming, right. Say, yeah, I told myself I must make use, very expensive pool. You know, I paid $6,000. I better use this as well, but yes. 

Reggie: So, okay. I get the part about having a social network, being in school. You know, don’t just be a mugger, right? In other words, you want to do well on your exams. Okay. So be it, that’s cool. Right. But you are in this very fertile space where a lot of these people are either very hardworking, very smart, or very rich la, for lack of a better way to put it there. It’s true. 

Ben: Right. So there is a social strata to it. 

Reggie: Of course. We can always talk about social mobility, how to get more people in, right. Yeah. To this system and dah, dah, dah. That is a good topic, we need to talk about it another time. Right. But assuming you are already in the university. In other words, don’t just mug. Right. Don’t just mug and, you know, join all these kinds of social groups. Right. Truly pursuing your passion. You never know what kind of professional opportunities can come in. Yes. Right. But, but beyond that, right, are there certain kinds of resources in school that, you know, you think they should leverage on, you know, like that are not so readily available out of school, like incubator programs and what not..

Ben: I would say, the best one is alumni. Because it always goes back to the social aspect. Why would someone help you? Because I come from the same school. You know that is, that’s a huge thing. Right. And like, really, like you’re not, you know, we parliament filled with ACS and RI boys

Yeah. 

Reggie: LOL. Where does Josephine Teo or Grace Fu come from? RG girl maybe? I don’t know, maybe check it out. LOL. But I know what you mean yes.

Ben: It is not just Singapore right,  you have in London. Even in Mozambique, in Africa as well. I mean, these, these, these countries have these things. It’s not. So I don’t think we should flame the government. I think it’s like, it’s something which is inherent in social, social mobility and it’s society just like that. And I think that that also really points to the fact that, um, yeah, having the alumni network that you have is pretty important and that’s something that you can leverage on because whether you like it or not, you are going to remain alumni of the school forever.

So, you know, when I, when I stepped up as the president of SMUpreneur, which is the alumni entrepreneurship club in SMU, some people asked me why I wanted to do it. And then I was like, Yeah. You know what, apart from the fact that I do get certain benefits, I talk to certain people and things like that, the normal yada, yada, but yeah, again, it’s about the fact that like maybe a part from you and a few other people like who else, who else is going to help the school, who else has the networks, the capabilities to actually bring things together. And you realize that as an alumni of the school, If you don’t help the school, no one else is going to do it. The staff of the school won’t do it because the staff the school come from, maybe NUS, LOL

Reggie: I mean SMU did poach, the whole bunch of NUS guys. 

Ben: They are passionate about SMU, don’t get me wrong. The thing is that they are not alumni. And like you need alumni to really say that, you know, helping the students actually helps me because I then have a better pool of students to actually pull from. And they are my mentees in a way. So I think the other flip side, if you are like a student concurrently, you should reach out to them because they’re thinking that way, like the first point you’re talking about, but then the other second point is mainly that, um, you have shared experiences with them. You know what, the dancing thing. Yeah. It looks like there’s this alumni club, Eluminix. And then they do actually talk to each other. And I think that there’s so much synergy there. And, and more than that, it’s just the fact that by reaching out to any of them, they probably understand what you are going through,they know the teachers you went through, they know the classes, slightly different, but then, you know, they’ll talk about the same few things that, you know, this, this professor is like that, uh, you know, this class is such a useless class, uh, like namedrop, uh, I don’t know.

Business, Government and Society. Yeah. So like, I don’t know, things like that. It’s just like, not, not very useful in a way but  people talk about these things. 

Reggie: There is a lot of social comfort to have shared experience. Right. I think this is inevitable, which is why, you know, when guys get together, everybody talks about the army right and all that girls are like turned off. Right. it just doesn’t work because they don’t have the shared experience in this process. So I totally get what you’re trying to say, you know? And I have a question, like, um, was it difficult to get the president of the alumni entrepreneurial club? You know, because what you just said there was like, nobody wants to do it. Right. It feels like nobody wants to do it all. You know, so, so in that sense, is it because nobody wants to do it? That’s why you got it or is it because, you know, you’re actually, you know, the best candidate.

Ben: I think I look at it this way is that, you know CCAs, when you were young, you know, everyone just join the student council and things like that. But as you grow older, you realize people don’t do it because there is no incentive. It’s like CIP, right. You know, there’s no incentive to do it. It’s not cool anymore. And, uh, yeah, it’s just different. Yeah. It’s like, it’s like, you know, it’s not cool to do this anymore. I don’t get any prestige, but then it seems like it’s more work, why should I do it? You know like, I don’t have to fulfill any criteria, it doesn’t minus two points from my O levels right. So I think that this must be viewed from that point that I think there’s no incentive for many other people. Um, then second is that. I’ll say that because alumni clubs are tough to run. You’re not getting paid for it. And other people are actually wanting you to continue and you know, you need to be successful, you need to actually do a good job of it because it still represents the school, represents the alumni who come from the school. So I think that, um, previous predecessors would try to find someone who they know can do it. Yeah. So I wouldn’t say that there aren’t people, neither would they say that there are a lot of people who want the job. Yeah. So I think that’s, that’s probably what, um, these alumni groups would be like.

Reggie: fair. Yep. And I think, um, given my short stint in the Univeristy. Yeah. So six months ah, not too bad, I passed six months. So given my short stay in university…

Ben: Yeah, you wrote on your Linkedin

Reggie: Yeah! I wrote on my LinkedIn. Okay. But I also bracketed and said I dropped out okay,  anyway, just saying, huh? All right. So, um, the reality is I think there are a lot, a lot of student groups, big and small, you know, some groups are not as sexy. Like not as interesting.

Maybe the Japanese culture club, okay, but anyway, okay, I’ll go on. I’m not judging, but you get the idea. It’s just social contexts. So I think there are a lot of clubs in the university, or even if you don’t have the right clubs in the university, you could always start your own interest group. Right.

And, uh, what is it official or whether it’s just a social, like a, just a informal student community. I think that is all fine. And you know, like all these kinds of alumni groups ultimately. The reality is being in a university. There’s just tons of little things that you can try and you can do. And if you fail, what happens, just fail. You know, there isn’t much impact, you just don’t put your CV la. You know, it failed, okay. Now nobody knows. It’s like your hot air balloon club didn’t become a thing. Right. 

Reggie: But when you start to go into the real world or okay, maybe not the real world, like when you start to establish your career. You enter the business world or you know, embark on different professions of your own. Then there’s a whole different world of challenges here. And the impact of failure is, it’s much higher, much higher. So after a while, people start to become more and more safe. People are not willing to try and don’t do as much. In other words they don’t break through also, because they’re not willing to take calculated risk. Right. So we’ll take a break. We’ll come back. And after the break, we’ll talk a little bit more about, you know, how can we better the university, right. And also talk a little bit more about now that all these young people are in the professional field, how can they thrive in these fields?

Break

Reggie: Okay. So we are back from the break and, um, yeah, so we, we want to, I want to hear a little bit, I think we’ve, we’ve, uh, we’ve built a decent case for the value of university, right. But I’m also very certain that there are many aspects that the university can do better, which is why there is a growing voice about how the university is no longer as relevant today, which is also very real.

Right. There are a lot of things that I think they can become better. Right. So I want to hear from you, like, where do you think the university can. Can better serve the needs of, you know, it’s students which ultimately serves to help them have a head start in their career, right. Or become a professional in whatever field that they choose to be.

Ben: Agree

Reggie: Right. So, so in that sense, where do you think your university can do better? 

Ben: Right. I think that’s sort of like, um, A bit philosophical. Uh, when University started, like Oxford, Cambridge, right, it was really natural sciences, natural philosophy. People just go there, rich people, right? Like, uh, they have like, um, your governors, you know, in their house and then they just come together, learn with your friends and then. These guys, like really, they don’t study anything. They studied the entire world and they just go on to become lawyers, take high positions in society. And then of course, like the industrial revolution, people realized the rise of the middle class, and that were the people who started going to university and university started to change. Yeah, because then it started to focus on the division of labor. And focusing on how you build the skills in each division of labor. And that’s what universities really became transforming to and has always been like this. And then it became more pronounced even today, which is why let’s see in SMU today you have like operations management, operations management focus on supply chain, you know, that it’s very specific or like finance, focused on private banking. Yeah. So I think that that’s where universities have really transformed to, but then. Back to your question on where next is right, I would say that universities really have to disrupt itself or else it will die. And recently there’s a meme going around, right. Harvard Business School is charging $50,000 and then compares to Zoom, which is like, I think like $40 a month.

Yeah. Coursera, you know,  the kind of thing where you actually get the same skills, right? Cause if Harvard Business School and all your other universities, actually are just doing online classes, Like, what’s the difference between that and like studying for something that’s prerecorded. 

Reggie: Yes

Ben: I think that’s where universities are struggling right now in this period of time to sort of reinvent itself. And I think on another note, you know I started Kinobi right, so Kinobi is this digital mentoring career platform that helps people to bridge that gap. And we acknowledged that there’s a gap, there’s a gap between the university and the workplace. And that’s why we’re there. We are here to bridge the gap. Yeah. And I think that the, for that, um, this is what we actually found.

We found that the university itself is insufficient and that’s because people don’t look at your grades anymore. It’s important. But then as long as you meet it’s sufficient once, like maybe like you would get a second lower, that’s fine. You know, you show that you are decently smart enough to like do your work and then do the exams. And you are a sufficiently hard worker. It is all, you know, that’s what it tells me about you, but doesn’t tell me anything more. Right. So what do I need more, I need to understand who you are as a person. When I put you in front of a client, what will you see? You have the EQ to like, you know, know when to respond, you know, things like that. 

Ben: These are things that a university degree doesn’t teach you. And I think that that’s where university can pivot. Yeah. But the thing about pivoting there is that it’s tough because these universities are monoliths, right? They’re really there for so long, they have huge reserves. They’re essentially like a bank with all your money that you take inside. Right. And do you actually even have funds in universities? And so on, these guys are LPs in private equity funds as well. So Harvard Business School, Stanford, all these guys actually putting your money that you actually put inside and deploying into other things, right? So that’s, that’s how they actually run and in NUS, we heard that recently, you know, the Kong Hee Case right, then he was compared to the NUS fund and you realize how much funds NUS actually has. And I think that when you have these kinds of funds, people want to protect these funds, they don’t innovate. It’s very hard to innovate. It’s very hard to turn around a huge ship versus let’s say you are a small ship. You are something that just started. You don’t have baggage, you can do things a lot faster. And I think that that’s where universities might get disrupted. I’m not saying people like, Kinobi, maybe la, you know, let’s see how it goes. Right. They are going to be people that will rise and do this. 

Reggie: I do think, um, for a little bit of a realistic check, you know, for a lot of people out there and say, you know, sometimes we ask ourselves, why do we, why does every generation need to be doing more and more and more and more and more? Yeah. Because it sounds like it. Right. And I think that is a reality, right? Because in the past you, as a guy, just need to be decently strong. You, you can get a job. Right. But then over time, things change. And then you, you go to the poly, you go to universities, and you have to be multilingual right. You got to do more and more and more and more. And that is, yeah. That is the nature of, you know, um, the workplace competition, right? Where, where, especially when a lot of technology platforms come in to like essentially displace some of these old jobs that are very repetitive and it requires people to think, you know, and do more. Right. So do you subscribe to that? The central idea that, you know, you’ve got to do more and more, or is there another way around, you know?

Ben: honestly, uh, I think this is a very complex question because one way you can look at it is that, uh, people say that, you know, you don’t work hard, you work smart. Right. You know, and it applies to much of life. I think that whether you’re, um, in finance or marketing or in supply chain, that’s the rule, which is that it’s not how hard you work, it is how you actually play the relationships and understand what really needs to be done. Then you get promoted and then you get to the next level. But then the other way that I’m thinking about it is this idea that social mobility, because in the past, it used to be that social mobility is between countries, a developed country versus a non developed country or developing country. So you have, like, let’s say, you know, the workers and foreign workers in Singapore, they built our nation, Bangladeshi workers.

Some of them actually do have university degrees. They may not speak English very well, but then they are actually smart. They went to university. And that to them coming here to work is definitely putting more pay than going back home. And it works for Filipino maids as well. But then right now what we are seeing is a more drastic change, which is that even in Singapore, you have people with, or you may have people who may not be as drastic now, but you may have people who may have university degrees, maybe not from your NUS SMU, but from your like more private universities. Who actually comes up and realizes you don’t have the jobs and what do they have to do? With the rise of the gig economy, they actually go back and be let’s say a Grab driver, just for an interim, transition kind of job.

Ben: But then this transition job doesn’t provide the benefits that a normal job would have your CPF and so on and under the constitution of Singapore and how the government views it, is that Grab is really a transition job. That’s why there aren’t CPF benefits allocated to that. But then what happens when this transition job becomes a permanent one for 10 years? Yeah. Or like for five years, what do we actually make out of it? How does the government make out of it? And I think that’s very scary because then that goes against what you just said, because you said that, you know, people are going to work harder with the things and it’s true. They’re going to work harder and they don’t even use the university degree. Yeah. So I think that really, yeah. Something which is scary and that goes beyond university. Yeah. 

Reggie: Fair. Yeah, I think, I think, um, that is fair point complex question, and we really got to go deeper to, uh, distill, you know, um, the job market, opportunity, you know, Singapore position in the global standing, you know, Naturally a lot of social policy started come in. Right. Cannot cover. Okay. But we will talk about it at another time, maybe we get a few professors, a uni professor come in and discuss here. I think that that’d be fun. Um, but on that note, right, from an individual’s viewpoint, given the current reality of the job market yes. Given the current reality, you know, um, you definitely sound like someone that is doing, doing decently well right out of the university. Right. And like you just graduated…

Ben: I was fortunate too, I guess. Right. So, so.

Reggie:  You know, fortunate is one way to look at it. Yeah. There probably is a system behind this thing. Right. So in a way, right. So could you just kinda share, share with the audience a little bit? Like if you are trying to like find a good job or, and you don’t actually have the kind of experience in the field, you know, um, you know, are there some tips and tricks that, that people can, can embark on?

Ben: I think one is definitely to be eager. Uh, to me, this idea of you as a startup is very important to me. I think that this is something especially so in a gig economy. 

Reggie: So you’re saying that you got to see yourself as a startup. Okay.

Ben: You’ve got to see yourself as a startup and especially in the gig economy, where in a way you’re not going to rely on any firm. No firm is going to give you an iron rice bowl anymore. No firm is going to give you pension fund benefits anymore. It’s different. Right. And now there is a rise of contract jobs, I think that that really necessitates, uh, I mean, beyond the social things you’re talking about. Yeah. How can I, as a person really deal with this, is mainly to look at myself as a startup and to ask myself, how can I use my competitive advantage versus other people? What is my unique selling point? You know, what is the. Product, which is myself, trying to solve, like what problem in this world am I trying to solve with my own efforts and my own energies?

And I think that if you can actually answer the question sufficiently well, and you can do it sufficiently, well, you’ll be paid for it. And especially, so if you are doing something that nobody can do, right? Yeah. And the more scarce the solution, the higher you are paid, that is just the law of scarcity and nature.

Reggie: So how did you, how did you convince. You know, your employers to use you, right? Because from what I know, the kind of deals that you guys are working on, uh, you know, um, naturally in higher order, right? So that means that he is quite big, it’s complex deals and big deals. And you’re fronting a lot of these deals, but you’re, you’re, you’re barely in your thirties, late twenties. Right? So fresh out of university, a few years in the market, you know, how did you manage to convince your boss, you know, to use you. Share with us your story

Ben: I think that like, um, three short points, if I can actually mention, um, I think firstly, it is, you know, back to some of these things you have talked about, one is, um, pointing my employer to the myriad of experiences I had. I think that that’s very important because that shows that when you are in private equity, you are in investments, you understand the market and you understand it, not from just one perspective, but you can look from different lenses. And that is interesting because it means that you can understand what’s happening next and you can sort of like do your… there is this term for it? But it’s like, you know, this idea of, you know, innovation is actually not really innovation, but then you are actually just taking a perspective from another field and just applying it into this field. Yeah. So it is all you’re doing. It’s not really called innovation but not many people can do it, so, if you can do it and you can actually do it properly, I think you will beat most people out there. Because everyone is very single track. Right. So I think that’s that’s one

Ben: Uh, second would be your networks because at the end of the day when we do deals, even not in doing deals right. If you’re just doing, let’s say finance function, you’re just like calculating taxes in a company. And that’s your only job. But the thing is that if you’re just doing that job, you need to work together with everyone else. You need to work together with like the people who are doing the revenue department, you need to work together with the cost department, you need to work together with your CFO, work with all your other business functions to get the thing up and that means you need to talk to people. You need to make them a friend. Because why will they respond to you. Everyone’s busy, right. And they only respond to you because they know that, you know, you are someone that is important to them. 

Reggie: In some way, they must also like you la, I think there is some sort of social, you know, reality here we are working with humans. We are not working with robots. Right. It’s not asking you to go in like, um, what, what do you use to call it in the army? Wayang! I am not asking you to be a wayang but at least, you know, you, you want to be a nice person. People are interested to work with you, you know, and at least be socially palatable. Very, very, especially to a lot of my friends out there that, you know yeah. Like the tech guys it’s like is, this is a stereotype that people assume that tech guys are not sociable. Yeah. And there was some basis to it, right. It’s not the best thing to accept. Right. And in fact, I do know a lot of them, who are working very hard to become more sociable, which is, which is very cool. But, um, I think across the fields, right. Being socially likable, I think that is, that is important. 

Ben: I agree. And third thing I will just mention, I know it seems all very broad. I mean, I can’t go into detail if you want, but then the third thing of which I would say that is most important is humility. I think there’s a very overrated trait. Because when you’re young, whether you like it or not, nobody, thinks you are good. Like I tell anybody that is going to intern, you are a liability to the company, let’s face it la, you know, intern, right? Like, why would someone want to hire you. Basically the guy is taking off his time, instead of doing the work, he is teaching you to do it.

And you are going to screw up. He has to check the work and he is going to ask you to do it again. And it sounds very painful for you but it is more painful for the guy who is actually asking you to do the work. So I think that whenever you’re starting out, humility is a very important trait. Uh, and that continues even when you are already on a career, because I see that a lot of rich people, a lot of people who have done it well, have fallen? They have fallen because they were proud. And because when they are proud, they tend to be complacent and they tend to think that they understand everything and they tend to miss the market. And this is where things really break down for them. And I think that humility is such an overrated tait. Everyone likes a person who is humble. I don’t think that anyone would disagree with me because any person, any employer, if you are humble and if you really want to learn, if you’re hungry, why would I not choose you? It just shows me that you are, you are one that will make more bang for the buck, i’m going to put it that way.

Reggie: I think that that is a, that’s a good point. Um, I think, to try to, to try to contextualize it in other words, try to be more real though. Yeah. Right. Um, I think sometimes people try too hard to be someone they’re not, you know, and, and how I put it is while I agree that humility is very charming, sometimes you don’t fit this community or you don’t fit this environment doesn’t mean you cannot thrive in another environment. 

Ben: Yes. 

Reggie: Right? Yeah. A lot of times where people go for interviews or when they are switching jobs, you know, they always feel like they’re begging you. They always feel like, you know, I’m on the short end, but the reality is if, if you are not, if this environment is not for you, you will never flourish. I think to sum it up to date, maybe you could just share us a little bit more about what you are doing and if they want to connect with you, like, you know, where can they search for you? 

Ben: Right. Okay. So right now I started, uh, just two and a half months ago, Kinobi. So Reginald knows about it. Definitely. So we are a career mentoring platform. So special thing about us is we are totally digital, so totally digital mentoring platform, uh, it’s focused on your career helping you get a best career. And that we are currently three countries, Singapore, Indonesia, and India. And we currently have a few programs. So to explain it very simply. We have two things. One is called pathways, and then the other one is called, um, a mentoring program, so the pathways part, how we started is very simple, you know, we were playing games, you know, like. I don’t know about you but I played MapleStory when I was younger. When you are 12, 13 years old, you wonder how do you build a “Dex-less Sin” and things like that

Reggie: You know why I remember? I was a mage. Right. I was like an ice-lightning mage, I am playing. I was like, how come? I’m always stuck here. All my friends have gone on, like job three, job four. What the hell are you guys doing, man? Don’t need to study?! I was never really successful in MapleStory, yes…

Ben: So you’re like thinking to yourself, you know, there were all these builds and stuff like guides online telling you where to fight monsters, level 20-30, fight the green mushrooms.

Reggie: I have never read those guides! Maybe that is why I suck in the game right?  

Ben: Why not just build these guides for life? One for private banking and one for investment banking, let people experience different things. You know, MapleStory, you can play different characters or you see an opening Ice-lighting mage and you can play the assasin you know. So like in this way, you can sort of like, play different things and compare and contrast whether which ones really vibes with you as a person. So that is pathways. And the second one is a mentoring program. So this one is on a higher order. Definitely. We are keeping it more exclusive and, uh, eventually, um, it’s harder to get inside. So we currently have one in tech BD, tech BD is a huge, huge thing now because technology firms are getting a lot of capital. They’re the ones that are surviving COVID.

Reggie: they are thriving, not just surviving.

Ben: Yes, you’re hiring a lot. So that’s why we really started this. And if you really want to enter this industry, it’s very soft skills related and we are here to help you. So I think that we have mentors from like, let’s say SAP, Alibaba Cloud, Bytedance, even Go-pay. Go-pay recently, part of Go-Jek became a unicorn. Yeah. So I think that’s a huge, huge opportunity there. So we have all these mentors onboard. Do come and join us. And, uh, you can actually sign up very simply. The link is bit.ly/join-kinobi  

Reggie: Right. So thanks for today. Thanks for joining us. And thank you for the military for flying the fighter jet, you know, for national day. Oh yeah. Soon, soon. I think you guys will hear this episode after national day, but, you know, thanks for that. Thanks for sharing all your tips and tricks and. You know, I hope you learned something useful today. So, yeah.

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