Learning now takes place anytime and anywhere. I have three kids in primary school and they are absorbing large amounts of content through channels like YouTube everyday, and kids just like them are making some of those videos. It hints at the future possibilities of learning.
Hence I jumped at the chance to have a conversation with David Yeo, founder and Chief Learning Architect of Kydon, a Singapore-based learning solutions company, which seeks to transform learning for the 21st century workforce. We met in his office in JTC Summit. It is an open-concept office and you could see the young company is outgrowing its current home. We sat down to discuss about how he came into education and his ideas for the future of learning.
For easy reading, my questions are in Italics, and David’s answers are in regular.
What attracted you to education?
When I was young, I felt like I could not study. It was boring and I barely made it. Thankfully, I won a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) military award for my leadership skills and was well on my way to be a career soldier. I never thought about education until an unexpected incident led me onto another path and eventually I furthered my studies in Masters in Instructional Design in Florida. That was a game changer for me. I found my passion in learning. For the first time, I loved studying, learning about learning. Education is learning within the confines of formal institutions. Learning itself can happen anywhere, and is both an art and science. The focus is not so much about what you learn, but how and why. Learning does not have to be the same for everyone, producing cookie cutter results. It should be differentiated, personalised and engaging.
The outcomes matter as well; it is not enough for education to be just fun and engaging. Learning allows people to achieve their potential and create outcomes that are satisfying and meaningful. Everyone is different and learning methods should be able to meet that.
What is the vision you want to achieve?
At 18, I had an epiphany that I am meant to do something to help people across Southeast Asia (SEA). I was not sure then what it was, but after that unexpected path, I know now it is through Education. I believe, through transforming learning, everyone will have the opportunity to empower themselves to maximise their capabilities, potential, and to gain human dignity. Dignity in terms of self-respect, fulfilling one’s potential, and doing something you find meaningful. These individuals will then bring innovative changes into enterprises, institutions, communities and the wider society. I want to build a capability that can reach everyone across SEA. I am thinking of a man in Myanmar who is witnessing a growth of opportunities in their city, however because of insufficient education and skills, he is not able to take up the job. This leads to feelings of frustration as he is left with a less satisfying job, while watching others take up the jobs he wants.
The transformation in learning is imminent as technology advances and the needs of emerging markets here change. As more seek education, technology allows us to scale and meet that demand. We can’t build schools fast enough.
Why start your own company?
I never guessed that one day I would be an entrepreneur. In the Army, I was an evangelist driving for change in the education and training systems. I made my passions visible and people gave me opportunities to make significant changes. However there is only so much you can do in public service, I want to make an impact in the wider society of SEA. I also want to connect and work with like-minded educators outside the realms of the Army, and many were in K12 education (K12 education refers to kindergarten to post-secondary education). I also felt that no technology company in the market was approaching education in the right way. Everyone was still focused on cookie cutter learning methods, even global education companies. Few understood what is learning transformation. Few were thinking about a collaborative and expansive education, using networks instead of classrooms. I was compelled to make it happen on my own.
What were the challenges?
When I first started in late 2012, I had nothing but a room the size of a storeroom, along with a table and chair. It was a stark contrast to the comforts of a large organization – full support from secretaries to finance administrators and a relatively certain job.
There is also the lure of financial wealth and certainty. It would have been financially more certain and rewarding to open a maid agency, instead of holding true to the vision. I noticed this early on and recruited the help of two mentors. I chose them based on their commercial experience and common values. I also preferred them to not have any commercial interest in the same sector. They keep me accountable to my vision, and are still a big part of the company today.
Another key challenge is managing my tendency to obsess and work non-stop. When I run at that pace, it is very tiring not only for the team, but my family as well; my family would not see me often. I have to deliberately slow down and pull back, not try to do everything and further prioritise the key pieces for the business. There is a saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
How has your military training helped in starting a company?
It is focusing on building a mission-first team, rather than a team of individuals with a me-first mentality. It means setting a strong foundation – defining a clear vision, mission, core values, as well as strategy for the next 1,3 and 5 years. It is all about strategising. For us, it is to be the thought leader in this arena. We organised our first annual conference as early as 2013 to share our message, and we invited leading experts from overseas to speak. People will come to you if they think you have something to value add.
What is your proudest moment for Kydon?
I had a huge moment of pride during our first LEARNTech conference in Marina Bay Sands in 2014. I caught a glimpse of a community coming together during that event, watching people excited and engaged in the topics, and finding solutions they need. It was a testament we are meeting a real need.
We have just passed the first phase of our work and gained some form of financial stability. It is good to not constantly worry about next month’s pay checks. We are now in our second phase, working on long-term projects that can create part of the vision. One of those projects is an online learning platform that we aim for to be free and available globally.
“As long as you are determined and believe in your vision, nothing is impossible.”
Any advice for people chasing their vision or dream?
I always tell my friends and colleagues who are considering a second, third or forth career, as long as you are determined and believe in your vision, nothing is impossible. Do not underestimate yourself. If we can put people in space, there is a lot more things in between we can achieve.
My wife, who thinks I am crazy, asked me in times of difficulties, “Do you doubt?”. I thought about the question for a long time, and concluded that I do not doubt my vision, but I have questions, “Am I doing this correctly? Am I conducting myself correctly?” which are OK and even healthy to have. However I do not doubt the vision because I have good reasons for it and it is what drives me.
Big thanks to David for sharing his story!
Check out this video on David’s entrepreneurial journey in education, made by Epson Southeast Asia.
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About Roger Grant, CEO of PERSONNA
Roger helps organisations turn ideas into real business impact. The change comes from the inside out.
He has more than 20 years of experience leading large diverse teams to create innovative customer-centric technology services, including the launch of Nokia’s first enterprise mobile device support service.