Interview: Daniel Lim, Serial Entrepreneur

[Editor’s Note: If you don’t know Dan or this is the first time you are hearing about him, you might get a little intimated by his sheer energy and productivity. But hold on tight – he is going to inspire you and make you want to go out there and do more, a lot more, with your life. Enjoy this first ever interview on rebeccatoh.co!]

Can you tell us a little about yourself, Daniel?

My name is Dan. You can call me DannyBunny. I am a cereal entrepreneur – which means I do things for the love and not the money. I am Singaporean. I am a coffee addict. I am a reformed shopaholic. I love Akina Nakamori.

You inspire me a lot. It’s really nice to see that you are doing so well as a creative entrepreneur. Can you share a bit about the businesses that you are currently running?

Oh yes! I am super blessed! Making good money doing what I love which allows me to do more of what I love. I run a few businesses.

My main biz is in digital publishing, digital content creation. Also web design and development. The third piece is brand development.

This year has seen me starting my coaching practice (dannybunny.co).

How did you make your first leap to quitting the rat race?

I would not have been able to do this on my own. [My partner and I] discussed and agreed that I would give myself two years.

I asked myself – Dan, what was your last drawn pay in the office cubicle? $3500. Okay, so can you make $3500 a month consistently by the end of two years? If you can, great! Let’s do this. If you can’t then… let’s do this too to prove you can’t. Then you can go back to corporate. You can take these two years off. You have hands, legs, a good head, willing to work hard, excited about it, and am pretty good at what you’re doing, plus reading micro-trends – the Internet was gonna explode! So ai zo or mai zo (dialect for “Do you want to do it or not?”)?

So I said ZO (hokkien for “let’s do it!”)!!!

Then I made 10 times my last drawn salary by the end of two years.

Can you briefly tell us about how you first started out as a creative entrepreneur?

I started out with my web design company Magic Mushroom and I did what everyone else would do who had to start from zero. I turned to Yellow Pages and started cold calling.

During that era, even fancy name cards were a novelty. Nobody understood the Internet, websites, this new breed of marketing. So I had a lot of trouble and resistance, but there was this uncle who was so nice.

He listened to my drivel on the phone, didn’t understand anything, but he said in Chinese, “I don’t know what is the Internet, but I know it’s tough starting out. You have the heart. I support you.”

I didn’t know how to price my work, so I told him, let me make the website. He can take a look after it’s done and if he likes it, he can pay me however much he feels is fair. If he doesn’t like it or if he doesn’t feel it’s gonna be helpful then he doesn’t have to pay me.

Then I proceeded with making the BEST MOST KICKASS WEBSITE I could make for him. I put in everything I knew back then. Time and effort were no issue. I did it like it was my only job I was gonna have.

Uncle saw it.

Still didn’t quite understand how he would use it. But I assured him it’s yellow pages on steroids.

He liked it and he gave me my first $500.

One of the problems many creatives face is “how to make a good living”. Do you have any advice for these aspiring and struggling creatives?

Define what “good living” entails for you and not what the world has prescribed.

Do you feel free? Joyful? Connected? Most importantly, does your life feel the way you want it to feel? Are you making a living on your own terms?

You’ll be surprised how much of the daily stressful madness is a direct result of chasing after things that we’ve been brainwashed to believe we need and to show for the world.

Good living comprises of an aspirational side and a practical side. We’ve still got to pay the bills. Yet, how we go about paying the bills is equally important.

When we realise that we can make a good living with a whole lot less (enough is plenty), and on our own terms, a lot of the struggling that is needless melts away.

How do you stay productive and do so much?

It’s just in my DNA! I’ve always been an Energizer bunny. I am a perpetual ideation machine with more ideas than I have time and energy to execute on and I feel there’s so much I wanna do and there’s too little time. This keeps me motivated and rah rah at all times.

I am also wired to be 100% nocturnal and I dedicate the time block of 11pm to 5am (where I experience peak performance) for my most creative work. Undisturbed. No phone calls. No meetings. No social events. I get seriously into the flow zone.

That said, here’s a mini listicle.

If It’s Not A Hell Yes, it’s a Hell No!
I only work on the things that light me up. Be highly selective about what you choose to spend your currency of time, energy and love on. Master the art of saying “no” gracefully.

Edit Ruthlessly
Edit, edit, edit. Cos overwhelm. Curate, curate, curate. Cos noisy world. This applies to everything from relationships (personal and business) to your social media feeds. Remove all forms of toxicity.

Surround Yourself With Good People

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. It’s important to hang out with people who inspire you to be the best version of yourself.

What is one day in your life like?

A fulfilling one where I get to spend my day at the intersection of creativity, business and happiness!

A few other tidbits:

  • I natural wake without an alarm. I need 7-8 hours of sleep to function at my best.
  • I am nocturnal. I wake up at 3pm. Go to bed at 7am.
  • One full glass of water immediately after I wake up.
  • Meditation. 10 minutes. Set intentions for the day.
  • I work in my lounge clothes. Yay!
  • Loads of good strong coffee throughout the day.
  • Gym. I have a really great personal trainer who’s been taking care of my fitness needs for over 6 years now. Our focus this year is for me to build stronger pins and hit 65kg. I’m at 64.4kg now. Sooooo close. We can smell it!
  • Lots of reading and learning. I’m a lifelong student. The learning never stops.
  • Check in on existing businesses with my teams. Fight any fires they can’t handle. They have been trained well so thankfully that doesn’t happen often.
  • Have plenty of fun working on my play projects.
  • Some Netflix indulgence.
  • I put down 3 things in my gratitude journal first thing I climb into bed.
  • Read until my Energizer battery runs flat. Then I call it quits.
  • Switch off bedside lamp, climb under the covers and say “Fankeow Universe for a good day.”

What are the apps, software, or tools you can’t live without?

Pen & Paper – I’m old school. I call these my magic tools.

iPhone.

Infinity in the palm.

MacPro – 工欲善其事,必先利其器。

A blazing fast internet connection – I actually know people who choose the internet over their family.

Nespresso machine – I actually have one RIGHT NEXT TO my monitor! That’s how essential caffeine is to me.

Air conditioner – Didn’t the late Lee Kuan Yew say that this was the best invention of the century that allowed quantum leaps in productivity?

Photoshop – I used to prefer Fireworks for web graphics. But ever since Adobe bought over Macromedia and neglected it, I’ve switched over to PS.

Evernote – We all need a dedicated place for brain dumping.

Bear – I do all my writing in this app.

Basecamp – Team and project management.

Milanote – The latest darling in my toolkit. For research, planning and building out my play projects.

PS: I technically wouldn’t die if you took away everything listed above. I can adapt. I swear I can. But please consider leaving me a pen and some paper.

Do you have any books to recommend that are life or mindset-changing?

Of course!!! There are so many but here are some that are top of my mind.

For the Mind

4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

For the Heart

The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte
Firestarter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte (Can you tell I’m a fan?)
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

For the Soul

Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch (It’s a trilogy and I highly recommend reading them all.)
The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

What are you working on now?

Quite a few things!

It’s a mix bag of “play” projects, doing more of what I enjoy, and tuning into my inner calling.

Coaching Practice

Personal and performance coaching for creative individuals and corporations.
I recently ran a full day corporate retreat for the DesignSingapore Council called #HowToHuman and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s certainly a personal highlight for this year.
The retreat was very well received (bless the good folks at DSG for having me!) and that has led to more doors opening. The Singapore Ministry Of Communication & Information has invited me to be their in-house performance coach. We’re working on the details right now but it will take the format of a weekly “open clinic” where staff members get to work with me on their areas of concerns and untie those icky inner “knots.” I’m calling it “FWD: Friday With Dan!”
There’s a Netflix series called “Billions” (highly recommended btw!) and there’s a character in it called Wendy who is a supernova kickass in-house performance coach for all these high-functioning, high-performance, high net worth traders. These guys go to her when they are feeling kinda “funky”, she performs one or two mindset shifts in a very exact manner, and send them out of her office blazing trades again in 5 minutes! When I saw that I was like “I WANT TO BE WENDY!!! I WANT TO THE MALE VERSION OF WENDY!! I WANT TO BE THE WENDY FOR SOME COMPANY!!”

So you can imagine how SUPER excited I am about this opportunity when MICA came calling. I look forward to invading cubicles and bringing more joy to corporate warriors.

B-Hive

A community of budding / struggling / seasoned creative entrepreneurs committed to building smart purpose-driven businesses that will build true wealth and freedom.

Online Courses

Building two e-courses on my favourite topics. One on “starting the right business”. The other on “how to human.”

Lifestyle Products

Crafting a small range of hand-poured candles and energy-infused jewelry with MIZU Brand. Also working on a fragrance.

Digital Stickers

Developing two series of original characters for distribution on LINE app.

A Photography + Apparel project

A joint-venture based in Brazil which will be launching in May.

Happy Boot Camp

A seasonal podcast of bite-sized wisdom bombs for happier living.

LITO
A joint-venture with a super talented photographer whose work and zest for happy living I so adore – Rebecca Toh!

Think of it as a portrait photography + web design + copywriting boutique in one. We aim to be a one-stop shop to elevate the online presence of solopreneurs in the new economy.

I keep an updated list of my shenanigans here. I’m always ticking things off and birthing new ones!

Do you have any dreams that you haven’t fulfilled yet?

A super strange thing just happened when I tried to answer this question! I drew a blank and the blinking cursor stared right back at me for minutes. It’s still staring at me now.

What’s happening???

In the past, I would have had a huge list of items for you.

[Sidetrack]

Lately, I’ve started a mindful practice to observe how I feel and respond to things, people, events and that includes munching on reflective questions like this one. So while I am reacting or thinking, I observe my reactions and thoughts. It’s like a second level of awareness. Woohoo!

This is especially fun when applied to those pre-frontal cortex moments. There’s no faking it because your amphibian brain just takes over. I enjoy observing and picking apart my amphibian moments.

There is so much reprogramming which we can do to manage and adapt our cavemen operating system.

[End of sidetrack]

Ok, back to answering your question.

I just realised I don’t have any unfulfilled dreams! I have every non-negotiable that I need. The rest are mere wants and good-to-haves.

I have shifted from what I want (things, events, validation through external material wealth) to how I want to feel everyday. Then I set out my intentions. Inner clarity first, then outer action. Inner attunement before outer attainment.

We’ve got the procedures of achievement upside down. We are not chasing a goal. We are chasing a feeling we think we’ll get after reaching the goal.

So I have been getting creative about how I want to feel and the ways I go around pursuing those feelings.

For example sky diving has been on my bucket list for a long time now but I haven’t done it yet.

I’ll think – Why do I want to sky dive? What is it that I want to feel by sky diving?

I want Adventure. I want Thrill. I want Excitement.

And guess what? I can absofrigginlutely get all the above by giving a talk to a group of 200 people! I feel the same adrenalin rush when I give my Facebook Live Sessions to my B-Hive FB group or when I run a corporate retreat/workshop. So I do more of those.

Et voila! We don’t have to be fixated with the things we think we want once we shift the focus to how we want to feel.

In a happy, shiny nutshell – I guess I am living the dream? 🙂

*

More of Daniel at:
DannyBunny.co (coaching practice)
Happy Boot Camp (podcast)
DannyBunny.shop (online store of happy goods)
LITO (photography + website design boutique)

A good day’s work

I’m kind of a productivity geek. Life is short, and there is a lot I want to squeeze into this short life, so I am constantly thinking of how to optimize my days.

(That also means I am always trying different productivity systems on for size, which is very fun and extremely unproductive, I must say).

But what, really, is productivity, and why does it matter?

According to Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, at the end of the day we’re all just looking for progress in our lives – each of us wants to move further along the path towards realizing our potential or achieving our most important goals. That’s why we want to be “productive”.

Note that it’s about having important goals, and not just any goal. Because being productive is not just about ticking off our to-do lists mindlessly. It’s not about doing busy work. It’s not about waking up and attacking our email inbox thoughtlessly, mechanically.

Good productivity is about doing a good day’s work, and I think Jason Fried is right – it’s about progress, it’s about becoming better, it’s about evolving, and these things must be done towards the right goals.

As Shawn Blanc – a writer and creative whom I admire very much – also said, “Meaningful productivity means consistently giving our time and attention to the things that matter most.”

So even before thinking about how to optimize my days, I must first be honest with myself about what I want to fill my days with and be extremely mindful of whether these things are even important in the first place.

So I’ve been thinking, what matters most to me?

Personal peace and a sense of emotional well-being. This is the foundation of everything for me. Hence the tools to create personal peace – like meditation, like prayer – are things I must prioritize doing every day. There should be no question about whether I should meditate/pray or not, since my peace and my well-being are dependent on them. Starting my days with meditation, ending my nights with prayer – surely that is a good container for a good day’s work.

My health and my fitness. I love feeling fit and healthy. But we are the stories we tell ourselves. All my life I have told myself – and have been told by others – that I am not a sporty person. So I spent many years of my life thinking exercising or sports isn’t for me, that I’m never going to be any good at it. But I slowly changed the narrative for myself, and have in the last few years enjoyed playing squash, running, rock-climbing and swimming.

I love the after-glow of exercising and I love how the lessons I learn while running or swimming cross-over into the other parts of my life. For instance, when learning TI Swimming, I realize very quickly that it’s not about becoming a perfect swimmer overnight. During every practice session, the focus is often on a mini-skill, a small part of one skill. With mindfulness and careful attention and pleasure, you work on that mini-skill. The next day, you focus on another mini-skill. At no time do you fixate on your end goal. Instead, you enjoy every moment of your practice. By slowly progressing through all these mini-skills one at a time, you are promised that everything will converge eventually and you will suddenly find yourself becoming a good swimmer. Like a caterpillar slowly transforming into a butterfly. Isn’t that a beautiful analogy for life too?

My relationships with people I love. This is extremely important to me. I am a recovering workaholic. Even though recovering, some of my workaholic tendencies have become firmly embedded in me. Sometimes I get really obsessed with doing work (because to me, work is actually fun) that I’d rather work than spend time hanging out with my friends or family. But because this is so important to me, my days would not be complete or meaningful if I didn’t also carve time out to be with my family and friends.

My work as a photographer. I consider my work as a photographer a life-time vocation. Maybe, in 20 or 30 years, I will not be shooting for money anymore, but I don’t think that will ever stop me from thinking of myself as a photographer. But now, while I am a professional photographer, there are important goals associated to it that I must pursue. For instance, my goal as an advertising photographer is to create personal work good enough that I am hired not just for my style, but for my creative vision. As an editorial photographer, I want to move towards doing fewer lifestyle stories and more substantial documentary work, with an eye towards social issues. I want to do photography work that is increasingly meaningful and interesting. This means it’s important that I dedicate a portion of my days to working on advancing these goals (doing personal projects, studying photography and the work of photographers I admire, contacting photo editors who can help me further my goals), instead of simply firefighting and riding on any work that comes my way. It is important that I actively sculpt my path as a photographer instead of simply allowing the current to push me forward.

My creative energy. There are a lot of other things I want to do besides photography. I am interested in books and writing and the mechanics of building a small business and technology and publishing and education. All of these things come with potential project ideas. It’s important that I spend time working on some of these things. That’s one of the reasons why I write this newsletter/blog – it’s an extremely important creative outlet for me.

My desire to do meaningful things in this world. Life is not just about earning money and buying things and living the good life. All of that is great, but I want to do meaningful things with my time as well. What is “meaningful” differs from person to person. For me, meaning is an intangible feeling, a sense that I have lived a worthwhile life, one in which I have used my skills and talent to help bring something useful and beautiful to other people. I am currently in the midst of doing something (using photography) with a local foundation to help kids who have been touched by cancer. This is personally meaningful to me because my life has been touched by cancer as well – my aunt passed away from cancer when she was 40, a schoolmate of mine died from bone cancer when he was 14, and my good friend from Taiwan died last year at the age of 36 from metastatic breast cancer.

Reading and learning. I don’t know what I would do without books. Every time I feel stuck, sad, or lost, it is books that I turn to first. There is always someone somewhere out there who has experienced exactly what I have, and who has written a book about it. Being able to read and learn makes me feel invincible, like nothing in this world is too difficult to be solved. So it’s very important that there is time in my schedule to read and go to the library, which is my personal happy place.

That’s largely about it. At the moment, these are the things I want to consciously fill my days with. Knowing what truly matters also helps me to have some form of clarity about the shape my life should take, and what to be “productive” about. In the midst of life’s chaos, I guess this is my own way of finding some semblance of order.

The question of what tools I use to effectively organize my life and fit all these into my days is an article for another day.

But first, what is important to you? Have you ever given it any thought?

– – –



Swimming


“Swimming is simply moving meditation.” ― Cesar Nikko Caharian

I can’t remember when I fell in love with swimming. A part of it is nostalgia, I suppose. When I was a kid my parents used to bring me and my siblings to Bishan Swimming Complex, a local public pool, on the weekends. It was a rowdy and happy affair. I can still smell the chlorine, taste the cheap microwaved pool-side cafe food and remember how smooth my skin felt after my post-swim showers. It’s been 20 years since, but it still feels like yesterday.

When I grew older, swimming became a refuge. I swam whenever I was upset or depressed. And it helped – I was always left happier after each swim, and my head clearer. Sometimes I’d also have light-bulb moments in the pool, ideas bubbling up from seemingly out of nowhere. The pool, for some reason, inspires, elevates and is a great cure for many ills.


Bishan Swimming Complex, where my parents used to take me and my siblings.

About three years ago, I decided to go for proper swimming lessons. What I knew about swimming, I’d learned from my grandfather. I knew the breaststroke and how to trap water and float, but that was the extent of it. I wanted to learn proper techniques and to swim less like an amateur and more like a person who knows how to swim. More importantly, I desperately wanted to learn how to swim freestyle.

So I started taking lessons from Sue, a 65-year-old swimming coach I’d met serendipitously at a photoshoot. Sue has a fascinating life story. She started swimming in 1993 after she strained her back propping her sick husband up in bed. Visits to the doctor didn’t help, so heeding a friend’s advice, she started swimming 25 laps a day. Her back was cured after two or three months.

Sue rides a motorbike, travels once a month, wakes up at 5.30am to walk 5km a day, has done a marathon and several half marathons, and swims the same number of laps as her age on every birthday. Just this past October, Sue turned 68 and swam 68 laps at the pool.

How cool is she?


This is how my swimming coach Sue looks like – at 65! And yes, she got me to do a photoshoot for her. Haha.

This reminds me of another story Terry Laughlin – the legendary swimming coach who invented Total Immersion Swimming (TI Swimming), a method that teaches people how to swim like fish – told about his oldest student ever, Dr. Paul Laurie, who at age 93 picked up TI Swimming on his own through a DVD, and then showed up at the doorstep of Laughlin’s swimming studio at 94 requesting for lessons in swimming the butterfly stroke. At 94!

Before that, Dr. Laurie had spent 40 years as a Pediatric Cardiologist, and upon retirement, became an emeritus professor at a medical college for another 25 years.

Even without knowing the details of his life, I can already sense Dr. Laurie’s palpable zest for living.

About two weeks ago, Terry Laughlin, the inventor of TI Swimming and whose blog I have enjoyed reading (through which he muses passionately about the link between swimming and happiness and the joy of mastery) passed away. His passing made me pick up the TI Swimming book that has been collecting dust on my bookshelf. It made me think of why I’d stopped swimming when it was clearly something I enjoyed and wanted to improve at.

Like Dr. Laurie, I too have the Total Immersion Swimming videos downloaded on my computer, but unlike him, I never had the self-discipline and will to commit to the programme long enough to see any huge improvement in my swimming. I did learn to swim a very beginner’s version of the TI freestyle, but it’s nothing to boast about.

I am lazy and inconsistent, but deep in my core, I want to be as cool and awesome as people like Sue and Dr. Laurie, and anyone else who dedicates themselves to a sport or an activity or a craft. But in particular, a sport. There is something about moving and training your body that intrigues me. I was never an athlete and never thought of myself as a sporty person, but TI Swimming preaches exactly the fact that you don’t need to be young or athletic or particularly strong to become good at a sport like swimming.

It is also true that I feel best when exercise is a big part of my life. When I was running a lot, when I was swimming regularly, when I was rock-climbing two or three times a week (right before my jaw surgery), I felt good, and both stronger and lighter. Sometimes it would strike me that that’s all it takes to be happy – one good session in the pool, one long run around my block, one challenging climb up the wall.

So I have a renewed desire to make sports and exercise a big part of my life. And hopefully by doing that I can age as gracefully and healthfully as Sue and Dr. Laurie and Terry Laughlin.

More importantly, I want to start doing the things I want to do. For real. And to quit simply thinking about doing them. And sports/exercise on a regular basis is just one of the many things on my list.

I guess you could say that I want very much to squeeze every drop out of this short but sweet life, and I’m not going to let my laziness and inconsistency stop me from doing that. Even if I fail (at anyone of those things on my list), I’m going to try again and again.



Swimming and watching the sun set counts as one of the best experiences one can have in life.

But yes, TI Swimming. As much I want to run and hike and rock-climb and play table tennis, what I want to do the most at the moment is to master TI Swimming. That’s because I’ve been talking about learning it for the longest time. It’s not that I’m going to stop running or rock-climbing, but for now, I want to put a lazer focus on swimming.

In Terry Laughlin’s last podcast interview, he talked about how, to master something, there are two keys: pleasure and attention.

It sounds obvious but it’s not. Too few of us find joy in the things we are doing or learning to do, and even fewer of us pay careful attention to the task at hand.

If I want to master swimming, then, I must first enjoy the hell out of swimming (which I do). Then I must engage with it, pay close attention it, learn its theory, practise its skills. I must engage with it at a deeper level. In other words, I must not be mindless about the process.


One of my favorite places to swim in Singapore – a pool that overlooks the city.

I think we can also apply the principles of pleasure and attention to almost every other aspect of our lives (but I can attest as to just how difficult it is to do that).

So, what is it that you have been wanting to do but have never gotten down to doing? Are you going to finally start doing them? Share your stories with me if you want by replying to this email. I receive all the replies directly and appreciate every email and story, but might take 2 million years to reply. Even so, I will get back to you eventually.

Now enough talking, let’s start doing.

PS: If you are interested in seeing TI Swimming in action, check out this video titled “The Most Graceful Freestyle Swimming by Shinji Takeuchi”. It’s a short 3-minute video of a 40-year-old Japanese man swimming… like a fish. Shinji Takeuchi also self-taught himself TI Swimming through a DVD. In this video you can see that there is so little splashing of water, so little evidence of effort, and yet he cuts through the water as if a line were pulling him forward. That’s the magic of the TI Swimming method.

PPS: TI Swimming in open water is just as graceful and beautiful.

“If you want to get unstuck, don’t use your mind – use your body.” – Turia Pitt