CEO Interview with Wan-Chung LAI

Coaching is one of those highly under-rated things that can have huge impact across an organisation.

It isn’t just prevalent in sports but in companies as well.

Very often, highly successful executives attribute their accomplished careers to having a supportive supervisor or manager in their formative years who coached more than tell.

You can be paid a million dollars with a swanky office but if your reporting officer is a pain, it probably won’t be a long journey.

But across many companies, coaching is often perceived as more of an art form and left to fate to happen.

Wan Chung feels otherwise and took a more scientific approach to enable more organisations to implement a structured coaching programme with lasting impact.

1. Please share with us briefly what you do

I am an organisational psychologist with 10+ years serving at a regional director-level in learning and talent development.

My career spans all three sectors – private, public and non-profit.

Wan Chung running a workshop in Hong Kong

My HR development journey started at Singapore’s Social Service Institute* where I was the first head of department for Training and Development. (*Then known as Social Service Training Institute – SSTI)

I design and deliver leadership development programmes, and actively coach executives and senior leaders. I have equipped over 1,000 leaders across APAC and through three languages (English, Mandarin and Cantonese).

2. What were you doing before this

I was an award-winning Regional Learning and Development Director at a FTSE100 company, overseeing multiple portfolios including talent development and acquisition, performance management and employee engagement across 12 countries in Asia.

Prior to that, I served in an equivalent role at one of the largest global development and humanitarian NGOs (World Vision International).

3. Tell me more about your company

MasterCoach is a Singapore-based startup that has incubated and launched a new-category HR Tech aimed at tackling the global workplace engagement challenge.

The MasterCoach App is an action-based tool for every workplace manager to boost employee motivation and performance.

Our vision is to help managers be better coaches, who can, and will, develop strengths-based and engagement-focused work cultures, one great performance conversation at a time.

4. How does it work

MasterCoach’s key features were influenced by Gallup’s research findings which showed that leaders of high-performing teams consistently do three things – spotlight strengths, collaborate to set clear performance goals, and check in regularly on progress.


Strengths Wheel – MasterCoach allows managers to build and send a ‘Strengths Wheel’ – literally in seconds – to an employee for a quick strengths assessment on his smartphone.

CoachPad – is a custom-built note-taker for coaching. Access a library of 300 powerful questions to probe for insights. With these questions, managers can move from the default mode of “telling” to engaging the ideas, energy and inner resourcefulness of employees.

Dashboard – helps keep agreed actions top-of-mind for employees, thus increasing the rigour and success of performance.

5. Who are your closest competitors

There are apps out there that facilitate goal-setting and progress tracking.  I think many of us would have come across these.  Most are designed for ‘self-tracking’ by the individual user.

The key differentiating point for us is our focus on the ‘manager-employee interaction’ and the quality of their engagement, beyond information-tracking.

Hence, MasterCoach operates through two apps – the ‘Coach App’ (for managers) and the ‘Client App’ (for employees).

These two apps work like ‘corporate walkie-talkies’ that let managers connect with those they coach to facilitate 3 powerful actions – DISCOVER and activate strengths, DEVELOP insights-led actions, DEDICATE to follow through.

These line up with Gallup’s research conclusion of the three key leadership behaviours that drive high employee engagement and performance. (Reference: Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report 2017)

6. Who is your first customer

Our first customer is a major coach training organisation in the United States – Lifeforming Leadership Coaching Inc. – founded and led by Dr. Joseph Umidi, who is also Executive Vice-President and Professor of Leadership at a university on the east coast.

Lifeforming has trained over 8,000 coaches and coach trainers worldwide.

Their training programme is accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF), the world’s largest coach credentialing body.

They were looking to complement their training with technology that can increase learning retention and application by their participants.

Things went one full circle.

Ten years back, my business partner and I went through a comprehensive nine-month professional coaching programme with Lifeforming.

A decade later, we were able to give back to Lifeforming by offering them a unique coaching technology that adds to their competitive edge.

Quote from Dr. Joseph Umidi: MasterCoach will be the industry standard for technology that builds trust and rapport between people.”

Apart from Lifeforming, we have an initial batch of 500 individual subscribers who have downloaded the app from App Store.

7. What motivated you to start this business

MasterCoach was developed to address a big-category need in the world of HR, and people engagement and development.

Research by Gallup has established the alarming fact that 85% of workers worldwide are not engaged in their jobs.[1] Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are enthusiastic and committed to their work.

However, a surprising majority of workers are not actively engaged and would not consider going the extra mile. As a result, growth and innovation suffer.

We set out to build a coaching app that managers could use to help employees become more engaged at work, thus increasing productivity and profitability for their organizations.

The ultimate vision is to make managers better coaches, and get them to discard traditional management practices such as command-and-control and focusing on an employee’s weaknesses rather than engaging his strengths.

8. What is your biggest sacrifice to make this work

Impossibly long hours, brain cells, stepping out of my comfort zone to assume a variety of roles (app design, website creation, video production, digital marketing, …)

9. How did you get funded

MasterCoach grew out of a deep conviction of two leadership coaches (us) who bootstrapped the app all the way into the App Store.

We were blessed to have the support of an equally passionate developer who waived a significant portion of the development cost to bring MasterCoach to life.

10. What has been your most successful form of marketing

An authentic voice. Coupled with our coaching DNA which shapes every single communication that goes out.

More than anything else, we realise that we are the brand.

11. Describe a typical work day

No two days are alike.

From connecting with HR Tech influencers, to meeting organisational HR contacts keen to find out how they can increase their leadership development ROI with MasterCoach, to creating content for our marketing outreach.

Going from a 9-to-5 corporate routine to an entrepreneurial lifestyle has also allowed me to better structure my time and energy around the family, which has been a BIG plus.

12. Who has been the greatest business influence

My business partner, C.M. Loke, whose wisdom, wit and wondrous ability to adapt to every changing circumstance, have saved us from numerous pitfalls and impasse on a long and arduous journey.

13. What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business

Going live on Apple App Store one surreal night.

14. What is your favourite business failure

There were many key decision points along our journey. We sometimes gave in to popular viewpoints, when the better answer lies somewhere else.

An example was our early decision to develop the app on both the iOS and Android platforms. We thought this would allow us to reach most of the world.

However, our initial development team was relatively young, and the decision proved to be a strain on resources and the team.

Subsequently, we took the decision to scale down and stay focused on developing a high quality and intuitive iOS app.

People have been asking for an Android version, and we hope to be able to answer this wish soon.

15. If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him

Small, unsure steps forward are better than perfect ideas.

Keep moving forward. Evolve, adapt and improvise along the way.

16. What’s one productivity hack you can’t live without

Don’t let ‘urgent’ get the better of ‘important’.

Reserve my mornings – when the mind is fresh and ready to engage – for thinking and creative work.  Push administrative tasks till later in the day as much as is possible.

Keen To Learn More About MasterCoach?

[1] Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report (2017)

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