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Yuen Tuck Siew, Co-Founder of Saving Plus

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Yuen Tuck Siew founded RinggitPlus.com in 2012 and has grown the business from a two man lean startup to Southeast Asia’s first full stack fintech solution provider for customer acquisition and management. Starting off with an online financial comparison website and a goal to help Malaysians get more for their money, he adapted the business model to the local challenges of the region’s emerging market economies. Siew lead the company through a successful merger with SaveMoney.my, Malaysia’s largest money saving community, and the launch of KreditGoGo.com, the Indonesian business JV with Celebes Capital.

Described as a “general who runs a tight army”, Siew is responsible for driving Saving Plus’s long-term strategy and consumer-centric focus. He has a fundamental belief that consumers should be able to apply for any financial product, anytime, anywhere and from any device. Not content with financial comparison alone, his mission is to build Saving Plus into the Amazon of Financial Services, Earth’s most customer-centric company.

Siew graduated from Oxford in 2004 with a degree in Modern History and started his career at Citigroup Investment Bank. After three years in Corporate Finance and Leveraged Finance, he joined Kynikos, the world’s largest short-only equity hedge fund, to cover global banks. Siew returned to Malaysia in 2010 to join Redberry Media Group where he was responsible for setting up their integrated media solutions.

In your own words what is Saving Plus?

Saving Plus provides end-to-end technology solutions and platforms for banks and insurance companies to acquire and manage customers online. In addition to our own personal finance and comparison websites RinggitPlus.com, SaveMoney.my and KreditGoGo.com, we also provide technology-driven outsourced application fulfilment services. My vision is to enable consumers to acquire any financial product anytime, anywhere and on any device and I started Saving Plus to make that a reality.

How did you come up with the idea of Saving Plus?

When I was living and working in London I never had to step into a bank branch – I managed all my personal finances online through sites such as http://www.moneysupermarket.com/. I took it for granted that all my banking and insurance needs could be dealt with online. When I came back to Malaysia in 2010 I had a real shock when I couldn’t do anything online! I believed that consumers in Malaysia and across Southeast Asia would benefit from an online service that helped them to get more for their money by comparing financial products online.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Saving Plus?

My co-founder, James Barnes (who is now the Group COO) and I started in a borrowed meeting room. It was just the two of us. There was nothing special – we just get to work. Our top priority was to hire a lean team to build the MVP. Between interviewing candidates we split our time between product development and business development. I started seeing clients before we even had a website up.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during start-up?

Recruiting: this was especially difficult when we did not even have a website. We didn’t have any secret sauce to solve the problem – we just kept interviewing. Even today hiring the right people is still our greatest challenge.

Business Development: persuading banking clients to work with you when you’re a start-up with no track record was tough. Most clients really weren’t interested at all. Again, there was no secret sauce – I just kept going until I found people who were willing to give us a shot.

How have you been developing Saving Plus since start-up?

We have very simple goals for our product that are very hard to achieve – we want to help our consumers get more value and better a service than anywhere else. So, for example, applying for a credit card or personal on RinggitPlus.com should be more convenient than going to your bank branch.

What kind of feedback did you get for Saving Plus so far?

I believe the growth in our business really speaks. Today our business is four times larger than this time last year. We could not have done this without adding significant value to our clients and consumers.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry?

Absolutely. I believe all technology businesses are facing stiff competition today due to the continued rapid growth of internet penetration and incredible growth in funding from venture capital. Our strategy is to stay focused on our consumers and make sure that we continue to provide best-in-class value and service.

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

Online financial comparison alone is not a viable business across Southeast Asia. Banks and Insurance companies do not have the know-how, infrastructure or people to manage digital customer acquisition themselves on a scalable basis. To be successful and sustainable I believe you need provide a full-stack solution and that’s exactly where we come in. We are the only player in our industry that can provide a single integrated end-to-end solution and platform for banks and insurers to acquire customers online.

What is the future of the industry and how do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?

I will continue to invest in our product to ensure it continues to provide a best-in-class experience to our consumers. I also make sure that the business balances short and long term priorities. We devote significant resources to projects that we believe will help us win next year and the year after.

What are your thoughts on the Malaysian start-up scene?

We are seeing great advances in the local start-up ecosystem from all stakeholders. I don’t have hard statistics but I believe more technology start-ups are getting funded and growing into successful and sustainable businesses. Overall I believe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the digital economy – bigger and better things are yet to come.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? Is it harder or easier?

I’ve not been an entrepreneur anywhere else so it’s hard to say! One challenge we have in Southeast Asia is the need to conquer several different markets with different cultures and different business landscapes. If you have big dreams you can’t just win in one market.

What are the challenges that Malaysian entrepreneurs face?

I believe Malaysia is a great country to start a business. Compared to the rest of Southeast Asia we have good infrastructure, good rule of law and good talent. If you are trying to raise venture capital funding then one challenge you may encounter is market size. Some investors are more interested in larger economies and populations such Indonesia and Thailand.

What is your definition of success?

That’s a good question. I don’t have a strict definition. In terms of the business I am constantly pushing to provide a better service to more people. There’s no line in the sand which I can cross and say “I’m successful” because there’s always room to improve and grow. That scares some people but it excites me.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I have done three distinctly different things with my career – I started off in the service industry in corporate finance advisory, moved over to the investment industry in a hedge fund, then I joined a family business in management. I always wanted to build a business that could improve the lives of every Malaysian. I loved the jobs I’d had in the past but none of them enabled me to make this kind of impact.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

This is a huge question! I’ve seen many different entrepreneurs with different strengths succeed for different reasons. In my opinion, the three most important traits for entrepreneurial success are:

a. Belief – you need to stay committed to your vision in the face of constant rejection and roadblocks. If you don’t truly believe in what you’re doing then don’t expect anyone else to either.

b. Understanding – you need to be able to understand and interpret data and people so that you can separate the signal from the noise and focus on what really matters. One bad strategic decision based on misunderstanding your company’s performance data could easily kill a young start-up. On the other hand, if you can see the real cause of a problem that no one else has figured out then you have a huge advantage.

c. Communication – if you cannot communicate your vision, strategy and plans you’re dead before you start. Successful entrepreneurs have to manage investors, employees, clients and partners. All of this comes down to good communication.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

For your vision you have to dream big, but when it comes to making it happen, the devil is in the detail.

Connect

LinkedIn: https://my.linkedin.com/in/ytsiew
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ytsiew
Websites: https://ringgitplus.com/en/, https://savemoney.my/, https://kreditgogo.com/

Callum Connects

Sun Ho, Founder of LittleLives Inc

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Sun Ho has an edtech business, LittleLives. She’s helping turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What’s your story?
I’m just a small town girl who won’t stop believing.
Someone recently told me that the curious little 10-year-old girl in me is still shining through with excitement for the world today. Although, now, instead of being curious about how things work, I am interested in how we can solve real world problems. Today, I get to learn and build everyday on our dream to turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What excites you most about your industry?
Have you been to a preschool lately? In our day-to-day, we get to hear the wonderful laughter of children. We see the innocent smiles of our little ones, who learn as they play. We meet the tirelessly loving educators, leaders and parents who give their best. These are the people we serve everyday at LittleLives. It excites us greatly to be in an industry that meaningfully impacts the future of our world. When we see a new feature we have implemented in our system helping to shave off minutes or hours of administrative work for schools (and put a smile on many faces), it is deeply satisfying.

What’s your connection to Asia?
LittleLives started in Singapore. We have since expanded to multiple cities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. Everywhere we go, we gain unique insights about different cultures. One thing that remains unchanged around the world is the passion to improve education. This includes the desire to refine school processes too. I absolutely love the people I work with, in schools and in my own team overseas. They have taught me so much about their cultures and countries.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It is so hard to choose one. We love Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Beijing and pretty much every city we have visited. Setting up in multiple Asian cities has really become faster and more transparent than ever before. What a time to be alive and working on a startup, and even more so for a young woman in Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to yourself.

As a woman and as the founder of a tech startup, I have heard the many ways in which people express their surprise that I do not fit into – for lack of a better word – the norm. I am my own mix of feminine and geeky. I have a computer science background that I am passionate about and, at the same time, I love fun aesthetics and product development. Technology is an industry in which venture capitalists traditionally favour white, male founders as the stats show a concentration of success in this small demographic. Despite this, I have found that the people around me will respect me for being me because I let my personality and passion take the stage.

Who inspires you?
Beth Fredericks, the Executive Director at Wheelock College. She is a wonderful educator, leader and orator. At 67, she is as active as any young teacher and as wise as the oldest, most experienced professor. She has inspired so many early childhood educators with her stories, her teaching and above all, her warmth and delightful personality. She has contributed so much to the early childhood field here in Asia, and all over the world, over the span of her illustrious career. Her charm and kind heart makes her one of the most sought-after collaborators in our industry today. Yet, she remains humble, approachable and personable. Her enthusiasm for education and children, coupled with her infectious humour, are what I aspire to.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
What continues to blow me away every time I witness it, is incredible potential that can be unlocked when a great team comes together. When you put together bright, experienced, communicative and open-minded people in a team, miracles can happen.

Creative ideas that were recently put forth in a small ad-hoc project team are now being turned into a new product that LittleLives will soon offer. When we first began discussions, we had no idea where they would take us; the only thing we knew definitively was that we wanted to help educators gain better access to resources to help them in their everyday classroom. It all fell into place when our team started brainstorming ideas that were based on the problems we knew were present in early childhood education.

Now, we have the trial version of a new module, LittleAcademy, and I am in awe of how all of this came together. I would like to quote Margaret Mead here, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I would not change a thing. We made so many mistakes when we started this journey, but the lessons we learnt from our failures are what make us stronger today.

On a related note, there is this beautiful quote from Batman Begins:
Thomas Wayne asked, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

How do you unwind?
It is important for us to allow our body, mind and soul to unwind and recharge. Badminton is my go-to exercise. I play twice weekly to keep fit and nimble. Recently I have picked up Yoga Nidra with an excellent instructor who has opened my eyes to all the good that meditation does for our minds.

Beyond this, I find that spending time with my loved ones, friends and teammates helps me feel grounded and loved.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I travelled to China twice last year and truly fell in love with the country. It provides such a rich variety of experiences, from culture and art, to commerce and tech. I was in a constant state of amazement. It is a fast advancing nation that I really enjoy my time in, both learning and relaxing with the people I meet.

Everyone in business should read this book:
High Output Management by Andrew Grove, late CEO and Chairman of Intel. This is a book written in the 90s, but its ideas are still very much applicable to businesses today.

Andy lays out what you need to do to successfully manage your business in simple and concise terms. This does not mean that it is easy to grow as successfully as Intel did, but the book shows us that the path to greatness is apparent. What I personally love about this book is that it presents its ideas both logically and emotionally without judgement.

On the issue of an underperforming teammate, Andy offers a very simple explanation:
“When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.”

And as a manager, all you can do is to train and motivate.

This is an excellent review of the book by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz: https://a16z.com/2015/11/13/high-output-management/
I highly recommend this book to all entrepreneurs.

Shameless plug for your business:
LittleLives is a leading preschool edtech company with a strong presence in over 700 schools in Singapore, 20 in Vietnam, 130 in China and 100 in Malaysia. LittleLives develops and provides applications that allow preschools to record children’s administrative records digitally, from attendance-taking to portfolio management. In addition to reducing the hassle of physical filing and documentation, the LittleLives system allows parents to keep track of the progress of their children’s learning at school through LittleLives parents’ app.

As an edtech company, LittleLives does more than facilitate day-to-day school operations. In 2017, LittleLives hosted the first ever International Pre-school Conference in Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by educators representing 1200 preschools in the region. LittleLives has helped over 215,000 children, 430,000 parents and 23,000 teachers bring schools into the 21st century and we are hoping to continue empowering many more around the world.

Reach out to us if you are involved in education or entrepreneurship. We’re always happy to chat!

How can people connect with you?
Just drop me an email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
With so much to say, 140 characters is not enough. Hence, it is best to follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/littlelivesbigdreams), Instagram (littlelives_inc), YouTube (youtube.com/user/hosunSG), and check out our LittleLives Blog (blog.littlelives.com) to get to know us better!

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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