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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/

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Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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

Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

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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