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Michael Reyes, Founder of MoneyTree Asia Pacific



Michael Reyes, the founder and CEO of MoneyTree Asia Pacific Ltd, Southeast Asia’s largest financial literacy training provider, is a serial entrepreneur. Michael had been inspired to start his own business as a child. While he pursued his education in Economics at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), he had further developed his business acumen by starting his very own tutoring business at the young age.

Upon graduation, enamoured by the advertising world, which offered an attractive opportunity to work with independence, creativity, energy and the appealing prospect to contribute to clients’ business growths, Reyes then joined the quick-paced world of advertising. While Reyes continued to rake in profits for his agency by developing and growing an entire suite of new businesses for his agency, his relentless inquisitiveness about successful business models and fiery entrepreneurial spirit began to prod him to further explore. Armed with the newfound capital and enthused the idea of owning a business, Reyes then returned to advertising, this time with his own start-up. The business flourished and broke even by the second year and grew by the third year.

In 1996, Reyes met a young Polish entrepreneur and following that, was invited to visit Poland. During his six-week stay, Reyes realized that there were tremendous opportunities presented by the emerging economy of post-communist Poland. Reyes had then seized the opportunity to start an import-export business. The business became expectedly lucrative.

In the following year, Reyes’ passion for exploring the underwater world took him to his next venture. He had met an accomplished entrepreneur during one of his diving expeditions, which led to them to partner up to set-up a 3D animation studio. With the partner moving to Australia in 2002 to become a Venture Capitalist in Australia, the relationship now involves them meeting and discussing MoneyTree’s strategies.

In 2007, while the global Recession was beginning to form, Reyes had begun to notice a severe lack of financial literacy in children and youths. News of families who were destroyed because they have lost their homes, and the rampant rise of unemployment had plagued Reyes who had always kept a close eye on the global economy. By then, Reyes had noticed a severe lack of financial literacy in children and youths in education systems around the world. He began to incubate the notion of businesses with purpose; a business that would equip children and youths with the tools and knowledge for a better financial future.

Reyes, with the belief that education has the power to positively change the world, and a determination to create an impactful change for the society, started Moneytree Asia-Pacific in Malaysia in 2008 and subsequently MoneyTree Borneo and Singapore a year later. MoneyTree’s financial-literacy education system was created to address the gap in financial literacy in the education system. Its secondary objective was to gestate the next generation of entrepreneurs who will be engines for innovation, wealth creation and ultimately, sustainable economic development for the communities it serves.

What do you guys do at MoneyTree?

MoneyTree was set up to provide financial literacy amongst school children using the concept of ‘learning through play,’ fulfilling a gap in the marketplace for essential financial education for children and youth for a better future. MoneyTree provides financial skill and knowledge to youths aged 7 – 22 , which would be required to build a career or business, as well as plan for their financial freedom.

How did MoneyTree begin?

The idea was born out of Reyes’ observation of the great need for financial knowledge and boundless opportunities for wealth creation in Asia. Understanding that it would be exponentially more impactful to shape minds of children and youth, rather than adults, Reyes looked towards education as a natural “solution” to address the challenges of a rising Asia.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up MoneyTree?

Three of the original founders of MoneyTree Asia Pacific were in Hong Kong to attend a business meeting. In that meeting, it was decided that a business with a purpose would be started and thus MoneyTree was born with the objective of equipping children with the necessary tools for life by providing financial education that is delivered in a fun manner.

In 2008, MoneyTree Asia Pacific starting intensively testing for the perfect teaching methodology to deliver financial education to children in a way that they could understand, while also teaching them other necessary skills that was crucial but missing from the existing education system such as presentation and public speaking skills. As a result of the testing, the result that emerged pointed unmistakably to the fact that there is one crucial factor that would accelerate a child’s ability to learn. That key component is FUN. Making learning fun then became the criteria upon which all MoneyTree’s content was developed.

To enhance the credibility of the programme, Reyes then sought the validations and certifications from various governmental institutions and leading institutions of higher learning to accredit MoneyTree programmes. The support of the governmental organizations such as Ministries of Education and the partnerships from top institutions of higher learning in would also eventually contribute to amplify the importance of financial education to Asian parents.

Armed with the relevant certifications, Reyes then started gathering the talent necessary to propagate the purpose of MoneyTree forward in the region. Once he had built his team, he then set up MoneyTree Malaysia and Singapore was set up. Three of the original founders hold equity and key positions in MoneyTree Asia Pacific today, guiding the Asia Pacific team to achieve the MoneyTree vision.

How have you been growing MoneyTree?

The fundamental belief has always been that three components had to be in place in order for MoneyTree to grow in the early years:

  1. Purpose – every MoneyTree programme is developed must be a relevant solution to important challenges existing in our communities.

  2. People – the right team.

  3. Partners – the right strategic partners to expand both reach and brand awareness.

In terms of talent, MoneyTree has always focused on eeking out individuals who believe in the company’s purpose as well as possess the drive to increase its reach.

Through the years, the approach has been to grow MoneyTree by aligning the company to top corporate partners as well as governmental agencies which share the vision, mission and market aspirations.

What was the biggest challenge starting up? How did you overcome it?

Because of its unique approach towards talent acquisition, some of the biggest challenges for MoneyTree has always been about hiring the right talent. In its early years, much of the problems faced revolved around having key team members who either worked on a personal agenda rather than advancing the company’s purpose or created conflict amongst team members creating disharmony. Dismissal with compensation seemed the only workable solution.

Also, in the early days, the initial stages saw the company bleeding cash more than having excess.  Working on raising capital by means of injection from shareholders and increasing sales activities were the main approaches employed.

What is one strategy that you believe has helped grow your business?

There isn’t a SINGLE strategy that can be attributed to the successful growth of the company. However, the biggest contributing factor to MoneyTree’s success was the tireless passion and dedication, as well as the bond  amongst the core management team. I also saw that it was important for all members of the management team to trust in each other’s abilities as well as to be open to address the weaknesses that existed.

In what aspect has your business grown most, in your opinion?

Yes, MoneyTree has recorded a revenue of RM10 million for its Singapore and Malaysia operations this year.

The biggest growth that can be seen is in the area of the collaborative effort with key partners. Today, more than ever before, MoneyTree is able to call on and work with different partners from the different but relevant sectors to pursue the attainment of its goals.

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

The industry in which MoneyTree is involved is education, in which Financial Literacy remains an key area of specialization. Over the years, what became visible is that there are more people who resist change within the industry than those that promote positive transformations.

In an industry where the main desired outcome is preparing the current generation for an ever changing business landscape that would form their future, resistance to change is a contradictory to the idea, and counter-productive to for its goals.

Hence, one pursuing any ambitions within this industry that involves constant change, must have the patience and tenacity to ride through a long journey of challenges which will arise from legacy systems and legacy thinking.

Do you find the industry is different from the West? If so, how so?

Culturally, it can be said that the target audience ( in this case, children and youth), differ vastly in behavior. Generally, Asians are less expressive, and less vocal than their Western counterparts. In an increasingly globalized arena, it is important to equip the children and youth with the fundamental skills that will increase their individual competitiveness and progress against a fast-evolving business landscape.

In terms of structure, while there remains a lot of similarities in terms of teaching methods and assessments, there has been visible changes in certain Asian countries as Governments start to recognize the need to adapt education systems, content and delivery to meet current market requirements.

What is your approach towards managing your team and human capital needs?

Values, talent and experience are three things MoneyTree looks for when selecting its team members and leaders. Once the right candidate has been selected for the task, the individual must be given adequate support to improving his/her knowledge and some liberties to conduct the job/task as he/she may deem fit.

The team must be operate within a positive environment, therefore a positive attitude from all team members and great drive are musts. Hence when an individual stops displaying either or both, that individual must be removed from the team or not recruited at all.

If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach? If so, what?

Yes. The two main things that I would have changed would be my approach towards People and Equity.

In terms of people – in the early years, there was less attention paid to who was taken in as a Shareholders, Directors and Employees. We should have been more selective in our decisions and committed more time to finding the right team.

Also, in the early stages, equity was offered or given out too easily, as such, it was not given the level of appreciation that it deserved. This ultimately led to problems in terms of making key decisions on the direction of the company

What is your thoughts on being an Asian entrepreneur?

Asian entrepreneurs, in the past, had less access to capital. Today, the scenario has changed, as capital is far more available from governments and independent investors.

I think Asian entrepreneurs do not receive as much attention as their US counterparts, and although this is changing, it would still take some time before they will be regarded as ‘equals.’ However, the Asian entrepreneur, if successful, will be regarded as one who stood against the odds and triumphed – and that itself would be an ‘inspiration’.

What is one market trend that really excites you?

Mobile technology, its widening usage and the lowering of access to it. This provides great opportunities for those who wish to learn on the move as well as those who wish to ‘teach’ in a whole new way.

What is one habit that makes you a more productive entrepreneur?

The need to get things done, effectively and within the lowest financial and social cost possible.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I had always believed that the only way to ascertain a great future is to create it.

What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?

  1. Opportunities are everywhere. Deciding on which ones you are most prepared to take on at that point in time, makes a world of difference.

  2. No person does it all on their own. A great team brings out the best in you.

  3. Money isn’t everything, but almost everything has to do with money. Ensuring that you have enough to go on at all times, ensures you make the Right decisions most of the time.

  4. Never replace working hard with working smart. They were meant to be compatible, not interchangeable. Hard work is a measure of one’s drive, ‘Smart’ work measures one resourcefulness.

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

Having a workable idea that serves an underserved market, that has been carved into a business model that is both scalable and easily deployable, well funded to last the distance, marketed creatively and aggressively to as wide an audience as possible, putting together a team that is driven, progressive and skilled to take the business to greater heights.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?

Do what you love because that would provide you with the drive and tenacity to achieve more. But it is also important to remember to not get too attached to a specific business that you can’t cut it loose if it’s drowning you.

What is the future of MoneyTree?

MoneyTree aims to be Asia’s most prominent Financial Literacy education provider that will utilize cutting edge technology to create a learning environment that is true-to-life and absolutely fun filled.

The future of MoneyTree would see more students in different countries being involved hands-on in learning about financial matters as well as creating opportunities for themselves.


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Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups



From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.


About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

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Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters



From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at

Alternatively, you can connect with me:

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’.

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