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Women on Top in Tech – Benedetta Arese Lucini, Co-Founder at Oval Money.

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is my interview with Benedetta Arese Lucini, Co-Founder of Oval MoneyOval is the first solution that allows the digital natives of the on-demand economy, to finally get some sense of their finances, and become money wise. Oval’s vision is to create a simple financial solution for everyone, that speaks to the new generation of workers, with flexible income, variable expenses and limited access to financial products. At Oval, we are committed to financial inclusion, education, and fairness, and therefore we help tracking of everyday expenses and encourage savings based on personal life habits.

Oval_Logo


What makes you do what you do?

My reason to choose to study business and to then become an entrepreneur was simple. When I was a young child, I would often go to my father’s office to visit and he would let me sit at his desk, on a revolving office chair. I was in LOVE, and all my childhood dreams of being an astronaut or a marine biologist were swiped away that second. I wanted to be sitting in an office, on a revolving chair, playing with this “instrument” that had a funny keyboard as the letters were not alphabetically ordered. My father is an entrepreneur and at the time I had no idea of what it meant but I can probably start thinking that that day in his office, was more influential than I could have ever thought considering who I have become today.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I wanted a role that could develop the skills I knew I have from school. I had always been good in Math and loved the sciences and thought that finance could be a place where I could continue to use these skills and to learn the business, as a start to my dream of building my own. I then decided to go to business school to further expand my skills and to live in the US, the place I thought would give any entrepreneur the opportunities to rise. I moved to Silicon Valley after B-School and then Asia, always following the dream of using my skills to do something that mattered. When I moved back to Italy, to work as Country Manager in Italy I realized the tech and digital environment were not much developed and set out to advocate for the rise of this industry also here.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

I started Oval in February with 200€. I spent 30€ to open a company in the UK, and the rest for three flights return to London where my co-founders and I went to open a bank account. We realized that the so-called ‘fintech’ market was rapidly building new products that would slowly replace the dominance of banks and insurance companies. We wanted to do more; our mission is that of using technology to tailor financial education to every individual and personalize the steps that make a person, financially healthy, and thus included in the financial market, with access to transparent products. In the UK, a developed market and a financial center hub, an OECD study found that just about 50% of the interviewed pass the financial literacy threshold and that the youngest have a lower literacy that the over 40s.

We decided to tackle this huge problem, by building an app that can replace the branch financial advisor. Oval is built as an online community. We enable people to gain financial knowledge while connecting to each other with the help of a smartphone app. With Oval, setting money aside will become easier, and tracked simply, through analytics and personalization that empower and motivate to be money wise.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I always looked up to my father but growing up and through my diverse experiences, I always looked for mentors that could guide me. I tend to search for strong woman leaders, but also a man that are able to understand the potential I want to bring. My mentors have been diverse over the years and I have cherished them especially when making big decisions, big changes.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?

I have been lucky enough to meet people that inspired me over my career. Keeping in touch became my way to maintain the relationship, and digital channels helped a lot. The type of mentorship I received was specific during certain moments of my life and decision-making career, thus I tend to hold relationships with a number of mentors that help me for different reasons.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

I look for people that demonstrate their passion, talent and drive in what they do. I always support founders that have impressed me with their courage, and that have taught me something new. I believe that as a mentor, I am able to grow thanks to the people that I work with, and by growing as a person, I believe I help them grow as leaders. Learning leadership was a process that took time, it requires a lot of listening, and sometimes a little nudge, but helping people believe in themselves and in what they do is the key for me to support the talent.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

I consciously support diversity and especially gender equality. I now from my past experience that industries such as finance and technology are extremely male dominated. I believe this creates a bias for a woman to believe it is their world also. For this reason, I make it a priority to find and mentor and also hire a woman as much as possible. I believe it starts at an early stage so I make sure to spend time mentoring young founders and university students, where I feel I can have the biggest impact. An Edelman Study shows that of the people interviewed, 75% will consult their community, before making a decision, thus building trust. If the community of woman can expand in these industries, and if they spend enough time being peers to girls thinking of their future, then  I believe it will be easier to reach equality.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

Leaders generally are outside trends. They see things differently from the rest of the world. The truly believe in their missions and will never stop at anything to make them happen. Generally, leaders can be charismatic but also pretty reserved and it is not always easy to spot these. In general, I think the best strength of leaders is courage and perseverance; courage to be different from the crowd and perseverance to pursue their vision no matter the obstacles.

Advice for others?

From my father’s time, things have changed dramatically. University then was for a small few and immediately brought to a job at a large corporation. The possible paths one could choose were very clear and very few, and year over a year your career would progress linearly at the same company until retirement. Graduate woman were only 30% of the total graduates, and very few reached corporate leadership.

Today things have changed, many could be the first in your family to achieve a degree and masters and so many more women have decided to study and enter the finance world. With more access, though comes more competition and the labor market is not as “rosy” as it used to be. Entering the job market and navigating it probably feels like a bigger challenge, but I actually think this new industrial revolution will redefine jobs and skills.

Marc Andreessen, one of the leading venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, famously said; “The spread of computers and the internet will put jobs in two categories: people who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.”

At this point, my advice is to choose between three roads. Ignore the changes that are happening and let them pass by; select to hinder innovation and fight it but eventually even if its effects are delayed it will prevail. Or chose to embrace it, and transform careers thanks to the disruption happening, becoming at the frontrunner of this change.

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report estimates that 65% of children entering primary schools today will ultimately work in new job types and functions that currently don’t yet exist. What does this mean?

Even with the best of education, people’s time spent learning after university will continue to increase. They great thing is that the skills that will be valued the most over the next 5–10 years are Complex Problem Solving and Creativity, something that entrepreneurs are good at! What I hope is that these abilities will help new generations of leaders find their roles and truly take on the world’s problems and go find solutions in a way that gives back to communities or society as a whole.


To learn more about Oval Money, please see https://www.ovalmoney.com/.

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.

Callum Connects

Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy

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Dextre Teh is a consultant and marketing guru, helping F&B businesses to tighten their operations and grow their businesses.

What’s your story?
I help frustrated F&B business owners stuck in day to day operation transform from a glorified operator into a real business owner. I’m a 27 year old Singaporean second generation restaurant owner and a F&B business consultant. Entering the industry at 13 years old, I have always been obsessed with operations and systemisation. At the age of 25, I joined the insurance industry and earned a six figure yearly income. However, I left the high pay behind because it was not my passion and returned to the F&B industry. Now I help other F&B companies to tighten operations and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services.

What excites you most about your industry?
The food. I’m a big lover of food and even have a YouTube show on food in development. But that aside, it is really about impacting people through food. Creating moments and memories for people, be it a dating couple or families or friends. Providing that refuge from the daily grind of life. So in educating my consulting clients and training their staff to provide a better experience for their customers, I aim to shift the industry in the direction of creating memories instead of just selling food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love the culture, the food and travelling in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore hands down. The environment here is built for businesses to thrive. The government is pro business and the infrastructure is built around supporting business growth. Not to mention the numerous amount of grants available in helping people start and even grow business. If I’m not mistaken, the Singaporean government is the only government in the world that offers grants to home grown businesses for overseas expansion.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Learning to do things you do not intend to master is a BIG mistake in business. Focus on what you are good at and pay others to do the rest.

Many business owners including myself are so overwhelmed by the 10,000 things that they feel they need to do everyday. We try to do everything ourselves because we think it saves us money. The only thing that, that does for us is overload our schedules and give us mediocre results. Instead we should focus on what we do best and bring in support for the rest.

Who inspires you?
Christopher M Duncan.

At 29, Chris has built multiple 7 figure businesses. He opened me to the possibility of building a business on the thing that I loved and gave me a blueprint of how to do it. He also showed me that being young doesn’t mean you cannot do great things.

Imran Mohammad and Fazil Musa
They are my mentors and inspire me every single day to pursue my dreams, to focus on celebrating life and enjoying the process of getting to where I want to be.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Time is always more expensive than money. Money, you can earn over and over again but time, once you spend it, will never come back.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am a firm believer that your experiences shape who you are. I am grateful for every single moment of my life be it the highs or the lows, the successes and the failures because all these experiences have led me to become the person I am and brought me to the place that I’m at so I will probably do things the same way as everything was perfect in its time.

How do you unwind?
Chilling out in a live music bar with a drink in hand, listening to my favourite live band, 53A. Other than that I’m big on retail therapy, buying cool and geeky stuff.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bangkok. It feels like a home away from home where the cost of living is relatively low, the food is good and the people are friendly.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Everything you know about business is wrong by Alastair Dryburgh. It is a book that challenges commonly accepted business “truths” and inspires you to go against the grain, think different, take risks and stand your ground in the face of the challenges that will come your way as a business owner.

Shameless plug for your business:
I’m the creator of the world’s first Chilli Crab Challenge. It gained viral celebrity earlier this year with 3 major newspaper features and more than a dozen blog and online publications featuring it in the span of two weeks. In the span of the two weeks, the campaign reached well over a million people in exposure without a single cent spent in ads.

Now I help F&B companies to tighten operations, increase profits and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. Chilli Crab Challenge (https://www.chillicrab.com/nationalday)

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/djtehkh) or visit www.rebirthacademy.sg for more information or book a 10 minute call with me @ www.tinyurl.com/dexclar

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

Arthur Lam, Co-Founder of Synergy

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Arthur Lam’s business, Synergy offers B2B energy saving solutions.

What’s your story?
I am Arthur Lam, Co-Founder and Vice Chairman at Synergy (1539.HK). I was born and raised in Hong Kong until I was 13. Then, I lived in boarding schools in Melbourne and California during my high school years. After that, I attended the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree in 2008.

Upon graduation, I came back to Hong Kong and worked for a hedge fund. The financial crisis in 2008 wiped out a big part of the industry and gave me a chance to rethink and reposition myself. After the financial crisis, companies stopped spending and everyone was on cost-cutting mode. As an entrepreneur with an engineering background, I co-founded an energy management company called Synergy, offering B2B energy saving solutions. The idea is simple – clients don’t have to pay anything upfront, we do all the engineering and upfront capital investment. In return, we share part of the savings we create for the client over a period of time. We first started with energy saving lighting technologies based in Hong Kong. We are now also in the field of cooling & refrigeration, solar PV and battery storage with operation in over 10 countries. Synergy is one of the first and few energy management companies listed on the Main Board of The Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
On the side, I started a student co-living space with about 80 rooms.

What excites you most about your industry?
Sustainability, renewable energy and energy efficiency are some of the few industries that can ensure the continuity of our existence! We do not need to quantify the potential market size to justify our effort to provide a more sustainable future for the next generations. Practically every nation and business leader have pledged to work collaboratively, trying to undo the harm we have done to the planet for the past century. As a result, more energy efficient technologies and solutions are always in demand.

What’s your connection to Asia?
My great grandparents were from Chiu Chow and Shunde. I was born and raised in Hong Kong until I was 13. I spent 3 years in Melbourne during middle school before heading to US for high school and college. With Synergy, I was able to travel and work in China and most of the major cities in Asia such as Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok. Besides Cantonese and English, I speak Mandarin and took 4 years of Japanese during high school. I’m also trying to pick up Bahasa slowly.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Every city has its own merits and it is extremely interesting to learn about the intricacy of cultural diversification and different ecosystems. As a business owner, I believe in top quality service. No other city would exemplify world class service better than Hong Kong with respect to speed, quality, effectiveness and robustness of the financial and legal system.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Life is a journey – you come to this world to enjoy life, to be happier and healthier – Jack Ma

Who inspires you?
Elon Musk

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I am always amazed by the rapid advancement of technologies and innovations around the world. Everyday there may be a breakthrough coming up in different areas. One thing I learnt recently is the possibility of extracting clean water from air anywhere! Previous technologies require very high energy input, high cost and certain environmental conditions such has high humidity levels to extract water from air. However, MIT and The University of California provide a new method which has the potential for use in any locations. They developed a foam-like material that draws moisture into its pores and is powered entirely by solar heat. Today there is another commercially available product which is also a self-sustaining system, using sunlight to generate electricity to drive a cycle of condensation and evaporation that can produce 2 to 5 litres of clean water per day. People now may obtain drinking water anywhere with no external energy usage and this may solve severe water shortages in some areas in the future!

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would love to learn more languages and learn how to code better. These are two important skill sets which I find very useful wherever I go.

How do you unwind?
On weekdays, I try to visit the gym at least 2-3 times a week after work. A good workout definitely helps to de-stress. Occasionally, I have the luxury to play a round of golf with my father or friends after completing a major project.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Sipadan, Malaysia is an amazing place for scuba diving.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Book of Changes “I Ching”. I make most of my business decisions based on the philosophy from the book.

Shameless plug for your business:
Victoria Park is one of the most famous parks in Hong Kong and it has about 3,500 trees. The amount of energy we have saved in the past 8 years is equivalent to planting 1,000 Victoria Parks worth of trees from the carbon emissions we saved.
Synergy is ranked 2017 top 100 most potential public listed companies in China by Forbes.

How can people connect with you?
Linkedin: Arthur Lam
Email: [email protected]

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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