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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

Mikyung Kim, TV Commercial Producer

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Mikyung Kim is a savvy producer who runs her own TV and print production business, based in Hong Kong.

What’s your story?
I am a TV commercial and print producer working with advertising agencies and brands to bring their communication needs to the screen. My background is in film production and I started my career in Hollywood working with Oscar winning directors Michel Gondry and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Before starting my own company last year to produce content directly with agencies and brands, I was with Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong for nearly five years as the Senior Producer and Head of TV running the film production department.

What excites you most about your industry?
How it’s constantly evolving! Every day is different and it’s certainly never boring. I love that it’s a creative industry and that my job involves talking to people with creative minds on how we can bring a story on paper to life. It’s exciting that the advertising industry places high value on the creativity and effectiveness of content. I’ve produced a few commercials that creatively push the envelope with fun and sometimes wild ideas that have converted into positive brand awareness. Ever heard of KFC Finger Lickin’ Good…Nail Polish that yes, tastes like chicken? https://www.adweek.com/creativity/kfc-just-made-edible-finger-lickin-good-nail-polish-yeah-tastes-chicken-171245/

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Seoul and raised in Hong Kong until graduating from high school at HKIS. I spent my university years in Boston at Emerson College and worked in Los Angeles at Anonymous Content and Partizan Entertainment. But on a brief visit back to Hong Kong in 2010, I decided to move back and continue my career here, and it was the best decision I ever made.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong is my home so it will always be my favourite city for business and for me personally. What I love about Hong Kong is that while I am based here, I can actually work with agencies and brands from anywhere in APAC. If I need to attend an important meeting, I can just hop on a quick flight easily. I spent most of 2017 working in Seoul with Korean agency Cheil and Samsung, and currently I am working with Japanese agency ADK and Toyota based in Singapore.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Fake it until you become it,” from Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. Worth a watch. This helped me early in my career when I felt like I was under qualified for the job I was in. I learned to fake my confidence and fake a powerful body language until I truly felt that confidence became something real. It was nerve wracking at first but it worked and now I don’t have to fake it.

Who inspires you?
My friends. Noelle who worked part time jobs while being a full time student to pay her own tuition while we were in college together. Osti who is a lawyer focused on supporting developing nations and a board member of Redress, an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Vanessa who runs a real estate company, co-owns the gym Crossfit Asphodel, started a health foods business called Quo and NGO The Keep Moving Project to promote wellness in our community. Cathy who will be the first Asian woman to direct a big budget superhero film starring Margot Robbie with Warner Bros and DC. And too many more to name!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
5.2 million plastic bottles are thrown away in Hong Kong every day. Plastic pollution is a major issue for the environment and we as responsible citizens can do our small part by reducing our consumption of unnecessary plastic. I do mine by having a water filter at home and carrying my own reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go. I love the brand Hydroflask because the stainless steel material keeps water hot or cold for hours, so I don’t feel tempted to buy a cold water at 7-11 on those hot, humid days we have here.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
About five years ago I purchased my very first stock and put one month’s salary into it, which at the time was a lot of money for me. Knowing how that stock has performed now, I would have put all my savings into it.

How do you unwind?
Exercise is essential in my daily life to help clear my head and de-stress. My go to is a workout at Crossfit Asphodel, running outdoors, yoga and hiking. But a glass of red wine and live music at Soiree in Soho on Sunday night works pretty well too!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
One of the best trips I ever took was to the island of Lombok in Indonesia. Two girl friends and I did a 3 day 2 night hiking and camping trip to summit the Mount Rinjani Volcano. It was physically challenging but mentally relaxing. There was no cellphone reception, no distractions, we had the company of nature and nights with skies full of shooting stars. It was pretty magical. We then went to the Gili Islands for a few days of scuba diving, yoga and sitting on the beach doing nothing but sipping on coconuts. That was pretty relaxing too.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” by Lois P. Frankel and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Essential reads for every working woman and/or man who wants to know how to support the working women in their life.

Shameless plug for your business:
I am a TV commercial and print producer that can plug into an existing advertising agency or brand team to produce their communication needs. Many advertising agencies these days are scaling down so they have creative directors and account services but may not have an in-house producer, so I can fill that gap by becoming a part of the existing agency team. For brands that want to produce content directly without involving an agency, I can also bridge the gap by bringing my production knowledge in-house and working as part of the marketing/brand team and liaising with the other departments in the company such as product team and ecomm.

How can people connect with you?
They can email me at [email protected]
or visit my website at mkimproducer.com

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

Renne Ballard, Owner of Renée Ballard Communications

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Renne Ballard runs a social media agency working with business women, helping them find their business’s voice.

What’s your story?
I began my career in PR/communications ten years ago in Australia, after arriving home from two years in Dubai. In Dubai I was working for Emirates Airlines as a flight attendant and flying around the world non-stop for two years. This really sparked my interest for how people communicate. I started out as a community manager for an online advertising company, then moved into the corporate world of outdoor advertising, managing internal and external PR and communications. After having a baby four years ago, I decided to leave the safety net of corporate, and stride out on my own. I now run a social media agency and I specialise in working with business women, helping to find their business’ voice so they can use social media to achieve their business goals.

What excites you most about your industry?
I love the open accessibility online provides. It’s free for businesses to get online and connect with their target audience. Twenty years ago, advertising and PR was insanely expensive and quite elitist, but through incredible platforms like Facebook or Twitter, any business can connect with who is looking for their product/solution. Social media is particularly effective for small businesses because they have the edge when it comes to authenticity and a clear voice.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m in Hong Kong because I’m a trailing spouse. I know it’s such a daggy term, but I love it, it makes me sound so dedicated to my husband! Alas, we came to Hong Kong for my husband’s work. He’s the Design Director of Asia for an international retail design agency. We’ve been here for almost two years and it’s been a huge learning curve in terms of business and culture. We love the fast-paced nature of Hong Kong and the fact that everything is open late – it suits me perfectly because I’m nocturnal.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
That’s easy, Hong Kong. It’s the perfect blend of start-ups and mothership-sized institutions. I love the small business side, watching the collaborations between workshare spaces with galleries, networking groups and foodies; it’s a hothouse of creative partnerships here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
When you’re are feeling scared about your next step, lean in and feel the difference. Is it fear mixed with excitement? Or fear mixed with dread? Always go with the former and cut loose the latter.

Who inspires you?
I love Tamara Mellon (Jimmy Choo founder). She has created multiple empires and she never stops trying new business models and pushing her limits. It helps that I love shoes too.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I just turned 40 years old. At best, I’m probably halfway through my life. It makes me constantly question, “Am I where I want to be?”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have asked more questions to the people I looked up to, and listened less to the people telling me I won’t achieve my goals.

How do you unwind?
In this day and age, it’s scandalous to say, but I love sunbaking. At any chance, you’ll find me poolside, laying in the sun in a trance-like state.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Northern Danang in Vietnam. We were there at Christmas, at the foot of the mountains and it was beautiful. Heaps of wildlife and jungles and enough five star resorts that I was never parched once.

Everyone in business should read this book:
‘The E Myth’ by Michael Gerber. It’s an oldie but a goodie because it succinctly outlines how to transition from a one person operation to a global business like McDonalds. Once you see how important systems and processes are, you can recognise shambolic companies a mile off.

Shameless plug for your business:
Renée Ballard Communications is a social media agency that works with business women who are ready to make social media work for them. We create effective, powerful social media strategies that are tailored to the people who will be breathing life into them. We hand on heart promise to never use annoying, marketing buzzwords and that we value laughter above everything else.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected] or www.reneeballard.com or +85296670115

Twitter handle?
@ballard_comms

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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