Kelvin Is Funding Societies In Southeast Asia
What’s your story?
I feel fortunate to have grown up in the small town of Senai in Malaysia. I moved to Singapore at age 15 on the ASEAN scholarship and spent a year at UPenn on the NOC entrepreneurship program, then graduated as valedictorian at NUS, before serving as a consultant at Accenture, McKinsey, and KKR, with the belief that better businesses enable better lives. I was later accepted by Harvard for an MBA program where I met my co-founder Reynold Wijaya, and we started Funding Societies | Modalku in 2015, having received seed funding from Alpha JWC during that summer holiday. We’ve been fortunate, hence we hope to pay it forward through our work.
What excites you most about your industry?
Impact. Given SMEs’ huge contribution to Southeast Asia’s GDP and employment, with financing being one of their biggest challenges, we can uplift the economies and lives in Southeast Asia if we can solve the SME financing problem which is a structural problem known as the “missing middle.” Digitalisation, financial innovation, and regulatory support have enabled us to solve this problem for the first time. I believe we can not only help mom-and-pop shops, but also facilitate the growth of high-tech, internationally competitive SMEs in Singapore and across Southeast Asia, similar to that of the German Mittelstand model. We believe that “Stronger SMEs, enable Stronger Societies.”
What’s your connection to Asia?
Growing up in a multi-racial society like Malaysia could either make one multi-cultural or a racist. I like to think I am the former. I speak Malay, understand Bahasa Indonesia, and enjoy Chinese literature. I especially appreciate Southeast Asia due to my time as a management consultant during which I had the opportunity to live for months in various parts of the region.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is a clear favourite because it is conducive for FinTech, the birthplace of Funding Societies and a garden city that I call home, as well as being well-connected to most parts of the world.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
My “best advice ever received” changes over time. In unprecedented times like this, Jack Ma’s wisdom rings true, “Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.” Though it is the last forgotten line that resonates most with me, “Yet most will give up tomorrow night.” Don’t be like the majority, don’t give up!
Who inspires you?
I used to say it is Jack Ma, Li Ka Shing or Steve Jobs. But increasingly, I find that it is my co-founder Reynold Wijaya, my leadership team, and my team members who inspire me to be a better leader. I am grateful to have a dedicated team, both new joiners and old-timers who believe in our vision and share our values, including some who may have finished their tour of duty with us and are carrying on with the same spirit to their next endeavour.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Recently, I was fortunate to have been selected to attend the “500 Startups x Abroad Scale Yourself Program.” Many participants had learned about a growth mindset (versus a fixed mindset) centred on a passion for learning and self-compassion, rather than a fear of failure that drives many founders. But it was the emotional appreciation of these principles through guided exercises led by executive coaches that blew me away (kudos to the Abroad team!). There are many warning signals of obsessive passion (versus harmonious passion), terms that I encourage all to “google” and pay attention to the differences in meaning and impact. To summarise, an unhealthy mind or body can’t win the world.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I struggle to answer this question because I do reflect and pay attention to lessons learned, but I do not dwell on the past. Hence, I regularly do things differently until they become a subconscious behaviour, a habit, and eventually a part of me. As the organisation scales, I find myself increasingly coaching others to act and know their heart.
How do you unwind?
Besides spending time with my loved ones, I am basically an introvert who enjoys poker, chess, and music, as well as high intensity interval training (“HIIT”) and running. I am trying to regain my 6-pack, or more accurately, to prevent the “lockdown effect.”
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I like many destinations in Asia. Perhaps my favourite is Taipei, but for pragmatic not romantic reasons. The city is vibrant, nature is a stone’s throw away, the people are warm, the food is good, and perhaps most importantly, it is relatively near to Singapore, hence I can recharge and be back with the team quickly.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Personally, I have found “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t,” to be applicable both in business and career. I read this book in high school and I still find myself benefiting from the Hedgehog Concept.
Shameless plug for your business:
Funding Societies | Modalku is the largest SME financing platform in Southeast Asia, having given out more than S$1.6B SME loans since 2015. Backed by Sequoia India and Softbank Ventures Asia Corp, we solve SMEs’ short-term working capital problems with a wide and flexible range of term loans, trade finance, and micro loans. Our vision is to become a full-stack SME platform to uplift SMEs and societies in Southeast Asia, This is why we are called Funding Societies, or Modalku, which means “My Capital” in Bahasa Indonesia.
How can people connect with you?
People can connect with me via LinkedIn, specifically at https://sg.linkedin.com/in/tkelvin. This is because recently, my shareholders nearly had a heart-attack reading the news “[Another company] names Kelvin Teo as COO.” I had a good laugh and made a new friend whose name was identical to mine. Contrary to popular belief, I also didn’t win the first wedding reality show in Malaysia, that was also a different Kelvin Teo listed on Wikipedia. But feel free to connect with them too, I’m sure they are nice people as well.
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To hear how entrepreneurs around the world overcome their challenges, search your favourite podcast platform for ‘CallumConnects‘ to hear a 5-minute daily breakdown.
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 and CEO of MBH Corporation PLC. He is the author of three best-selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’, ‘Agglomerate’, and ‘Entrepreneurial Investing’.