(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.)
Khai Lin is the co-founder and CFO of Fundnel. She established the private investment platform in 2015 with the vision of making a difference to everyday businesses that lack access to funding. She is responsible for the company’s financial and operational strategies whilst providing the foundation to a strong team of visionaries with her execution-driven work ethos.
She was conferred the Entrepreneur Award at the 2018 Women of the Future South East Asia Awards. The award recognises trailblazers evoking change in their fields. In the same year, she was also presented with the Stellar at the Women Entrepreneur Awards 2018 for her outstanding entrepreneurial qualities.
What makes you do what you do?
My parents run a small business, so do their friends. Since young, I have witnessed first hand how they hustled to bring up all five children, with almost nothing to their names. (Both my parents have primary school as their highest educational attainment and neither of them speaks English.)
They were a great inspiration for me! I recognised how perseverance and hard work eventually win the day, and nothing is gained without risk and sacrifice. With this mentality, I left my comfortable job in banking and started Fundnel with my co-founders.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Many people view approaching others for assistance as a sign of weakness. But the truth is, so did I. Choosing to leave my stable job, at a world-renowned firm no less, put me under tremendous pressure to prove myself; I felt like I could not fail. After going head-on with a couple of roadblocks and failing, I realised it was so silly persisting on the trial-and-error route. I was protecting my ego and squandering precious time.
So, I think the key is simple; be bold and ask for help!
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)?
Without a doubt, females are a minority in Financial technology and that poses a challenge. It’s common to have your opinions, or even your very presence, ignored. In fact, I’ve had a couple of meetings where the attendees would grant their eye contact and full attention to my male colleague until they realise that he reports to me.
Why did I choose this route? because like what Mahatma Gandhi said “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? And, How did you make a match if you did, or how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I have several mentors! As mentioned earlier, I think your entrepreneurial journey would be twice as arduous if you insisted on figuring your way out by yourself.
I had the privilege of having Manpower Minister Mrs. Josephine Teo as my mentor when I joined the Young Women’s Leadership Connection (YWLC). I participated in their programme when I first left the corporate world and the know-how she imparted has definitely helped me get to where I am.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Spotting talent is an intricate process here at Fundnel. Each candidate is typically put through four rounds of interview. The first two rounds emphasise on technical questions from the relevant personnel, in the presence of at least one member of the management team, to test for competency. The third and fourth rounds are a little less formal, lead by department heads, for evaluation of culture fit. While this process is lengthy, we believe that every single member of the company plays a crucial role in shaping the company’s future and we cannot risk a bad hire.
Developing and retaining talent requires a multi-prong approach and much effort on a daily basis. I do have a favourite move: regardless of my schedule, I arrange one-on-one sessions with my department heads every month. This could be over a meal, drinks, or most recently with my Marketing Manager, over a two-hour stroll around the CBD! In such intimate settings, you’re better able to break down barriers.
The results are honest feedback and deeper bonds. This is so much more effective and meaningful than formal feedback forms.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously and proudly support diversity! People from a certain race, age, gender, and sexual orientation are sometimes discriminated against as a result of prejudice — passed down from previous generations — and lack of exposure.
Here is a classic example; why do we label people from the LGBTQ+ community? We have a tendency to add a prefix to their job titles — like “the gay photographer” or “lesbian account manager”. When do we ever call a heterosexual guy “the straight barista”?
While our society has grown to become a little more acceptive of others who are not like us, there is a long way before we are truly inclusive, and I believe everyone has a role to play.
Fun fact: When I first started Fundnel, I was the only female in a team of ten people. Today, women comprise almost 45% of our staff across six countries!
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
A great leader is one that takes the road the less traveled; challenging the status quo and diminishing fear to evoke positive change. I’m lucky because the financial technology market is relatively nascent, which means there is so much more I can do and can afford to experiment with.
If I have to specify a general rule of thumb, it’ll be to listen to your stakeholders — customers, employees, and shareholders.
Advice for others?
“Pass it on”. No entrepreneur would attribute success to his or her own efforts. Help is sought in one way or another and I’d like to remind people to render the same support to the next batch of budding entrepreneurs.
In 2018, I was informed by Women Entrepreneur Awards that I had been nominated for an award under the Stellar category. It was startling! I never thought that toiling away to build a dream would make me worthy of recognition. Beyond the accolade, I’ve become acquainted with an inspiring group of women who are eager to help one another and passionate to groom future leaders.
This year, the organisers are putting together an inaugural Women Entrepreneur Summit, comprising of a panel discussion, networking dinner, and a funding pitch competition. In the spirit of passing it on, I jumped at the opportunity to co-organise the competition! Our common goal is to provide an alternative avenue to support women in their entrepreneurial journey.
If you’d like to get in touch with Khai Lin Sng, please feel free to reach her at [email protected]
To learn more about Fundnel please visit https://fundnel.com/