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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

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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

Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

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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