INNOVATE

FinTech Flair: Start-up Founders Reveal Key Strategies You’ll Need in your Arsenal

If you have to fail, do it early and do it fast

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 26 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

From enabling instant cross-border money transfer and innovative mobile payments, to robo-advisors and cryptocurrency, there is no stone that financial technology (fintech) has left unturned in terms of application in the daily lives of consumers.

There are numbers backing up the traction fintech has gained over the last several years: A PWC report reveals in the first quarter of 2017 alone, a massive $1.8 billion in funding has been injected into the sector globally — a far cry from the measly $3.1 million funding poured into it five years ago. Debunking claims that the upward trend heralds a bubble, the report asserts the future of fintech is bright, with Asia set to contribute largely to global fintech growth as the region has the “largest percentage of the under-banked population, and a large growing middle class who will soon need new solutions to address their wealth management and banking needs.”

As it is, Asia Pacific attracted the largest amount of investment from 2016-2017, with a total of $14.8 billion. Of this figure, China, home to the world’s top four fintech unicorns, accounts for 88 percent.

In Southeast Asia, the potential disruption fintech start-ups bring to the region is massive. Looking to dip your toes into fintech? Founders share tips to give you a head start:

Collaborate with the right people
The first few members of your team will shape everything about your company essentially, shares Aditya Haripurkar, CEO and founder of Singapore-based mobile payments company HitPay Technologies. “It’s cliché, but culture is so important. Build a great team that jives well together, shares the same values, and are super focused and passionate about the work you will be doing,” he says.

Further fine-tuning this strategy, Dr. Julian Hosp, co-founder of cryptocurrency company TenX, says that your hiring strategy should cover the three important areas needed to succeed in fintech: product development, marketing, and regulation. “Whoever you are in those three, find the other two,” advises Hosp. Apart from tech developers, “you’ll need people well-versed in the regulatory space — anti-money laundering laws, anti-terror financing, etc. — and you’ll need people taking care of logistics, who do nothing but work with banks, exchanges, customers, etc. Many people think that [getting into fintech] is easier than it actually is, but there are a lot of pieces that need to fall together.”

Choosing the right investors is also key, according to Prajit Nanu, founder of international remittance payments start-up InstaRem. “A bad investor is really bad for your business, and can even get you to fold a business. Choosing the right investor is like choosing a partner you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. Don’t run to somebody who would throw lots of money at you. Sometimes it’s okay to go for lower valuation but higher network access — see what that investor will bring to your company, beyond money,” says Nanu.

Proximity is power
In the fintech space, apparently, this principle holds true: It’s not what you know but who you know. “Proximity is power,” states Hosp, asserting the need to meet other people in the ecosystem. “You want to be around other companies in the space and you need to attend meet-ups. In Singapore, in the new office we are getting, there’s a lot of cryptocurrency companies around and we all get together on purpose,” he says.

Pavel Bains, co-founder of blockchain solutions company Bluzelle, concurs. “Don’t be afraid to talk to people and reach out. If you do that, in a positive way, what I’ve found is that people will lead to people. Most of the clients we have now are a result of our always talking and engaging with people. We learned that having that go-getter, positive attitude still goes a long way,” shares Bains.

Fail fast
Regardless of which sector you serve in the tech start-up ecosystem, the very fact that you are a start-up dealing with disruptive technology means failure is in the offing. Instead of trying to control the situation, embrace failure.

“People hear about the success stories of Mark Zuckerberg, but what they don’t hear about are the series of failure that came before that. As a start-up, you’re definitely going to fail. Maybe we’re going to fail at TenX — I hope not, we’re going to give it our best — but if you are going to make mistakes, then the earlier and faster you fail, the better,” shares Hosp.

Bains relates that failure actually encourages innovation. Playing in a field as disruptive as blockchain technology, he shares that because the technology itself is so new, “there’s no roadmap, there are no rules, and we’re all learning on the go.” At Bluzelle, Bains reveals, “a lot of time is spent trying and failing and just pushing the limits of this thing, so we’ve kind of created a culture where people are not afraid to try something, and if it breaks, it’s not the end of the world. It’s constant learning and experimentation.”