BY LIANG HWEI ON AUGUST 27, 2015
Fintech is rushing into Singapore like a wave, bringing with it startups that are attempting to revolutionise the ways that businesses and individuals are managing and accessing money. Amongst that pool is Funding Societies, a startup that crowdfunds for entrepreneurs who are looking for a faster, better way of obtaining funding to expand and sustain their businesses.
But the founder of Funding Societies would raise a few eyebrows in the financial industry. Still in his twenties, Kelvin Teo studied at Harvard Business school and worked for McKinsey and KRR Capstone before leaving the corporate sector. He’s come a long way from his sleepy hometown in Johor to achieve great things with his new startup.
Within five months, Funding Societies became the first and only Singapore peer-to-peer lending company to incorporate a trustee registered with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), making it one of the safest crowdfunding platforms the country has seen. And in the six months since its launch (185 days to be exact), Funding Societies has already helped finance 12 companies, bringing the total funding raised close to a million dollars.
We speak to Teo about his startup journey.
Why did you decide to move from the corporate sector to start your own company?
Starting up is like riding a tiger. Others think that you’re brave for consciously taking on the tiger, while you wonder how you got there and pray you’d not be eaten! It wasn’t a conscious decision to start up. My years at Accenture, McKinsey and KKR Capstone have been amongst my most formative years. While my peers at Harvard applied for jobs, I found myself dreading the applications, yet excited to study about peer-to-peer lending. Before I knew it, Funding Societies was formed.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Funding Societies.
I first came across peer-to-peer lending in 2014. I thought it was crazy when my buddy told me. However, upon visiting several peer-to-peer lending companies and having a discussion with their executives, I was blown away. I found that it could truly impact SMEs and societies. Not just our society in Singapore, but also societies across Southeast Asia. Hence we call ourselves “Funding Societies”.
When would you say you first found a passion in Finance?
I wouldn’t say I found my passion in Finance. Rather, I’m thrilled about the impact that peer-to-peer lending can bring to a society. It could truly help many SMEs grow, which to me is rewarding to see. On the other hand, as a busy working professional, I wanted to solve a problem I always had — having some spare cash but being too busy to invest, yet I found it too short-term for investment funds and too wasted for fixed deposit. Hence we created Funding Societies.
What would you say is the biggest reason that most working adults in their 20s aren’t financially savvy?
I think many working adults today are more financially savvy, but physically busy. The demands of working life have increased tremendously, leaving limited time for personal life, even less so for long term financial planning. Hence, I feel that we’re not only helping SMEs to grow, but also helping people to improve their lives.
How many people are there behind Funding Societies?
We currently have 9 full-time people, split between Singapore and Indonesia, where we plan to enter in the next 6 months.
Describe a typical weekday for you.
I start my day with a 30-minute team check-in, discussing daily and upcoming priorities with the team. This would typically be followed by a series of internal and external meetings throughout the day such as investor meetings, team brainstorming and monthly feedback. I reply to emails between meetings and relax with my team and friends during meals. In the quiet of the night, I think and plan.
What was the biggest challenge in your start-up journey?
The biggest challenge is perhaps hiring. We started with hiring talent over passion, and it was a mistake. Working in a start-up is at times still frowned upon, and finding passionate and talented Singaporeans and PRs is hard.
I count my blessings for finding an all-star team who has grown Funding Societies at lightning speed, from start to launch in 95 days and helping 12 SMEs (almost the highest amongst others) in just 185 days of our existence.
Have you ever had any problems reaching out to clients given your young age?
As we celebrate SG50, I think Singapore as a society has matured to accept young leaders. People are willing to listen and follow you, as long as you show calibre and care. As my mentor said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Do not let anyone tell you that “you’re too young!” In fact, most of my former and current clients are much older than me.
With the weakening economy that Singapore is currently faced with, what financial advice would you give people?
Rainy days come and go. We can’t control the weather, but we can prepare for it. Invest wisely.
What is the secret to Funding Societies’ success in financing 12 companies in 185 days?
Two secrets, really — an awesome team and lots of hard work.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs?
Starting up is risky. Do it when it is worth it. It’s worth it when you have sleepless nights, thinking about it. Then you know you should do it and never look back.