This is 14 Questions, where we ask founders in the Asian tech scene to share their memorable moments, lessons learned, and advice for other founders.
Name: Kelvin Teo
Current position: Co-founder and CEO of Funding Societies/Modalku
Describe what you do: As co-founder and CEO, I do whatever it takes – legally and ethically right – to make the company successful. According to feedback, I’m “well-loved and well-laughed” by the team.
Kelvin Teo, co-founder and CEO of Funding Societies
What was the most memorable moment you had while building your company?
Building a startup while studying abroad was unheard of. But I was inspired by an ex-colleague who we thought did just that. Later on, we found out that he actually had a co-founder on ground. Thankfully, we didn’t know earlier so it kept us from disbelief. We won’t forget meeting the early team for the first time after four months of searching.
I also fondly remember the leadership team playing basketball at 1:00 am. After hours of discussions and bottles of wine, the scores for both teams were still zero.
What was your lowest point when you were starting out? How did you move past it?
In 2016, all crowdfunding platforms in Singapore were required to secure a Capital Markets Services (CMS) license to operate. This wiped out 90 percent of our business as we had to stop our crowdfunding activities. This effectively put our series A fundraising discussion with Sequoia Capital in the balance.
It was my first week back in Singapore from Harvard Business School. We only had cash good for one month and no solution in sight. Thankfully, our team banded together even though we had only met once since our founding in 2015. I remember their faces turned pale after the call we initiated with the regulators.
We continued our regular operations in November 2016 when we received in-principle approval from the Monetary Authority of Singapore. We solved one problem at a time. There is solace in focus.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
I’m no hero, and I don’t need to be.
Sometimes we forget that running a startup is a team sport. My team can carry the weight even if I miss every now and then. In my co-founder Reynold Wijaya’s cheeky and insightful words, “You’re too responsible.”
What’s your productivity or life hack?
Be at rest with my heart and soul even as my mind and body labor hard. In our “busy-ness,” it is easy to fall into the abyss of anxiety. We have to guard ourselves.
What’s your leadership style?
Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. Make sure they are in the right seats. Then set clear direction, create an environment where people thrive, and get out of their way because they know best.
What are your favorite books?
The Bible or any spiritual text of choice. A successful startup is a low-probability event. It takes a miracle to happen, and I believe miracles can happen every day through faith.
What are the words you live by?
“In all candor” and “in all fairness.” Growing up, I read Chinese historical novels where heroes speak their minds and treat others as they would treat themselves.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
My team members are my “stress balls.” As I walk around the office, I occasionally massage the shoulders of whoever (unfortunate) male team member I find.
Who is your role model or mentor and why?
Barack Obama, because I too believe in the audacity of hope.
What is a company you admire and why?
Netflix, because their culture resonates with me. I read Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibilities by Patty McCord and I realized they are one of the few firms that have successfully transformed their industry more than once.
What goals are you currently pursuing?
I am working to speak slower like Yoda, which I can do with the help of reminders. But I’m still far from making it a habit.
What are you excited about in the industry?
Digital financing (or debt-based crowdfunding) for small and medium-sized enterprises is slowly gaining awareness and recognition in Southeast Asia. We are excited about its impact from the stories and results shared by SMEs themselves. They truly are the unsung heroes.
What advice would you give other founders?
Two is better than one. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Doing a startup is challenging, so don’t walk alone.[Source: “How Funding Societies survived when it only had cash good for 1 month” published by Tech In Asia]
Photo Credits : Tech In Asia / Funding Societies