The journey of bootstrapping a startup in a heavily regulated industry in Singapore

Interview with Jackie Tan, founder of fundMyLife

BEAMSTART23 Jan, 2018

The journey of bootstrapping a startup in a heavily regulated industry in Singapore

Bootstrapping a company can be very tough, especially in the early days with limited resources and finances. But what's it like starting out in Singapore, especially in an industry that is heavily regulated?

This has been Jackie Tan's journey of building his financial planning services startup, fundMyLife over the past year.

We managed to catch up with Jackie recently for a short interview to learn more about his journey and his thoughts on Singapore's startup environment, which has been nothing short of inspiring and insightful.

Below is the interview:

1) What is fundMyLife about and how did you get started? What was the primary driver for starting this whole venture?

fundMyLife is a Q&A platform for financial planning questions and financial planner listings. We got started when my co-founder Wesley and I took part in a hackathon. 

The idea was initially a financial calculator, but eventually we pivoted to the current iteration today which is vastly different from the first version. 

Both my co-founders and I feel strongly that there is much to be done to fix the way young adults approach financial planning. 

2) What’s it like starting a financial services app in Singapore? Were there lots of obstacles when launching? What were some of them?

The main obstacle is trying to overcome the public’s hesitation in getting their personal finances done. One of the reasons why we started from ground up instead of working with insurance companies and agencies is due to inaccessibility. 

While banks are starting to open up their APIs to work with outside companies, insurance companies and agencies remain quite isolated. 

In addition, we had to adjust our business model a few times to abide by the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s regulations.

3) The space is becoming more competitive for platforms such as yours. How do you hope to add more value to the users who use your service instead? What makes you different?

Currently, we have a few competitors in the market. For users, we add value by providing a safe space to ask financial planning questions. We are also going beyond the online space by organising offline financial literacy talks for consumers.

We have several competitive advantages that our competitors cannot replicate. We have a natural language processing engine that understands questions from consumers and can categorise them so as to assign those questions to the financial planner best at answering them.

Another factor I am confident in is the team. For example, the CTO of fundMyLife (Wesley) is finishing his PhD in big data and machine learning – we have given talks on using deep learning in fundMyLife before and he also trains people on deep learning in his free time. The CEO of fundMyLife (myself) have won several data science challenges and performed consulting for fraud analysis for government agencies.

fundMyLife official website - Easily seek financial advise and guidance

4) Share your thoughts on what the startup landscape like in Singapore like. Is it conducive for new startups? What’s the funding environment like? What can be improved in your opinion? 

There is a lot of love for fintech, but less for insurtech. Insurtech is still relatively new here in Singapore but is thriving overseas. 

There are numerous fintech accelerators whereas there’s only two of insurtech accelerators so far. 

There’s still a long way to go, in my opinion. As for the funding landscape, I cannot comment too much on it since we’re not funded – we’ve been bootstrapping for so long.

5) How has the take up rate been for your service? How did you acquire initial traction? Is it hard to acquire users in Singapore?

For personal finances, more specifically insurance, it can be quite challenging to catch users. We used to do very hacky things, like targetting forums, and giving out flyers on weekends. After that we organised offline events on financial literacy, which paid off way better.

That said, our hard work is paying off. We’re seeing 10-20% month-on-month (MoM) in growth currently, and are revenue generating. 

6) What’re your tips for newer founders/startups that are starting out?

My advice is that it’s ok to keep your current job while working on your startup during validation stage. 

It’s a huge gamble trying to quit your job and focus on your startup full time. 

I have seen far too many people wanting to live the startup life and not commit to startup suffering.

7) What’re some of the biggest challenges you faced in running a startup/business like yours?

fundMyLife follows a B2C marketplace dynamic, so we have to work on two fronts at the same time. 

Chicken-and-egg situations are hard to overcome, and we had to work really hard to get one part addressed. 

I fondly remember the team going out on weekends to get people to use fundMyLife.

8) What do you hope to change/impact in Singapore in the long term? What’s next for fundMyLife?

In the long term, I’d like to make financial planning great again, and not something that is seen as an afterthought in life. 

We want to be the one-stop platform for personal finances, be it to ask questions or find the best financial planners. 

Next up, we’d like to ramp up our content production to empower consumers with articles on personal finance. 

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