For the next in ALPHA Camp’s “Our Stories” series, we spoke to Kenneth Lou, the CEO and Co-founder of Seedly, who is already a veteran in the Singapore startup scene at the young age of 23. Kenneth shares with ALPHA Camp his views on the realities of startup world.

His latest company, Seedly, was selected as one of nine DBS Hotspot finalists this year. ALPHA Camp has worked closely with DBS as an official program partner to provide training and workshops for these up-and-coming businesses.

Starting a company is like running a long-distance obstacle course challenge. You have to devote your whole life to your startup in the knowledge that, statistically,  9 out of 10 startups fail.. Why would someone who has a stellar NUS business education,and could easily get a high-flying job in banking or consulting, choose this risky path?

How could I not? Nine out of ten may fail, but the ones who succeed make their mark on history and improve human civilization. Some discomfort and lack of sleep are no sacrifice compared to this opportunity to leave a lasting legacy. While the odds are slim, if you never try, the odds are zero!

If you don’t take risks you’ll live in a constant regret of what-ifs. Both my co-founder/CTO Chew Tee Ming and I believe strongly in the saying “in the event that you fail… you discover that you don’t die and live to fight another day”. Personally, I failed, but I bounced back – stronger than before. There is absolutely no need to fear failure.

Both of us are immensely product-focused and believe strongly in giving our all – we want to see our idea come to fruition and be used by millions of people (one day!)

Could you tell us a little about your first company’s failure and the things that you learnt from it?

I started Novelsys two years ago to produce wireless charging devices for mobile phones. Despite a promising start, winning multiple awards, getting major media recognition, and raising over $87,000 through Kickstarter, the product failed to scale. I wrote a blog post about it. Basically, we came into the market without a real understanding of the product/market fit. A lot of our backers for the product were hobbyists and they reflected only a niche part of mobile phone users. 

Obviously there are companies like Apple or Tesla that introduce products nobody even wanted or thought of before, but our product did not have that technological and aesthetic edge to become revolutionary and wide-spread without pre-existing demand.

What is different about Seedly? How did it start?

Chew Tee Ming went on the NUS Overseas Colleges programme, and he worked as a software engineer for a San Francisco startup. The high cost of living in the U.S. meant his allowance from the startup was insufficient to support a basic lifestyle. He then tried a few US-based budgeting apps but found they lacked an important feature – over-spending alerts. Thus, over a weekend Hackathon project, he built a web-application, which allows the user to set pre-defined budgets that keep track of daily expenses together with a daily spending summary. The project went on to win the Hackathon FinTech award. I then met him in Silicon Valley after NUS business school graduation and that’s where we became co-founders after he arrived back from USA in early 2016.

It then dawned on me that I was also experiencing, first-hand, the challenges of saving money and being broke as a young Singaporean Millennial who had borrowed from my parents after facing cash-flow issues with my first startup. There were a few finance management apps around, but none of them had gained enough traction to become an industry leader in South East Asia. We recognized a deficiency and thus opportunity in UX/UI with these apps that we we could address with Seedly.

The main difference with this startup is, instead of trying to create something revolutionary, we are improving on an idea that has been tested and launched by different companies. We know that the problem is universal, the demand for finance-management solution exists, and the question is coming up with something that hits the right spot to become popular – execution is really key.

A lot of times people think you need to come up with something brand new to start your tech company. This is not the case at all. Friendster and MySpace had been around before Facebook came and became a leader in social media. You would be amazed at how a simple tweak or improvement might make or break the success of your product.

In South East Asia, we are technologically about ten years behind North America and Europe. This creates plenty of exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs to adopt useful tech ideas from Silicon Valley and localise it to cater to our market.

Are you confident with Seedly’s success this time around? 

What do you consider success? Being able to get off the ground and survive in the scene for some time? Reaching IPO and becoming a big corporation? Being bought for millions of dollars? I think if you set up a company thinking that it needs to “succeed” in monetary terms and social reputation, you could quickly become discouraged.

With Seedly, I learnt from past mistakes and did things differently. I have been talking more to the customers, constantly improving the customer experience, and doing more market research. I am confident that yes, Seedly has the potential to help millennials address real problems, and this is the ultimate indicator of success to me – whether you get to help people with your product. Personal growth and improvement from running a startup is another indicator of success.

Tech startups are not for the weak-hearted. It is for people with a vision and perseverance to follow their passion, but who also have enough wisdom to realise that it is the learning experience, and not money, awards, or recognition, that crowns your achievement. Therefore I want to fully credit the team for the hard work, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have a group of ‘A’ players who are determined to ride this journey and make a dent in the personal finance space together.

How can someone with no access to the tech industry initiate their startup endeavour? 

Apart from getting an education in technical skills, which you can pick up from schools such as ALPHA Camp, you also need to dive into the right community to meet mentors, other company founders, and potential co-founders. For example, immersing myself in Silicon Valley was how I met Tee Ming. Community access from joining incubators such as DBS Hotspot has also been incredibly useful. I got to leverage on a network or resources, mentors, and connection in the finance and tech community.

ALPHA Camp is definitely one entry point that opens doors and creates opportunities while learning tech skills at the same time. As such, startup schools offer more value as compared to learning things online in isolation.

seedly

About Seedly : Seedly is a personal finance management app that helps urban dwellers organise their spending efficiently on their mobile phones.

Feeling inspired to run your startup? Apply to ALPHA Camp’s bootcamp program to pick up relevant tech skills and connect with potential co-founders, mentors, and investors!