Kenneth Lou is no stranger to entrepreneurship (or finance).
The Co-founder and CEO of Seedly, one of Singapore’s biggest financial communities, Kenneth Lou started Seedly with his Co-founder Chew Tee-Ming while the two were in their final year at university. Kenneth started working at Seedly full-time upon graduation and has been there ever since. Seedly was recently acquired by the CompareAsiaGroup in October 2020.
Currently, Seedly has about 30 employees working across various functions, including product development and marketing. It also has a product review page and Q&A platform – the biggest in Singapore, where readers can contribute their reviews or answers to the Seedly Community.
Like most other FinTech companies in Singapore, Seedly is currently adopting a hybrid workplace model, where employees can work in the office or remotely from home. In this edition of 5 Questions With…, we ask Kenneth how it’s like transitioning to a work-from-home arrangement, how his daily routine has changed (or remains the same), and advice he has for aspiring FinTech Entrepreneurs in Singapore.
Timothy Ho (Tim): As the CEO of Seedly, one of the most popular FinTech companies in Singapore, I am sure you keep pretty hectic days. Can you share with us how a ‘regular’ working day is like for you, whether it’s working from home or in the office?
Kenneth Lou (Kenneth): Days are pretty hectic and move quickly due to how engaged I usually am at work. To give some context, I wake up at around 730am, and proceed to start my day with a long-black and reading up about the news, either financial markets or world news.
To save on buying expensive coffee from cafes, I brew my own coffee using an espresso machine and grinder that I purchased 2nd hand on Carousell many years ago, which turned out to be a very prudent decision. With that morning caffeine kick, I plan out my day using my iPad based on the tasks I would need to accomplish for the day.
Learning from Tim Ferris’s 4-hour workweek, there is this concept around organising tasks into priority from A to D. And from there, giving a score to them from 1 to 4. For example, A1 would be the most priority, B1 would be after lunch and D1, would likely be delegated away or to be done during my own admin time.
I recently added in my personal life into these lists as well, with my runs and workouts to accomplish by the end of the day due to my belief in work-life integration. Usually, I do such activities in the evenings when I get home around 8 or 9 pm, with a 1-hour break after dinner.
On a positive note, I’ve started doing Intermittent fasting for almost a year now and it has become a pretty good habit because it saves me time and money on the 16:8 routine, with 16 hours fast and 8 hours feeding window. In addition to that, I’ve been on this calisthenics routine for my workouts which include mainly bodyweight exercises and HIIT which has been helping me shed some 9kg in a year. As most working adults might agree, sitting down in front of the computer with a sedentary lifestyle can really be unhealthy.
During the circuit breaker from April 2020 to June 2020, our whole team was working remotely. Being someone who thrives on social interaction, it was a challenging period because you cannot create that same energy via zoom calls or hangouts. We do our best, but I would say it was a pretty tough time, even though I think most of our team members also found ways to cope. As of August 2020, we started the A/B split team setup as we started going back to the office, and it was a breath of fresh air because only half the team came in, and it was reminiscent of the early days when the team was much smaller, and we’ve been on this arrangement ever since till now.
Tim: Seedly has done remarkably well since it started in 2016. Besides your Seedly app, you guys have also ventured into content, community building, and of course, your flagship annual Seedly Personal Finance Festival. With so much work to be done, how do you manage the team especially during this period where people are working from home?
Kenneth: Currently, we have a split team arrangement where only half of our team comes into the office and it’s not easy.
Having a co-founder definitely helps! Tee-Ming is looking after all product and engineering sides at Seedly. Next, having leaders who are willing to learn and be responsible for our team helps. We are doing our best to support them to do their jobs in the areas of marketing, product, engineering, partnerships and Business Development. This, in turn, flows across the whole team with a strong work ethic and culture.
Finally, having investors who believe in what we are doing is an additional kicker to our efforts. Joining the CompareAsiaGroup allows us access to resources that we otherwise would not have had previously. This means we can hire better and take care of our current team members. But also, critically, we have more capital to be deployed in areas that we feel can really move the needle for our community.
We aim for Seedly to become a self-sustaining and most importantly, a strongly bonded community with a clear mission that can outlive any of us. That would be really cool and something that we aspire to as a team.
Tim: You worked on Seedly full-time right after graduation. This couldn’t have been an easy financial decision. What are 3 financial tips that you will share with aspiring entrepreneurs in Singapore who are afraid of venturing into entrepreneurship because of financial security?
Kenneth: There are always two sides to the coin! When you are young, it’s easier to consider building a startup due to the days where you can survive on as little as possible.
Tip 1 would be to stay humble and to learn and live like a student. Don’t go for that Starbucks, staycation or branded shoes if you don’t have the money.
Tip 2 would be to not be afraid to ask for help. From your school, from investors, from advisors. As Pitbull says: “Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money Twice!” However, the only caveat to this is to get ready to stare rejection down in the face and to look stupid – because most of the people you speak to will end up in dead ends. You just have to keep going.
Tip 3 would be to be a cockroach. Did you know that these insects have been around since the stone age? The longer you stay in the game and hang around, the more you learn and the more you evolve and adapt. This applies in all aspects of life, whether it comes to startups, businesses or investing. (and even fitness routines, for me recently). Just show up, go to the gym even though you don’t feel like it. You would start to realize that you will keep getting stronger and more ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.
Tim: Who are 2 individuals or businesses that have inspired you (or continue to inspire you) in your entrepreneurship journey?
Kenneth: This would sound cliché but Elon Musk and Mr. Phillip Yeo. And it’s been pretty consistent ever since I started my entrepreneurship journey around 6 to 7 years ago when I was exposed to the world of tech and growth.
Elon Musk because he’s doing things which no other humans or entrepreneurs would even dare imagine by pushing the boundaries of mankind and to set up a colony on Mars by 2050. That definitely sounds like a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) to inspire many others to join this endeavor. Having a strong mission, and not caring about what other people think if you know that is the right thing to do. He’s been through multiple rockets exploding, failed electric cars. but he’s always improving and coming out on the other side with even more passion and exuberance for the future.
Mr. Phillip Yeo. Not everyone in our generation knows him, but he was a real operator and has had made a huge difference to Singapore’s growth story and economy. As chairman of EDB for many years, I will always remember his quote to say “It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, if you know that this is the right thing to do” the context really applies to the civil service where there is traditionally much red tape to cut through.
I highly recommend a book on his life called – Neither Civil nor Servant. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be part of the Philip Yeo initiative program where they invest in others who are also carrying this MAD COW spirit to Make a Difference and Change Our World!
I’d dare say that without this man’s willingness to change things and aggressively ‘market’ Singapore to other MNCs to set up their regional or global HQs here in Singapore, we would not have had seen the economic boom in the 80s and 90s. His current hope is that many Singaporeans do not forget this spirit and continue building on the work that our past generations have done as a strong foundation, not to give up so easily.
Tim: 1 advice you will share with aspiring FinTech entrepreneurs in Singapore looking to build the next Seedly?
Kenneth: Just do it!
Give it a go, try it out, and experience the pain. Honestly, this journey is not easy. If you are in it for the money, you are in the wrong business, go and be an investment banker or some other lucrative industry.
However, if you want to have an opportunity to change something in the space you are in or solve a problem that you feel strongly about, then just do it!
We all need a bit of luck along the way. But as they say, the harder you work, the luckier you get!Kenneth Lou
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