28 minutes | Feb 16, 2020
Asia Tech Podcast – Episode 59 – Rishi Ramchandani – Cafe Cash Flow – Like a Personal Trainer for Your Money
The Asia Tech Podcast had the opportunity to speak with Rishi Ramchandani, the Founder of Cafe Cash Flow and its Chief Financial Coach. Rishi was born and raised in Hong Kong, was educated at the university level in the United States and got a job at Merrill Lynch upon graduation in 2007…right before the explosion of the Global Financial Crisis. I was at Citigroup in Tokyo at the time, so I know exactly what that must have felt like. Rishi was on the Portfolio Sales Trading team…which sounded eerily familiar to me as I also did that kind of job for over a decade. When one does that job, you end up dealing with some of the largest institutional investors in the world, including GIC, Temasek, Blackrock, and SSGA. We ended up realizing we knew a lot of the same people as well. This was a great way to start our conversation. Eventually, Rishi and his wife moved to Singapore in 2018. Rishi got an Entrepreneur Visa and started taking a bottom-up approach to figure out what kind of company he wanted to start. He started participating in hackathons, meeting Venture Capitalists and some of the accelerator programs and generally became part of the startup ecosystem in Singapore. He met a co-Founder and together they started a company called PinAlpha, which essentially employs artificial intelligence and natural language processing to generate fully automated financial analysis. Fundamentally, PinAlpha is a B2B business and Rishi realized that he was more interested in helping individuals learn how to more effectively manage their money that gives a trading edge to hedge funds and other large institutional investors. Even though PinAlpha was about to get funded, Rishi decided to leave and started working on the platform that would become Cafe Cash Flow. Rishi likens Cafe Cash Flow to a personal trainer for your financial well-being. Rishi believes that money and trust have a complicated relationship. The Cafe idea was built on the premise that the first conversation with a prospective client should be in a relaxed place. Rishi notes that financial coaching is different than financial advising in that a coach is there to enable you to make better financial decisions, not profit from them. There is no conflict of interest because as a coach, one is not restricted to any particular set of products…but is empowered to continuously educate his clients about what is available in the overall market. I was interested in how this type of business uses technology to scale and Rishi has thought this through as well. think about other platforms that offer either tangible or intangible assets or services at scale and you can begin to get the idea of what Cafe Cash Flow can become.
29 minutes | Feb 15, 2020
Social Innovation Podcast – Episode 19 – Anthony Moorhouse – co-Founder EarthTech Ventures – Creating Pathways to Scale Up Those Ideas
Anthony Moorhouse, a co-Founder of EarthTech Ventures, started his career in the Special Forces of the Australian Army as a counter-terrorism commando. A frequent traveler, Anthony found himself at an airport and picked up a book by Richard Branson that talked about entrepreneurship…a word with which Anthony was unfamiliar at the time. Anthony became obsessed with the idea that you could literally build something from scratch, from a blank sheet of paper. He realized that a ‘blank sheet of paper’ was literally the most exciting thing in the world for him. This was literally the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey. The idea that anyone, from anywhere from any background can have an idea and turn that idea into reality. This obsession pushed Anthony to come up with at least 20 business concepts, only one of which made sense for him to execute based on his military background. Dynamiq, a company focused on crisis management, risk management, and international emergency evacuations, was born out of this process. Twelve years later, Dynamiq was sold to a large insurance company and Anthony moved to Colorado to grow its US business. Ending up in Boulder, Colorado, Anthony became more deeply involved in the startup scene. He also built a social enterprise, did some lecturing and decided after a time that with two small children, it was time to head back to Australia. On the way home, he decided to take his children to a place that he and his then-new wife had visited 18 years earlier, the Great Barrier Reef. While the reef was still amazing, something drastic had changed and this was a ‘gut punch’, epiphany moment for Anthony. He wondered, ‘With the resources and skills that I have if I am not making the world a better place for my kids, what will they think of me on my death bed?’Two or three months later he met his co-Founder Brian Keayes and the two started building out the infrastructure and vision for EarthTech Ventures. The core philosophy is that we are in a global crisis around sustainability and that with the proper use of technology, entrepreneurs can have exponential impact attacking the United Nations’ 17 sustainability goals. Their most ambitious (with more to come, for sure) accomplishment to date has been the EarthTech Challenge, a global competition that inspired 849 teams and almost 1,500 entrepreneurs from over 70 countries “to make discoveries, create the technologies and build the companies” to solve the world’s biggest environmental and social issues.
40 minutes | Feb 10, 2020
Asia Tech Podcast – Episode 58 – Matas Danielevicius – co-Founder Gaorai – You Have WhatNot In Your Pocket
Michael Waitze spoke to Matas Danielevicius, a co-Founder of Gaorai, a Partner at WhatNot Innovation Studio, and a marketing manager at the KX Knowledge Exchange. Matas has a very interesting background, part of the high caliber Lithuanian team that founded and runs WhatNot. (There is a good story in the first third of this episode as to how they came up with the name…Matas tells the story better than I ever could.) After high school Matas took a traditional path, studying business development and management in Lithuania, but he soon realized that he longed for more. He picked himself up, went to the UK and studied acting, graduating with a degree in drama…something I wish I had done. I forgot to mention that in his spare time (How could he possibly have spare time?!), Matas is also an actor. He is currently working with the Culture Collective Studio on a production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”. We had a fascinating conversation on how show production, acting and getting in and out of character is more related to startup and venture building than one might imagine. Matas combines these things rather seamlessly. I was curious to find out why three Lithuanian venture building partners ended up in Thailand…and frankly, it was really straightforward. They were traveling through Bangkok on their way to Sri Lanka (Just imagine what might have been.) and intended to stay for only a couple of days. A big project on which they were working became more urgent and they had to stay in Bangkok to finish it. The rest, as they say, is history. Finally, we talked about Gaorai, “Gaorai is an agri-tech platform connecting farmers to freelance agri-drone pilots. We are improving precision application and sustainability of crop protection products in Thailand and the region. Our goal is to turn Gaorai to a day-to-day farm service, e-commerce, distribution and intelligence platform.”
35 minutes | Feb 1, 2020
Asia Tech Podcast – Episode 57 – Colin Hodge – The Global Growth Expert – I’ve Been on Quite the Journey
I have yet to meet Colin Hodge in person, but after a few conversations spanning the globe, I feel like I have. I think it says more about him than it does about me. He was very generous with his time and thoughts and we had a really interesting conversation. Colin has learned a ton since founding a dating app that ended up being called Down. There were plenty of controversies when the app launched, but frankly, this is not the part of the story that interests me. Here is what I do find interesting. A computer science graduate from Cornell University left what must have been a great job at Microsoft to strike out on his own and build a company from scratch. He apparently did most of the actual coding himself and, if my math serves me correctly, he was barely 26 years old. Let’s not forget to mention that the app that he created was downloaded a million times, faster than any other app in the last decade. Through all of the ups and downs, including getting kicked out of the Apple app store for a time, Colin remained calm beyond his years and created an insane amount of learnings, all of which could not be covered in a 30-minute recording. One of the things that Colin definitely discussed with me was the necessity to have a strong support system around you both internally at your startup and also externally. A lot of his experience was quite unanticipated and having the right support system around you can help relieve some of the stress that arises when things inevitably go awry. We also discussed how he became the Global Growth Expert. After selling Down to Paktor in 2017, Colin worked his growth magic across the Paktor product platform, building out Paktor Labs and traveling the region to teach the Paktor portfolio companies how to grow.
32 minutes | Jan 12, 2020
Social Innovation Podcast – Episode 18 – Nick Kengmana – Go Beyond – Infinite Growth In a Finite World is Unsustainable
I had the opportunity to speak with Nick Kengmana in the studio at True Digital Park. Nick is a co-Founder of Go Beyond and is committed to building a community of purpose-driven entrepreneurs and helping them change the world. We had a pretty amazing conversation ranging from the impact of mechanized farming on society to the evolution of capitalism, with a bit of religion sprinkled in. We also discussed how technology companies employ strategies to encourage dopamine hits and the differences between it and serotonin, which is sometimes called the ‘happy chemical’. We touched on the topic of the ‘scarcity mindset’ and how Nick believes that this is part of the root of many of society’s problems. Nick believes that, “Humanity, as a species, now has the capability to provide all the resources necessary for every human on earth to have a high quality of life. Scarcity has been a key driver of progress for the human species, but we’ve reached a point where there no longer is true scarcity in our ability to provide enough for every human to have food, shelter, education, healthcare, opportunity, safety, etc. Now scarcity and a scarcity mindset are no longer necessary and detrimental to the species, holding us collectively back and causing suffering around the world."
29 minutes | Jan 9, 2020
Asia Tech Podcast – Episode 56 – Damien Kerneis – co-Founder SiamCarDeal – Click a Button and Say “Poof”
The Asia Tech Podcast recently had the pleasure to speak with Damien Kerneis in the studio at True Digital Park. Damien is the Founder and CEO of SiamCarDeal. Damien is decidedly not new to Thailand. He was originally sent to Bangkok 15 years ago by the company that employed him in Paris. His job when he arrived in Thailand was to provide supply chain and logistics services to clients in the automotive space. Damien was helping his clients make and take deliveries to the auto dealers and this ended up being a proper segue into his new business. Damien was always on the lookout for an avenue to start his own business. While still working at the logistics and supply-chain company, Damien needed to buy a car. He noted that the experience of trying to buy a car was horrible. He started doing some research on what the car buying process was like in more mature markets like France, the United States, and Australia. What he found during his research was that in the more mature markets, there were robust and sophisticated platforms that made the process so much easier for both consumers and the dealerships that sold them. So…in his words, “I just decided to launch it." This was the beginning of SiamCarDeal, back at the end of 2015. The original idea was to build a marketplace that was essentially a business to consumer platform…e-commerce for cars. The SiamCarDeal team quickly realized that there was also a need for the manufacturers and dealers to manage the prospects and leads from the marketplace platforms that SiamCarDeal and others had built. They, therefore, started building a suite of software tools that could help the dealers do just that. This was the beginning of their B2B business. Building these tools ends up being a quite complex endeavor. This move into the enterprise space took a lot of time and created a whole host of new learnings for the team. Integration issues, understanding the proper user experience at a myriad of dealerships and selling to businesses that were not used to the digital marketing arena created its own challenges as well.
30 minutes | Nov 26, 2019
Asia Tech Podcast – Episode 55 – Kastytis Kemezys – Whatnot Innovation Studio – You Need to Be a Bit Weird and Crazy
I had the complete pleasure of sitting down with Kastytis Kemezys at the recording studio at True Digital Park. Kas, originally from Lithuania, is a Principal and co-Founder at Whatnot Innovation Studio. Whatnot is a Startup Studio that provides corporate venturing tools to organizations across Southeast Asia to enable innovation. Together with these large organizations, Whatnot invests in and builds the next generation of startups. Kas has always been an entrepreneur and venture builder. He tried ‘corporate life’ for a very short period of time, but realized when he was 19 years old that he just had to build something for himself. Frankly, he was not even sure at first what that was going to be, but he knew he wanted to build his own businesses. So he and a friend started a business called ‘My Drink Beverages’ which they ran for 6 years. It was an incredible learning experience across the board, including learning how to manage teams and how to get an idea to reality. This was venture building for the food space. When I asked Kas if he had any experience in the food business prior to starting this he said, “Well, I used to eat…". Clearly a guy with a great sense of humor. You have to listen to Kas tell his story about importing a drink into Lithuania from Las Vegas called ‘Cocaine Energy Drink‘. You can only begin to imagine the hilarity of trying to import this and get it through customs… We had a very interesting conversation about the culture of innovation and the stress that surrounds it. Kas was never good at dealing with authority. He always wanted to do things his way first and then learn. Operating this way made it really necessary to get used to the stress of failure, which more often than not is the outcome of trying to build something from scratch. We both agreed that you have to be a bit weird and crazy to enter the world of innovation because you are constantly submitting yourself to failure. There is so much more in this episode. Listen and enjoy!
34 minutes | Nov 24, 2019
Asia Tech Podcast – Episode 54 – Maurizio Raffone, Jeff Wentworth and Lars Schouw – Japan RoundTable – That’s Just the Game You Need to Be In
This was a special episode of the Asia Tech Podcast. We brought together three gentlemen that have decades of combined experience living and working in Japan. Specifically, I was joined by Maurizio Raffone – Founder and CEO at Finetiq Limited, Jeff Wentworth – co-Founder of Curvegrid, and Lars Schouw – Cheif Data Officer at SBI Security Solutions. We were fortunate to be able to cover a wide range of topics…including finance, cybersecurity, blockchain, venture capital and the FinTech Association of Japan. Japan passed amended open banking regulations in 2018 which mandates that Japanese bansk provide API connectivity to account information services with other services to come by 2020. There is also a very active Japan FinTech Association based in Tokyo. The Japan FinTech Association was created to develop strong relationships with new FinTechs and the establihsed financial system. Maurizio mentioned that the Association also promotes cooperation and coordination with the associations in Singapore and Hong Kong, among others. It also promotes cross border FinTech business building on both an inbound and outbound basis. Jeff Wentworth and I dug deeper into the Blockchain space in Japan and what made Tokyo a great place to start a business. This fact actually surprised Jeff a bit, but there were a few contributing factors that he noted. While the Japanese economy is currently growing nicely, it had been stagnating for decades. This stagnation created a resource supply / demand mismatch and means that if you are developing for a global audience, but are based in Japan, you may actually have lower relative costs. Commutes are super easy and commercial space continues to lag price increases in places like Singapore and Silicon Valley. There was so much more in this episode…I am sure we will do more of these country-focused roundtables.
30 minutes | Nov 19, 2019
Asia Tech Podcast – Episode 53 – Akemi Tsunagawa – CEO of Bespoke – Now It’s About Scaling and Processes
I caught up with Akemi Tsunagawa, the Founder and CEO of Bespoke, a real-time engagement platform for tourists and the tourism industry. When we last spoke in September 2018, the team had no intention of expanding to the United States. However, after being introduced to Gabe Klein, now and advisor to Bespoke, all of that changed. Notably, Gabe has been the Director of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation and the Commissioner of Transportation for the City of Chicago. These roles, along with myriad other experiences, gives him connectivity to United States based clients that would not have been possible previously. Making further progress and seeing strong interest from US potentials, led Bespoke to open an office in San Francisco and set up a proper entity to operate in the United States. Akemi had been following the career of Tobias Wessels for a while now. She noted jokingly that she had been ‘cyber-stalking’ him since they met at a conference almost three years ago…and when the timing was finally right, she offered him the role of running Bespoke’s international business and Akemi was happy when he accepted. Tobias also came with a great client list which is helping to accelerate the growth of Bespoke’s business. Akemi noted that even just a year ago, it was difficult to explain what a chatbot was. Fast forward a year and the world has caught up to the notion of what a chatbot is and how they can be useful. One of the places where the Japanese government is working with Bespoke is during crisis management. This is a place where this type of engagement platform can be super useful. Bespoke’s growth has clearly entered a new phase, which means that the staff make-up has to change as well. Akemi and I talked about how this growth requires a different mindset and skillset from her management team. This is one of the new challenges that Akemi is encountering.
32 minutes | Nov 5, 2019
Asian FinTech Podcast – Episode 10 – Asheesh Chanda – Founder & CEO Kristal.AI – The Markets and the World Has to Decide
I had a super conversation with Asheesh Chanda, the CEO and Founder of Kristal.AI. Asheesh has more than 15 years of experience in the financial industry, including 8 years at JP Morgan Chase heading South and South-East Asia. Prior to founding Kristal.AI, Asheesh was a portfolio manager at KrisCapital, a global macro hedge fund. As he noted to me, a resume perfectly crafted to get into FinTech. I asked Asheesh what the most important trends were in the FinTech space in Southeast Asia. Asheesh was very quick to answer. In the last year, both Hong Kong and Singapore have allowed and approved applications for virtual banks. During Asheesh’s career in the hedge fund world, there was the realization that the traditional financial sector catered to the already rich and helped them get richer. He wanted to have a more significant impact on the financial lives of those that are not yet wealthy. He was looking for a problem to solve and the idea of providing advice and an investment platform to the underserved using technology made the most sense. You have to listen to this entire conversation to understand how committed Ashes and his team are to the democratization of investing and financial services as a whole. He is clear about the necessity to help those without a network, the knowledge or the bandwidth to grow their wealth by allowing them to use the platform for free. He notes that if we can not solve this problem using technology, then what is the point? Very powerful stuff… Asheesh also noted that the partnership of Apple with Goldman Sachs and the issuance of the Apple (credit) Card was significant. I was not sure why this was so important until we came back to this at the end of our conversation. The real competition is not between startup FinTechs and big, established financial institutions. The real competition is between big tech companies and the incumbent financial services companies. Fascinating…