Difficult The Banks With A Single Card: Caecilia Chu

Challenging The Banks With A Single Card: Caecilia Chu

Caecilia Chu hurried into the Hive co-studio wanting barely flustered. She was half an hour late for our 9am interview, and was clearly breathless.

She had simply climbed up six flights of stairs as a result of the lifts have been quickly down. In between massive breaths, she profusely apologised for her lateness, full with a 30-degree bow.

The interview was initially scheduled at 10am, however she had requested to begin an hour earlier so she felt that her tardiness was inexcusable. After a relentless change of “I’m so sorry” and “it’s okay, don’t fear about it”, we lastly began the interview correct.

Caecilia is the co-founder and CEO of YouTrip, a homegrown fintech startup that’s devoted to simplifying abroad spending for vacationers.

Their star (and solely) product is a multi-currency cellular pockets with a pay as you go Mastercard, which permits customers to pay with no charges in over 150 currencies at wholesale change charges.

With this single card, it’s not an understatement to say that she has helped revolutionise the funds panorama in Southeast Asia. However how did she get to the place she is right this moment?

Asian Parenting: “Training Is Vital”

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Caecilia hailed from a “poor” household background — her father labored as a postman, and her mom was a kindergarten trainer.

Each her dad and mom didn’t earn a lot, so her household of 4 — together with her youthful brother — lived “month to month”.

“My dad and mom by no means had the chance to essentially research, in order that they taught me the worth of schooling (and) the worth of onerous work. Though I grew up from a fairly widespread background, they taught me that schooling is essential — it’s going to change your life.”

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

Caecilia spent 13 years in government-funded ladies’ colleges in Hong Kong. She studied onerous, earned good grades, and scored a prized scholarship to the US to additional her school schooling.

She utilized to the Wharton College of the College of Pennsylvania — a non-public Ivy League college with notable alumni corresponding to Donald Trump, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett.

With the acceptance letter in hand, she moved overseas alone to review finance. She spoke little or no English on the time and had issue adjusting to the American tradition, surroundings and language.

When she graduated in 2005, it was the “growth yr for Wall Road.” Like each different Wharton graduate, Caecilia went on to work within the finance business with stints in Merrill Lynch, McKinsey & Firm, and Citi.

She had joined finance “on the peak” however 4 years later in 2009, every part crumbled. It was the worldwide monetary disaster — she witnessed the fast decline of inventory costs and the worry of her firm going bankrupt turned very actual.

Very like the tens of hundreds of different Citi staff, she had no visibility as to what was taking place — “we have been all at midnight,” she recounted.

That very expertise “caught” together with her, and she or he figured that it was an opportune timing to take a two-year hiatus from the finance world.

The Silver Lining Behind The International Monetary Disaster

The 2009 monetary disaster nevertheless, may be seen as a silver lining — it helped Caecilia get enrolled to a different Ivy League: Harvard Enterprise College.

She was initially waitlisted however throughout that monetary disaster yr, there was an amazing variety of candidates. The college ultimately expanded the category, and she or he bought in.

In keeping with her, lots of the college students in her yr turned jaded with the thought of the standard company route and climbing the ladder.

If there’s something that they may take away from the monetary disaster, it’s “to take issues in your personal management,” she mentioned firmly.

It’s no shock then why a lot of her classmates, corresponding to Seize co-founders Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling, in addition to Gojek co-founder Nadiem Makarim, went on to begin their very own enterprise ventures after commencement.

At present, these “tremendous entrepreneurial” associates of hers have efficiently grown their firms into regional unicorns.

What they’ve finished has actually impressed me to search for alternatives in areas the place it’s shortly rising however on the identical time, it’s not as apparent as a chance in comparison with China or India, the place it’s already booming by way of (rising) firms and investments.

A few of my classmates have began this journey of their very own, and I knew how onerous it was. Again then, there was no enterprise surroundings for this a part of the world so seeing them succeed was enormously inspirational.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

Nonetheless, the first driver of why she kickstarted her personal startup was her father, whom she inherited the “risk-taking mentality” from.

“I’ve all the time needed to begin my very own startup. My dad had nothing. He didn’t go to any of the nice colleges or have been skilled at good firms, however he nonetheless dared to attempt. So I felt like if my dad who doesn’t have a lot financial savings to begin with can do it, why can’t I?”

The Actuality Of Operating A Enterprise: Even Making $1 Is Troublesome

Caecilia went on to rope in her buddy, fellow Hong Konger Arthur Mak, as a enterprise accomplice.

The 2 had met a decade in the past in Boston when he was nonetheless learning on the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how (MIT), which is only a river throughout from Harvard.

“He’s actually a rocket scientist (and) a hardcore engineer,” described Caecilia. With an aeronautics engineering background, he has labored for NASA and GE Aviation, and was most not too long ago the previous product lead at WeChat.

In 2012, they began an e-commerce enterprise collectively that targets kids between zero and 7 years previous. The enterprise turned out to be a flop, lasting solely two years.

When requested why the enterprise failed, Caecilia wistfully mentioned that the laundry listing of causes was just too lengthy and she or he couldn’t pinpoint the precise explanation for failure.

However, she sees that two years as a “humbling journey.” She admitted that her life had all the time been smooth-sailing, be it by way of educational or profession.

This velocity bump nevertheless, made her realise that she knew nothing about enterprise. The time spent at two of one of the best enterprise colleges on the earth and finest companies couldn’t even make up for it.

The core query is, how do I persuade clients to purchase something from me for $1? Why (ought to) that individual must spend their cash on my product?

Even making $1 is troublesome, so my greatest studying was that I wanted to essentially ask myself: What worth do I convey to clients who’ve hundreds of decisions on each single class of issues? What worth do I convey to them?

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

Apart from the dearth of enterprise expertise, she felt that her credibility as a startup founder was additionally non-existent.

When she labored in big-name companies, she had the corporate branding to assist her. She was seen as a reliable and good particular person, however she had none of that when she began from scratch.

Nobody cares, nobody listens — it was a very totally different story once I knocked on the door for anyone else. (Reality is), I’m the very same individual. I do know what I do know, and I can do what I can do.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

Discovering The “Lacking” Piece In Silicon Valley

The enterprise failure was clearly a bitter expertise and it made her really feel like she was “horrible” at it.

However the factor about Caecilia is, she’s a hustler. She sees herself as somebody “adventurous” and a risk-taker. At any time when she’s introduced with a chance, her reply is all the time a definitive ‘sure’ — even when she doesn’t know how you can do it, she’ll discover a approach to determine it out.

That’s precisely what her “soul-searching” journey to Silicon Valley was about. She needed to search out out if startup life was proper for her, and to search out what’s “lacking” in her character, expertise, or data that brought on her to fail.

youtrip caecilia chu

With no concrete plan in thoughts, she flew to Silicon Valley and ended up working in a Collection An organization which had solely 23 folks, together with herself. Because it was such a small firm, she had the possibility to work carefully with the founder and observe how he constructed the corporate from the bottom up.

In her position as enterprise gross sales, she additionally bought acquainted with all kinds of firms — from massive ones like Fb, Airbnb and Uber, to under-the-radar startups.

Having had a style of what Silicon Valley is like, she needed to additionally expertise Zhongguancun in China, which is dubbed the Silicon Valley of the East.

I needed to be in an area the place I’m early — not late, and even on the proper time. I felt that Asia was in a position to give me that chance, however not Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley … is tremendous aggressive. You probably have a good suggestion and launch it, in a short time, you’ll have 100 different firms additionally doing the identical factor. The secret is, I need to go (to a spot the place) the chance isn’t absolutely realised or tapped on.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

In China, she dabbled in fintech, taking over roles at Lufax, China’s main on-line wealth administration platform and QF Pay, a Sequoia China-backed world cellular funds firm.

Evaluating the ecosystem in Silicon Valley versus China, she mentioned the latter may be very totally different, primarily as a result of it’s dominated by BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent).

“Numerous the startups there develop into a accomplice in both of these three, or all three ecosystems. This tells me that the construction has develop into fairly mature already.”

“Whereas the training (there) was thrilling, I needed to search out a chance the place it’s not as well-set, the place the result remains to be (up within the air). In order that’s why I felt Southeast Asia is admittedly the place I must be.”

A Second Shot At Being An Entrepreneur

As such, she flew again to Hong Kong, regrouped with Arthur, and began up fintech firm You Applied sciences collectively in 2016.

And but once more, her father was the motivation behind this second enterprise.

When her dad was about 35, he needed to get a financial institution mortgage of about US$12,000 to begin his personal accounting enterprise. He went to all of the banks in Hong Kong, however was rejected by each single one among them.

Hong Kong has one of many highest financial institution to folks inhabitants, with over 140 banks and a 6 million inhabitants. So rising up, I’ve a worldview the place mass market customers are all the time underserved by banks, whether or not or not they’re banked.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

That’s what made her so certain about delving into the fintech house. Furthermore, after being within the startup house for nearly eight years, Caecilia mentioned it appears like “she had come full circle”, lastly rounding again to what she is aware of finest. 

Regardless, she’s extra cautious diving into her second enterprise and laid out some standards to comply with.

The primary one is to choose one thing that I’m early in. In e-commerce, I felt that I’m 15 or 20 years too late to construct an impactful enterprise in that house. There are (already) so many tremendously profitable e-commerce gamers around the globe, and it’s actually not the precise time to begin one thing so late.

The second factor is to not begin one thing straightforward that I can absolutely see by. The entry barrier is commonly instances too low, so it’s in all probability not definitely worth the time. When my e-commerce enterprise (gained) traction, my competitor began an identical e-commerce website in simply three weeks. (When) others can replicate your small business too quick, it’s completely not value doing.

I quite choose one thing troublesome to do. The entry barrier should be so (excessive) that I ought to have no less than six months of runway so (it’s more durable for) folks to repeat me.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

When requested to explain the early days of You Applied sciences, Caecilia exclaimed that enterprise was “sluggish”, with out lacking a beat.

Even when she elaborated on her reply, she repeated “sluggish” for an additional six instances. That’s the one phrase that involves her thoughts, she mentioned with amusing.

The easy clarification is, “there was no enterprise.”

The marginally extra elaborate reply is that they have been struggling to search out their footing and deciding on an concept that works.

Day by day feels the identical; nothing is going on. We have now no product available in the market, and we don’t have clients. Often, we (get out of an) insightful assembly, (feeling that we) learnt one thing. As a result of we’re not from funds, we really be taught every part from scratch.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

YouTrip Is Like A 24/7 Cash Changer In Your Pocket

That stagnant feeling lasted for a very good yr, till the launch of YouTrip in August 2018, which served as a monumental turning level for the corporate.

youtrip singapore

Caecilia gave the credit score to Arthur for arising with the unique product concept, which began the ball rolling for them.

One key studying Arthur shared together with her from his position at WeChat was that when arising with a product, they must first “discover a excessive frequency use case that may be very sticky and tremendous targeted.”

They began wanting into funds and determining what are some client ache factors that must be resolved.

Earlier than we began, we commissioned a advertising and marketing firm to search out us over 100 folks to interview. We’d name or meet them to debate their monetary considerations and relationship with banks. We have been attempting to know what’s within the client’s thoughts in essentially the most unfiltered approach.

By way of the lots of of interviews, we realised that the second when somebody crosses the border, they’re mechanically unbanked. You don’t know whether or not your ATM card would work, or in case you’ll have sufficient foreign exchange.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

Equally, when a person travels abroad, they typically guarantee that they plan their funds prematurely and alter adequate cash earlier than the journey. Whereas bank cards are a very good cashless various, customers are sometimes turned off by its unhealthy charges.

Furthermore, they don’t even understand how a lot they’re paying in foreign exchange after they swipe the cardboard; they solely know the costs after they obtain their financial institution statements on the finish of the month.

As frequent vacationers themselves, each Caecilia and Arthur deeply resonated with this ache level. Caecilia specifically, have been touring for work each single week for the previous decade or so.

In order that’s precisely why they got here up with YouTrip — a easy product that creates vital worth for the customers.

With this single card, it’s actually like “carrying a cash changer in your pocket,” mentioned Caecilia.

The joy when she talks about YouTrip was clear to see as she began ranting about its advantages: no registration or annual card charges, zero financial institution fees on abroad spend, 24/7 in-app cash changer and straightforward expenditure monitoring.

Her affection for the model comes as no shock as a result of YouTrip acquired nice response from the get-go. The app noticed 10,000 downloads inside per week of launch and by the tip of 2018, that quantity greater than tripled.

On the again of this very robust momentum, YouTrip steadily gained buyers’ confidence. Inside 9 months of launch, it secured a document funding of US$25.5 million — the most important pre-Collection A fintech funding spherical in Southeast Asia.

Caecilia may solely depend her fortunate stars as a result of it was an oversubscribed spherical — they’d really raised more cash than they initially meant.

How YouTrip Satisfied The Massive Boys To Work With Them

In keeping with Caecilia, one of many two key the explanation why they shortly gained traction is as a result of they’re an “early mover within the house”. YouTrip is in truth, Singapore’s first multi-currency journey pockets.

Secondly, placing a powerful enterprise partnership is vital — who you’re employed with could make or break the enterprise.

In our line of client fintech, I’ve all the time felt the core (want) to earn clients’ belief and construct on our credibility available in the market.

There’s no lack of attention-grabbing concepts or expertise, so all of the disconnect comes from the dearth of belief from customers. It’s onerous to persuade somebody to place their hard-earned cash into an e-wallet to attempt (us) out.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

That’s why it took them so lengthy to launch YouTrip — they needed to first achieve credibility with tie-ups with massive firms like EZ-Hyperlink and Mastercard.

youtrip caecilia chu

Until right this moment, Caecilia has no concept why they selected YouTrip as a accomplice, particularly after they have been nonetheless a fledgling startup with nothing to their title.

Recounting earlier enterprise conferences with EZ-Hyperlink CEO Nicholas Lee, Caecilia mentioned that he instantly purchased into their concept with out a lot persuasion.

He took an opportunity on us. He mentioned sure to co-launching with us when at the moment, we have been only a stack of PowerPoint (slides) and screenshots.

He instructed us that though the multi-currency pay as you go enterprise is new in Singapore, it really wasn’t that new worldwide. He had really heard about this concept for about two years. Corporations, massive and small, would pitch him on this concept however he selected to work with us.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

Likewise, after they launched in Thailand final yr, it boiled down but once more to the companions they work with.

In Thailand, Caecilia’s classmate from Harvard, Juthasree “June” Kuvinichkul — who can also be the founding accomplice of GrabTaxi Thailand and YouTrip Thailand — helped to safe the partnership with one of many largest native banks, Kasikornbank (KBank).

Southeast Asia is closely fragmented so branching into a brand new market there’s not straightforward. The regulatory regimes, compliance, native infrastructure — every part must be rewired. It’s not so simple as utilizing a passport to enter a brand new nation.

So I’m extremely grateful to my crew for working around the clock to make (our debut in Thailand) occur fairly shortly, simply inside a yr of our first launch.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

This wasn’t the primary time Caecilia expressed her gratitude in direction of her crew throughout the interview.

Whereas she mentioned that she’s blissful to be featured as Vulcan Publish’s ‘Entrepreneur of the Month’, those who deserve the highlight are literally her devoted colleagues who spent simply as a lot effort and time rising the corporate.

“The entrepreneur or founder (is all the time celebrated) because the ‘famous person’, however I feel the crew has finished much more than me. Collectively, they’ve contributed far more than what I personally may have finished,” she mentioned humbly.

Beating The Banks

Whereas there are a lot of present multi-currency account gamers available in the market proper now (even ride-hailing agency Seize has jumped on the bandwagon with the launch of GrabPay Card), Caecilia doesn’t appear deterred by the competitors.

The sting that YouTrip has among the many relaxation is that it does extra than simply journey — customers may use it to pay for on-line purchases or as an EZ-Hyperlink to pay for public transport rides.

“The journey outbound expenditure from Singapore is definitely a really deep market,” mentioned Caecilia, including that Singaporeans spend US$26 billion a yr abroad.

(Since) it’s a reasonably sizeable market, I’ve all the time anticipated that there shall be a number of gamers on this house. Once we first launched, we beat all of the banks (that) even have multi-currency merchandise. I feel due to our focus and 0 charge proposition, (we’re) profitable available in the market.

From a metrics perspective, regardless of the launch of some international firms, we now have really grown sooner and (their presence) hasn’t actually impacted us in any destructive approach. I feel being a homegrown startup has actually enabled us to be the primary model in our line of enterprise. The velocity by which we react to market modifications is the quickest as a result of that is our house; that is all we do.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

Though they’ve been “profitable”, Caecilia selected to not relaxation on her laurels. As a founder, she finds that she’s all the time residing on the sting.

Whereas her enterprise could look smooth-sailing from the surface, she mentioned that she will be able to’t assist however really feel like she’s doing a horrible job on a regular basis.

I all the time really feel I’m insufficient, like I’m not doing adequate. I’m in a (totally different sort of) battle on a regular basis, and it’s so onerous. However I assume that is the character of being a founder.

I’m all the time strategising or feeling like I must do higher, do extra. However I feel it’s additionally as a result of the corporate is rising at a really fast velocity.

– Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO of YouTrip

Wanting again at her failed startup, she had solely 20 folks at finest again then. Now, she has 120 folks throughout three workplaces and two reside markets with pretty sizeable companions.

She has positively come a great distance since then, treating her previous failure as a lesson to finally obtain success.

Sharing some parting ideas, Caecilia mentioned she has one key enterprise lesson for fellow entrepreneurs — “if anybody is supplied with this lesson, I feel this individual shall be profitable and go on endlessly.”

The golden recommendation is that this: By no means hand over — irrespective of how confused or exhausted you might be, and irrespective of how weighed down you are feeling from the a number of calls for coming from in all places.

“Everybody has their good or unhealthy days. It doesn’t matter what day it’s, I choose myself up, mud myself off, and get again onto the horse ASAP. That is what I continually remind myself.”

Entrepreneur Of The Month is a month-to-month Vulcan Publish sequence that identifies the ‘unsung heroes’ of the enterprise world, the place we zoom in on profitable entrepreneurs who stand out. From pioneers to disruptive startups, this sequence offers us an unique perception into their business trip and what it takes to be a game-changer.

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