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#Hustlechat Episode 1 : Fintechs and The State of APAC

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Oct 13, 2021
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Fireside chat with Stuart Thornton, CEO and co-founder of Hoolah.

Naby: I’m very excited to invite my guest Stuart Thornton from Hoolah which is a buy now pay later company based out of Singapore “hi Stuart how are you going?”

Stuart: Hey good afternoon I’m very well and yourself Naby?

Naby: not too bad at all? How's work been since you’ve been unlocked? We've been in lockdown as well and have been working remotely … took a little bit of adjusting to but I think we've kind of gotten used to it for the better part of it are you coping with the changes?  

Stuart: Yeah, I think we're doing reasonably well I mean the irony is that we've probably got even better at working together.  It sort of forces everybody to communicate a little bit better.   use video for example… to share and talk to each other and you sort of force some discipline around that structure of communication so actually it's ironic that I think that we've probably done better from that perspective.  Business has been crazy. I think that's probably the only word that I can use.  It seems to be that the kind of business model that we've got is something that people quite like using at this time and so it's been really busy and it's very easy to get out of bed and work. Then suddenly, it's night-time again and   the importance is to try and find some discipline around having some time out.  That is probably the hardest thing but it's all good we only get to do this once so we might as well enjoy it and make the most of it anyway. 

Naby: Yeah absolutely. So we've got a few people to join in I’m going to encourage the audience to ask questions as we move through this fireside chat which is very virtual I’m kind of also getting used to having conversations with people so that we keep the community alive and get to have this sense of connection even though we're apart.  On the flip side you're all the way in Singapore and if I were to talk to you, we would have to do this anyway really. Stuart, now a little bit about who you are.  I know you have a very interesting story about how you ended up in Singapore and a little bit about Hoolah.

Stuart: I’m from England originally… I think my accent still shows that I grew up in south-east England   I think I always had a burning desire to leave and sort of explore the rest of the world and had the fortune of moving to Amsterdam in the Netherlands for a bit with work to Ireland and then I probably most fortuitously had the opportunity to do what a lot of Poms do and travel to Australia and settle in Sydney actually for about seven years in total where technically I also have a passport for Australia as well in my time there. So Singapore sees me now as an Australian rather than English but again it was work that took me to Singapore like a lot of people. I had an opportunity to move up here and, give or take a year or, so I’ve been here ever since. So it's about 12 years in total I guess opportunity... in the ecommerce sort of payment space in 2014 with a company called WorldPay who are reasonably sort of big I think now in Australia too and had the opportunity to understand a little bit more about potential opportunities and then sort of seeing the buy now pay later space grow in Europe and obviously in Australia I think a lot of the people that that you talk to and with your sort of customers and audience will most definitely know what this sort of concept looks like and really the opportunity for us was to take that idea into Asia starting studying in Singapore and so that's what we did in the beginning of 2018 at least   so officially to bring that's a solution here 

Naby: So born in London came to Australia ended up in Singapore and you're also an advisor and mentor to a whole range of start-up programs like tech stars and start-up boot camp. What led you to decide to move to Singapore and headquarter in Singapore as opposed to Australia.

Stuart: Yeah I mean I was already here really I think at that point so that the choice was sort of less one to move to the Singapore for this and so real really it was born here I was sort of already based here and the opportunity was more seeing wonderful models that again   Australia is quite prevalent at this day and age and really seeing the opportunity that merchants or at least retailers were looking to solve your problems they were looking to solve which were all been already being solved in markets like Europe and like Australia and now perhaps the US and so that was the biggest opportunity for us and perhaps relevant to the sort of start-up base   I was sort of somewhat fortunate to be introduced to that area and perhaps that was probably the best introduction because I sort of saw what it really looked like other than just the glamour perhaps that some people have a view of around setting up a business and being in sort of start-up glam is perhaps not quite the word I’d use now but yeah that's it was a good introduction 

Naby: Okay are you saying startup are glamorous 

Stuart: well I think I think a lot of people definitely have a view of that being the case  it's sort of quite cool and hot right now as the phrase goes but you get a lot of that sometimes from people when you interview them for example why do you want to join a start-up it's not because it's cool etc and the realization is that yeah its mean it's a different type of living and a different type of working to sort of big corporate but there are definitely some trade-offs and some sacrifices that perhaps people don't quite appreciate but it kind of depends what you like .

Naby: what are some of those sacrifices? You know there is this concept that people have in their mind that startup are like this   the new world celebrity status and at the end of the day you're still trying to build a business and about those trade-offs what are some of those trade-offs that you've had to make to build Hoolah?

Stuart: Well yeah money's probably the big one yeah. There's definitely not a lot of sort of income that comes with that and I mean me personally you move to Singapore, you work for a big company it comes with some interesting trappings of that sort of lifestyle.  You have nice apartment buildings here that come with swimming pools and in a certain degree of help at home if you come with a family as well and it's quite hard to give a lot of that up in relative terms and especially when it comes to sort of managing family and being used to having a certain type of lifestyle and all of a suddenly literally cutting it off at the at the legs and having to live a very different sort of way I mean I you your living locations definitely change   your where you eat definitely changes I mean fortunately here we have certain sort of food markets that you can go to where you can get it's a fairly cheap food for under five dollars and I definitely lived that for a good 12 months and still do to a degree but it's a big change but again it's I think it depends on what you like.  Working for big companies can be great as well if that's what you like.  If you if you're perhaps a little bit more creative and independent and looking for sort of that next big thing definitely start-ups is something that's quite exciting as well to make those decisions and move quickly perhaps you can't do it necessarily in bigger organizations

Naby: Yep very much so I worked in academia for many years before jumping into the start-up world but if somebody had told me if it was going to be like this I don't think anybody would start knowing the grind and the hard work and the sacrifices that you have to make but once you're in it's also very hard to give up as well it's still really weird paradox and I think founders have   either in their DNA or their purpose that really drives them - is what keeps people going on and on and on  and getting back up after massive failures or massive setbacks so I can totally relate to that I want to quickly jump into buy now pay later as a concept in the last couple years it has exploded in here and has become this really trendy thing maybe you can give us some insight around why buy now pay later like Aferpay and Zip and all of these companies have exploded and have changed the way consumers interact with e-commerce platforms and credit cards have been around for a very long time. So why this concept?  Why now? What are some of the catalysts for it?

Stuart:  It's a super question I think there's not really one clear answer a lot of it depends on   perhaps where this opportunity is being explored. I mean you look at Europe for example that   perhaps credit cards weren't necessarily an option and they weren't necessarily very popular in certain markets.  You look at Australia, I remember the layby in a model it's effectively a lot of by now pay later is the same if not reversed and perhaps a little bit more digital - so I think the grounds for the growth that differs based on the user opportunity in those respective markets and countries.  There are probably a few a few trends though perhaps that do transcend all those different markets and I think it's perhaps a little bit more demographic drive.  You're seeing the Gen Zs/millennials perhaps having a little bit more money in their pocket, in general, they're growing up with this sort of concept of “I see this now. I want this now. I buy this I want to buy this now” and perhaps they don't have that money necessarily that free cash to buy it and that's where the user opportunity is sort of sitting.  

Social media I think is having a massive play in this you know to really show everybody, anywhere, any brand, any products what is this is something that's accessible to those people and perhaps amplified by sort of socially largesse sort of individuals which help to sort of promote these particular products to people wanting to perhaps the boundaries of the world starting to fall down in terms of travel, access to new technology and I think all of these things including in Asia, most definitely mobile, growing significantly here I think in Asia it's something like 75 percent of people are already engaging mobile payments which is massive and really the opportunity here is again sort of seeing the cashless society moving to sorry cash society moving to cashless the internet effectively jumping generations of perhaps what we sort of saw in in Europe historically and traditionally and really this whole pop culture I think this sort of movement that' that's really growing and millennials are jumping on that and obviously the next generation of Gen Z.

Probably just diving one layer deeper which I think is interesting that we sort of see in Asia related to this specifically is actually a move of consumers and especially that consumer group moving away from debt and credit perhaps previous generations their parents have actually engaged or perhaps negatively been impacted by and actually then taking up more debit based or digital sort of products that are perhaps a little bit more accessible easy to use I don't have that desire to get into debt so therefore I’ll only use a debit card and all of a sudden,you know, buy now pay later comes along and it creates a credit like experience with perhaps the shackles not necessarily being in place but giving them access to go and again and if I if I loop that back round to see now, want now, buy now - pay later so that that's I think where a lot of the drivers are sort of sitting 

Naby: Yeah with credit cards and a lot of the young people do not want credit cards and this term credit has this real negative connotation attached to it so effectively, like from a functionality perspective, by now pay later is sort of like short-term lending facility, right, and the users don't necessarily think of it as the credit card, like the application process - having to wait to receive a credit card, then to go and use.  What are some of the mindset changes that you've noticed from your user base? Do they know that it is like a credit card or is it like a credit card? What is the customer's financial literacy levels in using the service? 

Stuart: yeah that's another super question I mean in Singapore it's a very financially literate market  I think there's a lot of education here  it's quite a wealthy market as well.  So, again, I think it's really that sort of final item that I sort of share around the type of the consumer mentality and attitude toward the sort of concept of using credit to go and buy.  So I think that   and although I must say that changes, I think in other markets, but I think, again it comes down to I still want those items that I want to buy.  We live and die by our own sort of marketing positioning which we call responsible affordability and responsible affordability for us is - it is being careful with that consumer. It's not personal financial advice, but it's really sort of making sure it's not about spending wildly it's about getting the things you perhaps want or you need but still keeping a control of that sort of spending and I think that that's where we've tried to embed that kind of mentality into our business to try and sort of make sure that consumers are getting that fine balance between owning buying shopping perhaps more of a lifestyle approach to really moving away perhaps from that concept of paying and credit for example.

Naby: well that leads me - I’ve had this thought so when you use a credit card it builds your credit profile so you want to get a mortgage and that can be you so customers that are using a platform like Hoolah do they build a credit profile off the back of that or is that not in place?

Stuart:  yeah one of the things that we do with our technology and perhaps sort of one of the benefits of this as well is very much around having something that's independent to assess someone's ability to pay. A lot of these sorts of systems one of the first things they do is loop into the credit bureau for example one of the challenges in Asia is that that's not necessarily prevalent in every market and so that would create a problem for us as we start to sort of grow across multiple markets.  But on the flip side, actually it's a beneficial outcome because if you're 18 to say 25, maybe 29 sort of early 30s you might not have a credit footprint anyway.  You might not have had to access a loan for a mortgage or a credit card or whatever that may be and so you don't necessarily get access to some of those sort of financial vehicles that you should be able to get to because perhaps you're earning good salary just you don't have that sort of footprint behind you and I think that that's where technology can come at a assessing someone's footprints from a different angle and that's really one of our benefits I think from a consumer perspective and how what we've built with what we've built out 

Naby: so what is the competitor landscape like in Asia Pacific, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand all these countries and what made you set up the company in Singapore as opposed to Australia? 

Stuart: absolutely good question Australia was obviously an inspiration I mean there's some fantastic companies down thereI know very well. I think it's been amazing to sort of see the growth of those companies - they really have created built some amazing products and sort of innovation I think is something that they're a lot of the companies are also working on to differentiate. It's definitely a fantastic inspiration for us as a company to go and sort of see that happening. But I think off the back of that Australia is also a very it is a market that it is very sort of busy for us to sort of come into that it's probably sort of common sensible choice and so it's not a approach for us. So and really the opportunity and, perhaps back to the core of your question, is that there really isn't that much competition at least across the Asia region if you look sort of broadly  there are a couple of companies that have also done some fantastic things in certain countries there are a few different models and ways of bringing by now per later and I   I’m seeing by now pay later as a phrase being used for everything and it's quite funny as it starts to sort of perhaps muddy what it truly is but that's fair if people are understanding and listening because it can only be good for us to sort of popularize what we do. So for us so really the opportunity when we set this up and started even thinking about it four odd years ago, as we sort of saw companies like Klarna and Aftepay and sort of Zip, for example really creating great value it was to sort of see almost a white sheet of paper in front of us to go and start drawing something on it because it really was a somewhat nascent market and really that's where a lot of our thinking was to go and do that.  And Singapore well I mean, it's probably a personal angle and a work angle, Singapore - if you've spent some time here and, it's a super country, it really is so well set up. It’s very easy. It’s tiny.  Easy to get around.  Everything works.  You don't really have to think too much. Generally, you just wear shorts and t-shirts most days because…

Naby: You can do that is Sydney as well can’t you?

Stuart: Yeah you can kind of.  I do remember winter just being slightly sort of cooler and at least having maybe a pair of jeans and a shirt but it’s very sort of simple I think from that perspective too to go around.  Technology is very strong here. There are some great talents. A fantastic education system.   The regulatory landscape is very very strong.  As I said personally, it's a very easy place to exist. There's a lot of capital here.  A lot of venture capital companies that sort of based here.  It's often seen as the sort of a gateway to the rest of Asia as well so if you're looking at scaling a business across the region it's a great place to be from that perspective.  And related to this business it's also quite a safe spot to really sort of start to innovate and explore and test and tease and if you can build it here I think you can probably build it in most countries across Asia.  

Naby: You mentioned regulatory requirements - I want to dive a little bit deeper into that and to build a fintech company, regardless of what solution that you're providing, there are some strict and heavy regulatory requirements that companies need to meet.  Could you shed some light on some of the similarities differences between ASIC and APRA and then in Singapore regulatory frameworks and which one's more conducive for start-ups to establish themselves and is there opportunity for start-ups that are in Australia wanting to maybe move- maybe scale into Asia?   What are some of the things that are really valuable to know for our audience  regarding that aspect?

Stuart:  yeah sure. I’ll be honest with you I’m not a massive expert on the regulatory landscape in Australia other than sort of what I sort of see in and read so I’m sure there's bigger, better experts than myself in that situation so maybe if I look at Singapore and Malaysia where we launched last year.  I think that the one thing that probably transcends regulatory landscape in any market is that if you're a start-up typically, you're probably challenging some sort of regulatory requirement somewhere.  There's typically some sort of grey area because you're breaking perhaps the norm: you're innovating against perhaps an existing model and typically, regulation has a lag, a lag period to try and catch up to innovation. So the biggest challenge I think in any sort of start-up business is to find that balance between not doing something that's completely illegal and then hoping or making good preparation for your business sort of set up and hope that perhaps it doesn't sort of get... the opportunity gets sort of blown out of the water so to speak.  I think what's important in that is to make sure that one that you've got a very good sort of legal partner I think that is very much deeply connected to the sort of fintech space perhaps the sort of regulatory bodies. In Malaysia there are a lot of institutions and associations that can help get your feet on the ground to start growing MDEC is a very good association that provides a lot of support to start-ups.  Back to Singapore, the MAS (the Monetary Authority of Singapore). Singapore as a country I think is very forward-thinking.  it's very supportive of new innovation to drive inherent value and wealth in the country especially it being a city state.  I think the sort of financial regulatory body, here you can look at the types of the people that work there and their approach and their attitude, the bridge work that they do to other markets. It just goes to show, I think, of their intent to sort of support rather than to stifle.  But it still remains it's very important to make sure that you're looking after the consumer I think in anything that you do and we've taken that approach in every market that we go to make sure that we've engaged as much as possible as early as possible with the authorities and those regulatory bodies and the legal profession here.  

Naby: Yeah, I mean regulation is sometimes seen as the enemy of scale and there are certain start-up verticals where there aren't that much regulatory constraints but definitely for fintech, that's something that companies need to think about and from a cost perspective account for those compliance costs that are associated.  So in terms of building a company like Hoolah, taking it from idea to a product launch or getting product into market to meet regulatory requirements - build your product - build a customer base - do your initial integrations with your customers from a product roadmap perspective, 1) how much funds are required to launch the product and what do you build first? 

Stuart:  listen when I well I think we've only got 30 minutes to chat so it could be another two hours to talk through the story of what we did.  I mean our specific journey was reasonably long when we were starting to think through what it was going to look like because there are so many challenges to overcome, as you sort of pointed out, but again it comes down to the sort of the spirit of start-up in the first-place. If you've got the passion and the desire to do it you're going to find a way, right? It's the, I mean you're wearing it on your t-shirt right now and I think you must have bucket loads of that too to go and sort of make something happen.  When I look at you know sort of all the different elements we had to just break it down I think into the critical elements that we needed to sort of cover off to get to what we defined as that as that's a starting point.  What did we need to ultimately prove to either a merchant, a customer or an investor that what we needed to what we were building and the outcome of what that looked like.  I mean to be honest, our MVP was sort of somewhat simplistic, but it was beautifully put together by one of our co-founders, Daniel, and it was a fantastic sort of celebration I think when we saw our first transaction come through the system.  We were very nascent I think until we raised our seed funding as well.  Back into 2018, so if I work backwards from there what we had was a great team; an MVP that worked; a merchant that sort of saw the value that would pay for it more importantly and customers that used it.  So if I look back at the MVP across the whole business, maybe MVB the minimum viable business, I think that that's the sort of the critical elements that we brought together.  In terms of cost, I mean I couldn't put a number against that to be honest. It was whatever it took 

Naby:yeah so how do you then go from launching your product in in Singapore building partnerships and then starting to scale? As a CEO you have to make some very critical decisions that might be challenging at times.  So how do you manage profitability versus growth and how do you make that juggle?

Stuart: I think there's probably something to be said for a start-up mentality around that as well.  To me and maybe I’m wrong there is a difference between profitable and a profitable business model with a plan and I think we've probably sort of seen you know three different versions.  So companies that just create lots of customers and try to then sort of monetize that afterwards and and there's no opinion whether that's right or wrong but it's an approach. You perhaps have a profitable business model at least with a plan to make a company profitable over time and then you've got sort of just profitable first and perhaps growth last.  For me I think it's probably at least in terms of how we've looked at our business is to create something sustainable first at least in terms of a business model and then really sort of grow sustainably off the back of that as well.  I think that that was important because again, especially at this the sort of the current times that we find ourselves in, those companies that don't have a business model which can make money are probably sort of thought of less than those companies that have a business model that can ultimately make money in the future and and sort of show that growth at the same time and really sort of get to that point of break even and profitability a little bit sort of sooner off the back of the support of of those sort of the VC type investor.

Naby: yeah and with growth comes a lot of risks as well right because you're dealing with multiple partners.  How do you mitigate that risk as you scale and when opportunities come knocking on your door? There are capital requirements and then there are the regulatory requirements so it's, as you mentioned before, there are a lot of trade-offs that you must make. How do you manage that? How do you manage the risk? Because it's heavily enforced by the regulators to meet those compliance requirements. At what level do you say okay we're going to ignore xyz part of the business for now, and then build something because you have to make that trade-off and what frameworks do you use to make those decisions? 

Stuart: that's a good question. I mean we're not so extremely different from any company. In the sense that we have, every year and every quarter, we have a plan and we focus on the elements that we think is going to contribute the greatest value to our business for us as obviously as founders of the business but also for the investors and shareholders that we have inherent within as well.  So that plan is sort of something that we put together we we make those hard choices because there are things perhaps where other people have bias or sort of perhaps personal interest to go and follow but ultimately, it's those tough conversations to say no this is this is the best outcome for us in the next so 12 24 months.  This is where we're going to head. Then the risk element within that is to me it's like... I don't know… maybe it's like I don't  know, what's the word? The difference between taking a risk and gambling. Gambling is something perhaps you don't necessarily have a knowledge of an outcome because it is literally sort of black or red perhaps when you're in the casino.  Whereas I think taking risk in a business if you've done your homework and you've done the groundwork and you've invested in understanding what that risk looks like and you can take that risk because of the sort of return and the risk is not too great depending on what your approach is and perhaps what you need what you could lose and then that's typically, kind of how we go about doing things.  There's a lot of homework, a lot of education, a lot of sort of thinking.  None of us are, not none ... one person of described start-ups sometimes as being 25-year-olds in hoodies and unfortunately, none of us are that age anymore.  I think I’ve got a hoodie but don't wear it very often so it's I think that there's something to be said for the kind of people that are building a business too.

Naby:  yeah well risk is there's always risk around everything that we do right and understanding and making those decisions sometimes can be challenging. In terms of your competitors in the market, what does the competitive landscape in Singapore look like for your business?  How do you remain competitive or what is the leverage that you have?

Stuart: yeah listen I think we were very much the sort of starter of this sort of concept in Singapore. It's the concept of instalments has been around a little bit with from point of sale financing for example, but the concept of buy now, pay later is something that we introduced into that market.  I think what that gives us is a lot of learning, a lot of experience. We've built up a fantastic portfolio of merchants.  With merchants comes some fantastic data points proof point to show that what we do and the product that we've built.  It is something that's sort of better than any other sort of player that may exist and I think that that's sort of somewhat proven in terms of those outcomes that we can deliver. It's a very sort of solid sort of positioning.  In the other day, when you're selling it's important I think always to position based on the value of the business too,.  You listen to these customers. What are they looking to do? And they're looking for more customers.  They're looking to get them to buy. They're looking for them to spend more. Looking than to come back time and time again. So everything that we've built in our solution is very much based around sort of four different elements and rather than just being just being a payment company we're a lot more than that in terms of how we engage our merchant and how we integrate ourselves into them and you mentioned the word partnership and I think that that's probably maybe it's the semantics of English but that's very much how we look about building that relationship. You know there is this is not a here's a buy now pay later and I’ll see you later.  It's very much you know this is a solution that we embed into your whole customer journey. This is a channel for you to exploit and explore and we're here to work with you to go and maximize and optimize your existing investment into conversion and ultimately to help you drive even more. That's why we're here.  

Naby: Have you noticed because it's e-commerce and the products that are used on e-commerce platforms the brands could range from multi-billion-dollar companies to very boutique individuals who've got an e-commerce store would you be able to shed some light around the breakdown of various segments in your merchant relationships?

Stuart:  yeah, I mean we've taken a slightly different approach


there I think as well to some of the historical businesses that have been in this space.  I mean we've been very broad, very multi-vertical approach.  Consumers for example in Singapore the top elements that they look for it’s travel.  It's looking for electronics, fashion is still part of that but it's not the only vertical that's important. When you look at the success that we've had with, and after 400 plus merchants that we have now you can literally, it's almost like walking into a department store and the different verticals that we cover from home decor to accessories to men's/ladies’ fashion to lifestyle to health/beauty.  You name it  - we literally cover it and I think what's really interesting is seeing the demand from other companies actually now looking at this as a solution.  We've had interest from from internet dating for example, to insurance 

Naby:What is the biggest internet dating platform in Singapore?

Stuart: I’m not sure. I understand from my friends that it's the one where you swipe right, or left is still quite comfortable 

Naby: Between Advantage, Bumble, RSVP, Okay Cupid. I don't know there's like a whole bunch of companies, 

Stuart: it's very big for that. Listen there's a couple of companies here and I’m not really in it, you know so, but it is still very much a popular space and at the end of the day from a merchant perspective it's making that sort of service or product appear a little bit more accessible to your consumer and if that's what makes the difference for them then why not?  At the end of the day, it’s the consumer that's going to make the choice as to whether it's relevant to them, so and that's very much I think the interesting thing that we build here.  This is not just a merchant service or a consumer service.  It's absolutely that network that you're creating and it's very much inherent within our mission which is to bring merchants and consumers closer together.

Naby yeah and relationship building is hard work and in sales cycles can be very long as well so essentially from what I understand your business is kind of like a b2b2c business and your relationship generally, exists with the merchants how long does it take to build a relationship having the first conversation to implementing the tech and what are some of the steps along that cycle?

Stuart: yeah, I mean it's interesting maybe there are sort of two different answers to this. There's the start-up answer in that no one knows who you are. You're literally the chicken or egg sort of conversation. I remember right back at the the start sort of fumbling around trying to sort of create an image of a business to try and create that trust, inherently within this company where we didn't really have much at all and again,that a loop back to your t-shirts because that's what you're having to do an awful lot of.  I think that that's an appropriate term for everything that we've done and still continue to do and must but in the end of the day, as you start to you get that experience, you get those proof points, you're able to deliver that back, you know the relationships, it comes from perhaps networks that we already have here through partners. You use the word partner perhaps that's the other side of partner where companies perhaps have also seen value of providing this service or at least offering that to companies which perhaps we share an interest in working with, and an outcome, perhaps as well more to the point. It really is about making sure that you've got those foundations in place and when you look at the sales process.  A lot of my career has been in the commercial role so, there's a little bit of bias perhaps or sort of experience with that, but for me and what we've put together is very much having a very clear methodology and structure and discipline and science almost around a process.  Getting to know the merchant; understanding what they're looking what for how we can ultimately sort of solve those requirements that we're looking to deliver.  Again as I said those proof points that are important to go and deliver the fact that you've done this before we've got you.  We can do this for you.  It's sort of very simple that there is something to be said for different types of companies. I’ve worked with big companies and small companies in my career the bigger companies there's typically, a lot of people that need to to be talked to and shared and understood and in smaller companies perhaps you're dealing with the owner of the business.  It's a slightly different engagement because you have a more authentic, direct, quicker conversation where you can make decisions perhaps a little bit quicker for their own store.  But again, if the demand is there and you hit the right spot, the sort of speed is almost a determinant of how keen they are to to move and our quickest sale I think was in minutes from from conversation to contract and almost I think another 30 minutes to go live. It really can be I think technology allows us to move that quickly.  There are some companies we're still talking to after two years just because it's trying to get this as a priority on their tech stack.  But it's all part of the fun 

Naby: yeah indeed. I love talking about partnerships because I think any businesses built on the basis of trust and relationships - because human beings interact with human beings - so you have your merchant side and then you have the technology platforms that you must work with to integrate - to build some way of connecting to your merchants so, what kind of e-commerce platforms do you work with? Are there are these big shopify kind of platforms? Are there Asia specific platforms?  How could you talk a little bit more about your technology partnerships and the relationships there 

Stuart: yeah, I mean you hit the nail on the head really.  They're all really important.  For us to go and deliver a service to a merchant that uses one of these carts or technology platforms we have to be, or at least it makes a lot of sense to be, pre-integrated to that.  And where perhaps we're not, here's other companies perhaps where we can integrate to them to be a distribution channel for us to access those merchants and we're starting to sort of build that that channel out now as wel.  I’ll give you perhaps a great sort of case study and proof point for us you know we invested quite heavily at the beginning into shopify you use that that brand although obviously, we work with sort of others as well but shopify have been hugely supportive it was it was not an easy conversation at the beginning because again we're a start-up with very little but somewhat fortuitously, their team trusted us to build something amazing perhaps based on the experience and expertise that we have prior to setting up the business and some of the connections and we put a lot of effort into building up that partnership supporting them supporting their brand delivering value to their customers and actually around I think that sort of two weeks ago we   were actually they announced that we were upgraded to being a full payment partner for them   and there's very few companies that that have the honour I think of being into getting into that sort of position which ultimately means if you're a merchant Hoolah is very much there present to just effectively sort of add to their site instantly and the commentary around that was very much around listen you guys have done so much for our merchants and our customers,you've delivered the value that you said you were going to deliver you know i.e. sort of increasing sales increasing basket in a delivering in a sort of brand value and their brand message to to the to the broader community but also, I think the effort that we'd put into that partnership around creating shopify events getting other speakers to come along create environment we've had some amazing events last year it's a shame with Covid19 that we were itching to get out and do some more of these but we've had 150 merchants turn up and great brands like Facebook and google come along to some of these sessions and of course people want to hear from some fantastic brands like that when they're trying to build their businesses and for us it's not about Hoolah is the brand necessarily it's about our merchants’ brand that we're trying to promote. It is their message that's important to their consumers we just stand there for buy now pay later and we effectively represent one trust of course, because we're dealing with people's money and and effectively it's lifestyle because that's what we're there to improve for the consumers yeah that is that sounds like a lot of fun I I hope you're having some fun along the way yeah absolutely it was funny when the investor said to us the other day he said what Stuart one thing that you just must remember is that you just must have fun so that's a very good reminder thank you. I mean what is the point otherwise right, like you hustle so hard, you live on the poverty line people are telling you that it's not going to work out you have all of these obstacles and you're climbing an uphill battle and from the outside it might look very glamorous but I’m sure you've had many sleepless nights and thinking about all the usual things that founders think about mainly around cash flow and when are we going to get the next a sale and all these things that that bothers you how do you keep focused how do you convince yourself to continue what are some of the how do you overcome the mental blocks that you face yeah, I haven't worked that one out yet so maybe you can tell me no, I’m joking it's the one thing that I ask people when they come for an interview for the business I asked them what is their true motivation because a lot of people will say oh listen I want to make money or I want to build amazing things and and everybody can say that but everybody has that one little thing that really sort of drives them that gets them out of bed that that when they've been knocked back that gets them back on the right path and I think what's important is for me to ask myself that question and obviously from the existing team and to remind them that it's those sorts of drivers that ultimately you remind yourself every day but overarching you kind of touched on it already you put so much sacrifice and hustle into something there is so much so much sunk effort and cost of life that you put into trying to grow something from nothing those moments when you look up at your wall in your office and you've got this cardboard cut out of your brand name sitting there and it and you think my goodness that didn't even exist 12 months ago and there it is just standing there and now we've been in the newspapers you know we've raised money we've we've got customers writing in every day to talking to us we've got merchants that write in going I want to have Hoolah on our website how can we get it I mean it's it it's that kind of stuff that you remind yourself every day that this is amazing you even remember how the brand name came around and the and the time you spent trying to come up with some name out of nowhere and all of a sudden people people use it big brands are we were in one brand the other day and they were oh, we love Hoolah it's fantastic best thing we ever did in 19 best decision we made to add it to our to our business it's created so much great outcome you know we want to add Hoolah into this and Hoolah into that and then the sort of the hairs on the back of your neck are sort of standing up and tingling because you're so excited by the fact that again, there's this this name that you made up sort of two years ago and and there it is people using it in in your everyday sentence so the sum is these little sorts of moments these little wins you continue to sort of celebrate you know along the way and again you remember why you did it and the sort of value of what you're trying to achieve and perhaps what you want as an outcome and there's always some personal drivers around that whether it be their family my little daughter is one of those drivers for me as well and I want to call that out for sure

Naby: yeah amazing I relate to all those things that you you just said we have a question from one of the members in the audience Tim Chan Tim saying do you think consumers will use buy now pay later more during an economic downturn

Stuart: it's an interesting question so I mean I can only answer that with factual proof as opposed to a thought just to sort of share I mean our business is growing month on month about 50 percent from March we just finalized our figures for for April and that's in terms of transactions and in terms of revenue and when you're looking at those kind of month on month sort of gross stats I’ve got to probably draw some parallels to the fact that we are in a different situation that perhaps it's driven a little bit and we can't determine this now by virtue that people are in lockdown and that that people are you know perhaps getting a little bit bored we've had some people write in saying I’m just brought to tears I’m just sort of just shopping from that perspective and you start to look at the distribution of transactions if when they come in during the day yeah but also, I think you start to sort of see perhaps the shift in terms of what people are buying as well you it it's you’re starting to see things like home decor for example, and I’ve had to do the same I’m I’m sitting at a desk that only arrived on Monday of this week and so, I think we're seeing a lot of that a lot of what can you do at home stuff fitness at home stuff a lot of health and beauty people not just wanting to be healthy but perhaps they're sort of sitting on these video calls a little bit more and they must sort of make sure that maybe if the filters aren't working right to make sure that they're looking good as well unfortunately, it doesn't ever work for me anyway regardless but  it it it's those sorts of verticals I think that we're starting to sort of see people using but just for a different reason and in the day merchants are in an interesting situation where they they're perhaps some of the shops are closed right so okay how do I buffer my lost sales from an in-store perspective to and so online becomes more prevalent and an importance of digital focus for them and they've had to sort of shift quickly if they haven't already been doing it so how can I get to drive more sales within that existing sort of online space how can I get customers to come to us and we solve that problem for merchants and on the flip side it's an interesting time you know there perhaps there is a little bit of what's going to be that what's the future going to look like what's the new normal going to be looking like and so if they are still sort of spending or need to spend or want to spend you know perhaps if that price is it sort of split a little bit  it just makes it look a little bit more accessible for consumers to to make that decision so yes it's the answer I think

I’ve also been online quite a lot looking at various things that I could buy and it's all around work desks and and how I could make my workspace a lot better at home and it must be so interesting for you to see the consumer trends how that changes and and link it to some macro-economic factors that happens and see what some are of the trends what do you see the trends of e-commerce for the next couple of years yeah when I it's interesting I was on an economist panel last week which was it's also very exciting and it was interesting they've done some research amongst their the sort of companies and that it was it was sort of a you know a kind of like a bar chart showing all these different industries and and the sort of the impact on revenue on the impact on profit and then e-commerce was in completely the opposite direction because it’s been quite successful currently it's but the trend I think from that perspective so I think that's definitely sort of sped up the development of that as a channel to market it's not necessarily I think going to be the only place that people shop having spent a lot of time looking at consumer behaviour consumers still like to sort of feel in touch sometimes  logistics is a little bit harder in Asia because of its sort of fragmented fragmented infrastructure but so I think that people but I do think that people are getting used to using that I was on a call with a friend of mine yesterday and he said even my even my parents know how to use zoom now so, when you start to when you start to put that's of technology in the hands because they must you start to see I think you drive that adoption from that, so I do think that we're going to see a lot more that new normal is going to be more digital or perhaps it will be it will enhance that omni-channel experience from a from a solution perspective and actually one of the things that we're building is and about to deliver is our in-store capability as well so you'll create that true omni channel rotary whatever sort of   terminology you want to use sort of experience where a consumer can buy online or or in the store but still experience that same lifestyle that same experience of not necessarily having to sort of pay everything upfront yeah consumer trends and consumer behaviour is a topic we could talk for days on end and we could do a whole new episode around that

Naby: I think we're coming up to time before we wrap up and thanks for everyone that join in on Facebook and asking the questions on on a Friday afternoon while we're all at home what is your vision for next year what is this one big goal that you would want to achieve for next year  

Stuart: Covid 19 to be perhaps out of the way so we can go back to the office better yeah well, I it's ironic I’m a reasonably sort of outgoing individual and I’ve worked from a home office before and when I was in Australia I did it for about four years working for for a business I was effectively the office for for several years in the Australia Australia market and I I’m reasonably okay with working   from a from a home office but trying to run a business you know from home with a group of people sort of spread out that's a that's a slightly different that's a slightly different sort of matter so, it is good to create that little bit of togetherness in person as you said at the beginning   h an h ans like a little bit sort of proximity in touch at least do and so I think that that's important so I think even just for the just for the the benefit I think of our team and our people that that's the important thing for us is to get back to that  sort of normal operating procedure but perhaps take advantage of sort of some of the things that we've seen and outside of that to for Hoolah to to continue to grow to add value to our merchant’s   add value to our  consumers I mean I see there's a question here some from Facebook and around pricing models for example for us, consumers it's about seamless experience it's interest-free we don't charge the consumer at all it's really the investment for a merchant to engage that consumer and so hopefully if that's our mission is to bring merchants and consumers closer together that's ultimately what we want to what we wanted to deliver you know commercially for the consumer it costs nothing  it's the cost and the experience are as seamless as we can possibly get it   while sort of balancing risk and understanding of the that consumer and again, it's the it's the merchants effectively investment to go and achieve that extra sale that perhaps they couldn't do themselves or it would cost significantly more by doing so and so really that's how that's where our sort of commercial economics operate

Naby: thanks, so much thanks for joining thanks for the audience that joined in as well and   I will see the rest of you at another event.

Naby Mariyam

Naby Mariyam

Founder & CEO

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