“For any startup doing fintech, one needs to recognize that it is a highly regulated space. Scalability becomes an issue,” says Getty Goh, founder of CoAssets. “Without scale, VCs would not want to invest in the near term. You will need to stomach one to two years of bootstrapping before you reach a certain point.”
A poignant idea, and Getty knows this all too well. In 2013, he founded CoAssets, a crowdfunding firm which lists asset-backed projects, mainly in properties. The company recently listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), with an estimated market capitalization of US$48.60 million.
Getty should be proud. Despite the challenges that fintech startups face in getting investors, he succeeded in listing CoAssets, the first P2P crowdfunding platform to be listed in Asia, in just a span of three years.
So how did this man accomplish such a feat? I spoke with Getty in an exclusive interview with Tech in Asia.
Moving from a stable life to a startup
Choosing to build a startup was not Getty’s first choice for a career. In fact, he shares that at the age of 18, he was unsure of what he wanted to do. To further complicate things, he was going through a difficult breakup. Still reeling from the unsuccessful relationship, he wanted to do something more meaningful and find his purpose in life.
During his time in national service, he was awarded a Singapore Armed Forces local scholarship which led him to sign on with the military. “It was kind of weird logic. Others may say I was going through emotional trauma from the breakup, but to me it was a platform to give back to society and stabilize myself.”
But he realized later that his career was too predictable, and he wanted to do something different.
Growing pains of starting a new business
In 2008, he left the military and started Ascendant Assets, a company that provided research and tools for property investors.
When asked about the growing pains of starting a new business, Getty says there were plenty. According to him, the hardest challenge working in Singapore was finding qualified manpower and getting US$700,000 in funding.
“For talent, Singaporeans are generally very well-qualified, well-read, and have many career options. Startups, however, have very limited resources to attract talent, unless the founder is willing to part with equity.”
He also mentions that the cost of business is high in Singapore as compared to its neighbors. In order to grow, it is necessary for startups in the country to expand overseas.
Filling the funding gap with CoAssets
“But not everyone has a privileged background with funds or the necessary connections to get VCs to fund their startups,” Getty says as a matter-of-fact.
He finds that raising the key funding gap of US$700,000 is critical to help startups succeed. This began the idea of raising funds through crowdsourcing, and thus CoAssets was born.
Breaking away from fundraising norms
When CoAssets sought funding in 2013 to 2014, Getty found investors did not want to involve themselves with his new innovation. “VCs tend to make safer bets in getting their returns, and focus on another me-too, rather than the next big thing.”
He understood the feeling of frustration and rejection by VCs. But then he realized: “Here we are helping developers connect with our platform’s users to raise funds, so why aren’t we helping ourselves do the same?”
With the help of CoAssets, they raised close to US$8.61 million.
With the help of CoAssets, they raised close to US$8.61 million, mainly from their users. “Our users recognised the potential of CoAssets and wanted to be part of it. It was the turning point for us.”
Getty wanted to gun for listing and, despite some VCs advice against it, he proceeded to list CoAssets on ASX.
He stuck to his decision because he knew that CoAssets was one of the market leaders. Moreover, he found the timing was right because of the current interest and buzz on crowdfunding.
He has not regretted his decision since.
Building a great team of talent
In Asia, people generally do not work for younger bosses. But at CoAssets, such mindsets are dispelled. The management team is filled with established and senior executives, with Getty, a younger CEO, at the helm.
What was the secret to convince such talent to join CoAssets? Getty points proudly to the framed news articles that hang on the wall, showing all the different team members featured by the media.
Getty humbly replies, “I consider myself lucky to have them. To convince them [to get] on board, I had to communicate the vision clearly, operationalize and break it down. The team is very clear what is in it for them.”
He claims he accumulated this skill during his days at Ascendant, where it is necessary to speak often. For Getty, it is vital for entrepreneurs to communicate effectively.
Different styles when managing staff
I posed a question to Getty on his management style. He raises an eyebrow in amusement and asks, “Shouldn’t you be asking my staff about that? Then you will get the real picture.”
However, after some coaxing, Getty says he isn’t a micromanager, and he manages groups of people differently.
“Cs and staff should be treated differently. Give professional respect to the Cs that you hire. They are established people with good credentials. You do not [need] to tell them what to do, but let them tell you what to do to get synergistic ideas.”
Motivate them with the opportunity to learn.
On the other hand, for non-senior staff, Getty says it is important to constantly train them and have them learn from you to earn their respect.
“Here is a hard question: If today your staff strikes the lottery, will the staff be loyal and stay with you? Chances are low. Thus, it is of little point using salary to attract as there will be competitors who can outbid you in salary.
Instead, he says to motivate them with the opportunity to learn.
Observations on the fintech space
When asked about the fintech space, crowdfunding in particular, Getty has this to say: “Crowdfunding is going to get interesting. My sense is there will be consolidation, as various governments will start coming in with rules and regulations and licensing regimes, only companies sufficiently capitalized can continue on.”
This is why the strategy of CoAssets was to keep growing to ensure it stays in the game. Getty claims there are over 56,000 users in CoAssets, the largest by far for an Asian crowdfunding platform.
He points out that the crowdfunding market is huge and that the industry will only continue to get more challenging.
As for Fintech, he finds it a growing space, but also adds that this term is overused. “Everyone and everything are calling themselves fintech. Ideas are also not unique, and the key is in the execution.”
Lighter side of life
Getty did not have a specific inspiration, but he felt he learned from many.
“I used to read a lot, but now not as much due to time constraints.” Some books he’s read include: Steve Jobs’ autobiography, The Magic of Thinking Big, Profits is Not Everything, and Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity.” He was quick to add that Donald Trump was not in his list.
What does he do in his spare time? He laughs, “What spare time? I do try to run every morning.”
I ended with a what-if question: What if he could go back in time, will he have started CoAssets? His answer was honest: He would have rather done a startup where scalability is unregulated.
This article is the first of the “Dive Deep” Series, where the author talks to high achievers and gamechangers on their thoughts, lives and entrepreneurial journeys.
Converted from Singapore dollars. Rate: US$1 = S$1.39.