Before Loanstreet, Jared was a Business Consultant with eBworx Bhd whose clients are banks in the ASEAN region. He liaised with banks and application engineers to develop enterprise level IT solutions for banks. Prior to eBworx, Jared was attached to iMAXX Merchandising Sdn Bhd (IMSB). He progressed from Management Trainee to Business Development Executive and to his final role as Merchandising Manager. IMSB provided him the opportunity to develop varied skill sets essential for entrepreneurial purposes. He canvassed new clients and designed outsourced Merchandising solutions. He was responsible in establishing operations of 3 new teams for various clients and secured contracts in excess of R.M. 2 million per annum. As Merchandising Manager, Jared oversaw the day-to-day operations, heading 2 departments comprising 80 subordinates.
Jared has been involved in realizing multiple projects with IT as the primary enabler. With IMSB, he initiated a project to utilize GSM networks to enable remote collection of data which were then mined for insights. With eBworx, Jared’s project experience include delivering a Loan Origination System for CIMB MY, revamping the Retail Internet Banking system for OCBC SG, and being a lead consultant for a new Cash Management system for OCBC SG.
Jared Lim graduated with First Class Honors in computing in 2005 from Staffordshire University, winning the Outstanding Student Award in a field of 200 candidates. His Final Year Project was nominated for participation in a national level competition known as the MSC APICTA Awards. Jared is a strong believer in life-long learning, and believes pure grit and hard work are often under-rated components of success. He is experienced in process re-engineering, feasibility studies, and capital budgeting.
Robin is a self-made entrepreneur. From young, he has displayed a natural entrepreneurial streak. Robin got involved in his family’s F&B business in 2005. He modernized the family business and turned around the restaurant that was then financially distressed by restructuring and implementing financial and operational controls. He introduced new management concepts such as KPIs to button down operations.
Robin founded Wall Tailor in 2008 to provide wall surface solutions to customers. It has a host of clients ranging from individuals to multinational companies (E.g. Microsoft, CIMB, Standard Chartered, Coca-Cola, Cisco, McKinsey, Groupon, Says.com). Wall Tailor was the first company to introduce DIY wall decals to the Malaysian retail market, and has constantly been adding to Wall Tailor’s product stable with other innovative brands.
One of Robin’s past projects was called A4ad. Launched in 2008, A4ad’s are advertisements on the backs of A4 papers distributed to colleges and universities nationwide. These papers are used in specially commissioned machines that provide free photocopy services for students. Robin introduced this unique business model to Malaysia. This model has recently gained popularity and proved its effectiveness in countries like Germany, Poland, Australia & Thailand. Robin believes that with a can-do attitude, it is possible for Malaysia to be competitive in the international market. Robin’s core competencies lie in the area of marketing, advertising, branding and PR.
The Asian Entrepreneur is joined by Jared today, as he speak to us about starting up and managing Loanstreet.
What do you guys do at Loanstreet?
Customers want options searching for a loan but that it is highly inconvenient. There is no way for customers to be sure of their loan eligibility. They must meet with many bankers to know the available options. No independent advice. Duplicate copies of supporting documents have to be made. Due to the restrictive Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm banking hours, some customers have to take time off from work to meet with banks. On the other hand, banks have to contend with customers applying to multiple banks. From the moment their sales people follow up on a lead, they incur costs of screening, fullfilment and credit processing. Ultimately, customers can still choose not to proceed with the bank. This not only results in no return on sunk costs, but also in wasted productivity for the sales person.
Loanstreet’s goal is to provide sound independent advice to customers, and to make loan applications as hassle-free and easy for every party involved. From a single website, customers can apply to the most suitable bank packages. Their application bridges into a well-designed advisory, screening and evaluation process. Prospective cases are then packaged into digestible format and sent to banks for further customer engagement. Compared to traditional channels, Loanstreet simplifies the loan application process for the customer, and provides a trusted and value-added alternative sales channel to banks.
How did you come up with the idea of Loanstreet?
In Q4 2009, my family was under duress and we had to sell our home quickly to cover a portion of debt repayments. I purchased a basic apartment in a hurry, in case we found ourselves out of a home. It was a really tough time for us but for my long-suffering mom who held us together. That episode has had a major impact on my life until today. Additionally, work life was also extremely stressful for me which meant I had no time or presence of mind to slowly do research. Having to enter into a rushed first time home purchase, I was afraid and uncertain. Worst was that online resources fell short. I wished for a website and service like Loanstreet.
Eventually, I joined eBworx (IT solutions to banks) as a consultant. I learnt about banks’ side of the equation, which convinced me of the viability of such a model. Consequently, I incorporated Loanstreet in October 2010 with partners. I placed Loanstreet on the back burner whilst, I saved up money for 2 years. I came out in March 2012 to work on it full time and launched in August 2012.
Could you walk us through the process of starting up Loanstreet?
I approached Robin in April 2010, with the first proposal. By October, we had incorporated with 2 other partners. The other 2 partners eventually exited along the way in 2012 and 2013. I had to rebuild my savings, the first 2 years work part time, we engaged a vendor on to build the first Minimal Working Version. We did a lot of industry research and architecting and designing processes. I reached my goal in 2 years.
I left my job in March 2012. In August 2012, we launched, first working partner left us at that point. We had an exacting process, in the mornings we would do business development, pitching, afternoon we would work on customer service and at night time, we would focus on programming. All of this was very personally taxing. Initial pitching for funds were fruitless. I decided to double down and bootstrap. We made the first stream of revenue in December 2012. By then, we hired our first staff. 4 months of consistent revenues followed. We then decided to pitch to Accelerator fund. They were receptive. So we received funding at the end of August 2013.
How has it been like managing the business since?
I find it very challenging. Every day there is a new challenge. I think mainly, there were many staffing issues especially on the tech side as we went with a lesser known technology. Regardless, business development climate on banks side is still moving slow.
Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup?
Hiring people has been difficult. Particularly, hiring talents was difficult without funds. We had to convince people we were worth the shot. At the same time, we also became flexible with our working arrangements and allowed a great degree of independence. We also committed to a willingness to coach people in the team who grew a lot with Loanstreet. As time went by, we finally received money which allows us to go forward on a stronger footing. I would say building a team to function as a cohesive unit is challenging. Its not just skills, but the right individuals make the culture.
How was the initial reaction from the consumers?
Surprisingly for us, the majority of customers were quite happy and gave good feedback. Thanks to our customer’s feedback, lots of improvements and suggestions were incorporated along the way.
Tell us about the competition in your industry?
For the longest while, as a bootstrap start up, we were up against better funded and better staffed competition which went into very broad category comparisons. However, we took a very specialized approach to counter this. We were very focused. Early on, we decided to go inch-wide, mile-deep focused on mortgages and home loans, focusing on improving the situation in Malaysia in terms of service fulfilment.
Could you share with us some insights you’ve developed about this industry?
The broadband penetration rate is growing exponentially. More and more people will be turning to online channels and independent parties in their search for suitable financial products, particularly loans and credit facilities. Interestingly, banks in Malaysia are comparatively slow to adopt and provide support. There is still a lot of room to improve in the industry especially in the handoff processes and fulfilment mechanisms.
Why do you think Loanstreet has become so popular?
I think it is attributable to Loanstreet being the best in our chosen niche in terms of richness of info, simplicity of use, and reliability of fulfilment.
In your opinion, what do you think about the startup scene in Asia?
The scene is getting vibrant and people are generally helpful. Personally, I do feel that the scene borders on being over-exuberant and it needs to be tampered with realism. I think it’s dangerous to overly-romanticize the silicon valley narrative and to the abandon of the operational realities of our time and place, specifically as it applies to Asia.
What are some principles that guide your career?
For me there are 3 major ones. Firstly, be fair to people. Secondly, always be on the move, never, ever remain stagnant. Finally, luck is always good but don’t count on it.
Why did you choose to become an entrepreneur?
Frankly, I never thought I was being an entrepreneur and neither did I set out to be one. I’m a thinker and love wrapping my head around large scale problems. I’m perfectly fine working on something interesting and complex under employ and that usually keeps me perfectly happy. I personally like space and a degree of autonomy to build the stuff and systems I’ve imagined. It is highly stimulating for me. I had lots of that in iMAXX, and to a certain extent some of that in eBworx.
However, under employment, there are also roles you are also expected to play. I wasn’t always utilized in roles most suited to my talents and got lost in there for a while. But that is fair as employees are put where the company sees as most crucial. I only have good things to say about both my previous employers.
As it happens, because of my own experience, the highly inconvenient loan application process took my fancy. Germinated in me the idea that it could be made easy. I actually approached my employers to take up the project but there wasn’t any buy in.
So I decided to try it myself. Spoke to Robin for support as he is a more natural entrepreneur. The rest is history.
What are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
To me success, seeing what I envisioned come to fruition and become self-perpetuating. To achieve this I would say what is required is perseverance, mental toughness and adaptability.
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?
When you’re in it, be in it to win.