Kelvin Teo has raised millions of dollars to help others sustain and scale their ventures. His fintech startup Funding Societies (or Modalku in Bahasa language) is now the largest in Southeast Asia, and even bigger than some banks.
During our interview on the DealMakers podcast, Kelvin shared his journey into entrepreneurship, what’s changing in the business and fintech landscape post-COVID-19, what’s important to creating a sustainable business and getting funded now, the advantages of launching in emerging markets, and differences between the US and Asia for startups.
Learning The Foundations Of Entrepreneurship
Kelvin Teo grew up in Senai in Southern peninsular Malaysia, a small town built on factories and palm oil. At just 15 he was recruited to a scholarship program by the Singapore government.
His mother was a teacher and father a plantation director, who would become very proud as he ended up attending some of the best schools in the world.
As part of Singapore’s National University of Singapore’s entrepreneurship program, Teo had the chance to spend a year at U. Penn’s Wharton, while simultaneously working at a startup.
After graduating he took not just one career path that has produced many highly successful entrepreneurs, but two.
He worked with Accenture, McKinsey, and KKR. This put him on the other side of the table and gave him insight into what businesses were doing well, how they could be improved and gave him experience in operations.
After working on operations transformation for a bank through McKinsey and a portfolio company at KKR Capstone, Kelvin went on to Harvard Business School.
Starting Up Your Business While Still In School
This founder launched his SME digital financing platform startup Funding Societies with his fellow student Reynold Wijaya while still in school. After all, their parents definitely wouldn’t have approved of them dropping out.
Kelvin was inspired by listening to Peter Thiel talked about his book Zero to One. So, he began studying the 50 most innovative companies in the United States to evaluate ideas, and to find something they could bring back to Asia.
He looked at three qualities when studying and choosing opportunities:
- It should solve a problem he was passionate about
- It should be a huge problem
- There must be a reasonable path to becoming the number one leader in that space
The only one that really stood up to the test was peer to peer business lending.
They dug in and started working on it through the night. There was still a 12-hour time difference back in Singapore. So, they would work from eight at night, to three or four in the morning on building Funding Societies. Then head to class at Harvard in Boston at nine in the morning.
Funding Societies got its first funding during their summer break from Alpha JWC.
They were approached by Sequoia Capital India, only to have to wait until they graduated to have Sequoia fund their $7M Series A round, when Sequoia realized they were still just students.
To date, they’ve raised $58M in equity including a Series C round this year. Within the past five years, Funding Societies has funded more than $1B in loans to SMEs.
They’ve now become the biggest financing platform for SMEs in the region, making them as big as some banks, and three times bigger the size of their nearest competitor.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Kelvin was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
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