What other startups can learn from iMoney’s meteoric rise
By Karamjit Singh October 28, 2013
- Hard work, willingness to learn, equity-sharing … and no ego in the way
- Full focus on getting job done, better and faster, says investor Khailee Ng
“I DEFINITELY can’t comment on that,” says iMoney cofounder Lee Ching Wei (aka Ching Wei Lee), when asked what his 18-month-old startup was valued at after its latest round of funding and the figure he is aiming for by end-2014.
Last Thursday (Oct 24), the financial services comparison portal announced it had raised US$2 million in its Series A round. This was in addition to the US$500,000 it had raised in June, as well as RM500,000 (US$155,070) worth of funding from the Cradle Investment Programme (CIP).
The CIP is a government initiative operated by Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd, an agency under Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance, to support local technology entrepreneurs.
Lee (pic) also declines to reveal his monthly burn rate (total cost to run the business). “I don’t really want our competitors to know,” he says.
iMoney currently provides both online and offline financial services for free to general consumers, as well as application services for home, personal, and car loans, credit cards and other banking products.
While Lee is understandably coy about revealing such financial details, his angel investor, Khailee Ng, chairman of Rev Media Equity Holdings Sdn Bhd (Rev Asia), is happy to share his thoughts on what other startups can learn from Lee.
“Hard, hard work. Tonnes of it. And the willingness to learn and do whatever it takes to progress quickly,” says Ng, who also manages the South-East Asia-based US$10-million ‘500 Durians’ startup fund launched earlier this year by Silicon Valley-based venture capital fund 500 Startups – the latter is also one of the investors in iMoney’s Series A funding exercise.
Rev Asia is a digital advertising and marketing company formed in October by the merger select subsidiaries of Catcha Media Berhad and Says Sdn Bhd, of which Ng is founder and chief executive officer.
“Also, he [Lee] was never egoistic or selfish about anything – he was willing to bring on investors, partners, share stock options with early employees, etc. – he just wanted to get the job done faster and better,” Ng adds.
As to Ng’s own role as the angel, he was very active in the early stages in terms of hiring, guidance, product development, connections, and helping Lee get to his first seed round from AVG (Asia Venture Group).
“By this time [June 2013], he had learned super-fast and had matured quickly. He had a full team and other investors, and he was well on his way,” adds Ng.
Indeed, when Digital News Asia (DNA) first wrote about iMoney and Lee in July 2012 (video below), he said wanted to become the top financial comparison site in Malaysia within one year and “to become the comparison site for all of South-East Asia in five years (2017).”
While DNA has no visibility on iMoney’s revenue, its current funding pace suggests that Lee’s investors certainly feel those goals are achievable. And in fact, he is claiming “we’re already the largest financial comparison business in the region.”
Sharing Lee’s confidence is his new cofounder, former CIMB banker Bruno Araujo, who has left one of the leading banks in South-East Asia to jump into the topsy-turvy startup world.
While it is highly unusual to have a cofounder 18 months after launch, Lee tells DNA that Araujo “absolutely has skin in the game.”
He has apparently been involved with the company in an advisory role since early 2013. His experience in the United Kingdom, where he had stints with four banks, was also a key factor in his value to iMoney.
In the press release issued last Thursday, Araujo spoke about iMoney having a “leading presence” in Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong.
Elaborating on what “leading presence” means, Lee says, “In many of the markets we're in, we're already generating good visitor traction, and in some instances, starting to build a sizeable and engaged community.” He did not give figures, however.
Hong Kong seemed a surprising market for iMoney to target, seeing how its focus was on South-East Asia. But Lee feels that Hong Kong is attractive in many ways, not least because of its market size and attractive demographic profile (much like Singapore’s).
“And, yes, competitors do exist, but we think we have what it takes to compete and provide a strong alternative to Hong Kong (HK) consumers. Right now, we have a handful of people in the HK team – still based in Kuala Lumpur but travelling often to HK for business development work,” he says.
The iMoney team has been described as “the best team in the region to execute” by Amit Anand, managing partner of Singapore-based Jungle Ventures, the lead investor in this US$2-million round.
Lee describes his team’s strengths as a combination of local understanding and domain experience in online marketing and banking. He feels this is a rare combination, particularly in the financial comparison space. He has a Russian, Victoria Liberova, as his country head for Thailand; and a German, Simon Hornstein, to head his Hong Kong team.
With the money raised to be used primarily for acquiring customers and strengthening operations, most of the customer acquisition happens via online marketing and through online partnerships.
“We actually send a sizeable portion of our traffic to our financial partners,” says Lee.
With US$2 million considered a substantial amount in South-East Asia, DNA asked if acquisitions were on the cards. “Not at this stage, but we aren’t saying ‘No’ to any opportunities either,” says Lee.
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