Personal finance management is undoubtedly crucial to leading happy and healthy financial lives, and a daunting aspect for many young adults to tackle alone. As best said by Helen Keller, “Alone, we can only do so little, together we can do so much.” By engaging the community to help one another, Seedly has become one of Singapore’s largest platforms in fostering a close-knit community committed to giving sound financial advice.
This week, Redbrick had the privilege of interviewing the co-founder of Seedly, Mr Kenneth Lou, to share more about his personal experience as an entrepreneur and the reasons behind Seedly’s success in educating their users on managing finances and making investments.
Q: Can you tell us more about yourself, and how you got to where you are today?
Kenneth: I started Seedly with a co-founder during our last semester in the National University of Singapore (NUS). I was studying business, while he was from computer science. The motivation very pure and straightforward, which is to help people better manage their money from a personal finance management perspective. But along the way, things evolved. We moved beyond just building an expense tracking application and begin to provide content and building a community, which is essentially the underlying nature of business, which is figuring out how do we can get a bunch of people together, online or offline? Simply put, our goal is to make smarter financial decisions together.
I emphasise on together because we don’t believe that finance should be taught to you by a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), or someone who is who has financial licence, because they have some form of like vested interest in teaching you such information, for instance to sell insurance or endowments. We believe that the best way to learn finance is from the people who have done it before, so folks who are the smartest students in the room of sorts. So, I think what differentiates Seedly is our community-focused approach. And I definitely hope it continues for a long time to come because finance is incredibly important and omnipresent in our lives. We make financial decisions every day, from choosing a lunch place to buying big ticket items like houses.
Q: Could you share some of your major milestones in life?
Kenneth: I think one key factor is to always surround yourself with like smart people and people who are genuinely interested to help. I am very fortunate and grateful to have met my mentors and peer mentors, who were willing to share their knowledge in terms of their entrepreneurship journey and personal life. This is also why I always try to give back to community and help juniors in any way possible.
In fact, my co-founder and I were from the NUS Overseas Colleges, which is a program where we work in local or overseas start-ups while we study. The program had promoted entrepreneurship and had an alumni including founders of Shopback, Carousell, and 99.Co. This community was very supportive and helped us tremendously. The financial community is becoming stronger and stronger in Singapore because people are opening up to talk more about personal finances. Hence, I think we are fortunate to have launched Seedly at the right time when the public was more receptive to learning about investments, insurance, loans, financing, and refinancing.
Q: Would you consider being part of Hyper Group as a significant milestone since you started Seedly?
Kenneth: Yes, because synergistically we are a lot more aligned since we are all in finance. And collectively, our mission is to help people lead healthier financial lives, which is loosely translated to the same thing as what I just mentioned earlier – to help people make smarter financial decisions. If you make smart decisions, the chances are that you will lead healthier financial lives. In addition, we are more aligned strategically, we are given more resources for the initiatives and the team is growing. All in all, it’s nice to see that people are happy especially since the pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty. This move has helped to cement our commitment to what we’re trying to achieve as Seedly, or even at a group level.
Q: What does success mean to you?
Kenneth: For Seedly, I think success would mean helping more people in the realm of personal finance by providing exposure to the community, and as a business, an indicator of success would be growth in our revenue. As an entity, having more revenue shows that businesses or users are willing to pay for our product and service.
For example, we recently ran the finance festival which I believe is the largest personal finance festival as of today. Not only do businesses sponsor the event, but consumers also pay to attend the event. It shows that consumers are willing to pay for something they deem as valuable, such as knowledge that is useful to them.
Thus, I think business-wise, if we continue to engage more with the community, we will get more users and generate more revenue, and hopefully become a profitable business which I think will be a very good sign that we’re doing well.
We are undoubtedly thankful to be where we are today. I think we are lucky to have gotten more resources and a new office despite the pandemic, while doubling size of the team.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
Kenneth: Personally, I go to the gym since I value fitness. One thing I learned about personal health is that it corresponds directly to financial health. There is no point in being financially healthy if you are unfit and unhealthy. We have some committee members who just focus entirely on financial health, and neglect their personal well-being. In the same vein, solely investing in financial products like insurance will not help to make you healthier as a person.
Q: What is one interesting fact about yourself that people don’t usually know?
Kenneth: Well, I have never been employed in a traditional sense. Some people might find it cool, but it is also quite stressful and mentally draining. I’ve never actually gotten a full-time job because this is the first job I have gotten and prior to this I was running another business. But maybe someday I will try to work in a company to try something new while I am young.
Q: What prompted you to start Seedly?
Kenneth: It started off as a technological concept since my co-founder had won a hackathon with an expense tracker. While we were brainstorming and looking for ideas to work on, the concept of finance management popped up, so we just ran with it and got our first round of funding within the first two months. Following which, we decided to just jump in full time and raised more money to grow the business along the way.
Subsequently, Shopback bought us and that’s when we started our focus on financial literacy education which we grew for roughly two and a half years to three years. Then the second acquisition came along, we grasped onto the opportunity as we recognised that there would be more resources for future growth and more synergistic.
Q: Is there a reason behind the name Seedly?
Kenneth: Our goal is to help our users with their financial journeys. There is a famous quote by Warren Buffett that we feel speaks to our brand which is “A man is sitting in that shade today, because someone planted a seed many years ago.” So the idea is that if you plant your seeds early, you will get a tree that will not only provide you with shade, but also fruits of your earlier investments. Since young people always struggle to save up and begin their investments, we want to help them start.
For our users, our focus is not on professionals such as expert traders or investors who already have such knowledge. Instead, we target the man on the street. And along the way, many other blogs have also popped up such as The Woke Salaryman. Our seniors in the blogging industry including SG Budget Babe, 15 Hour Work Week and Investment Modes also gave us advice when we started. Today, these brands have become partners and friends of our close-knit community.
Q: What is a regular workday like?
Kenneth: I come in around 9am and start by planning my day. Currently, I’m running a couple strategic projects, so I will check in with the leaders in our organisation for our marketing and business development. My focus is primarily on marketing which means I work together with our capable leaders to improve on these areas, while my co-founder looks after product engineering, which includes resolving interface problems, strategic problem solving and long term planning.
Q: How does your organization maintain its appeal to consumers?
Kenneth: We evolve with them by constantly launching new features and producing content that is relevant to the community. Just two weeks ago, we launched a new feature called badges and levels, which is a major feature. When users in our community continue to grow and level up, they will receive rewards and perks.
As for our content team, we get ideas from the community to provide help and stay relevant to them. For instance, the community has been actively discussing about the recent GME situation with regards to stock trading so our role is to help with clarifying what these terms mean. Aside from handy advice, helping our users to grow with us also keeps is relevant and maintains our appeal to consumers.
Q. What are some of the important values does the organization prides itself with?
Kenneth: We place the consumer community first since it is the very reason behind our existence. Our users are definitely the priority for the team. Of course, it is important for us to ensure that the team is taken care of. This means that our members constantly improve on their skills and take on new challenges.
We also place emphasis on our welfare. In pre-Covid days, we tried to bring people together in the pantry, organised small networking sessions, and also overseas team-bonding trips together, such as Bali and Phuket when our team was smaller. More recently, we went on a cruise together in 2019.
Essentially, we value the people we work for and the people we work with. Externally we are user-focused, while our internally we emphasise on learning and self-development.
Q: Could you describe your current property of residence?
Kenneth: I am currently staying with my mom, but I do have a BTO on the way, which has been delayed by until May 2022. We were very fortunate to get the 4- bedroom BTO in Ubi after applying for the BTO 7 times because we were insistent on getting a Housing Development Board (HDB) in a mature estate.
Q: What do you look out for when searching for a property?
Kenneth: The location matters a lot to me. Aside from the criteria of the BTO being in a mature estate – which is rare, the property’s accessibility to public transport is important to me.
Q: What is your personal take of the real estate industry?
Kenneth: I think real estate seems to be getting increasingly expensive, and there is always the prominent question of whether it is financially sound to get a private property.
Particularly for our peers in their late 20s and early 30s, some have started to dig their toes into the private property market, and others are considering following suit. In addition, there is a lot of uncertainty such as the possibility of another round of cooling measures imposed in a few years’ time.
Q: Do you believe in ‘leverage all I can’ or ‘pay down as soon as I can’ school of thought?
Kenneth: I would say leverage because if you don’t leverage, chances are that you will be losing out on better opportunities. Ultimately, if you have a stable job and can afford to pay the loan, then leverage makes more sense since there are more opportunities to invest your money to get higher returns, such as products that give 5% to 6% per annum yield.
Perhaps then you could refinance your loan which can go as low as 1.02% per annum and make better use of your capital. To me, it’s less desirable to pay down as soon as possible.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to new homeowners and aspiring property investors?
Kenneth: I would go with a more prudent approach and say don’t bite off more than you can chew. But that does not mean that you shouldn’t have leverage. There is a fine line between picking up what you can afford and taking up a loan to make better use of your capital.
Q: Which is your favourite estate in Singapore and why?
Kenneth: Personally, I really like the Toa Payoh area where I reside in. I enjoy the classic scenery there as it houses one of the oldest HDB estates in Singapore. I find it fascinating to see how the estate had developed over these sixty years to seventy years and the sense of familiarity with two or even three generations growing up this estate.