CardsPal: Credit Card Rewards Made Easy
What if you had the opportunity to turn your idea into a reality and leave your mark on the world? Working in the corporate world for over a decade made me reluctant to kickstart my dream of being an entrepreneur. Of following a vision that ignites my passion. Although I knew there would never be a better time to step out of my comfort zone into building a venture, there was a lot of self-doubt about making this dream a reality and building a successful business. As someone neither risk-averse or risk-seeking, I still had an entrepreneurial seed inside me. Yet, without any external events pushing me, there was no desire to grow that seed. That is, until 2018.
In 2018, SC Ventures organised its first Global Intrapreneur Challenge. It proved to be the external force I needed to germinate the seed of entrepreneurship and I started a journey that would transform my life. Out of over 400 innovative ideas submitted, mine was shortlisted through several preliminary stages and eventually made it to the finals – the Dragon’s Den.
This is also when I met my mentor, Gautam Jain. Jain provided advice and guidance that helped me navigate the unique situation and complexities of building a venture in the corporate world. This mentorship, forged at the very beginning of my journey, was the second external factor that paved the way for my later successes.
My DNA was re-wired the moment my idea was selected in the Dragon’s Den and I was given the title ‘Intrapreneur’. It brought me nearer to the dream of building a venture, and I was thrilled. I knew I could make a difference, and that my passion would help me to sail through any obstacles. My entrepreneurial seed sprouted and I was up for the next big challenge, which was to create a proof of concept (POC).
As I was still working full-time at the beginning of my intrapreneurship, the start of this process wasn’t easy. As well as the 20 per cent of my work hours that I could use to focus on my new initiative, I spent most of my evenings and weekends on meeting milestones. Juggling both streams of work was demanding, but I had the energy to push through it with support from the team around me. I was also motivated by a strong belief that my hard work would pay off. My motto is that the biggest regret in life isn’t when we tried and failed; it’s when we never tried. Even if my idea didn’t make the cut, I knew I would have no regrets.
As a project manager and business analyst, my soft and hard skills gave me an edge in progressing my intrapreneur initiative. However, I wasn’t familiar with how to transform an idea into a venture. I had a clearer idea of what was needed to pitch for POC funding after attending training at the intrapreneur boot camp, I had a clearer picture of what I needed. This was to strengthen the business model by applying the business model canvas; building a prototype, and validating the business idea to prove it was worth pursuing.
Time was in short supply and it was important to keep the momentum going. My POC funding was approved and I was onto the next stage. This means conducting marketing research and getting the resources together to build the prototype. It felt great to tick off another thing on my checklist and to be a step closer to my goal.
Throughout it all, I again received immense support from the people within SC Ventures. My intrapreneur coach guided me on how to craft a great pitch deck and shared his contacts (senior leaders of the Bank and subject-matter experts) to whom I could reach out to validate the idea and business model.
After two months of preparation, now armed with a prototype, favourable market research and validation, and a refined pitch deck, I was ready for the next challenge.
April 2019 was a key milestone for me: I pitched my idea to BrainTrust (internal VC of Standard Chartered Bank chaired by the Group CIO) and gained pre-seed funding of USD$240,000 to build a minimum viable product (MVP). This meant that I could move into SC Ventures to focus on the project full-time. When Alex Manson asked if I was willing to leave my existing job, I said ‘yes’ without any hesitation. This change kickstarted the next phase of my exciting journey in venture building. There is nothing more fun than having the opportunity to build something you strongly believe in that can change people’s lives, be it in savings, lifestyle, finances or anything else.
I shifted into combat mode, focusing first on resourcing. I needed to make several hires immediately as onboarding would take time. This meant deciding when to work with vendors, hire agency contractors or source the resources internally. I adopted a hybrid hiring approach to maximise the outcome and reduce the risk. Through reaching out to my previous teammate, I found talented graduates of the Bank to support with designing the technology stack. As many things were happening at once, and crucial decisions to make, this was a steep learning curve. However, I had plenty of support from the team around me – especially my incubator, Thorsten Neumann. I got my scrum team ready: product and user interface/user experience (UI/UX) designers, front-end developers, back-end developers and data analysts. The venture was born!
We used a lean startup model to build the MVP. We adopted cutting-edge cloud technology to build a scalable technology stack. We brainstormed ideas, created user journeys, designed, validated with users, built, tested and deployed. We ran scrum sessions, and we learnt, improved and iterated. Fortunately, we didn’t need to deal with a legacy system, due to the nature of the venture. We moved fast and learnt even faster.
Did everything go smoothly without any challenges or obstacles? No. We had some pretty tough hurdles and there were hard decisions to make to keep the venture going, including letting go of people who might jeopardise it. The experience has enriched my worldview and broadened my horizons. I can now look at things from different angles and the perspective of a leader.
Cards represent the physical or virtual cards that people carry or store in their e-wallet. This includes debit cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, or any other card types that come with rewards and/or deals.
Using nearby deals as an entry point to drive attribution is novel and is not established in the Singapore market at the time of writing. We were able to collaborate with banks, merchants, fintech partners and network partners to build capabilities that help them to drive traffic and deals or to acquire offerings. We have worked hard to build a data-driven, neutral and unbiased platform. These feed into our bigger vision: to build the largest and most trusted online data-driven personal finance marketplace.
One of the many lessons I learned during my venture journey is that entrepreneurial spirit isn’t about the idea. It’s about passion, optimism and agility. It’s said that you will never work a single day in your life if you’re passionate about what you are doing. Optimism is important because the venture journey can be extremely tough. You’ll hardly progress if you focus only on the dark side and lose sight of the vision. A small venture has the advantages of being agile, being able to move fast and being easier to pivot if necessary. Understanding and being able to shift quickly to take advantage of market trends will help us to win the race.
We strongly believe that if an egg is broken by an outside force, life ends; if it’s broken by an inside force, life begins. We always wanted to break it from within. While beta-launch gave us some satisfaction in seeing our product reach internal users, it also meant facing our next challenge: launching it to the public. To do this, we would need seed funding. Using our lessons so far and refining our ideas and business model, and readied myself for another pitch.
We faced more challenging questions during the seed funding round of BrainTrust. Some of the feedback for our business idea was supportive, while other comments were thought-provoking and generated valuable new insights. Our pitch was successful, and we received USD$1.8m for this next stage. This major milestone meant a lot to me personally, as it represented CardsPal’s readiness to move into a new and more exciting phase. It was time to switch gears and focus on getting the venture off the ground. This meant building a bigger team to speed up the development of our capabilities, data analytics, user growth, and content creation. Plus, business and partnership development. It was also important to focus on how quickly I could create the network effect by synergising and leveraging the backer’s strength and strategic partnership. The speed with which the venture can scale up and expand to other cities, countries and regions may also be the main factor determining how successful it can be.
We officially launched the CardsPal app in June 2020 during COVID. It was a huge challenge for the team to shift from working next to each other to working remotely with a laptop. We learnt to collaborate virtually, and with determination and perseverance, we were able to achieve a lot of our key milestones.
Team building is part of the equation in venture building. I am particularly careful in selecting my team members. I want to ensure that the environment and culture are conducive, yet not too comfortable, for the team to grow and contribute to the venture. I believe that if we want to grow quickly, we need to be uncomfortable with what we are doing. If we are too comfortable, we’re not growing at speed. When hiring, I’m always looking to match the personal goals of team members with the venture’s vision. I am blessed with having a team of great people who work tirelessly, and who are willing to go far and together with me in this venture.
I enjoy thinking about the future of CardsPal. I see people who use the platform achieve their savings and financial goals. They have a tool at their fingertips that means they can enjoy what they are eligible for and never miss out on a great deal. They only receive the information they are interested in. They love the user interface and seamless experience of the platform. CardsPal allows them to conduct transactions, share their favourite deals with others, and manage their finances. CardsPal is part of their life and they become ambassadors for the brand.
The future is indeed very exciting. A venture that can understand users’ psychology well and can quickly and efficiently deliver the experience they want will win the race. We will continue to co-create this venture with our users and aim to become their top choice.
We have accomplished a great deal, and a lot more work lies ahead. We will never set limits or put constraints on what we can do. Together, we can – and will – create miracles.