July 9, 2020

093: Be Direct: Zac Liew & Curlec

093: Be Direct:  Zac Liew & Curlec

Zac Liew, co-founder and CEO of Curlec joins the show to talk about the societal influences of what works well in fintech, how Curlec is enabling the subscription economy in Southeast Asia and getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

This episode is kindly sponsored by Ireland’s fintech and financial services recruitment specialists, Top Tier Recruitment.  If you would like an intro to the team at Top Tier Recruitment, please click here.

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This week we talk to Zac Liew from Curlec, a fintech startup helping SMEs overlooked by traditional banks collect recurring payments with their automated platform, replacing manual methods like cash, checks and credit cards.  Zac and Pete connected through their respective networks recently from one of those conversations that Pete had that went like “based on what you just said, you need to meet Zac Liew.”  Being a trusting soul, Pete did just that, and this episode is the result of that decision.

In this conversation, Zac and Pete connected on a more universal level with their respective interests in societal influences, how people spend money, a cross-over reference to Islamic finance and the impact of family lineage on an individual's tendencies to build.  Zac and Pete also got into how first time entrepreneurs need to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and the network effect of Zac being named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 for Finance and Venture Capital.  See below for some of the key takeaways:

  • On Zac's upbringing "I’ve always had a desire to build something and pursue a career in entrepreneurship - that stems from my family, and growing up with parents who were both entrepreneurs."
  • On one of the triggers to launch Curlec: "Living in the UK three to four years ago, I'd go back to KL (Kuala Lumpur) for holidays, and every time I came back it felt like the country was moving quicker in terms of fintech, and there was a big wave coming and the timing was right."
  • On the problem to solve:  "The subscription economy is still a brand new concept in Malaysia, for example, prepaid is still the dominant way to pay your utilities, and the question is, how do we help businesses facilitate the move to post-paid?"
  • On the societal influences in Malaysia, Zac explained that as a society, the majority of the population are Muslim Malaysian, and as taking on debt is frowned upon in Islamic finance, the credit card penetration rate in Malaysia is low. As debit cards have a high failure rate in Malaysia, enabling direct debits was the opportunity to pursue.  
  • On the view on Southeast Asia from the West:  "A lot of people loop this region into one, but when you go into the details, not only culturally is it different from country to country but also in terms of infrastructure."
  • On the big question for scaling:  "Do you wait for the banking rails to homogenize across Southeast Asia, or do you homogenize your product to sit on top of multiple rails?  To hedge our bets, we're adding new products as well."
  • On persistence and resilience:  "Starting off with a very new product in this part of the world, the investor pool is relatively shallow for high-growth startups, so being super persistent and resilient is important.  The amount of people that turned us away and the number of pitches we had to do was crazy, so you have to grow a thick skin, take it on the chin and move on."
  • On the learning curve as a first time founder:  "Just keep pushing yourself, throwing yourself into uncomfortable situations and you’ll eventually become comfortable.  That was a big learning curve for me.  As a first time entrepreneur, get comfortable being uncomfortable."
  • On the support network in KL:  "In the KL scene, everyone tend to know everyone, so having the founder to founder type relationships is great too - there’s safety in numbers."
  • On what else is needed to scale in Curlec's home market:  "We need more general education of the market here for fintech, online payments, direct debits - with more and more [international] tech players coming into the market, we’re getting a little bit of help with this."

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