Keir Veskiväli is the Founder and CEO of Smartly, a robo-advisor that automates investing for millennials. Arising from his desire to help people with their money through bringing transparency and low fees to the equation, Keir shares how he started his entrepreneural journey.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m the Founder and CEO of Smartly. I Studied finance and accounting in Tallinn University of Technology and throughout my career I have been passionate about technology, recent innovations and in helping people. Having lived in US, Germany, India, Estonia and now, for the past 2 years, in Singapore (where I will stay most likely).
What is your business venture about?
Smartly is about unbundling the financial industry to its core, and more specifically tackling everything related to investments, savings and education. We at Smartly believe that anyone can be an investor. It doesn’t matter if you are a teacher, fireman, housekeeper, student or working professional, we believe that you deserve to know what is happening to your money.
For that we have built a fully digital platform that allows people to start investing as low as S$50 dollars, with low-fees and giving them the full-transparency and control over their investments. In some way you could think of it as a tool that any person can use, test and ultimately giving them the opportunity to decide if they are happy with the service or not.
What is your mission at the outset?
To put it really simply my goal or belief has always been that I as a human being am here (on earth) to create value for mankind. Having seen in my life how people struggle with the topic of money, I decided to do something about it. I’ve been always a type of person who likes to talk about burning topics and I don’t get along with the status quo at all. For Smartly and for me, the mission is to create value to as many people as we possible can.
How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
I’ve been investing on my own for the past 6-7 years but at some point I started to understand that the number of people who actually understand money and investments is extremely small. I started wondering, how come is it that we use money everyday but we as people actually don’t know anything about the core basics of money or how to manage it Smartly.
From that point onwards, I decided to narrow my focus on pensions and savings because most of us do save and governments usually provide us with some sort of scheme to help us retire once we reach a certain age. The problem for me was that I didn’t agree with the fact that the average person who works 40-50 years maybe more loses over 1/3 of his/her returns to hidden and high fees over that time period. Once I started to look more closely into what are the products where people’s monies are invested and what are the fees paid, it became clear that it is not in favour of the end-customer. After discussing that further, I knew that something needed to be done and that’s how it all started for me.
What is unique about your business?
That is a really good question because usually people start comparing uniqueness with technology but if we look at some of the everyday products/services that we use for example (Uber, Airbnb, Twitter, Facebook etc), then these companies, from technology point of view, are not that complicated to build. There are videos on Youtube of people building twitter like software in 2 hours. So if its not technology then what is it?
For us it is definitely the brand and belief into why we are building this company and the willingness to go into the extreme for our customers. I started this company essentially to look out for my friends and family members not knowing that it would take me so far. Now having over 3500+ users signed up with our waiting list, I feel the same way like I did in the early days and I continue doing so. I don’t know all of the users that we have in the waiting list, but in some sense I consider them as family and friends.
Why will customers stay or do repeat business with you?
I believe the industry that we are in needs more transparency and as of today there is not much of it. Our platform lays it all out there without over-complicating anything.
What have been the biggest obstacles?
Honestly speaking at the early days we were not taken seriously and it had nothing to do with our technology or platform. People thought that we are two guys with laptops (this is actually a quote from one of the VCs). Industry belief or opinion was that we will never make it. Now I personally enjoy being viewed as an underdog, it motivates you more and makes you work harder. Throughout history there are many examples of underdogs making it. Secondly of-course we could bring out that getting regulatory clearance was an obstacle but looking back and putting myself into the regulators shoes then I understand why it took so long.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Choose a project that you really believe and be ready to fight for it. Because sooner or later you will get tested and if you don’t truly believe in yourself or the idea then you are in trouble.
Who is your biggest inspiration or drive to do what you are doing?
The reason why I do it is really simple it allows me to help and create value for the everyday people.
What’s next for you and for your startup?
We are currently in the process of on-boarding our first clients and this is what we keep doing. In the near future we’ll open up our Malaysia office.
Hock Lai has 18 years of experience in the financial industry, having performed roles in both business and technology. He graduated from the National University of Singapore (Real Estate), Nanyang Technological University (Infocomm Technology) and Nanyang Polytechnic (Fund Management & Administration).
He is also a Fellow of the Singapore University of Social Science, advisor to FinTech Startups and mentor to student FinTech projects.
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