3 years after pioneering peer-to-peer lending in Singapore, New Union Pte Ltd – a company that provides alternative funding source for SMEs – crosses the billion dollar mark in funding facilitation. Eddie Lee, co-founder and Group CEO, shares an inspiring entrepreneurship journey in this interview.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I have been an entrepreneur since graduation. When I was 18, I began freelancing as a web developer and incorporated my one-man IT development agency in 2004. I started from home and often got nagged by my mum on why I didn’t go out for work!
With some traction and courage, I proceeded to co-rent a small office with another friend to defray the cost. Throughout the years, i witness how the internet evolved from simple HTML sites to interactive Flash, Web 2.0, Social Media, e-commerce and currently to Mobile and distributed ledger technology.
We adapted to the changing market needs and as a result our business thrived. My IT agency grew from the initial one-man show into a small local team of 18. At our peak, we handled 53 projects concurrently.
I am lucky and grateful to my can-do and never-say-die attitude that has allowed me to persevere and accumulate the necessary ‘on the ground’ skill sets, and as a result, perform well in the business world.
I exited the business with a successful M&A and went on to co-found the current business, New Union, with my partners.
Besides work, martial arts is my lifelong passion and very few people actually know that I was once given an opportunity to represent Singapore in the SEA Games before.
What is your business venture about?
New Union is a debt-based crowdfunding platform that allows Small Medium Enterprises (SME) to upload their loan requests online. Our network of investors will then choose and invest in the projects that they deem viable in fractional amounts until the total sum is raised for the SME.
What is your mission at the outset?
Entrepreneurs will be familiar with this. The journey is often lonely. The problems we face are often unique. For example, when everyone is looking forward to the end of the month for their paycheck, we are often apprehensive. When everyone celebrate festivals, we prefer to celebrate successes. Entrepreneurs need to be all rounded, tackling challenges ranging from administration, HR, Finance and Sales. At times, we might even ask ourselves why we signed up for that.
We appreciate the challenges that the SMEs are going through and having been there myself, my team and I would like to be their enabler. For those thinking of starting up, we would like to encourage them. For those who are thinking of doing better, we would link them with the right connections. For those who need a pat on the back from all the workload, we would bring together a community of like-minded people to tell them that you are not alone. We will grow with them because we are SMEs ourselves.
How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Previously when I was running the IT development agency, cash flow was a constant area that I had to look after. We had huge account receivables but should the cash flow be mismanaged, the team could be affected. Cash flow is the heartbeat of any company.
When I met the current partners of New Union, they came from the background of finance and we shared the common vision on how coming together will make this concept take off.
I love the idea and the vision that was shared, and they love the innovative ways that I could make it work and so we came together, to ‘Change the World’.
What is unique about your business?
From the team’s perspective, when we came together, it was a real marriage of Finance and Technology, Fin + Tech.
On the business end, we identify like-minded SMEs who need financing and are willing to share details about their company financials and business plans. This allows us to judge where the company risks are, so as to arrive at a suitable crowdfunding proposal for them.
We also match the companies to investors who would be able to review the company background and pertinent details so that they may understand what and how the company intends to use the loan for and how it will ultimately lead to them repaying the loan.
And from the technology end, the investors can now review and invest conveniently via the platform or the mobile app to the deserving SME whom they deem worthy of their funds.
Why will customers stay or do business with you?
SME growth is like a marathon, nothing happens overnight and only time will tell the good, bad and ugly. We encourage our SME customers to treat New Union and its investors as a long term partner. Companies who fall in this category are sometimes featured on our platform to provide industry insights, management experiences and profiling. Our customers stay with us because they like the flexible financing proposals, corporate profiling and the support for their business aspirations.
What have been the biggest obstacles?
During the initial years of the business, the biggest obstacles have to be the acceptance of our business concept and the uncertainty of regulations.
It was a new business concept here in Singapore and getting people to believe us has been difficult. Having to tell the investors that they will get a return that is higher than the market norm while we are not regulated and to explain that there were no specific regulations to govern us made it even worse.
To overcome that, we invested time and resources to arrange educational workshops for the investors so that they understood how investing works.
This uncertainty has also been resolved after the announcement that all securities based crowdfunding platforms are required to obtain the Capital Market Service License on the 9th of June 2016.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
There has been much hype and glam being marketed about being a successful entrepreneur. What is not commonly shared is that success does not come overnight and often requires ten or more years of hard work.
When we decide to start on the entrepreneurial journey, we often end up beaten, worn and sometimes, lost. When that happens, my guiding compass has always been, perseverance.
What’s next for you and for New Union?
With regulations in place, we will prepare the necessary paperwork and will be scaling in full throttle to break the second billion-dollar mark for our SMEs.
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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