How does it feel to be the King of a personal finance empire?
If you’re a lover of all things investing, you would be familiar with Seedly and SingSaver.
Both platforms are part of the MoneyHero Group, whose brand portfolio spans across five markets in Asia-Pacific, hitting over 9 million monthly users.
On 13 October 2023, MoneyHero Group’s IPO debuted on NASDAQ (MNY) through a SPAC merger with Bridgetown Holdings. Bridgetown Holdings is backed by Thiel Capital, Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm, and Pacific Century Group, a private investment group founded by Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li.
The Financial Horse team was excited to sit down with Rohith Murthy, Chief Product Officer at MoneyHero group, to discuss his entrepreneurial journey.
After a decade as a banker, Rohith founded SingSaver in 2015, and went on to build Creatory, an affiliate marketing platform for creators. Rohith is currently Chief Product Officer at MoneyHero Group, leading the group’s overall product vision, strategy, development and innovation.
Why the switch from banking to entrepreneurship?
I was very clear in my head that if I started an entrepreneurial journey it had to be a business model I understand and a very clear business model.
I’m not Elon and going to launch SpaceX (at least not yet).
But digital banking and technology was something I am familiar with.
I spent 9 years at Citi as a banker. At Citi, I was at the other side of the fence. I dealt with these types of platforms to acquire customers.
So when I was approached to start SingSaver, it made a lot of sense for me, because of the familiarity of the business.
At what age do people peak?
So you see founders like Zuckerberg and you think people have to be a certain age to be a start-up founder. But these are outliers.
I read this great research study from Marc Andreessen on when people peak in life, and it’s around 38 – 40 years old.
So I thought that 33 – 34 years old was a great time to start, and I founded Singsaver then.
I also had the benefit of incredible mentors.
Stuart Glendinning, from MoneySuperMarket, was one such core mentor for me during my formative time at SingSaver.
I wanted to know everything about his time at MoneySuperMarket and I had a full book of notes of things he did.
He was hired as an advisor to coach all founding directors on commercial sales.
Because our business model is very simple. We help people to find the right financial products, and we drive customers to banks and firms, and we get paid for every referral.
Which means that we’re doing enterprise sales.
I’ve never had an enterprise sales background.
My background is in computer engineering. I have a bachelor’s degree from NUS, and I joined a bank right after.
So having the opportunity to learn from somebody like Stuart was just very inspiring and motivating.
Understanding decision-making and unlearning biases
My banking experience was actually very useful.
Because actually at banks, and you see this in the news these days, technology has to work.
They can’t afford technology to fail.
And when you think about it, we take for granted certain innovations from banks, like ATMs, or a credit card.
More importantly, I got to see how to run a business and how businesses make money.
In consumer banking, you really see all things a bank need to acquire customers and make a profit.
So that was my MBA of sorts, I learnt first hand how businesses make money, and how executives think.
That kind of top-level decision-making.
Also, the international experience.
I started my career in Singapore, and also had the opportunity work in Eastern Europe and Thailand.
This diversity and different cultural perspectives gave me a wealth of experience, insights and confidence.
It also took away a lot of biases that I may have had.
When you are taken out of your comfort zone and put somewhere, you almost have to learn everything from scratch and unlearn a lot of things as well.
Rediscovering credit cards in Singapore
The second motivation for me was having come back to Singapore after 6 years, I had to redo my personal finances.
So the first thing I remember was trying to look for a credit card.
And I found it very hard to find one site to show me what I was looking for. There were a couple of sites then, but I found that they were very biased – in the sense that they were just showing cards that they had deals with.
So at SingSaver, for the first two weeks, I spent time doing up an Excel of all the cards.
I soon realized that a lot of information was not on the bank sites, it wasn’t very transparent.
It was very eye-opening, because I realized so much of information was not visible.
And I really felt that SingSaver could fill that gap.
So in 2-3 months, we got the site up and running.
I did everything from the ground-up. Build a team, learn digital marketing, SEO optimization, enterprise sales, product, PR etc.
To an extent, that was the third motivation for me because I always had that entrepreneurial spirit in me.
Running a start-up changes your entire psychological profile
When you run a start-up, there are so many challenging times.
I really like this quote from Paul Graham, that for a start-up, you’re either default dead or alive.
You’re constantly worrying about what’s going to kill you.
Your entire psychological profile changes.
So a very strong support system really helps. So my parents, my colleagues and my mentors.
You also have to be patient.
This is not a journey that’s going to end in two or three years.
You have to be slow and steady.
Progress will be incremental.
Emotional moment at IPO
At the IPO in New York, I broke down in tears.
It was a very emotional and surreal experience for me.
I asked the NASDAQ vice-chair, I hope that I’m not the first one who looks sad on the stage, and he reassured me.
The reason is because that day, I saw all our brands up on the screen at NASDAQ, we had all the offices dial in, my parents came to the Singapore office and watched the event.
I knew that everything I’ve achieved, is because of the support I’ve had.
My father was a banker himself, and they’ve always been supportive of my career decisions and choices.
I got a scholarship to NUS, and after that I worked at a bank and went places in the bank. So they probably thought he seems to know what he was doing.
I do think that although they never said anything, I’m sure they were worried at times.
So seeing my parents at the IPO, it was really emotional.
From Samsonite luggage, to iPads and Bitcoin
At the time of starting SingSaver, it was a very hard problem. At that point in time, people didn’t trust businesses like us.
It required quite a bit of education on both sides. Both the banks and insurance companies, and the customers.
It was a competitive landscape as well, there were quite a few players on the market that were well funded.
So I think we almost had to have an attitude of survival.
And we focused on doing things that significantly added value to customers.
So there was a joke in 2015. That everyone had a Samsonite luggage, because that was the gift you got when you signed up for a credit card.
We completely changed that.
We spoke to banks, and asked why don’t you give other gifts, like grocery vouchers?
They said, of course we’ve thought about this, but it takes time, approvals, legal, compliance etc. It takes 6 months for us to change a gift.
So we said, Ok, why don’t we run the gifts for you guys?
The first gift we gave away was a $50 NTUC voucher. I still remember that people had to come into the office for the voucher.
So that’s how it all started, and now we have amazing gifts, iPads, Dysons, you name it.
We even gave away Bitcoin.
Seedly joined the MoneyHero Group in 2020. And Seedly and SingSaver partnered together in launching a first-of-its-kind campaign giving away Bitcoin if you signed up for an Amex card.
When I can’t sleep at night, I don’t go to Netflix, I go on Krisflyer
I wasn’t actually that crazy about card comparisons, that kind of stuff.
What really changed the game for me was miles.
Because my kids are in Romania, I have to fly every 3 months at least, very frequently.
Romania is not an easy destination to fly to. There’s no direct flights, and travelling with very young kids is not easy either.
So I really realized the value of miles in all these travels.
In fact, when I can’t sleep at night, I don’t go to Netflix, I go on Krisflyer.
Checking if something has opened up, and quickly locking in the ticket.
Especially post-covid, it’s been quite difficult to redeem tickets, flights have become really expensive. So miles ensures that at least for the big flights, I can travel a bit more comfortably.
Reprogramming your brain
In today’s world, delayed gratification is the hardest thing to teach.
Instant gratification is everywhere right now, the feedback loop is instant, the reward is instant, the dopamine is instant.
If you think about it, you use the same one brain for everything.
You use the same brain when you post an Instagram story, versus what should you eat for dinner, versus when you have to make a financial decision, versus how should I think about my future?
When I spend time with my kids, I implement a no-phones policy.
For kids, their brain is like a new software that’s evolving.
I’m trying as much as possible to teach my kids patience.
They have to wait.
I don’t just buy whatever my kids want.
They also know I’m a hard task master. I run a start-up, so they know they need to negotiate with me.
Christmas is coming up for instance. They have given me the list of what they want, and they’re all very well thought-out, with reasons to back their ask.
I had a major mindset shift as I became an entrepreneur.
Before, when it came to investing, I had a herd mentality, or I would just copy what works for others.
I also focused on what’s “cheap”, rather than value.
I never thought of things like assets.
But that changed fundamentally once I became an entrepreneur, since I’m building an asset myself.
So now for me my investment philosophy starts with:
Do I understand this asset?
Why do I believe this asset has value?
Is this belief based on truth or faith? Information from the source or an expert who’s closest to the source?
And then, to understand both sides of the equation.
Because when you’re excited about any asset, you tend to have a tendency to get seduced by it, and find information that supports your buy. But it’s important to be aware of confirmation bias.
Don’t check the prices
I’m personally invested in both Bitcoin and Ethereum.
As an engineer, I believe in the potential of the technology, and over time, I also came to understand its value as an asset.
But what helps me sleep at night?
I literally don’t check the prices every day or week, I don’t have any alerts, and I don’t check it.
I only check the price when I hear on the news it’s price has gone down.
Because if I believe in the asset, and I hear the price has gone down, it’s like a discount.
And if I can afford, I go for it.
When to buy and sell?
One of the people I follow is NYU Professor Aswath Damodaran.
I remember spending a lot of time reading his blog and understanding these lessons on valuations.
One thing he taught me was also that if there’s some inconsistency or something is overpriced, I sell.
Because otherwise I’m being hypocritical.
If I’m saying I care about the value, I have to act accordingly when there’s an inconsistency.
What’s also important for me is peace of mind.
I spend the most time and energy on MoneyHero Group, that is my no.1 investment.
So I want to make sure that for investing in stocks, I have peace of mind.
I want to understand the business, and believe that this business is going to last for the next 10 years.
I do like companies like Amazon, where they are in multiple verticals.
So I ask myself, what will Amazon be 10 years from now?
If I’m able to invest the time to understand the business, and I believe in the value, I go in.
But as soon as there’s an inconsistency, I’m out.
You have to be decisive.
Black swan events
When it comes to risk management, the question I ask is what happens if things go wrong?
Will it completely ruin your personal finances?
For instance COVID. If you were invested in retail businesses that relied on labour and physical footprint, that would have been really bad for you.
So I try to diversify my portfolio.
I ask myself am I being biased towards a sector? And if a black swan event happens, will this ruin my finances?
This has to be a conscious decision.
Obviously I’m in tech, and I follow tech, and this is also a great time to be able to invest in tech, but then I end up with my portfolio being almost completely in tech.
So I have to be mindful of that, and diversify accordingly.
I also share great tips on Twitter.
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If your kids want to be an entrepreneur, what advice would you give them?
I would actually ask them to think about it.
It’s a very hard thing. And there are many tradeoffs.
It should not come from a place of there are no alternatives.
Like for me, I was a banker, I had choices.
So if my kids are saying they want to be an entrepreneur because they don’t have any other options, I would really ask them to think about it.
You have to do it because you really want to do it and you have evaluated other options.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’ve got to peel the potatoes
My daughter is 8, and every time we go to a restaurant, she will redesign the menu.
She’ll rebrand it, think about how to promote it, set the prices etc.
It’s actually really funny because she doesn’t actually understand prices.
It’s like $200 an item.
I asked her why she priced this a certain way, and she replied it’s because she likes this dish better.
So she has said she wants to run a restaurant, and be a chef.
I asked her what she thinks happens in a kitchen? She said oh my mother and grandmother will help me prepare, and I will just put the dishes together.
So I took her to an open-kitchen restaurant and asked her out of all the people in the kitchen – who do you think is the chef?
She pointed to a person at the side watching things and she said that’s the chef.
And I said no, you see the person in the corner who’s been peeling potatoes for half an hour, that’s the chef.
So coming back to entrepreneurship, this is exactly it, you have to be down to peel potatoes.
When I started, I didn’t have a finance guy, I was the person transferring everyone’s salaries every month.
So I would tell my kids to manage expectations.
Because there are always wants, but there is also reality.
So I want to help them close the gap between the want and reality.
As kids, of course, I would encourage the wants. You want to be a rockstar, you want to be a police man. Go for it.
But as my kids grow up, I want to keep showing them reality, and to keep closing the gap of want and reality.
Somewhere between the intersection of want and reality, that’s where the magic happens.
Biggest personal finance mistake
Information is cheap nowadays. What is required is action.
Not purchasing financial products is the biggest personal finance mistake people can make.
Because you are exposing yourself to huge risks when things goes wrong.
We’re innovating all the time to meet the needs of our users.
For instance, you can buy travel insurance directly on SingSaver.
Sometimes I’m in the taxi in Singapore, about to leave for a trip, and I realized I forgot travel insurance and now I can buy it directly on SingSaver.
So make sure you buy travel insurance!
MoneyHero is unique in that we’re the only ones who are doing personal finance across 5 markets.
People want guidance on financial products, and they don’t want to waste their time.
We quickly identified the common problems and organized ourselves to make sure that we are solving problems consistently and efficiently.
This want for financial education is common across all 5 markets, and while it manifests differently, the common thread is there.
If there was no common thread, we could not have built a group like ours.
Find out more about MoneyHero Group!
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