Undoubtedly, personal financial planning is at the core of all significant financial achievements we have in our lives. Considering that our biggest financial goals are achieved only through the right balance between long-term and short-term spending decisions, it is important to have a good discipline to achieve them.
Bambu developed a digital solution that provides financial institutions a way to help their customers to have that discipline. Through a robo-advisory platform, it gathers information about each customer’s financial goals as well as their spending habits to provide them a clear way to monitor their level of achievement and to suggest ways of improving their saving decisions.
In this episode, Ned Phillips—Bambu co-founder—tells me his startup’s journey from the initial idea to the traction stage.
Who is Ned Phillips and what kind of solution does Bambu offer today?
I’m a 51-year-old guy who 29 years ago was selling insurance door to door in London—so, I was originally from the UK. I really didn’t like it and I had got into my head I should travel the world—It was after university.
I moved to Asia 29 years ago—when I was 22—and then have spent the rest of my life and career out in Asia—Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Indonesia. So, I really kind of become I suppose part Asian, by default. And in my career, I was very lucky. I ended up in finance and kind of FinTech—pretty early—with a company called E*TRADE. Now, I run Bambu.
Bambu itself is a software company. We’re B2B. And the easiest way to think about it is: everybody’s going to save and invest digitally, going forward. While we’ll still have banks, our main interaction will be digital—via apps, online—and we build that software.
We build beautiful savings journeys that are beautifully presented. They’re personalized and they automate the investment process. We white-label customize that for banks and it’s been a good journey. We have about 14 different banking clients, globally. I’m very lucky to say that this is the most fun I’ve ever had in my career and I’m 51. I found my calling late but, at least, I found it.
How have you and your partner met, come up with the idea and decided founded a startup together?
That’s a good question. I believe in a phrase called pixie dust, which means a little bit of luck, a little bit of magic. About four or five years ago, I semi-retired. I’d been lucky with an investment, I was doing some FinTech consultancy work. I saw a lot of these young kids, 25—you know, when you’re 51, 25 seems very young—doing FinTech. I’d really been in FinTech for about 20 years and I thought: “I really should have a goal.”
A lot of people tell you: don’t start a startup with somebody you just met. But, I was introduced to Aki [Ranin]. My co-founder is a 37-year-old. As he tells me, he’ll always be a millennial. I didn’t understand that when you were once a millennial, always a millennial. I always tease him that he’s still a millennial, even though he’s 37. He’s a true tech guy. He’s originally from Finland, grew up in Indonesia, and was living in Singapore.
I’d been doing some consultancy for some Robo advisors. There was a lot of demand to B2B. I could see that Aki had the ability. He’d be working in building financial services, digital solutions, and yeah, we just sat and chatted. Honestly, I’m not a business plan type of guy. We didn’t sit and have lots of drinks and think about it. […]
We didn’t build tech and then sell. I said to Aki: “Before you quit your job, why don’t I go and sell the solution we’re going to build?” And I think—maybe to the point of this podcast—there are different ways of starting a startup, but we were: “I’ll call hundreds of banks and say: ‘Would you need a software company to build that Robo advisor or digital solution?’ If I can find one, will build it for them. If I can’t, we won’t start it.” So that’s how we started. I spent a few months calling people, I found someone, Aki quit his job and we were off. […]
I said to Aki: “Before you quit your job, why don’t I go and sell the solution we’re going to build?”
SIX SLIDES AND A NAME
What was the very first version of Bambu?
That’s a great question, Alex. Actually, it’s quite funny, I was looking back at it. We did in InVision. Not a coded, just an InVision app. Basically, just static screens. We created about six static screens of what a digital saving app would look like and we put on a PowerPoint. We’ve paid a few thousand dollars to do that. We mocked it up as a digital savings journey, you know: “How old are you?”, “What are your savings goals?”, “When do you want to retire?” Put some nice pretty colours around it. Put it in six slides and that was that. No coding, no tech, no stack, no nothing. Just a six-page PowerPoint.
So that really was the creation. And oddly enough, we first called the company Cache. We thought it was a funny play on words. No one liked it. So, after a month we changed the name. Then, we called it Mangosteen which is an Asian fruit. We kept that for a month, no one liked it. So, honestly Alex, the hardest thing and we nearly didn’t start the company because we couldn’t not agree on the name.
[…] and then when we found Bambu, I’m like: “Bingo! That’s it! I have my name! I have about six slides and if anybody gives us money, we’re going.”
A CATALYST APPROACH
What was the next step?
Maybe as a little bit more context about myself is that when I semi-retired in like 2011-12, I backed about 10 startups myself. So, I was an angel investor. I gave money to a range of different stuff. […] I believe too many people think that the real challenge is building tech. That is the last of the problems.
Here’s the reality: build it, no one’s coming. Nobody’s coming. No one cares. No one gives a damn about your product. You have to go there and tell everybody. It’s awesome. It’s awesome. It’s awesome. It’s awesome… And most of the reaction was: “Sorry, you don’t have tech and you don’t have a stack and you’ve got a six-page deck. Come back when you’ve built something.” […]
But we found a company who said: “Okay. We’ll pay you, if you can deliver in four months. We’ll pay you. Can deliver it?” We’re like: “Yes, sir!” And they paid us. […]
I believe too many people think that the real challenge is building tech. That is the last of the problems. Here’s the reality: build it, no one’s coming. Nobody’s coming. No one cares. No one gives a damn about your product. You have to go there and tell everybody. It’s awesome. It’s awesome. It’s awesome. It’s awesome…
When you’re just a B2B with no clients, your pitch is: “Hi, I’m Bambu. Here’s what I do.”
When you have a client, your pitch is: “Hi, I’m Bambu. I’m already building for.” Our first client was Crossbridge Capital—a small company that we’re eternally always thankful for—but it is not so much of a household name. But then we got Thomson Reuters and people were like “Okay!”
And then, we got Standard Chartered—one of the biggest banks in Asia— and then your pitch becomes: “Hi, we’re Bambu. We built for Standard Chartered!” And then, you get that step forward. It is, I suppose, a catalyst approach. Can you get the first believer?
Have you tried other marketing channels or marketing strategies to generate the traction that you wanted or just selling by yourself personally?
Alex, you’ve hit on something that I absolutely love talking about. We market so hard. My very first hire was not a tech person, was a marketing person. A lady called Laura Pereira was our first employee. She works in marketing and it had dawned on us really quickly.
I come from old school cold calling. The problem with cold calling a huge bank—if you don’t know someone—it’s very hard to find the person whose job it is to buy exactly your product because, you know, we’re quite niche.
FinTech is very hot. FinTech is very hot in Singapore, has a huge number of conferences, awards and accelerators and we said to ourselves: “We’re going to speak at every single conference.” I quite like public speaking, so I’m happy to speak. You know, you don’t speak about Bambu. You stand up and speak about FinTech and Robo.
“We’re going to speak at every single conference.”
“We’re going to enter every accelerator. We’re going to enter every award. Laura will post on LinkedIn, she’ll post as me. We will be relentless about using social media conferences and awards, to be able to generate incoming leads.” And where we are today, we don’t call out anymore. We don’t call banks, they call us. Which I know sounds crazy, but we’ve won six awards. I’m not going to tell you how many we’ve entered, but it’s a lot more than six. […]
I think if you’re B2B, a huge amount of brand awareness really makes a difference, so we worked incredibly hard and really focused. We’ve spoken at hundreds of conferences by now, enter huge number of awards, we posted on LinkedIn every day. To us, make your client call you and if you can succeed at that, bingo! That’s the way to do it. […]
What piece of advice would you give first time startup entrepreneurs that want to get in the traction stage?
CASH IS KING
[…] The first time I did a startup I had no cash flow in my business and no cash flow at home. That sucks. If you’re going to do a startup and you have no cash flow in business and no cash flow in your house, it’s too stressful. Honestly, you’re going to have to put cash somewhere. If you’re a young person with no dependence, no kids, and you could live on noodles and live on the couch, awesome. That’s totally fine. […] Just make sure you’ve got cash somewhere, don’t have “no cash”. If you can eat noodles, live on the couch and keep it lean, do that. […]
DON’T ASK YOUR FRIENDS
Don’t do market surveys. Don’t waste your time on thinking. Don’t ask your friends if they like the idea. They’re your friends. Ask people who don’t know you and don’t believe in you. Go and pitch 200 people and if 200 people who you’ve never met tell you that you’re absolutely crazy, don’t do it. […]
TECH IS NOT EVERYTHING
The other thing is don’t spend a year building tech. Don’t spend six months building tech. Put together a deck, a PowerPoint, do something in InVision, do something quick, direct get out there. Even if it’s a B2C—and again, I’m not a B2C specialist, but if it’s a B2C—I would say try to launch something quickly. If it’s B2B, even more so. Knock a hundred doors, go in with a PowerPoint and say: “If I build this, will you buy it?” And remember, even if they say ‘yes’, it’s almost certainly they’re going to say ‘no’, when it comes to a cheque.
Knock a hundred doors, go in with a PowerPoint and say: “If I build this, will you buy it?”
The other thing a lot of startups are like: “Wow, I’ve got three possible companies who might buy!” If you only have three possible ‘yeses’, it’s not enough. I would say you need 20 interested B2B customers to get one to sign. And to get 20 interested you probably have to call 200. I think if you call 200 people, you’ll get one ‘yes’. So, my advice as startup is: don’t over think it.
Don’t worry, just do it. It will be awesome. Believe, be passionate, be absolutely. Honestly, Bambu is the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I absolutely love it with all of my heart. It’s so crazy fun. So, do something that you love.
JUST SHUT IT
The other thing is if after a year of doing it, it doesn’t work—no customers, no revenue—just shut it. Just shut it really quick. Don’t do two years. In one year, if it doesn’t work, just shut it. Lick your wounds, smile and move on. Don’t take it seriously. It’s just life. If it doesn’t work, it’s cool. And you can try again and again…
Lick your wounds, smile and move on. Don’t take it seriously. It’s just life. If it doesn’t work, it’s cool. And you can try again and again…
A STARTUP IN YOUR CURRICULUM
[…] anybody who is good enough to have a go at launching a startup will always get a job. I mean, I’ve employed hundreds of people in my times at big corporates and anybody who’s got the willingness and the ability to do their own startup—even if it fails—somebody would employ them. If you’re good enough to do a startup, you’ll always have a job. That means there’s no reason you shouldn’t do a startup, because if it fails, you’ll get a job.
FROM IDEA TO TRACTION
- TIME: 4 months.
- Number of PIVOTS: 3 pivots.
- Initial TEAM background/composition: 1 marketing manager, 1 business manager, 1 investment analyst & 1 developer.
- METHODOLOGIES/FRAMEWORKS used: Agile.
- Relevant PARTNERS: DriveWealth.
- Relevant SERVICES/TOOLS: AWS & Thomson Reuters.
- Relevant PRACTICES: Weekly meetings and reviews on project status, KPI’s revisions.
- FUNDING to Traction: Raised U$ 3 million in Series A.
- Relevant MENTORS/ADVISORS: Luke Janssen (business strategy)
MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER
Ned Phillips (LinkedIn) – Former Managing Director and now an entrepreneur, Ned Phillips is the founder and chief executive officer of Bambu. He has been based in Asia for the past 25 years; starting his journey in FinTech since 1999 with E*TRADE as one of the very first online brokers before becoming Managing Director in 2007. He was part of the transformation of the stock exchange where he developed two pan-Asian exchange, one of which is in conjunction with SCX and Chi-X. Ned had the opportunity to experience the first dot-com boom with one of the original FinTech companies as well as become appointed as a consultant to 8 Securities when they launched the first robo-advisor in Asia.
Check his awesome TedX Talk on Youtube!
MORE ABOUT BAMBU
Bambu (Website; Twitter; LinkedIn, Facebook; Vimeo) is a leading robo-advisor technology provider, transforming digital wealth globally. We enable businesses by making saving and investing more straightforward and intelligent for their clients. The smart advisory solution is powered by our proprietary algorithms and machine learning tools. Founded in 2016 by industry experts Ned Phillips, Luke Janssen and Aki Ranin, Bambu is situated in Singapore with subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Malaysia and the United Kingdom, as well as representatives in Africa, Europe and America.