#StartupOfTheWeek – Stark Group and My Insurer

After the blockchain last week, today we’re diving in the Insurtech industry. Matthias de Ferrières, founder and CEO of the Stark group tell sus how he started his companies and what it means for him to be an entrepreneur.

Matthias, tell us more about yourself?

I founded my first company when I was 16. It was a community of Lego fans and we were organizing events on weekends. It was really fun and I learned a lot! But I sold it after a year to go back to my studies.

After that I worked for Arthur Andersen for about a year and then I wanted to learn english so I decided to move to Australia. I did several jobs there and I finally got a lawyer degree.

I then moved to Singapore to work for Axa. I started as a intern, and I ended-up as their CMO when I left.

What are you doing now?

So in 2013, digital was starting to boom and we had a product to acquire customers online. I decided to take it and built a company around it, this is how Stark Group started. Today the group has 3 businesses:

  • Insurance republic

The company is mandated by banks or insurers to design their products, from the customer journey to the pricing, etc.). Most insurers today are focused on compliance, legal and risk, not really the product design itself sor we’re filling this gap.

  • MotorDBS

In partnerships with DBS we’ve built the first price comparison engine for motor insurance

  • MyInsurer

This one works extremely well and takes most of my focus at the moment.
It is a marketing platform for insurance intermediaries.

What does it mean for you to be an entrepreneur?

The challenge is that the insurance business is not interesting or sexy for anybody. To me this is a great opportunity as an entrepreneur.

I’m convinced that you need experience anyways, whatever the business you’re in. Entrepreneurship is really about knowing your industry inside out and understanding its needs and risks. Today my company works because I spent 15 years working like crazy in a company in this domain. You need 3 things:

  • Know the industry
  • Understand and evaluate the gaps
  • Know how to potentially fill them.

By the way, it is probably the next challenge of the entrepreneurs ecosystem in Singapore. The whole environment here is still young. It’s dynamic but it lacks experience and structure.

What are you objectives in the coming months?

Today I’m very focused on MyInsurer.  I have always bootstrapped my businesses and Stark Group has invested SGD400K in MyInsurer, but now is the time for us to raise more funds and hire different types of profiles.

I am very pragmatic: I know I am very good at knowing which products to build and how to sell them, but I need the right profiles to help use on other aspects. Our plan is to raise funds in September to be ready to deploy later in the year.

#WomenInTech – Margaux Papasian

Hi Margaux, so what do you do and what brought you to Asia?

I am in charge of the APAC business development for Blockchain Studio. Before that, I was working for the French Trade Commission at the French Embassy, helping tech & innovative companies to expand in South-East Asia.

At Blockchain Studio, we’ve created Rockside, a blockchain service provider that helps companies deploy blockchain projects fast and in a very secure way. It is built to make it easier for large organizations to use blockchain technology and to move from pilots to production.

I’m passionate about innovation and of course I’m a blockchain enthusiast 😉.

Could you explain us what is blockchain and its value?

A blockchain is a ledger of transactions which is distributed in a peer-to-peer network. All the transactions are signed by a cryptographic system. To validate the registration in the ledger, a consensus mechanism, that was defined at the creation of the blockchain, is applied by the various participants (represented by computers). This builds collaboration and trust between the participants.

On the Blockchain, Digital media called “tokens” are used and can easily represent any tangible asset. These tokens can be split, making them more liquid and simpler to exchange. Another killer feature, on certain types of Blockchains, is an executable contract (the smart contract on Ethereum or chaincode on Hyperledger) that can automate a complete process when the execution requirements are met. This automation streamlines the transaction process between different stakeholders, accelerates the execution and reduces the possible defaults.

Now, think of the huge number of transactions made every day, which are long and quite often costly to process, then you can envision the tremendous potential of Blockchain.

Are there any live use cases?

The potential applications with blockchain technology are really huge. The first real case of Blockchain is, of course, the use of cryptocurrencies (example; Bitcoin, Ether, etc.). We see today that big institutions are creating their own currency like JPMorgan Coin or the future Facebook Coin. Those examples shows the potential of blockchain technology.

And while most blockchain use cases may only be into proof of concept at this point in time, there are a lot of great ideas out there especially related to tracking of goods and to certifications processes. According to Gartner, by 2023, blockchain will support the global movement and tracking of $2 trillion of goods and services annually.

At Blockchain Studio, we are currently working on different types of use cases where Blockchain brings out different perspectives. Some examples below:

  • Ensure and validate the identity of the owner of a diploma
  • Streamline the subscription and trading of financial products in retail banking
  • Track and follow up the production of specific green energy assets in an existing network

All these cases show clearly some key benefits of Blockchain: cost reduction by focusing on trusted third party, better user experience by increasing trust, reduce transaction etc, and the emergence of new business models.

Will blockchain change the world?

Would you imagine a world without internet today? Probably not. I think we won’t be able to imagine a world without Blockchain in the next decade.

Blockchain will be an enabler to a new way of doing business. According to Gartner, the business value-add of blockchain will grow to slightly more than $176 billion by 2025, and then it will exceed $3.1 trillion by 2030. And a World Economic Forum survey suggested that 10 percent of global GDP will be stored on blockchain by 2027.

Many interesting blockchain-based initiatives are about bringing positive social impact such as financial inclusion, identity management (according to the World Bank, over a billion people are not officially recognized by any government today), distribution of international aid, recording healthcare data, and so on.

I really believe that blockchain will support a massive transformation in traditional business models and also generate new opportunities to create social impact.

How “Dare you” to be a women in blockchain industry?

Blockchain technology is quite new so there is actually no legacy of gender gap in the ecosystem. The problem is that it is following the path of tech industry in general. That being said, I do believe that there is space for women in this industry and I have a very positive and optimistic outlook about the increasing contribution of women in the blockchain world.

I learned about blockchain technology while entering the ecosystem, what you need is just curiosity. And I don’t have a degree in computer science but there is plenty to do beyond coding 😉  

How do you bring more diversity?    

So far, I’m working with the APAC Female French Tech community to gather women in the blockchain industry, put them in the spotlight and also to find the blockchain use cases that will bring more diversity.

And I intend to do more and to spread the word that women in blockchain are more than welcome!

The API mindset: helping finance enter the programmable economy

More and more companies across industries understand that APIs (Applications Programming Interfaces) are the way to re-align IT and business.  They can increase agility while reducing time from ideation to innovation, and they can consistently deliver value in a digital world. This is even clearer in Fintech, where regulators now require financial institutions to provide open APIs to build an ecosystem and facilitate innovative services.

For the last 10 years, startups like Stripe have demonstrated that APIs are the next distribution channel for the programmable economy. Get this right and you too could be worth $22.5Bn in less than 10 years. If your interface is well designed, most of your customers will likely integrate your services autonomously in a totally self-service manner.

Regulations now force organizations to open APIs and investors support new generation banks and services built on top of them. In 2017, this new ecosystem already represented more than $100Bn in funds raised and almost $900Bn in valuation. Think about the neo-banks like Revolut, N26, and Starling Bank, who bring back value to the end customer.

The corporates’ legacy becomes their burden

Corporates dream of innovation and disruption and talk about it all the time. Truth is, young and agile startups are really in the best position of doing it. Marc Andreessen, one of the most iconic venture capital investors in Silicon Valley, said it in 2011: “Software is eating the World”.

Applied to the fintech world, this means that the best companies of tomorrow won’t be banks who do software, but software companies who do banking. Preceded by the idea of Chris Andreessen in 2008 “The end of Theory”, companies who understand software and data don’t need to be expert in their business to be good. They will learn so much more, so much faster, with so much more data and interaction that in the end, they will perform better than companies who have been specialists for a long time but who rely on their legacy.

If software is eating the world,  APIs are eating software

In a distributed, connected world some companies understand that they don’t need to just adapt to APIs, they need to adopt them at the core. As Steven Willmott says: If software is eating the world, APIs are eating software”.

Inspired by tech giants whose growth engine is their API strategy, some companies embrace new internal governance models, integration partnership strategies, and ultimately monetization models. Examples include BBVA, Capital One, Allianz, but also Airbus, Lufthansa, or Walmart.

Hopefully regulation forces laggards to move and open up APIs. It began with the banking industry in Europe when Open Banking UK and PSD2 regulations required integration capabilities between banks and third party providers, and has been followed by Australia, India, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Mexico, South Africa. Canada and the USA are next in line.

Other sectors are also impacted, like the healthcare industry. The FHIR and HR7 requirements help providers manage medical records. In logistics and supply chain, shared API standards are emerging to compete with Amazon.

Bringing the API mindset to corporates

APIs is a mindset, more so than a technology. Corporates must put them at the core of their strategy to enable new business models. Technically it requires new skills and roles like API product manager and APIOps. But the most important and first step is culture, with the intent of developing an API mindset.

The API mindset consists of organizational changes, strategy, and practice to align IT and business around APIs, while respecting a technical and business contract and enabling the ecosystem to play its part.

The API mindset means that every service should be externalizable, as Jeff Bezos puts it. As he shared to all Amazon employees in 2002, services should be designed from the ground up to be externalizable via APIs that developers will love.

The API mindset is about thinking API-first, building the API before the website or applications so that an organization can deliver the same service to all channels via a unique interface. This is how you think customer experience first, rather than product delivery.

The API mindset is about thinking beyond just API facades to define an interface contract that if respected will enable a company to refactor technical debt, and decouple the monolith into smaller services without losing customers. Because at the end of the day, respecting the interface contract is the technical and business promise of the API economy. Like Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon Web Services, says: “code can change but APIs are forever”.

The API mindset is about thinking of API-as-a-product, designing and building APIs to be delivered and implemented internally to increase business breadth, and monetized in a business context.

The API mindset is about building a strong developer experience and creating a powerful API design. These are the mandatory skills to enable application builders to build great user experiences on top of your platform.

The API mindset is about continuous management of your APIs: to always make better decisions by knowing exactly what service is used, by who, where, and how many times, in order to monitor and drive your architecture and your business,

The API mindset is not about a technology or an architectural style or an IT project. It is about leveraging internal energies to make companies think bigger, deliver faster, and be more resilient. This is the only way for corporate giants from all industries, to resist disruption and adopt digital transformation internally and externally. Because agility is what drives businesses in the digital world of today.

About the author

This article was written by Mehdi Medjaoui, co-founder of the APIdays conference and co-organizer of the upcoming APIdays Singapore on April 23 and 24 at the Arts House (old parliament of Singapore). Mehdi is also founder of OAuth.io (acquired) and APIs expert for the EU Commission, Pr. at HEC MBA, and Chief API Economist.

Over 2 days of conference with international and local speakers from the API community, APIdays Singapore will explore this API mindset, the technical and business aspects of the API thinking and how it applies to the fintech-as-a-service ecosystem.

#StartupOfTheWeek – Chainstack

This week we talked to Laurent Dedenis, Founder and CEO of Chainstack. Blockchain is such a hot topic globally and even more so in Singapore, it is about time we dive into it!

Laurent, tell us more about yourself?

I first arrived in Singapore in 1997, a long time ago! I lived here several times and I have always shared my time between Singapore and the US.
Two of my three children were born in Singapore!

I came back in Singapore five years ago, for the third time.

I had diverse experiences. I worked for various funds where I took several companies from 0 to 100 millions. It was great but I always wanted to really start my own company from scratch. I was in San Francisco in the 2000s but I was too young to do it there. So finally I founded Chainstack last year and thought Singapore was a great place to do it.

You’ve known Singapore for a long time now, how do you see the evolution?

It has changed a lot. In the past it really wasn’t a place to build something. It was complicated, expensive and there were very few talents especially in technology.

There’s been a real change four to five years ago, when the government decided to make things easier, attract more entrepreneurs, provide grants and build a stronger environment for tech companies. They’ve been able to attract the tech giants here, a lot of talents, and create strong universities.

Today there is a small but true fintech ecosystem that works rather well.

So what is Chainstack about?

Chainstack is a platform that acts as a control panel for blockchains. It’s a multi-cloud and multi-protocol environment. Whether you’re an enterprise or a developer you can use our platform as a service to quickly build, deploy, and manage decentralized networks and services.

My co-founder is Eugene Aseev, a former director of Kaspersky Labs specialized in cryptography. Early 2016 we were working to create a big R&D center for Acronis, to think about how people would protect their data and privacy in the next 15 years. We focused on security, blockchain and artificial intelligence.

The basic question we were trying to answer was: “How could blockchain replace today’s very centralized world?”.

From there we actually decided to do a spin-off from Acronis. We founded the company a year ago, we raised several millions dollars and hired people. We are now 17 staff strong and we’ve released our first product a month ago, which we’ve developed in just 11 months.

It’s been a real adventure because the market is fascinating. Everybody talks about blockchain but in practice there aren’t many players and it is not very mature yet. The technology is still new, and obviously the recent press is not really in favour of the blockchain.

A lot is being said about Blockchain, what’s your view?

Everything and anything has been written about blockchain. We are very focused on a few use-cases that bring value to our customers to ensure whatever we do delivers results.

There were similar discussions on cloud a few years ago. There was a debate between public vs. private clouds, and today we see that the main trend is actually the hybrid cloud, with many companies having a mix of both.

I think it will be the same about blockchain. There will be public and private blockchains with different uses. We see well-defined use-cases in finance, supply chain, pharma and transport. Blockchain becomes a tool among others to optimize costs and flows to do business with customers and partners.

Our customers are traditional companies trying to improve existing systems. Let me take an example: many of them are existing SAP customers. Blockchain will never replace your ERP, but it can enable new decentralized use-cases on top of it. Technically you could do it with SAP, but it would be very manual, extremely costly and it wouldn’t scale.

Again, we deeply believe the winning model in the future will combine existing systems and blockchain, in a hybrid way just like cloud.

What are the main use-cases you’re addressing?

We focus on 3 use-cases

  • Limit the costs of inter-company reconciliation.

There’s an important costs to reconcile data and reports when several enterprises do business together. It is a huge cost for the global economy: for instance it represents 5 to 6% of the cost structure for banks. This is often referred to as the single version of the truth.

  • Limit the intermediaries

Today any business involves many intermediaries which add some value but also create a lot of friction. The blockchain, with smart contracts, can transform these processes and reduce the number of parties and make them a lot leaner.

  • Traceability

Many industries need to trace everything they produce. Think food or pharma industry, but also luxury. What is interesting here is that it works both ways: using our platform a pharma company can control how they put a new drug on the market, but it also enables them to withdraw a product when there is a problem.

What’s your last word?

I think something is really happening in Singapore at the moment especially in the fintech and blockchain industry. For the first time in the history of technology, these are not exclusive to the US. It comes mostly from Russia and China, and it’s really exciting to be in the first generation of non-american tech! Today the heart of fintech is not only NYC, it is also London, Paris, Singapore and Hong-Kong.

For us at Chainstack, we just released our product and we’re running full steam to make it the most universal blockchain platform to help our customers. By the way, we’ll hold our official launch on April 23rd at the Google office so join us there!

#WomenInTech – Emmanuelle Coulon

Time for another amazing interview with one of the women in the FrenchTech community! Emmanuelle Coulon worked for 3 years in Singapore and was an very active member of the community, and she moved to Hong-Kong two months ago. Read on to learn a bit of her story, her new podcast “En Eclaireur”, and get a few social media tips!

Hi Emmanuelle, so what do you do and how did you come to Asia?

Hi! I am passionate about digital and innovation and Asia is a very exciting region for this fast-paced industry. Singapore is an amazing playground for new technologies! This is why I decided to move to Singapore in 2016. I did learn a lot there. Then, I realized it was time to embark on a new adventure and just moved to Hong Kong two months ago. Different city, different energy, but same eager to experiment.

I have a background in consulting and I am now a solution consultant at Hootsuite, a social media management software provider. My mission is to help brands better leverage social media to achieve their business objectives. Asia social media scene is fascinating as Asian giants such as WeChat are highly successful and innovative.   

What are the main trends in social media in Asia?

First, social media does not mean social networks anymore… in Asia, it’s now all about social messaging. People are getting more and more used to instant, personalized interactions with brands on WeChat or LINE. This is a huge opportunity for brands to engage in high-value conversations with customers. But brands also have to adapt to new rules: messaging is part of the customers’ retreat to their private spaces, which means no ads!

Second trend for 2019 is social commerce that is growing massively. Asian consumers have already embraced the use of social commerce like crazy: in China,70 percent of Generation Z is now opting to buy direct from social, mostly from WeChat. Facebook is launching new technologies but the seller experience is not optimized yet. Instagram shoppable posts and checkout functions were released a few week ago only, for US merchants only…

Last key trend to highlight: mobile is eating social! Social media is now pivoting from text-based platforms originally designed for desktops to truly mobile-only networks that allow people to capture in-the-moment experiences. This is a real shift in social media: Stories are expected to overtake newsfeed by the end of 2019.

What are some best practices for a good social communication plan?

Defining your objectives should always be your starting point. Do you want to raise awareness, attract new customers, or promote a new product? Your objectives must be aligned with specific KPIs that define what success looks like. Then, it’s fun time: content creation! I recommend to follow the rule of thirds:

  • ⅓ of your social content promotes your business and drives conversion
  • ⅓ of your social content should surface and share ideas and stories from thought leaders in your industry
  • ⅓ of your social content should be based on human interactions and humanise your brand

Last thing is to test and learn. Testing is critical to understand what type of content is resonating the best with your audience and to inform your content strategy accordingly.

You have worked between Hong Kong and Singapore for more than 3 years as a social media consultant and as part of the French Tech community. What are the main differences between the two cities in the digital space?

Hong Kong and Singapore are involved in a healthy competition to become the most attractive digital hub in Southeast Asia. But both ecosystems are pretty different!

Singapore has won the startup battle. It is an amazing place for entrepreneurs, with a highly efficient administration, more financial support and incentives for technology companies. But larger corporates are struggling to drive innovation internally and tend to be more risk adverse. In Singapore, most of my mission is to help corporations go through transformation and change management.

In Hong Kong, I have been impressed by the eagerness to turn social marketing into social experience. For example, let’s look at Hong Kong Airlines with who I have worked closely. Last year, they faced a terrible issue: a technical bug made them offer round-trip business class tickets for $600… Word went out fast on social and many people jumped on it! It may have been a tough financial loss, but Hong Kong Airlines finally decided to honor the fare and announced it on social. The result? Amazing brand love and an improved reputation as a digital-savvy airline.

And what about your initiative “En Eclaireur”, could you tell us more about it?

Last year, my LinkedIn inbox was full of messages from people who wanted to better understand what life in Asia looks like and get some advice. I realized that what had helped me the most when moving to Singapore was simply to meet people, ask questions and learn from their experiences.

This is exactly why I launched En Eclaireur: I wanted to inform and inspire people with true stories of expatriates from all around the world. Singapore, São Paulo, Shanghai, Casablanca… my guests share their adventures abroad, their mistakes and successes, their tips and recommendations. It’s all in French, but it’s definitely worth listening to it to learn French too! You can find these beautiful stories on Instagram.

The best recognition is when I get messages from people who have found the energy to jump on a new opportunity abroad thanks to the podcast!

How to empower women in tech and entrepreneurship?

“If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more” This is my motto. And I strongly believe in role models to get the power to take risks. This is part of the reasons why I launched my podcast: I wanted to spotlight powerful women around the world because their stories can help other women believe in themselves. I interviewed Chiara Condi, founder of Led By Her, the first French social incubator turning vulnerable women into entrepreneurs ; a business woman who lives with her husband and two daughters in Saudi Arabia ; a fitness influencer who started from scratch in Singapore. I am open to any suggestions of inspiring women who would be open to share their stories on my podcast!