The Great Convergence and The Fintech End Game

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I’ve been in Fintech now for around 5 years, based out of Singapore, but traveling across the globe. I’m the co-founder of Bambu, a B2B startup that serves the Wealth Management industry. Over the past few years, I have met 500+ clients and 200+ investors. Completed 5 accelerators in Hong Kong, Geneva, Bangkok, and Singapore. I’ve pitched hundreds of times and heard other startups pitch even more. Spoken at dozens of events and panels. So basically, I’ve seen some stuff when it comes to Fintech.

This exposure has almost oversaturated my senses, whereby it becomes hard to see any big picture. Everything becomes so nuanced at this level of detail. It’s hard to regain the fresh perspective of a newcomer. A few weeks ago, I had such a moment. Suddenly, I could see the pieces fitting together as if it was planned all along. Mushrooms, magical or not, were not involved in any capacity.

Now, I may be wrong about all of this, so I welcome commentary and criticism. I had originally planned to keep this pitch under wraps, only doing closed-room presentations to potential clients. How lame. But, then I thought to myself that the likelihood I’ll personally get to implement all of this through our clients is pretty slim. It will irk me if competitors use some of my own thinking against me, but more than that, I can’t shake the disappointments of what Fintech has and hasn’t achieved. Plus, I can just send people the link. Open-source thinking, then.

So, for what it’s worth, if anything at all, here is what I think is happening in Fintech beyond 2019. Let’s start from the state-of-play and work our way up to the Fintech End Game.

The Digital Banking Gold Rush

Most startups shouldn’t waste time on writing research reports, and neither do I. So why do it this time? Well, the Digital Banking Gold Rush has put everyone in Fintech on notice. These platforms are becoming the core of Fintech in a way, or at least they have the potential to become the orchestrators of all Financial Services. The Fintech Mega Apps, if you will.

Right now in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi, there are Virtual Banking licenses up for grabs. In many jurisdictions, these are the first new banking licenses given out in decades, so it’s a big thing. More interesting than that, many of the hopeful applicants have nothing to do with Financial Services, at least until now. Ridesharing apps, eCommerce platforms, even gaming companies are getting in on the action, just to milk the fat Fintech cow. As of 2019, Fintech is the ultimate tech battleground.

Initially, given my focus on Wealth Management, there hasn’t been much overlap or interest in this specific segment of banking. But when one of our existing banking clients was awarded such a license, we were basically invited to pitch them. So, we needed to do a bit of research, and here we are. Ta-da.

The Great Convergence

Now, I know the Wealth Management space pretty well. Or to be more precise, I know the Robo-advisory (“Robo”) space inside-out. Some of the early platforms have been in the market for a decade, so this isn’t emerging tech. It’s on pretty solid footing at this point. Many Robo platforms have evolved to broaden their scope in the past few years, however. Mostly to keep investors engaged in the growth narrative by expanding use-cases to attract a broader audience.

So… when doing my little report, I picked up on the fact that there was a common element in the product expansion strategies of both Robos and Digital Banks. Hmm…

NOTE: There might be a worthwhile distinction between Challenger Banks, Neobanks, and the new Virtual or Digital Banks, but for the sake of simplicity I’m going to just stick with “Digital Banks” here to describe them all.

Robos are moving into savings.

The two original Robos that have really separated themselves from the flock are Betterment and Wealthfront. Started around the same time roughly a decade ago, there’s really not that much that separates the two, if we’re honest. They’ve sort of defined what a Robo is, and stuck to it, largely. Wealthfront is in Silicon Valley, Betterment is in New York. Different flavors of ice cream, but still ice cream.

SIDEBAR: A LOT of people misunderstand the value proposition of these services, even after a decade of non-stop growth. Even people within the industry. Even leaders of other Robos. It boils down to two things, neither of which is price or investment returns. First and foremost, it’s about UX, or rather the convenience it affords the user. They were the first to introduce digital onboarding, when any bank would have you pop into the nearest branch to scan and/or fax your passport and physically sign about 50 documents. Bring extra quill ink. When it comes to customer acquisition, UX is king. The incumbents continue to not get it, and the startups continue to bank on this asymmetric UX arbitrage. The second part of the value proposition is brand. Not being a bank. People in the industry are so convinced that finance is about trust, transparency, and relationships. It’s just not. Cool matters as much in Finance, as it does in cars and retail. In fact, Apple is banking on UX and Brand with their entrance into Finance with their credit card and Wallet app. I’ll take any Apple product over anything that’s ever come out of a bank, and so will the masses. You can take that to the bank!

The Robos are still playing the classic Venture Capital game of LTV / CAC, and depending on who you ask, either totally smashed it or totally burned hundreds of millions in desperation to get to the elusive holy grail of scale. I lean towards the former, as they certainly have reached a scale where the big old boys have taken notice. They’re like the Tesla of Wealth Management, half are calling them visionary, the other half delusional and betting on imminent self-implosion.

Yet, after a decade in business, they must be pretty exhausted from fighting for the same Google keywords, and as the big boys also now have digital toys, the cost of acquisition surely isn’t trending down. So you have to fight on new turf, to avoid an all-out war of CAC attrition. So what is that greener pasture that they seek?

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There are a few new types of new products as we see, including credit (ugh!), but the main theme is savings. There are two main drivers for this, I believe. First is the economy: long-term low interest-rates combined with the end of the linear bull market. Pretty much nobody in the Western world is getting much above 0% on deposits, while many emerging markets still offer deposit rates above 5%. The old adage of 10% annual returns on equities has gradually eroded closer to 5% if you’re lucky. The risk-to-reward ratios aren’t a no-brainer like they were for almost a decade since the housing crisis. That’s left a gap in the market for some creativity, which is now being solved by high-yield interest accounts and money market funds. While 2–3% isn’t rocking anyone’s world, it’s pretty significant considering the low risk and protection compared to even fixed-income products.

The second reason we’re seeing Robos move into savings is that it lowers the acquisition threshold. Even if nowadays you can technically open a Robo account with a dollar, that’s not gonna get you very far. The same goes for really anything short of $10,000. Your returns look more like a rounding error than the 8th wonder of the world. So how do you attract those smaller, less committed users? Savings, of course. The benefit is that you can put in money and take it out whenever you want. As long as it sits in the Robo account, at least you get 2%. Better than nothing at the bank, and less commitment than investing. Win-win for all.

As we’ll see later, this has fueled massive growth in the past 18 months.

Digital Banks are moving into savings.

The Digital Banking movement really started in the UK, due to new legislation allowing purely “virtual” banks to be licensed. Many startups backed by venture capital war chests took up the offer. Some like Monzo and Starling started out purely as banks, or rather mobile wallet apps with a physical debit card. That became the template. Some like Revolut have evolved into that space starting from remittance or other payments related use-cases. One of the cool features that has attracted early adopters, besides the convenience of UX, is the analytics around your spending, or Personal Finance Management (“PFM”).

These platforms, having been in the market for a number of years now, would have all picked up on the same opportunity created by low interest rates and choppy stock markets. People wanted to park their spare cash somewhere, rather than just spend it immediately. So now the Digital Banks are also jumping in on the high-yield savings train. It’s worth noting that some of them just settle for parking cash, paying no meaningful yield as of yet.

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For what it’s worth, it isn’t just Robos and Digital Banks getting into savings. Credit Karma, Robinhood, and Coinbase just announced their own high-yield accounts in October. So did one of the major U.S. telcos in T-Mobile. Savings is sexy in 2019. Said no-one ever before or after.

The interesting thing here is that the Digital Banks started from day-to-day payments and budgeting, and the Robos started from long-term investing. They are miles away in more sense than one. In fact, they’re on opposite ends of the timescale. One is about what to buy today, the other about covering living costs in decades from today. So what does it mean that we’re seeing convergence towards savings? Does it mean anything at all? We’ll get to it in The End Game below.

Product expansion is driving growth.

So, how’s this all working out? Well, it’s been an absolute monster year for a lot of the leading platforms. Now, it’s not all 100% due to savings, but as a common theme, it’s making waves. You see it on both sides of the Fintech Timescale.

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Wealthfront has doubled its AUM in 2019 to $20B. Revolut has doubled its customer base in 2019. These are gigantic numbers. The European Digital Banks are now also expanding to Asia and the US with N26 and Revolut leading the charge, hungry to capture global market share as the incumbents are sleeping on the rapid transformation of their industry.

From transaction to subscription pricing.

Okay, so there are some common features on various Fintech platforms. Whoopee-Do. Well, it doesn’t stop there. Pricing models are converging, too. Traditionally, all branches of Financial Services have charged on transactions. Either directly or through volume. It’s relatively transparent, so the regulators like it. Other than that, there’s no real justification for charging $20 for a stock trade. It’s entirely fictitious. For the customer, it’s not always that easy to translate transaction fees into perceived value from the service. To say the least.

Think about it. If you’re a Wealth Management client with a $10,000 account or a $100,000 account, you’re still getting the same exact service but one is paying 10x more for it. In today’s digital world of apps and subscription tiers, that just doesn’t compute.

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So the first thing we’ve seen is the emergence of tiered pricing, a hallmark of more mature online business models. Think Slack or Amazon Web Services. You pay as you go, and the more you pay, the higher the quality of service you receive. Hard to fault that in terms of fairness!

Now, perhaps the bigger leap here is actually to do away with transactions and volumes all together as the basis of fees. One driver for this is simply that it’s possible. The real cost of transactions has become negligible due to the digitization of the underlying digital infrastructure.

That has led many of the Digital Banks to opt for an all-inclusive subscription fee instead. Think Netflix or Spotify. Providers like N26 and Revolut have used this as an additional branding opportunity, with the introduction of the metal card. Personally, it makes zero sense to me, but I get it. The FOMO is real. Metal cards and Yeezys go together like two peas in a pod! It’s very inclusive in a way. You don’t need to be rich to qualify for the best service, just make a lifestyle choice and fork up the $19.90 each month. Unlike flying on business class, this is a premium experience within the reach of most consumers.

This subscription pricing trend has also now started to trickle into Robos, starting with one of the original industry price-slashers in Charles Schwab. Many are following suit, especially as the product offerings evolve beyond investments into savings it becomes confusing to apply AUM fees across different account types.

The Fintech End Game

Now, this is all very good, but that’s just stating facts so far. What’s the big story here? Where are we going with this narrative?

Saving is the glue between tomorrow and the future.

Perhaps with this long-winding intro, it’s to be expected, that the convergence will continue even deeper. A useful framework to examine this convergence is a timescale of the user’s life, from what I need to do today to the some-day category most never worry about decades into the future. Let’s call it the Fintech Timescale. Sounds epic.

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So what we start to see here is that the two major camps of disruptors have started on either end. Digital Banks started with spending today, Robos with investing for retirement. Now both approach the middle, which is of course savings territory.

Digital banks haven’t connected the dots, yet.

One of the triggers of this thinking was a great report by 11FS on the customer journey of the Digital Bank users, and how that was evolving. It’s not too long and worth a read on its own.

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One clear takeaway was that despite some rudimentary savings-pot kind of thinking, few if any had shown real effort and commitment in stretching out the timescale from near-term needs to any kind of planning. Not at least at the systematic level of structure the Robos provide.

Goals are the lens of real-life into finance.

What also becomes apparent is that goals are a concept frequently applied by both Digital Banks and Robos to allow the user to segregate their real-life needs.

“Goals should be the UX of all finance .”— me just now

This to me, goals is a KEY concept that is greatly overlooked in finance across the board, despite some adoption on consumer platforms. Even with startups, there is an inherent assumption that people want and need financial products of various sizes and shapes. Not true, at all. Period. Financial products are simply tools to facilitate actions in real life. Yes, goals are also tools, but the difference is that goals allow you to interact with the user in a common language void of financial jargon that has meaning in their actual life. Goals should be the UX of all finance. You can quote that. Please do.

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Further, the Robos that have also introduced savings accounts somehow have missed the timescale opportunity to extend their goal-based planning to short-term needs using goals. This may be a temporary issue stemming from the complexity of managing multiple goals and account types with the custodians. We’ll work it out soon.

Overall, we’re still scratching the surface on goals, and much opportunity exists in helping the user here. More on that later.

Real customer value requires advice.

If you can follow me here with goals, that still doesn’t really solve anything directly for the user. Goals are a great tool, but still just a tool. It doesn’t help if you don’t know how and when to use the tool. Enter advice.

One of the main reasons I’ve dropped “advice” from the common name Robo-advisor, is because they’re all heavy on Robo and light on advice. They haven’t earned the right to use “advice” yet, in my book.

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What we really have today is mostly on the bottom layer, as in just automation of transactions so the user doesn’t need to learn and click around to get money to move in and out of financial products. This applies to Digital Banks as much as Robos. Swipe to fund. Swipe to spend. Swipe to invest.

Both have also added some swank pie charts and line graphs to tell you about compositions and trends in your transactions, whether about spending or investments. The human still needs to do the high-level thinking here. Analytics isn’t advice, either.

So what is real advice, then? Well, to me the keyword is judgment. If you allow the user to do whatever they want, that isn’t advice. When it comes to money, the more you understand about the user’s financial situation, and goals of course, the more judgmental you can be. Is your budget unrealistic? Is your savings plan falling short? Is your spending out of control? This is what your human advisor would tell you, so we need to digitize that to make it available to everyone independently of means. Ironically, the rich need that advice much less than the poor do. So let’s get it out there!

From passive to proactive advice.

You might argue that risk profiling is a type of advice because judgment is passed on how you answer some questions. The advice is the risk score. That’s passive advice in the sense that the user needed to take action to receive said advice, but also in that it is static. At most you might revisit that questionnaire annually.

Some Digital Banks have safe-to-save features, which steps in the right direction. Rather than wait for the user to take action, we should be running the numbers 24/7 like a personal CFO and notifying the user of their reckless behavior. Hopefully, those nudges eventually start to modify behaviors towards financial wellness.

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The ideal type of advice should cover the entire spectrum of the timescale. In fact, that is where the value really kicks in, because we all need to make choices between short-term needs and long-term priorities. The sad truth is that most have no visibility on the long-term, so they’ll always choose today over tomorrow. Why worry about tomorrow if you’re screwed today?

This is why we don’t have more Warren Buffets. The time-value of money and compound interest doesn’t compute in our daily lives. A dollar today isn’t a dollar tomorrow. We need that personal CFO to do that job on our behalf and bring those tradeoffs we make from our subconscious to top of mind. At least you’re making those same bad decisions consciously. Guilt and remorse can be powerful tools, too.

One-click financial planning.

The downside of all this amazing value we’re adding is that we’re complicating something that is meant to be simple. Again, most industry players STILL don’t get UX. It’s not about the pretty pictures and sans-serif fonts. It’s about making something complicated simple, and as Steve Jobs would say, that’s the hardest thing to do. Apple’s whole brand is built on that premise.

So we don’t want to destroy the simplicity that has driven the whole digital transformation and disruption of Financial Services. Remember, as long as we’re doing good things for the customer, this is a worthy purpose. Yes, we can get rich along the way as we unlock tremendous value, but at the end of the day, it should be a result of solving hard problems for consumers.

Enter Machine Learning. I know. I know! I’m trying to not be that guy. At least I didn’t pull the Blockchain card. Let’s keep that ace up my sleeve for the comments section. So what can ML do to simplify UX? Well, even a few years ago there was some media coverage of the potential entry of the tech giants into finance. One such article proposed that were Google to enter Wealth Management, they could do away entirely with the risk profile questionnaire. How? Well, because they already have a much more nuanced behavioral profile of you than any questionnaire could hope to accomplish. The same goes for Facebook, probably including Instagram. A little cool, but a lot scary though.

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We should be able to take that concept much further and apply it in much smaller datasets. And be less creepy about it, generally. Rather than use that data to serve you ads, we can serve you value instead. It’s easier to see in the context of Digital Banking because they have more data on users thanks to that spending piechart. Now, I’m not just thinking of risk profiling. I’m thinking more about advice, and how we can extract information about your life circumstances, behaviors, and goals. Ultimately, to deliver you a one-click financial plan, all filled out neatly and ready for your approval. If I know your spending, I know your financial plan. It’s doable. It’ll happen, and go much beyond that, I foresee.

The Price War to end all Price Wars

If I’m right about the convergence, then we should start seeing some interesting crossover in M&A, too. Robos acquiring PFM platforms. Digital Banks snagging up struggling Robos. So in some sense, we’ll probably come up with some snazzy name for these Mega Fintechs. We already have Super Apps. I was never a fan of the Financial Marketplace concept because it implies we’re shopping for products like in a supermarket. Who needs a catalog of mutual funds in their life? Ugh. We have to stop thinking backward from products and transactions, and start thinking up from the data and adding value through advice.

Meanwhile, prices have been continuously slashed in Financial Services pretty much since Financial Services was invented. Discount brokers. Online brokers. Free online brokers. Index funds. ETFs. Management fees. Fee-only advice. Free Robo-advice. Well, if we’re being perfectly honest there’s no free lunch here. Anyone labeling the “free” sticker is also adding some fine print somewhere. Free brokers sell flow, i.e. allow institutional players to front-run and make money off their retail sucker users. Kind of poops the party, but then again those sucker users don’t know what any of that means anyway. Free Robo-advice, namely by Schwab, is also not really free. They force you to keep a significant portion of your portfolio in cash, so they can sweep the interest. Not to you, to them. Again, the user is none the wiser. Free is more about creative license in marketing than anything else.

So how is this price war going to end? Can it end? Is it going to bounce at zero with opaque not-free models, then bounce back up to some more transparent low-cost model? I suspect the latter, with GDPR and other regulations aiming squarely at transparency and privacy. That issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

So how does anyone make any money? What is this, philanthropy? How do bankers buy yachts in the future? How do startup founders lease their Lambos? Surely, there must be a way. I have a few ideas, and the gist of it is that we make money, indirectly, when we provide extra value for the customer. Monetization of data, but not with that get-in-the-van kind of vibe.

That way, the service itself could be made free at least for the lowest tier. You can still charge premium subscriptions for premium service, but at least it will limit your losses on the acquisition. Again, you’re welcome to implement any and all of these for the good of your customers. Just toss me the keys to your Lambo when I’m in town, it’s the least you can do.

Monetize rewards and partnerships.

One of the greatly underutilized datasets of all in Finance is spending data. It really does tell the story of the user’s life. Not only do we see where the money is being spent, but we also see trends and statistics on changes in that spending. Even better, we can compare your spending data to a segment of similar households. Pretty juicy stuff!

So we could monetize those categories, differences, and changes. If we know you shop at Tesco, then we could offer you their rewards card and even do the math on how much you’d save each month extra. We just take a small lead-gen fee from Tesco. Win-win. Maybe rather than just order Ubers every day, get one of their monthly passes. Win-win. Ka-ching. Maybe your utility bill is more than usual or more than similar households. Check for better plans or switch providers. Win-win. Ka-ching.

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Of course, the savings we create can be then put to great use in your savings goals. Get to your trip to Bali faster, or even upgrade your hotel. We can monetize that, too. Everybody just keeps winning here, the customer first and foremost. Monetizing data doesn’t have to leave you with sticky hands.

Monetize curated third-party content.

Fathers Day is coming up, have you saved up already? Oh, this is a surprise like every year? Shocking. Well, how about we put aside $5-a-day and you can order this hemp-based organic shaving cream all the other hipster dads use. Win-win. Ka-ching.

Oh, your car insurance is creeping up and maintenance bills piling. Time for a new set of wheels? Here are some used cars that might do the job. Win-win. Ka-ching. Ka-pow. Dreaming of your first home? Here’s what’s realistic given your savings, income, and spending. Here’s what a realistic and sustainable mortgage plan is going to look like. Shall we book a viewing with the selling agent? Win-win. Ka-ching. Boom!

The opportunity of leveraging eCommerce API’s is untapped and ginormous. These Mega Fintechs could and should become the concierge of your entire financial life. They ensure you spend responsibly and in the right places to make the most of your dollar.

Acquire and monetize through third-party content.

We’re getting warmed up now. Okay, this may genuinely be a terrible idea, but since this is my blog you’re going to have to suffer through it or stop reading. But don’t stop. I was only kidding. Please.

So you know all those douchey pay-day platforms that offer consumer credit that people don’t need? Many of them unicorns, no less. They put their sleazy buttons and dirty widgets on eCommerce websites around the world, tempting people into buying crap they don’t need and can’t afford, by lowering the threshold. It sucks. I hate it. Can’t hide it.

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What if we did the exact opposite? Let’s imagine you want to buy that curved LCD, which you don’t need. But you want it. But you can’t afford it. So rather than buy on credit, which is idiotic, let’s save for that TV. It’s like a wishlist on Amazon, except it’s actually a savings goal on your platform. You can do the math on when you can get the TV, with good conscience, having simply prioritized it in your savings, rather than totally ravage your savings and get in you in the red with credit. Hey, I’m no Mother Teresa, but that sounds a lot better to me.

Acquire and monetize through Embedded Advice.

Stretch your imagination here, just like the stretch that allowed you to get in those skinny jeans all the kids are wearing now. Today’s eCommerce is expanding into higher and higher categories of value. Previously, you could buy lots of small things for less than $100. Now, you can buy electronics worth thousands. Cars, even. At least in China.

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So what if we took our one-click financial planning abilities, and embedded them to the sources of those big purchases. Kind of like insurers are doing with used car websites, where the widgets calculate the premium on the fly for the car. Why couldn’t we do the same but calculate what you can actually afford? Could we do that for homes? What about university tuition for your children, factoring in living costs and inflation? Yes, totally. It’s just technology, anything is possible.

The End.

Published by

Aki Ranin Founder. Writer. Part-time space explorer

October 13, 2019

Bambu Demos Beanstox App with Kevin O'Leary at FinovateFall 2019

How they describe themselves: Bambu is a leading global provider of digital wealth technology for businesses of every size and industry, from finance to commercial or even new disruptors, transforming the digital wealth market. We enable companies to make saving and investing simple and intelligent for their clients. The cloud-based platform is powered by our proprietary algorithms and machine learning tools.

How they describe their product/innovation: Our goal-based Robo-advisor offers investors a natural and effortless experience in finding the right investment strategy for their client’s needs. Instead of a traditional single risk profile portfolio, the White-Label creates personalised portfolios for each of your life goals, providing you with full control of your future. Offered to B2B clients as a white-label solution.

Product distribution strategy: Direct to Business (B2B)

Contacts
Bus. Dev.: Sean Zhou, Bus. Dev., sean@bambu.life
Press: Laura Pereira, Marketing Manager, laura@bambu.life

Visit our website: www.bambu.life

Mandatory reading for Entrepreneurs

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So you read all those bestsellers in the photo? Well, I didn’t. And you wasted your time. Sell them on to the next sucker like a good entrepreneur.

Let me tell you what you should be reading instead.

I’ve always read a lot. I used to read the classics when young. Dickens. Shakespeare. Anything with a Penguin on it. I credit a lot of my imagination and creativity to that foundation of good storytelling. Then I switched to business books because… that’s what you’re supposed to do at work. I learned nothing. Then I started reading history, philosophy, and sci-fi. Because I was seeking truth. It has made all the difference. Here’s why.

The hardest thing about being an entrepreneur isn’t the “how” questions about fundraising, or selling, or building teams and products. It’s finding the reason why. “Why” separates the successful and the failed. Because the likelihood of failure is high, and it’s guaranteed to be hard, you really need a “why”. Otherwise, you’ll give up inevitably, when the going gets tough. The corporate grass starts to look a lot greener, suddenly. In fact, because startups are so on-trend, lots of people with no real answer to the question are getting in and therefore failing en-masse. This is why reading all those startup books is utterly useless. They answer all the wrong questions!

Why then, for you? I swear to you, it can’t be just about the money. Why not? Money is important. So you’ll be terrified of losing money. The money you make, but also the money you have. You have to spend lots, more than you’d like, to get out anything. Not just bootstrap, but bailout. What if you put in more than you get out? That’s the reality for a lot of founders. So it can’t be about money alone. If you want money, get into a high-paying corporate career. That’s low risk and predictable, even if you start at the bottom. Every rung up means more money, and that only stops when you run out of motivation to climb higher. You can stop reading and start job hunting. Pack elbow pads. Good luck!

Oh, you’re still here. You insist? Okay then.

So how do you find your “why”? Some say work on your hobby. Because you’re already doing it for no money because you like it. Trade vintage vinyls online. Start a website selling spare parts for Japanese sports cars. Create an online community for college Lacrosse fans. Some say go back to what you loved as a kid. Dreamed of being an astronaut? Loved photography? Do you have such an idea? Most don’t. At least one that can be a business.

Maybe it’s not a specific idea, but more about what entrepreneurship means to you. Maybe you’ll end up joining a team and working on their idea instead. It’s not just about the idea, then. Entrepreneurship must mean something personal to you. Freedom. Community. Justice. Opportunity. Equality. Purpose. Something.

This is what you will find in these books. It will facilitate your search for your own answer to the big question. Do you have to read all these books to qualify for an entrepreneur’s license? No, there’s no such thing. But maybe pick one from each category. You can thank me later. Seriously, send me a message.

Disclaimer: You CAN listen to these as audiobooks, but I strongly encourage you not to. You’re not doing this to get the summary. The whole point is to sit with this content, bookmark it, highlight it, and discuss it. Re-read that paragraph. Review your notes. You’re searching for something between the lines, so don’t make it easy to pass by. Embrace the process.

Fiction

We start off with a few pieces of fiction. For most people who don’t read much, this is far more approachable than jumping into esoteric and abstract philosophy. The authors have crafted emotionally gripping narratives, that present the characters with the very same big questions you would face on your startup journey, from the romantic beginnings to the bitter end.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Strangely, this book works much better in 2019 than it did when it was written in 1957. This is a real “book of Elon” if there ever was one. I can’t remember any other book taking me on such a journey of emotions from confusion to understanding, surprise, ignorance, adulation, compassion and all over again in a repeating circle. There is just so much depth here. In the characters. In the analogies, the themes, the concepts. Who knew entrepreneurship could be so dramatic.

If you come away from this book without a raging, teary-eyed love for the opportunities Western capitalism has afforded us all, then you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. If you aren’t left in awe of Hank Rearden and his likeness to Elon, then you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. If you waltz into your job tomorrow screaming “Who is John Galt?!” before walking out for good, then welcome to the club.

Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa

This is one of the most popular books ever written in Japan, and despite being historical fiction, it is simply an immaculate time capsule from the golden era of Japanese culture. Besides being some of the most beautifully crafted prose ever written, the depth of examination on existential angst and the value of a life well-lived can be life-changing for the reader. If you finish the book without a deep sense of humility and sincere appreciation for the aimless, wandering journey of life we’re all afforded, you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. If this reading experience leads you to make an emotional online purchase of a $1,000 wooden Bokken, sorry not sorry.

My thoughts on takeaways from Mushashi.

Science Fiction

One of the characteristics that separates the true visionary founders like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk from mere businessmen is their ability to see into the future and bring it back to today. For most, surviving today is hard enough. But to move humanity into the future is a gargantuan task that few can even attempt.

This is why I read sci-fi. It reminds me that what we think are the limits today expire tomorrow. We truly don’t know what we don’t know. Tomorrow is about branches of opportunity that only open as you explore them. This is why mankind has always been drawn to the open frontier. It’s about the mental leaps from how life is, to how things could be better. This is the fundamental entrepreneur’s mindset. It’s hard, so you must practice this muscle. Sci-fi is an entertaining way to do just that.

The Expanse

While most sci-fi unleashes the creativity and imagination of the authors' childhood fantasies, the best thing about The Expanse is the creative restraint of the writers. It paints a gritty, realistic depiction of humanity just a century or two ahead of today. It puts us in an expanding horizon of the human experience where we have colonized parts of the solar system. This feels like the reality Elon already lives inside his head, and we mortals need books like this to take us there. Just a few generations down the line, your grandkids or their grandkids might just live that reality, for real. We’re on the brink of some fundamental changes to the human experience. Oh, and this is the only one that is acceptable to watch rather than read— the TV show is probably better than the books. Said no one ever, except me this one time.

The TV show, because it's awesome.

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

One of Elon’s favorite books. The Foundation tells a story about long timescales, like across generations, and our desire to control outcomes in the face of the universal randomness of entropy. The theme is how to deal with uncertainty, which is at the core of the startup experience. It’s a surprisingly philosophical book too, with lots of big questions being asked about human values such as progress and technology. In this case, sadly, you DO have to read all three books.

The Three-Body Problem.

What don’t we know about the universe? How deep is that well of knowledge we’re only peeking into? What is possible within known physics? What is impossible? What if the impossible becomes reality suddenly and without warning? How does that change us? Can humans really adapt to anything? This is The Foundation but with aliens and technological explosion on truly astronomical timescales. A lot of the concepts come from recent scientific research projects and thought experiments from leading futurists and philosophers. Add on top an unimaginable amount of creative imagination from the author, and this book truly goes where no man has been before. No book has expanded my notion of the possible like this book. You can just read the first book of the series to capture the essence and move on, but if you enjoy it, the second and third books are just both exponential leaps beyond. One of the most breathtaking books I’ve ever read. A few times I had to put the book down just to gasp out loud.

History

Ray Dalio’s investment genius is based on the fundamental realization that nothing is new under the sun. To predict the future, a fantastic and wholly under-appreciated tool is to look at the past. Men have won. Men have lost. Wars have been fought. Economies and Empires built and ruined. Technology discovered and forgotten. Culture has emerged and dissolved. Now, the past cannot happen exactly the same way given entropy and the arrow of time, and the trick is to find what is the applicable signal from the noise of history. The variables are many, almost infinite, but many situations can be boiled down to a few key variables that can be understood and even manipulated. That we can learn from history.

History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Book XIX: Friedrich Like to Be Overwhelmed in the Seven-Years War (1759–1760) by Thomas Carlyle

What does it feel like when you’re about to lose everything? Not just you, personally, but literally everything about your world. Your whole nation, it’s people, it’s freedom and future, about to disappear into thin air. How do you come to terms with such a fate, or do you simply continue in the face of certain defeat? What do you say to your team, to make a desperate last stand? I know it’s war. Real life-and-death stuff. But to consider the prospects of losing everything in such an exaggerated context makes for fantastic material for soul-searching for your own purpose and motivations. Do not read all 21 volumes, for god’s sake! Just volume 19.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1, by Edward Gibbon

If the sci-fi books were about putting yourself in the future, and examining long timescales, then The Roman Empire is the closest thing we have in our history. The empire of a thousand years saw 70 emperors born, rise, rule, and die. The very nature of human existence evolved through the eons, yet somehow the institutions survived to a very bitter end and transition into modern European history from the ancient world. Cultural upheaval through the emergence of Christianity, technological advancement and stagnation, the rise of political systems and the birth of taxation, it all happened.

Coincidentally, this book series is literally longer than the Bible, so you don’t need the full story of all 70 emperors. The first book gives you a summary of the death of the Roman Republic, and how the Empire is born from its ashes as a collection of institutions designed to last beyond the individual. There’s something that appeals to short-term thinking prevalent in today’s world of instant gratification and overnight success.

Napoleon, A Life by Andrew Roberts

Napoleon was the ultimate self-made man. When I say self-made, I really mean he invented himself from nothing. No man has had such a journey from 0 to 1 before or since. He was genuinely made by and for the battlefield. Compared to his military exploits and near misses, his revolutionary politics seem almost mild in comparison. The man had a penchant for power, and for danger. Yet he carried himself from nothingness to magnificence to ruin with the same unrelenting composure, that really leaves you in awe of the spirit of le petit caporal. The 30,000 letters by Napoleon finally released to the public after centuries of censorship offer an intimate lens into the life and times of this unique individual. Perhaps the light of life and flame of ambition has never burned brighter in any other.

My thoughts on takeaways from Napoleon.

Philosophy

If you’re ready to commit to the exercise, then this is the boss level. Philosophy is hard reading, because rarely, if ever, is anything directly applicable. It’s all abstract. You have to work mentally to digest and comprehend the content to make any use of it. Of course, if you’re willing to commit, this is fundamentally the search for the big questions and their big answers. This is the right tool for the job.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

How to face great enthusiasms and the precipice of catastrophic failure with equanimity. The fact that the personal diaries of perhaps the only real philosopher-king the world has ever known doesn’t even mention his crowning as Emperor says it all. Life cannot just be about the material experience. The world is full of cruel, jealous, and undeserving people, but it’s all we’ve got. We should make something of it all, rather than struggle to face reality each day. Meaning must be given to every experience by each one of us alone in our heads, and Marcus Aurelius teaches us by example of a life well-lived.

My thoughts on takeaways from Marcus Aurelius.

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.

Popularized and even re-published by Tim Ferriss, Seneca is certainly a favorite of the modern-day internet Stoics. He is a master of the one-liner punch, with an undertone of humor and sarcasm in his delivery, and spends a good amount of his focus on how to think about and approach failure in all its many human forms. Very apt for our cause. His private letters offer personal analysis and advice that resonates equally in ancient and modern times.

My thoughts on takeaways from Seneca.

The Analects by Confucius.

I would choose this over Sun Tzu any day as an introduction to Eastern philosophy. Sun Tzu is very tactical. Hence standard issue to all those Six-Sigma corporate stooges. Sun Tzu gives you answers to the small questions. Confucius introduces you to the big questions, allowing you to explore your own answers. Sip some green tea, and slowly stroke your beard while reading for the ultimate experience.

Bonus: How

So, let’s pretend you’ve found the answer. 42. Now you just need some good content on “how”. Look no further. Skip all the books. They’re scattered and only solve for parts.

This is the whole, from the people who have done it for real. It’s a series of high-quality podcasts and videos originally produced for Y-combinator’s Startup School. Check out the whole playlist of 29 videos below or the link above for individual lesson content. You’ll probably never get to sit down with Sam Altman, Paul Graham, Aaron Levie, Marc Andreessen, or Jeff Bezos. But they’ve all lectured there over the years, so be sure to check out previous semesters’ playlists, too.

Published by

Aki Ranin Founder. Writer. Part-time space explorer.

October 7, 2019

Upcoming events happening from September - November 2019

Meet us at one of these upcoming events happening in Singapore, Indonesia, Johannesburg, UK, and the US that we will be speaking and exhibiting at. Say hi to the team if you're there as well!

If you would like to arrange a meeting with the team, contact us at info@bambu.life.

*Use our promo codes to get discounted tickets for the following events:


FinnovateFall 2019 - FKV2348FTT

Finnovation South Africa - BAMBU10

Digital Wealth Asset Management Forum - BAMBU15

Upcomingevents_Bambu_Sep-Nov_2019

[Press Release] Bambu Raises USD 10 Million in Series B Funding

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 31 2019


Bambu Raises US$10 Million in Series B Funding.

New funding to accelerate the company's geographical expansion and scalability of technology.

Singapore, July 31, 2019 – Bambu (www.bambu.life), a Singapore-based leading global provider of digital wealth technology, today announced the closure of US$10 million in a Series B funding round. Third-time investor Franklin Templeton co-led the investment along with new investor PEAK6 Strategic Capital LLC, which is headquartered in Chicago.

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With the fresh funding, Bambu can take on new opportunities and reach a wider B2B audience through scalable software-as-a-service solutions. In the past three years, Bambu has established product market fit as a robo-advisor technology provider to more than 15 financial institutions globally. Bambu plans to expand the product offering to target new segments within financial services, as well as build up delivery and support teams in key global markets.

 

Ned Phillips, CEO and founder of Bambu, remarked, “We are committed to working with a global client base to digitize saving and investing so it’s easier and more accessible to investors everywhere. We welcome PEAK6 together with the continued support from Franklin Templeton, in this round. This is a strong confirmation that we have built a unique business and platform for the global market. We see growing demand across all markets, and we are increasing our ability to serve clients globally.”

 

“As the future of digital wealth grows exponentially, we are delighted to be part of a scalable company that has shown potential in delivering results. We are pleased to support continuously their business growth and partnership in 2019 and beyond,” Harshendu Bindal, Managing Director, Head of Digital Strategy and Wealth Management at Franklin Templeton commented.

 

“We are excited to partner with Bambu,” said Jenny Just, Co-Founder of PEAK6. “Through our subsidiary Apex Clearing, which has a complementary solution suite in custody and clearing services, we know the digital wealth space well and believe that the team at Bambu is building a tech solution that will continue to empower the next generation of investors and improve overall financial wellness in the markets that we serve.”

 

The team has grown over the last three years to 70 employees. The company has expanded to have offices in Singapore, London, Hong Kong and representatives in San Francisco, and Johannesburg, with clients in the USA, Europe, UAE and across Asia.

About Bambu

Bambu is a leading global provider of digital wealth technology for businesses of every size and industry, from finance to commercial or even new disruptors, transforming the digital wealth market. We enable companies to make saving and investing simple and intelligent for their clients. The cloud-based platform is powered by our proprietary algorithms and machine learning tools. Visit http://www.bambu.life/ for more information. 

 

About Franklin Templeton

Franklin Resources, Inc. [NYSE:BEN] is a global investment management organization operating as Franklin Templeton. Franklin Templeton’s goal is to deliver better outcomes by providing global and domestic investment management to retail, institutional and sovereign wealth clients in over 170 countries. Through specialized teams, the company has expertise across all asset classes, including equity, fixed income, alternatives and custom multi-asset solutions. The company’s more than 600 investment professionals are supported by its integrated, worldwide team of risk management professionals and global trading desk network. With employees in over 30 countries, the California-based company has more than 70 years of investment experience and over $715 billion in assets under management as of June 30, 2019. For more information, please visit www.franklinresources.com.

 

About PEAK6 Strategic Capital LLC

PEAK6 is Chicago-based private investment and technology firm that invests in a diverse group of public and private companies, with multiple investments in the fintech industry, including Apex Clearing, Robinhood, Trizic and MoneyLion. Founded in 1997 by Jenny Just and Matt Hulsizer, the firm invests across various stages of a company's development from growth to later stages.

PEAK6 takes a long-term and flexible approach to investing by building relationships with entrepreneurs and management teams to align interests, transform businesses and create lasting value. To learn more about PEAK6, please visit: www.PEAK6.com.


For more information, please contact: 

Laura Pereira
Marketing Manager (Singapore)
laura@bambu.life

Nick Wakefield
Managing Director (Europe)
nick@bambu.life

We are Hiring!

job-posting-2019-June-Bambu

No matter how many times and different ways it is said, it remains the single most important characteristic of every business. The team is everything. I cannot begin to explain how lucky we have been with the people who have joined Bambu. Almost 60 of us now. 

However, we need more. Our business has grown quicker than we anticipated, so we need more Bambuions. Why join us? It's been the greatest experience of my working life, and we do all we can also to make that the case for every single person here.

If you're interested in being part of the adventure, email us

 

[Giveaway] Echelon Asia Summit 2019 Tickets

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Hey there, 

Bambu will be exhibiting at the well-known tech event organised by e27 - Echelon Asia Summit 2019, happening from 23-24 May at Singapore Expo. 

We want to extend the invitation by giving away complimentary tickets to you.

Echelon Asia Summit 2019 is an event where you learn, discover and meet for opportunities across Asia’s emerging markets and ecosystem. Meet over 100+ exhibiting startups from Asia, listen to industry speakers present and explore other great opportunities. 

We look forward to seeing you there. 

Get COMPLIMENTARY tickets