In this episode, we are doing our first audio recap of A Leader A Minute, a new On Call with Insignia spinoff, social media series we started this year featuring startup leaders at some of Southeast Asia’s fast-growing, venture-backed tech companies. We go beyond the perspectives of the founders and CEOs and get to know other key executives and leaders driving the growth of these companies and creating an impact for the customers and communities they serve. Through these conversations, they’ve shared first-day experiences, the growth they’ve experienced on the job, leadership styles, and what excites them about the future is with these companies.
Since launching we’ve released four features, but only on social media and not on the podcast itself, and in this episode we finally share them with you here on the main show!
But instead of just running through each sharing from the featured leader, we go through each of the questions we asked and piece together some patterns across their answers
After all, we’ve had so far a diverse array of perspectives working for a variety of companies in a variety of capacities:
- a product leader in Sourabh Gupta, VP of Product Development at leading Indonesian money movement platform Flip (Full Interview)
- a closer in Lius Widjaja, Partnerships and Business Development Lead at Southeast Asia pioneering open finance platform Brankas (Full Interview)
- an ecosystem builder in Eelen Lim, Head of Partnerships at Southeast Asia’s all-in-one finance platform for growing businesses Aspire (Full Interview)
- and a psychologist in Oliver Suendermann, Clinical Director at Asia’s fastest-growing mental health tech company Intellect (Full Interview)
Startup leaders are drawn by vision and challenge
The first question we’ve asked all our featured leaders is how they joined their respective companies, and what we find out is that while they come from different backgrounds and have specific experiences meeting the founders and getting onboarded, they are usually drawn by (1) the vision of the company or (2) what we’ll call the “startup” itch, or hunger to take on new challenges in their career.
Intellect Clinical Director Oliver for example was previous with Deputy Director of the Masters in Clinical Psychology program at the National University of Singapore (NUS), but he had already been advising Intellect and its CEO and founder Theo from day one
Oliver: Before I joined Intellect, I was the Deputy Director of the Masters in Clinical Psychology program at the National University of Singapore (NUS), training the next generation of clinical psychologists. My role also involved doing research, teaching and supervising undergraduates and post-graduate students, as well as directing our training clinic, the Clinical and Health Psychology Center (CHPC).
Well, I basically knew Intellect from the day it started. So about three years ago, [in] 2019, a colleague linked me up with Theo and we were discussing his vision. And I was pretty excited about what he had in store, really. And I have been advising the company on clinical matters ever since. We’ve also set up a research collaboration and have been doing larger scale research at NUS as well. So that’s how I got to know [Intellect].
Aspire Head of Partnerships Eelen saw an opportunity to step out of her comfort zone and stretch herself in a startup environment after a decade with OCBC.
Eelen: I joined Aspire in Oct 2021. The role to build up the Partnerships Team speaks a lot to me. I have a couple of previous experiences building new teams and it’s something that I’ve enjoyed doing. I chose to join Aspire as I will be able to leverage my prior experience in financial services to do something different.
Secondly, the working culture. After a couple of chats with Joel (SG Country Head), I knew that at Aspire, I will be able to exercise more of my right brain and be given ample opportunities to work on ambitious ideas and projects that will make a significant impact to the business. I will thus be able to capitalize on my entrepreneurial mindset to bring value to the organization.
Lastly, after a decade in OCBC, I see it as a personal challenge to step out of my comfort zone to stretch myself. I felt that being in a startup environment will expose me to the many intricacies of the business and therefore allow me to grow professionally.
Brankas Head of Business Development Lius cites sharing in Brankas’ vision to spread financial inclusivity and literacy throughout the region.
Lius: I joined Brankas because I believe in Brankas’ vision to spread financial inclusivity and literacy throughout the region. The more unbanked and under-banked citizens we can empower, the faster the whole region develops and the general quality of life improves. Providing more and more people with access to financial products allows them to transform their lives for the better and allows the economies in the region to thrive.
Finally, Flip VP of Product Development Sourabh saw the opportunity to not just build the future he saw for democratizing payments in Indonesia, but also a company where he could bring his past experience at Gojek and other tech companies in Indonesia.
Sourabh: One of my key reasons for joining Flip was that I found it to be a place where I can create a lot of impact by leveraging the learnings I build over the years in terms of scaling products and teams. Fintech is also a space that excites me and in my discussions with Ari [Flip CEO], it seemed that both of us had a shared view of the future vision on how we wanted to democratize payments in Indonesia.
Startup leaders create impact by developing discipline for scale and driving needle-moving results
Once in these companies, and for some of them, even before they joined, these leaders have been quick to create impact in their roles. A common theme around their efforts to drive impact in their respective roles is that it’s largely about bringing building certain disciplines within these startups and achieving needle-moving results.
Speaking of needle-moving results, Lius closed a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal a few months after joining Brankas!
Lius: I took charge of an Internet Payment Gateway project tender for a major state-owned enterprise client here in Indonesia and helped to structure our proposal in ways that helped us win the project, including the commercial proposal – it was a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal that I successfully closed within a few months after joining Brankas. Proud of the deal and hope to close more similar-sized ones in 2022!
For Oliver and Sourabh, they came in building key functions of their respective companies necessary for scale. For Oliver it’s about building up the data-driven and evidence-based backend of Intellect’s mental health offerings.
Oliver: My background is both academic and clinical, which I think is a very good fit for this role because it includes innovating the clinical tools, services and products, but at the same time researching the efficacy of those [things]. So everything we do at Intellect is data-driven and evidence-based.
We want to make sure that the products and the services we develop actually do what they promise to do. And so there’s this constant iteration where we create a product, we put it to the test and then we try and refine it. For that reason, I think it’s good to have someone with an academic background, as well as clinical practice.
Meanwhile, for Sourabh, it’s about bringing structure to product development that can handle the rigors of scale.
Sourabh: I think one of the big changes that I have helped in driving would be how we work. This is a problem that gets more pronounced as the organizational scale increases. If I look back, I can say that today we have the right foundations and are much better structured and organized in our day-to-day workings, working on cross-team initiatives, our decision-making framework, and so on. This has helped us move quicker in terms of execution and having clear boundaries in terms of ownership.
Startup leaders are enabled to face the uncertainty of growing a startup with a culture of trust
Another common question we’ve asked these featured leaders is what excites them about the future, and it’s inspiring to hear that even with their storied careers they are continuously ready for change and the new.
Oliver specifically talks about continuously developing the human and preventative elements in Intellect’s massively adopted products.
Oliver: Quite a few things. So apart from our core product, which is building a very scalable mental health support system for APAC, we have phenomenal digital mental health products innovations in our pipeline.
The core feature they all have in common really is that they’re more personable, relatable, engaging, immersive, and I believe also more effective. We really want to bring the human element into our services a bit more.
We’re also trying to work with big organizations to help [our] HR partners to be more predictive about risks as well through monitoring mental health and helping people to be a little bit more proactive and preventative about their mental health journey, basically building good mental wellbeing and resilience, rather than being reactive. So we have various products coming over this year and the next year as well.
For Sourabh, it goes back to his focus on strengthening the organizational robustness of Flip as the company continues to expand its ecosystem of products.
Sourabh: I think what excites me the most is how we have changed our approach to building products as a team. From building products based on intuition to having clear goals, we are aiming to achieve, iterating and experimenting constantly to enhance our offerings, investing in building platform capabilities with a view of the future, taking data-informed decisions, and displaying extreme ownership.
Ultimately this optimism for the future is tied to cultures of trust and flexibility, a hallmark of startup culture that is easier said than done especially as the company scales. Lius describes Brankas’s company culture in this way.
Lius: Trusting. We are given lots of flexibility regarding how we work, and for us to do whatever it takes for us to be productive. This signifies that the company trusts us to deliver results in our own ways, without ever micromanaging us.
Finally, Eelen has embraced the “pushing the envelope” and “navigating the unknown” mindset that comes with working at a fast-growing startup. There is ultimately so much out there to achieve.
Eelen: The world is our oyster, and the opportunities are limitless. Spend less time on process, approvals, and reporting. Focus more on strategy, delivery and achieving results because there is so much out there for us to achieve.
If you’re inspired or interested to learn more about working with these fine folks, check out the links to their LinkedIn and job openings in their companies in the episode description.
Stay tuned this Q2 for more A Leader A Minute features and the next compilation — excited to see what themes come up next time around! In the meantime, join us next Monday and go On Call with us!
About our guests
- Job Application for Head of Activation at Aspire (greenhouse.io)
- Job Application for General Manager / Commercial – Singapore at Aspire (greenhouse.io)
- Job Application for Head of Sales, Early Stage – Indonesia at Aspire (greenhouse.io)
- Job Application for Head of Sales, Early Stage – Vietnam at Aspire (greenhouse.io)