JX Lye: China vs. US Tech Culture, Career Decisions (Bytedance, Dropbox, Lyft and EDB) & Making Bank Integrations Fast & Simple with Acme - E363

· Fintech,Singapore,Podcast Episodes

 

“The question to myself is, ‘What is my goal in working in tech?’ Some people want to climb the corporate ladder and be VP of products. Some people want to start companies, but it was very clear to me that I wanted to experience it all. When I looked at the market at the time, it was clear that largely, there are three ways to make money on the internet. One was you build a SaaS product and then you make money through monetizing, like some sort of recurring revenue model. The second thing is that you build a transactions marketplace. Usually it's a double-sided marketplace. What I mean by double-sided is that you have buyers on one side, you have sellers on one side. You have to build up both buyer-seller dynamic in order to create a marketplace and you monetize through taking a transaction fee being a platform. And then the third way to make money online is to sell. What people don't realize about these three things is that the business model pretty much dictates what type of company who you sell to, and the culture of the company.” - Jx Lye

“Financial services is the only industry where Singapore truly is a hub that punches above our weight. Everything else, it's still possible, and people are going to come at me for it, but that was my assessment. The question is, where in fintech do you want to play? I analyzed the market and what came to me was that it was very obvious in fintech. There's only eight possibilities and the way I divided market was that you could sell to consumers or to businesses, to B or to C and then there are only four main ways of segmenting the market which is the life cycle of money. First, you spend money, which is PaymentsTech. Two, is you save and invest your money, which is WealthTech. Three, is you protect yourself, which is InsureTech. And then the fourth, is you borrow or lend money, which is lending technology. And back then in 2019, my assessment was WealthTech is the place to be.” - Jx Lye

“When people think about financial services, they mostly associate that with, in Android terms, the front end, which is the mobile app or the website. And people think that, oh wow, this is such a sleek user experience, you make it so easy for people to invest money. What people don't realize is that is actually the easiest part because that's classic product management. And as a good product manager, you should be able to do it almost with your two eyes closed, Interview people, hire a good designer, work, obsess about your users. What people don't realize is that the most difficult part about financial services is the platform and infrastructure that support it. So taking any wealthtech company as an example, the two most difficult backend integrations that any WealthTech would have to deal with, one is actually your integration with your broker because you've got to be executing your trades, and two is integration with the banks for money movement, because ultimately, as a wealth matchman or any broker, your job is to exchange a security for an underlying amount of money. And that's when you invest, and then when you withdraw or redeem, it's going the other way around.” - Jx Lye

JX Lye, Founder of Acme Technology and former Chief Product Officer of Endowus, and Jeremy Au talked about three main topics:

1. Early Career & Academic Decisions: JX recounted his academic choices across junior college in Singapore, mandatory military service, University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree at Stanford University. He talked about his initial career at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) attracting tech investments to Singapore. He shared what he learnt working in the US as a Product Manager at the scaling growth-stage startups of Dropbox and Lyft.

2. China vs. US Tech Culture: JX discussed the differences between the US and China’s tech work environments. He noted the fast-paced, competitive and intense consumer focus of ByteDance, which required him to unlearn his US product manager training. He brought these learnings to Endowus as Chief Product Officer and worked on scaling both the front-end user experience for a seamless customer experience and the complex financial backend needed for compliance.

3. Revolutionizing Bank Integrations: JX shared how his insights at Endowus helped him identify significant inefficiencies in bank integrations and financial transactions. He saw the opportunity to streamline financial processes not just for fintech companies but also across various industries, which led him to build Acme Technology. He shared the challenges of starting a new company and emphasized the importance of continuous selling, customer focus, and adapting to market needs.

Jeremy and JX also talked about the emergence of the product manager role, the different market segments in fintech, and the importance of understanding real-world problems instead of theory.

Supported by Acme Technology

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(01:59) Jeremy Au:

Hey Jx, Really excited to have you on the show. We've been friends for quite a few years now and really excited to be an angel investor in your company, but looking forward to share your journey.

(02:08) Jx Lye:

Awesome. Happy to be here.

(02:09) Jeremy Au:

Could you share a little bit about yourself?

(02:10) Jx Lye:

Cool. Hi everyone. I'm J X. I'm Singaporean. Born and raised over here. My quick journey is that after going to high school here and going to the military, I went to US for college, Penn for undergrad, I was at Stanford for grad school. And then after that, I actually came back and started my first job at the Singapore Economic Development Board where I was mostly working on trying to get foreign multinationals, mostly tech companies, to get them to invest in Singapore in exchange for certain incentives that the government gives out.

I was working there for a couple of years and then decided to actually move back to the US to SF. This was like the early to mid 2010s and I felt that the Bay Area was the place to be in. That was where everything was happening. And so I ended up joining Dropbox, which changed my life. I was there for a few years, working as a product manager on a couple of different products like Dropbox Paper, Dropbox Teams and then after that, I decided to jump into the ride sharing industry. This was back in the day when everyone's talking about how the ride sharing industry would, we would have self driving cars in two years. In a way, it's kind of reminiscent of the whole AI hype right now, and maybe this time it's a bit different, but back then, I kid you not, like, we're just raising crazy amounts of money, all these autonomies, self driving cars and all of that.

So I joined Lyft and really experienced the entire daily Uber, the entire thing about the whole ride sharing model, expansion into deliveries, different cities, etc. And after that, I felt I was itching for something. You know, I just got married, no liabilities then, kids. And so I just woke up one day and told my wife, Hey, I think we should move to China. And so in the late 2010s, around 2018 I moved to China, to Shanghai specifically and joined ByteDance which was then at a point of transiting. We had a really famous, popular news reading app called Jingyue Toutiao, Today's Headlines. And then we launched Douyin, which was the equivalent of the Chinese version of TikTok, acquired musically. Merged it, rebranded it as TikTok and launched it. And so, I was there at ByteDance for about, one half, two years.

And then in 2019, moved back to Singapore, joined in Dallas as the chief product officer. So did that for about three to four years and really experienced the entire growth over COVID which really gave us a crazy boost. I mean, we were growing 30% month on month for a solid maybe 20 months straight. And then most recently at the start of this year, decide to start Acme Technology based on my collective past experiences most recently in Dallas, on money movement, optimizing bank integrations and here I am today.

(04:27) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. What a journey. Let's go all the way back to the beginning, right? So there you are at UPenn. Why did you pick the major?

(04:33) Jx Lye:

Yeah, everyone shares this joke about Penn and it goes like that. You know, how many kids from Harvard does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is one. The person who holds the light bulb in the world revolves around him or her. you know, And then, how many lightbulbs to change it at Princeton? And the answer is 12, because you need 4 to plan, 4 to execute, 4 to do an after action review, and all of that. And then, how many kids from Penn does it take to change a lightbulb? And the answer is 1 and they give you 12 credits for it. And so the reason I share this story is because at Penn, I actually did two degrees.

I did a degree in Engineering. It's called Systems Engineering. And I also did a degree in Finance from the Wharton School of Business with concentrations in finance and operations improvement. And Penn was great because it was probably the only school that allowed me to study two pretty different disciplines, engineering and business and yet allowed me to have a life. And I chose that quite particularly, I think what many people don't know that I don't, you know, I guess I don't really have an opportunity to talk about is, in Singapore, all Singaporeans have to go to the military. And that sets us back, or rather, we sort of matriculate three years later. But what the benefit of that is, that it gives us actually three options to apply to US colleges. And I only got to Penn on my third try, and for my first two tries, I only applied to Penn. And that was because Penn was the only school that I mentioned that sort of gave you and allowed you, I mean it was one of the few schools in the undergraduate business school. I mean, Berkeley was another one. And also, a really pretty decent engineering school. And so, I didn't know what I wanted to do, but it was clear to me that these two were important disciplines. And so, I went to Penn and it was a lot of fun.

(05:59) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. I thought what was interesting was that's exactly what happened to me as well. I didn't do well in JC. So, I basically studied my SATs in Army, got my stuff together, and the second year of National Service, I applied and got into UC Berkeley. So, yes that's one of the benefits is, if you screw up your life before Army, Army gives you two years.

(06:16) Jx Lye:

Well hey, if anyone's listening to this, thinking about whether they themselves as a kid should go to NS, you know, come talk to us, man.

(06:22) Jeremy Au:

That's right. And so what's interesting is that, you went on to basically do a quick masters at Stanford. Could you share more about that?

(06:28) Jx Lye:

Yeah Stanford changed my life. Many things changed my life, but Stanford in particular, and the reason why was when I was a sophomore, which is the second year of college, there was one, winter break and instead of coming back to Singapore, I took a trip out to visit some friends at Stanford. And when I was there, it blew my mind. And the reason was because Penn, for those who are not familiar with I guess schools in the US, but the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, it's a very pre professional school. And what I mean by that is people will go to Penn, they come out doing one of three jobs, right? You either go into consulting, you go into be an investment banker, or a sales and trading. That was the big thing in the 2010s, in the early 2010s. And it was very, you know, all your internships were lined up, visits to Wall Street, you go to banks, all of these recruiting events and everything.

And when I went to Stanford, it was such a breath of fresh air, because I just met people who just wanted to do whatever they wanted to do. And I met this, who's now a friend of mine, who's just interested in becoming a vegan, and all he cared about was telling people why they should be a vegan. And I just thought like, wow, that was so refreshing. But remember when I went to Stanford, it was like 2010, right? I visited first in May, 2009. I started my master's in 2010, 2011. And that was the heydays of the valley. I kid you not. Where I was in Cooper Cafe, like, Travis Cullinan came down, he was recruiting. He was like two tables down, right? The person sitting next to me, probably discussing a startup idea that would be worth like, be worth like 10 so much energy and so much, you know, that I felt that, man, I had to be there. So what I actually did was I graduated in three years so that I could then go to Stanford and finish and do a master's there. And it changed my life.

(07:55) Jeremy Au:

So what's interesting is that you went off to decide to become a product manager, right? And you did that multiple times. But how did you decide that product manager as a role instead of, like you said, you could have been on business development, you could have joined you could've come down to consulting. So there you are.

(08:08) Jx Lye:

Yeah. So, So in fact I, I did a consulting internship and you know, I, I knew that I wouldn't survive, right? I mean, I did investment banking internships too and it was not for me, but that's a really good question because the way I came to that decision was that I was working for the Singapore EDB. And I was thinking about, okay, what do I want to do next? The thing about EDB, EDB was one of my greatest jobs. I think it's still my most meaningful job that I've ever had in my career. And the reason is because we're creating jobs for other people. But when I was at EDB, I was working, I was overseeing some tech companies, whether it's like companies like Apple, like Twitter, et cetera. And the big part about me was that I knew that I wanted to be in tech because that gave me a flavor of what it was like, but the question is, what do I want to do in tech? And so I actually started my career at Dropbox as a data scientist. And the reason I did that was because I was trying to get back to the US, to the Bay Area after working in Singapore government. And back then, that was incredibly difficult because what people don't realize is that there were three things that were working against me.

First thing is that I was based in Singapore. Trying to get a job in the US, and that in itself is like, you're not even there. People are like, dude, who you, right? The second challenge was that when I was applying, I was trying to apply for a role, I knew I didn't, I couldn't really be a software engineer. And so the other roles, there's more of like a cultural nuance, that kind of stuff that you have to go into. You can't just take tests and pass it and stuff like that. And then the third thing was that having worked at the government, like even I went to good schools, what people care most about is your relevant work experience. So what can you actually bring to the table? And data science kind of just like hit that sweet spot for me because you've got to be technical, but also have some business intuition. And so that basically just allowed me to land at a job at Dropbox. And I was actually doing data science product analytics to support our partnership efforts. And back then, Dropbox, our biggest partner, was Samsung. Dropbox came preloaded with all the phones. So, just figuring out, hey, you know, how do you optimize that relationship, etc. But the Dropbox, when I started off as a data scientist, it was fun, right? You crunch all the data, you work with all these models. This is back in the day, right? You don't have any LMs or anything. This is like, XGBoost, the kind of stuff that you're looking at. And it was fun.

But what I realized and what hit me was that as a data scientist, my biggest job was that I'll be crunching the data, pull an all nighter, and then I present all my analysis on a silver platter, and who was the person I was presenting it to? I was actually presenting it to the product manager because that him or her was calling the shots on how do you drive how do you take the next step. And so I was like, dude, I opened that job, like, what am I doing? And so I was like, okay, let's go for it. And so actually within Dropbox, as a data scientist, I sort of found my way, re interviewed and transitioned to be a PM. And that was the calling. But that was also a very interesting question that you asked because if I were to rewind back the history of Silicon Valley and tech, new tech, the second wave of tech. I'm not talking about certain graphics and all that. If you look at the mid 2000s, when Facebook, Google or anything was found, the first 10 years of Silicon Valley, which is when, I would say probably around 2000 to 2010, or maybe a bit more, was actually year of the engineer. That first 10 years. You had to be a solid engineer, you build, et cetera.

What was interesting was that the next phase was actually the years of the product manager. Because if you think about it, in 2014 or 15, that was when Harvard Business Review says that the hottest job of the year is the PM. It's no longer being an investment banker or whatever, it is the PM. And what's interesting is that after that, I feel that the hottest job is actually, it was the year of the whole GTM. You have all the product like growth and all of that. And the whole AI boom and everything, it sounds like it's going back again to being a young engineer. But I mean, I share that to just share that context of the era that we're in, to put it very succinctly, I wanted to be a PM because I want to be in control of our destiny. What I want to build, working on something I was excited about that I could sort of manage and work on different things to build and shape something.

(11:40) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. And so you've done this experience at Dropbox and Lyft, and then you decided to cross the wall across 12 time zones and be in China. And also be on ByteDance, which is a very different product as well. So could you share a little bit more about your thinking there?

(11:54) Jx Lye:

Yeah, when I was thinking about going to tech, what stood out to me was that when I joined Dropbox, it was my first tech job, and I was literally you call it six to eight years behind everyone else who started tech, because three years in the military, I worked in the government for almost three years, and so by the time I got there, I was way behind, and so when I started my career in tech, I was very intentional about thinking about, okay, what do I want to experience in my journey in tech, because I kind of had an inkling that I wanted to start something. I didn't have the confidence. I didn't have the means. I didn't have the experience, but I kind of knew I wanted to start something. And so the question to myself is, okay, what is my goal in working in tech. I mean, people have different goals. Some people want to climb the corporate ladder and be VP of products. Some people want to start companies. But for me, I was thinking about what's my goal. It was very clear to me that I wanted to experience it all. And when I looked at the market at the time, it was clear to me that largely, there are three ways to make money on the internet. One was you build a SaaS product and then you make money through monetizing, sort of recurring revenue model. The second thing is that you build a transactions marketplace. Usually it's a double sided marketplace. What I mean by double sided is that you have buyers on one side, you have sellers on one side. You have to build up the both buyer seller dynamic in order to create a marketplace and you monetize through taking a transaction fee, being a platform. That's the second thing. And then the third way to make money online is to sell ads. Now, what people don't realize about these three things is that the business model pretty much dictates what type of company, who you sell to, and the culture of the company.

So what I'm basically getting down to is that these three different types of internet companies are making ways of making money actually dictated how I wanted to apply my career. And that's why I started off with Dropbox, which is a SaaS company. I moved to Lyft, which is a transactions marketplace, and then I moved to ByteDance, which sells ads. It's a consumer company with an added I guess, bonus exposure of China. And the reason I share this is because if you're a SaaS company, usually sales are high margin businesses. You are paid to be very thoughtful. You think about a company like Dropbox. The ancient Hebrew saying, measure ten times, cut once. We're very thoughtful because it's the way people work. We do a lot of user research, and it's cushy, comfortable kind of experience. Relative to the second model, if you build a transactions marketplace, most likely you're in ride sharing or e commerce, and it's very brutal. Because at Lyft, our clock resets every day. The only number that matters is what's the number of trips you made that day. And, you know, the next day, it restarts, right? You don't really accumulate anything because one day you could be up, the next day, if you're short of drivers, then, you know, Uber unleashed like, I don't know, 500,000 worth of incentives. If you don't match it, you lose drivers, and it's a spiraling effect because then you lose riders because they have longer ETAs, and then it makes you have less drivers because they can't get rides as fast, and the whole thing goes down.

But, it's a very brutal environment, and so, when people think about, oh, wow, Uber, Lyft, why are people assholes and everything? It's because they have to do that. If you don't ship it today, and you don't win the market today, it's gone. So that's like the second thing. And then the third business model in the consumer market, it's grown in the sense that most likely to sell ads, you have to be a consumer product because you need eyeballs, you need attention. So it's really about very design, product driven, you need to have a hit product. People want to use it like every scroll matters, the interaction frequency is very high. And so that kind of like dictated or influenced the way I thought about all three before I decided to start something.

(15:03) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. And what did you learn from your experience at ByteDance?

(15:07) Jx Lye:

ByteDance was mind blowing in so many ways. The reason I actually got to ByteDance was because I was at Lyft and I think people don't recognize this enough, but SF, in San Francisco, where Lyft was headquartered and based, it's a very diverse place. I work with people from all nationalities across different roles, and in my engineering team, I had quite a few engineers from China. And so, as a product manager, I work very closely with them and they moved from China. Some of them went to school here, some of them did a master's in the US but when I talked to them, I was just learning about all of these things that are happening in China. And if I take a detour, if you think about what happened in China, the first wave of Chinese tech everyone knows them as BAT, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. And these were like your Me Too copycat companies. They were modeled after the US companies. And, you know, they started around the mid 2000s, and by, say, early 2010s, they have bloomed and blossomed. They've either gone public, they've basically monopolized and all of that.

And so what happened in the history of Chinese tech is that in the early 2010s is when execs, people with experience stepped away and started the next wave of Chinese companies. And I'm talking about companies like Didi, like Meituan and Tianping who merged, like Pinduoduo which is killing it now. You know, these companies actually started around the era of 2012. And if you give them three, four years to bloom because you need to just, they need to gestate, around 2015 to 2018 was when they really bloomed. And back then, it was the whole Trump era, the whole divergence of the whole multi bipolar world. Most people did not realize the rise of Chinese companies. These tech companies were like kicking ass, man. They were original. They didn't have any vestiges because they had experience and they were just growing at rapid breakneck pace and people in the US don't really talk about that because firstly you don't really read Chinese. You don't really care to, you're like, oh man, these companies, they're all preconceived notions.

The two biggest preconceived notions, one is that, oh man, Chinese tech is fake tech, they're just like copycats. The other preconceived notion is like, oh shoot, it's Chinese tech back then, it was Chinese AI was, It's massive because they don't have all these restrictions, they're going to take over the world, but it's very polarizing. And so, that made me make the decision that said that, man, I have to go there and experience it because there's so much happening there, you just got to move it, you just got to experience it. There's only so much you're going to experience out here in the Bay Area, so that made me want to move. But the question is, where do I move to? Which company should I go to? And so what made me actually decide was that, because I was at Lyft, so very naturally I could go work at Didi and Mobike and Ofo. Remember back then bike sharing was like the hottest thing. And I kid you not, I had offers that were extremely lucrative.

My ByteDance offer came in, it was actually almost half of my other offers in China, and the interview experience was very humbling because the first thing when I met them, well firstly, everything was in Chinese, so, shout out, my Chinese is actually not great, my wife is Taiwanese, but for those who are Singaporean and who know the Singapore system, I got a C5 or C6 for normal Chinese, and I didn't even take higher Chinese, so, the extent of how shitty my Chinese was, but, I struggled and I went through it. But, you know, at my first interview, they told me, hey, JX, you should take a pay cut coming here because we need to teach you to unlearn what you've learned in the US in order to excel as a product person in China. Because in China, it's completely different. You have the stereotypes about how you go to Amazon screen, it's clean, you have a few items, and then you go to like a screen and every inch is like, you know, sort of in native information. That's just a tip of the iceberg.

And so I felt that, shoot, wow, there's so much learning. This is very humbling. And so I joined ByteDance, and it was mind blowing from so many different aspects. Number one, the work ethic is real. Man, we were working six days a week, and I think it's people actually enjoy it ? It's not like people are complaining, like, dude, what the heck and everything. I mean, at least at ByteDance on my team, people were hungry, man. They were like, wow! We have all these resources. We have all these different teams. We have all these markets to go capture. We have all these opportunities. Let's go for it! That was the real feeling. It's not like, oh man, I'm forced to work. No, it's like, people were hungry, that's one.

The second thing is that, because we're working with consumer products specifically, I was working on Reso, which is a music streaming product, and only the Chinese will have the ambition to say that, hey, I think that Apple Music and Spotify were built based on listening, music listening habits of the 1990s, because think about it, Spotify, Apple Music, you open the app, it's like the Sony Walkman, this man, you pick your song, you put it back in your pocket, and then you listen, that's it. But we wanted to create and bring what TikTok did to YouTube to the whole music streaming service. We said, hey, music should be an evocative experience. You want to look at it, you want to comment, you want to like, stitch together different short videos together. Why can't people do that? And so it was a very novel and original approach, if I may say so. But the second thing is that, in the Chinese way of thinking, we're like, just let's make it happen, right? I bet you no one would think about taking on Spotify and Apple Music. I mean, the music licensing cost alone would kill you. But in Chinese, they don't have that baggage. You're just like, dude, let's go for it.

But the last thing and the most important thing is that You just realize that China is a very diverse place. Coming from the US, you may have some preconceived notions. Coming from Singapore, you have some preconceived notions. But in China, I met some of the sweetest, nicest, and most hard working people. And just being able to work alongside them, just getting into their psyche, oof, they're really a force to be reckoned wi

(20:11) Jeremy Au:

What was some of the differences from US product management versus Chinese product management from your perspective after what they mentioned in the interview.

(20:19) Jx Lye:

Yeah, you know, a few things come to light. You know, I'm, I'm sure people will comment and we'll get some haters for this, but I think that the first thing that comes to mind is that in the US, and know and you read about this and Elon Musk talks about the wokes and everything, and you read about how he handled what happened at Twitter and everything. There's a lot of egalitarian, a lot of getting everyone on the same page, let's all be inclusive and everything. So what happens in the US is that as a product manager, you spend a lot of time working with your engineers, your designers, trying to sell a new vision and see, because I think people don't realize this, like, The word manager in product manager is fake. You don't manage anyone or anything. They don't report to you, right? The holy trinity in any tech company is EPD, Engineering, Product, and Design. You are one of three. And a product manager, it's called a manager because you're like a project manager of, of working with your engineering and your design counterparts. And you actually have each three reporting lines that go up to, that senior leadership. And of course, as the PM, you drive the product, but they don't report to you. And so you spend a lot of time selling the vision, getting people on board and all of that.

Now in China, in ByteDance, I'm not making a judgment call whether it's good or bad, but the fact is like product in ByteDance holds a lot of influence. And so that, when you lead a team and drive the team, like the engines, you just say, let's just go. They just ask you how far, and so you don't really spend a lot of time trying to figure out, oh, how do you feel, you know, typical story of like you set an OKR and then you spend the next three months discussing an OKR and by the time the next OKR is here in China, you fucking go, right? And the team is very united and very aligned, and you just go. So that's one. I think that it's very, it's okay, we just look, Chinese leadership style, you just look to the leader. If I believe in a leader, I'll just go for it. That's one.

I think the second thing is that we talk about passion. We talk about, hey, what do we want to do? In the US, it's very aligned in terms of hey, I am very passionate about X, Y, or Z. I want to go do that. I think China is very different. It's more about the opportunity and it's more mercenary. And again, I'm not making a value judgment. It is what it is. And so, I had a conversation with my data science manager at ByteDance. He was employee number 100. So the guy has made it right. He's probably made generational wealth, you know, given where it is. And I asked him, Hey, like what makes you work so hard every day. And in your past eight years at ByteDance, you easily would have worked on I don't know, call it 20 different products. Don't you feel that it's very transactional? Don't you wanna work on something? It's like, one period you're gonna work on this app, another period you're gonna work on a different app because, at ByteDance or Chinese companies, our style that we just go for, go after the opportunity.

So we've launched so many different apps. You put ByteDance, we have auto apps, we have education apps, we have music apps and all different things. I asked, Hey, don't you feel it's very transactional? And he told me this anecdote. He said Hey, Jx, all I care about is that I just wanna win. And, you know, for me to get to like high school I've beaten out, I don't know, a few hundred thousand people in my village, right? For me to go to beta and then after to get to bytance, right? Like for me, it's just, that's my sense of achievement. And I think you can't take that away and you can't discount that too. So, yeah.

(23:01) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. And so around this timeframe, you made a decision to come back to Singapore and eventually, and that's where we also had a lot of discussions and then you eventually decided to take the other route that I did not take, but you went on to build and be the chief product officer and later the COO for Endowus. Could you share about that?

(23:17) Jx Lye: Yeah. You know, it's funny. I actually remember distinctly us meeting in 2019 and you had just sold your company. You're coming back, having a chat at I think Tiong Bahru Bakery or Tiong Bahru something. For me, I actually was very close to starting a company back then. And this is where I want to give a shout out to Kai Yuan, who built Rocket Academy. Kai and I almost went down the path of building Rocket Academy together. And, I was the original CEO and he was going to be the chief education officer. And I mean, it's very early. Rocket Academy is 100% Kai and he did all of that, but we were working intensely for a couple of months deciding if it would work out or not. But for me, I sort of took a step back because I think what I cared about was like, hey, am I truly passionate about this space? And I clearly was not, right? I mean, I'm a big believer in it, but it's not me. Kai is, and he went on to do it, but I'm honest to say that I nearly started something and there was that in me.

But how I came on to Endowus was that. You know, when I came back after experiencing, ByteDacne and all different companies, it was very clear to me that there were just a couple of sort of constraints that I knew I could put on myself. One was that I knew I wanted to be based in Singapore for personal reasons. It is what it is. And so because of that, what company can I build a billion dollar business in? My answer at the time is that it has to be in financial services. Because if I wanted to do something that's e-commerce or social or something, then I should be in Indo or Vietnam. And I did seriously ask my wife, like, hey, can we move to Indo? And she said, fuck off, right? I mean, it's not happening. So, you know, we have kids. She had a job here and everything, and so I was like, okay, that's fine. And financial services is this, because financial services is kind of the only industry where Singapore truly is a hub that punches above our weight. Everything else, it's still possible, and hate is gonna hate, people are gonna come at me for it, don't at me, right? But hey! That was my assessment.

The question is where in fintech do you want to play? So I analyzed the market and what came to me was that it was very obvious in fintech, there's only eight possibilities and the way I divided market was that you could sell to consumers or to businesses to B or to C and then there are only four main ways of segmenting the market which is the life cycle of money. First, you spend money, which is PaymentsTech. Two, is you save and invest your money, which is WealthTech. Three, is you protect yourself, which is InsureTech. And then the fourth, is you borrow or lend money, which is lending technology. And back then in 2019, my assessment was WealthTech is the place to be. Why? PaymentsTech is gone. Man, back then Stripe was like, it was a hundred pound gorilla, right? You know, I don't want to compete there. Intro tech and landing tech, my assessment back then was that as a technologist, oof, it's hard to pull off. It's hard to execute because other than a pretty UI, you had all of these things behind it and I didn't feel I could pull it off. Wealth tech on the other hand was interesting because the entire goal of wealth tech is to kind of augment or almost essentially scale an RM. And that was all technology. But also remember, 2019 was also the time whereby you had eight Roper Advisors pop up in the span of a year, right? You had your StashUA, Scythe, and Dallas, and all of these different companies that were coming up.

And for people like us or people with some US exposure, in 2019, the first thing you would have thought, I was like, dude, what are these jokers smoking? Because we have seen examples of Wolfram, of Betterment, of how they all died in the US and the US is already the best market in the world, the richest country in the world, and it didn't work out. So, what more? How is it going to ever prove that it's going to work out in Singapore? And what more when you have seven other competitors in such a small space? But I truly believe that was that area that I could leverage technology, which is what I was all about. So I actually spoke to all eight founders, and Dallas is my winning horse. He had a great team, great philosophy, I really identified with the team. And so I went in and said that, hey, you guys started already, but, you know, kind of make me almost like a co founder and let's do it together. And so, I just jumped in and we never looked back,. We just re-skilled.

(26:48) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. What a journey. And what was the experience? I mean, there's three years and I was grew like crazy during this timeframe. I also know Gregory. He also sold me. And that's how I became a Gregor and Dallas client as well. So I'm kind of curious, like what you had to do what you felt had to happen?

(27:02) Jx Lye:

I think when people think about financial services what people mostly associate with that is basically what, in Android terms, we'll call the front end, which is the mobile app or the website. And people think that, oh wow, this is such a sleek user experience, you make it so easy for people to invest money. What people don't realize is that is actually the easiest part, because that's classic product management, right? And as a good product manager, you should be able to do it almost with your two eyes closed. Interview people, hire a good designer, work, obsess about your users. What people don't realize is that the most difficult part about financial services is actually the platform and infrastructure that supports it. So taking any WealthTag in particular, as an example, the two most difficult backend integrations that any WealthTag would have to deal with, one is actually your integration with your broker, because you've got to be executing your trades, and two is integration with the banks for money movement, because ultimately, as a wealth matchman or any broker, your job is to exchange a security for an underlying amount of money. And that's when you invest, and then when you withdraw or redeem, it's going the other way around.

But what people don't realize is that the simple act of like, if I'm any wealthtech player, and you deposit money into my bank account, the money comes to my bank account, but my bank is actually not integrated in any way to my backend, it's almost a black box. It's like, think about it, you have your Citibank personal account or your DBS bank account, any money that comes in or out, the most you get is a push notification on your mobile phone. But you can't really say that, hey, if I get 10, can you reflect it in my Excel app, in my budgeting app? That's essentially what we're replicating on the B2B side right now in Dallas. And what people don't realize is that building a FinTech is really hard because of all of the infrastructure that supports that. And especially in a place in Southeast Asia, whereby the infrastructure is almost more nascent, it's not mature, and it's different. So launching in the US, it's pretty cool. You have ACH. It's kind of standard. You have that. Even if you figure out in Singapore, in Hong Kong, in Indonesia, in Malaysia, it could almost completely be different. And so I think that a lot of the learnings is that a lot of why a WealthTech is good is not just because of the front end, the UI, and what you see on screen. It's really behind the scenes. Is your money really safe? How are you piping the money? How are you getting notifications? How are you informing users? What happens when there's an error? How do you actually make sure that every single cent is accounted for and actually flows through the pipes? You know, integrating with fax machines is not even an unheard of thing because there are certain things that only run through certain trades that only run through fax machines.

(29:22) Jeremy Au:

What a crazy time. And, you know, Gregory is a prior guest of the Brave podcast, so as Kai Yuan from Rocket Academy. But I know, remember you and I were discussing about this, but some experiences about what you experienced at Endowus would later become the inspiration for Acme. So I'd love for you to share more about that.

(29:38) Jx Lye:

That's right. You know, in Dallas, when I came in, I was sharing just now I thought that my job is that dude, I'll be that swanky chief product officer obsessing about the UI, about how people would invest and make it so easy. You don't need an agent and talk to anyone, and all of that. And it's true. We accomplish a lot of that, but the area where I spend the most of my time at is actually all of the infrastructure operational things that I was sharing just now. And in particular, like, let's talk about a bank integration, pick any bank you want. Back in 2019, people don't realize that take Singapore, for example, banking APIs is kind of a new thing, like DBS, who is a leader in a lot of these areas, they call their APIs set rapid, right? The DBS rapid API is not rapid. Not the one with the Y that tech company, but RAP ID DBS rapid set of APIs probably came out in, I don't know, 2015, 2016, 2017. And when all of the other banks came along, the transition from host to APIs really only came about in the late 2010s.

And that's when it first came out. By the time it became a bit more popular, banks a bit more open, it's kind of like the early 2020s, so it's a very new thing. And so when we first started, everything was manual. When someone deposited money in, of course, how we all start is that you look at, you open your bank portal, you click refresh, you see who that is. After you download CSV, you do all of these manual operations, and I spent a lot of time on that. And I did that for three reasons. The first is that when you invest in a wealthtech company, the most important step you can do, that we need to do after you sign up, is to essentially get your money. Because if you don't deposit in, forget about what fancy ETFs or mutual funds or stocks. If you don't get your money in, you can't invest, right? So it was crucial to ensure that the experience and if you go to Endowus now, the moment you deposit money, within 20 seconds, we recognize that money and tell you, push notification Endowers app and say, Hey, we received your money, we've gone through the KYC and everything, all checks done. We're ready for you to invest. And that is a crucial experience because if you don't have that, if you have to wait like a business day or two business days, you've lost all trust. And the way to build that, it's not like if banks will have fancy APIs for you to deal with, this is not like a Stripe or a Stripe Connect integration. It's really going down bare metal, bare bones to figure out how this works, and so that's one.

But the second thing is that in financial services, especially if you're licensed, you got to take that licensing very seriously and that auditability. The fact that no money change means that you have to be connected to the bank account. You can't afford to add manual processes because you don't want someone downloading an Excel sheet, add an additional line item, copy paste errors, you don't want any of that. So these two things are really driving it. So I spent so much time obsessing, agonizing over it because number one, it was key to the client experience and people, it's very underrated if you want to talk about that. But number two, it was key to a license, maintaining a license and getting a license. And so, it came so naturally to me, it's almost like I went to bed one day, I woke up the next day, I was thinking about, Hey I think it's time for me to start something. And I knew that this is what I was going to work on, which is how do we make it easy for people to integrate with their bank accounts? Because there's so many use cases for integrating with bank accounts right now.

(32:26) Jeremy Au:

So it's been a year of you building this and you had a clear idea of the problem and now you've actually had a year of reality, actually building this right and selling this as well. And we talked about this a little bit. So why have you learned along the way of this past one year of actually building it?

(32:40) Jx Lye:

I think I can summarize that into three things. The first thing that was surprising to me is ABC. It stands for Always Be Closing. In that, I never thought I would be a salesperson. I was always like part guys, like, Hey, you know, let's talk to users. Let's figure out how to build this. But when you start a company, as a founder, people have talked about this a lot, it's really about selling. I told myself that I need to take at one point in time, at least five meetings a day with five companies, you just got to be out there selling. And so when I started, I thought that I'm going to build this kick ass API suite, you're going to come and connect and it's going to sell and part sells itself, dude, no, man that's other BS. So number one, it's I've had to sell. That's all I primarily do. Primarily talk to customers and it's extremely gratifying. And I feel that people don't recognize this enough, but I'm going to go out there and say this. Singapore is the best market to build a B2B product because you just get so much iterative cycles and talking to companies because the entire city is so compact. If I were to be in SF, driving to Redwood City, it's one hour there and back, I at most talk to I don't know, one or two companies a day. In Singapore, my record is I've talked to 12 companies a day, 30 minute slots. All the way, you start at 7:30 am all the way, until 11:30. And everyone's around. And the beauty about selling is that when you do it in person, it really makes a difference. You know over zoom over demos you just lose it in person connecting, you know with that person life, that's great And so I think that Singapore you just especially the early stages when you need to iterate I mean, of course, there's market size constraints or whatever, but I've met over 200 businesses, CEOs, talkies in Singapore, and it's great. I've learned so much and just so inspiring to see how to build this. So that's one thing.

The second thing is that when I started this business on bank integrations, you know Mostly people use me to collect bank transfer based payments people use me for reconciliation for payouts For FX. I thought that my use cases my customers will all be fintech and it's not true My first five customers are zero fintech companies. These are like your education, tuition centers. You know, you have 10, 000 students that you need to collect on a recurring basis instead of using credit cards. Why don't you use eGyro or Gyro to pull money from your bank account? These were like office clean companies, you know, receiving 200 invoices a day. You know, shout out to Loose. We did a customer story on them. They needed automatic reconciliation. Without us, they took A week to reconcile. They go back and say, Hey, we received your payment. Here's a receipt with our API.

They do it instantly. They send a receipt. It's done. And so what shocked me was like the market, right? So that was the second thing. And the third thing was that we really feel the pull in the market evolving. One big reason of that is that If you take a step back and observe the payments, you know, we don't count ourselves as a payments company.

We're just banking. Payments is just one application of that. But just notice how many bank transfer based payments have been almost taking over Singapore. You go to any hawker centers, they ask for a QR code. You go to Shopee, Lazada. You know, what Shopee says is that use PayNow, it gives you 0. 5 percent off, and you click on the payment options, you have PayBy, link your bank account, you have PayLa, you have PayNow, you have ShopeePay.

These are all bank transfers instead of credit cards. And so it's really great to be experiencing a market pull when you're building something, because the combination of the increase of reliance on banks, and also unfortunately, the IT stack of banks have not been keeping up. We see bank failures, you know, started from SVB Signature Bank, but closer to Singapore.

Citibank, DBS, and all of that, and so the confluence of that just sort of puts us at a space where we can really be at the forefront of hey, how do we create reliability, how do we create multi bank, you know, how do we think about accepting bank transfers and that, and so, it's just been really great and fun to, you know, be in the middle of all that.

(36:02) Jeremy Au:

Financial API is not just a Singapore issue, right? It's a regional issue. It's a multi market. But also you can say it's multi bank, multi transaction type kind of problem as well. How do you see yourself covering all of that? Or do you see yourself focusing on some priority areas? How do you think about that infrastructure build out?

(36:18) Jx Lye:

Our philosophy in building a company and building our bank integrations is that we take an inside out approach as opposed to an outside in approach. What it means is that the outside in approach is popularized by companies in the US right, you have companies like Platt, which if you're in this space, you might have heard of of Yardley.

And what they do and how they started is that, you know, they kind of like screen scrape and figure out, Hey, this is your HTML, so why don't you log in with your username and password, and then we'll sort of take that, log in on your behalf, memorize the bank statement, download button, download it, and transcribe it.

That's the outside in approach. The inside out approach is working closely with the banks and say, Hey, banks, you know, I'm almost like a system integrator. Let's work with you, you know, give me your trust. Let's build all that. So the way we see ourselves is that we want to be a bank enabler, right? We want to help banks and say that, Hey, how do we help you get and make your APIs as similar and seamless as Stripe?

Stripe has revolutions there for credit cards. Before Stripe came in, oof, it was painful. You know, credit card, you have to find your own processor, your own interchange, etc. I think that bank transfers are at a space right now, and I think that we're in a sweet spot. So if you ask me, how do I think about business, I would say that we start off with thinking about, okay, we want to integrate with different banks first.

And our focus is actually the banks and not the geographies, because once you get the banks that say, if I have like, say a multinational bank, like Citi, SCB or HSBC, you effectively can support them across the different 50 countries because they want to largely keep it the same. But we feel that's just the basis of our ambition, right?

Our ambition is that the foundational layers, all of that bank integrations across different banks, different countries. But I think that there's so much to build on top of that, right? You have all of the whole, you know, I predict that fraud by bank transfers is going to be a multi billion dollar industry.

Multi billion, because right now a lot of fraud is focused on credit card fraud. But when it goes to bank transfers, look at all your paylast scams, you know, a lot of scams. It's a very different skill set because the vector is very different and we want to be at the forefront for that, right?

There's also all of these things about, you know, AR, AP, you know, accounts receivable, accounts payable. The heart of that is your bank to receive monies and to pay up monies. I think there's a whole opportunity there. Transactions monitoring. That's a huge kind of opportunity and then eventually how do you support lending more efficiently?

You know, there are all of these different aspects But the thing about building a startup what I realized is that the era of like saying that dude I'm gonna be like a 10 billion company when all of that is over, right? I think that the goal is for us to be really heads down build the foundations, right?

And so assess the opportunities as they come but for now, we're hyper focused We just want to be the best way for you to integrate with your back in order for you to get the maximum value out of your back.

(38:45) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. On that note, could you share about a time that you personally have been brave?

(38:49) Jx Lye:

I think that the biggest sort of brave, I mean, I don't think I'm very brave. I mean, for example I think that, you know, my, my wife gave birth to our kids. I think that's, you know, one kilo load is like greater than anything I've done. But I think that the one thing would definitely be like stepping out of the endowments to start AGME.

And the reason why is because What you don't realize is that, you know, I've only worked for, like, really good companies. I've been very fortunate to work for, like, you know, a junk box or a Lyft or a bike den in Dallas. There's a certain sheen when you work on that, right, that your identity is part of, like, Oh, JX was, you know, Group Product Manager at Brighton, JX was Chief Product Officer at COO at Endowers.

But, what's really different is that when you start something, you're nothing, right? People don't care about you, you don't get invited to any conferences, any meetings, or anything. And so for me, you know, I have kids and everything, and Endowers is, I'm doing well, right? Hey, is that the point in time that I want to step up, step out, and give all of that?

You know, in a way up and that's especially sort of difficult because when you join a startup and you do a startup and you've been in endowments for like three, three and a half years, you really only reap the benefits after that because the first few years you're just struggling, right? Nobody knows endowments and everything.

That's sort of questions like, man, do I want to go and do it all over again? And I mean, the last thing is also very personal, which is like your family and personal circumstance, right? Like. The biggest alienation, when you start a company, as many of us who listen to this podcast know, is your family.

And after having just gone through that, especially with COVID, it's like, you then just want to do that again so soon. Is it too soon? Right? But for me, I think that there's just an insatiable desire and that when you spot and see an opportunity that you're excited about, you just can't unsee it. And the biggest sort of, I guess, biggest thing I had to do is to tell myself, okay, how do I Turn all of, sort of, these downside of things and look at that as an opportunity.

For example, I hate meeting people. I hate, like, spending my entire day out. How do I see that as something that would be interesting? Like, learning about these different stories instead of, like, something that's a pain. How can I take the opportunity to put myself out there? Because I'm really putting myself out there.

You know, the number of times that people have asked me, Hey, JX, you know, I think you have a great background. I believe that you can build this. But like me may die tomorrow. Why should I trust you? Right? It's very personal, you know, it's like oh man That's really like, you know, I would not say attacking but it's almost short of like attacking You know who you are as a person and the number of times you go through people say hey do this one work, right?

You know, you know, we want to work with the bank take a queue number, right? It'll be three years before and all that so trading that off for this I think that you know, I would say that probably would be personally one most

(41:11) Jeremy Au:

Amazing.

Yeah, I totally agree with you. And I think it's such a difficult decision to make. I guess my last question I have for you is how did you end up making a decision? Did you consult your friends? Did you think about it? You know, how did you finally decide?

(41:23) Jx Lye:

As I've shared, you know, it's been something I've been thinking about for a long time and It was moments, right? Like, you know Thanksgiving during the holiday period when you're traveling that you're like, oh man, what if I do this? I think that when you're in the You're in the hustle and bustle of like trying to make things what you're fixing stuff every day.

It's really hard I think for me what helped was that before I stepped out, so I stepped away at the end of last year, early this year, first gen I had my kid I had, you know, one of my kids was born sort of in the middle to late last year and I went on paternity for the first time, you know, that was my third kid I, I've never taken paternity, right, you know, while I've been working and everything, I'm not proud of it, but, you know, it's just like what it is.

And my third kid I took I can't remember, I think it was something like, like two or three weeks, so four weeks off. Yeah. And that gave me an opportunity to really evaluate and think about, Hey, what is it that I really want to, you know, and, you know, I feel in my late thirties, it's okay, you know, do you want to have the energy to do it and all of that?

So when I came in from plenty, I wasn't expecting to do anything, but I think that gave me a lot of foundational sort of like, like, like strength, you know, and that I was pretty clear. So when I was really deciding, of course, you know, you talk to people and everything. But ultimately, I would say that it's really a decision that you make.

I talked to my wife, said like, hey, you know, this is something, do I have the blessing to do that? And I think when that was clear, I think that things slowed right in actually. But I would say the biggest thing is the pull. You know, the pull of, man, there is just this sliver of time where this whole bank integration thing could kind of work.

And I feel that you can always go back to all of these other jobs. And so we just went for it and it's crazy that it's been 11 months, but you know, I think we're a good spot We're a great team great set of customers and just everyday waking up, you know I feel that there's nothing like starting something at all and I wake up and even now I feel so excited about the day It's just like wow, you know There's just so much to do with so many opportunities and it really kind of gives you that and maybe that's how you know That you're in right spot.

(43:11) Jeremy Au:

Awesome. On that note, I'd love to summarize the three big takeaways I got from this conversation. First of all, thank you so much for sharing about your early journey as a student and how you chose your various degrees, but also what you were like as a student and how you eventually went on to, you know, take on your first roles with EDB and as a product manager.

So I thought it was really fascinating to hear about those early aspirations, but also how you're thinking about your own future at that point in time. Secondly, thank you so much for sharing about the contrast of sudden learning experiences that you had, right? So the U S was a China, your bite down experience about how you as a product manager had to learn different things, but also unlearn different things that you had picked up along the way.

I think it was nice to have the exploration of contrast. Of all of that and how you eventually brought all of that to bear at your job at endowers, where you work very hard to make sure that you're able to accelerate, not just the front end, but also a lot of the infrastructure and the transactions that had to happen. Lastly, so much for sharing about Acme. It was really great to hear about why you felt the pull to build something but also to build in the finance space. And actually it was a great encapsulation actually of your search process, which I remember you and I discussing. Which is not just what you are attracted to, but also a very intentional search process to look for, you know, a great sector, a great idea and taking the time and patience to, yeah, take a job at Endowers as a Chief Product Officer, but eventually encountering the problem that you really felt that you could bring all of your prior talent and experience and passion and skills to bear.

So really fascinating to hear about the vision for Acme and how you're tending to build this out. Not just across bank transfers, but also across the region and across for different customer personas as well. On that note, thank you so much JX for sharing.

(44:44) Jx Lye:

Awesome. Thanks for having me. Cool, man.