Raffy Montemayor: Country General Manager Learnings, Classifieds Insights and Philippines Fintech Founder - E349

· Founder,Start-up,Fintech,Philippines

“For the General Manager role in a tech company, you have to be very comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and changing priorities because there are a lot of stakeholders. If you're part of an international tech company, there's the global head office, and the regional head office that all have ideas and perspectives on how to do things, and you need to be able to listen to that, pick the right things that would work for your market, and at the same time, put forward what you think would really make sense. You have to be somebody who's willing to manage multiple stakeholders and be comfortable with the ambiguity and uncertainty, which leads to ever-changing priorities and direction, and at the same time, have your own vision of how you would want to move the organization and the business forward.” - Raffy Montemayor

“When we founded Salmon, we expected the unsecured consumer lending business to grow to around 30 billion, with some expecting it to be 50 billion. But now, there are certain players, including ourselves, who expect it to reach 100 billion by 2030, so the opportunity is massive and it's like a land grab game where you need to be present. You need to provide a great customer experience and opportunities. It's also a young population, and in the next 10 years, there are going to be like 20 million people entering the workforce for the first time. These people were born with the internet, with a mobile phone in their hand, and access to the internet from day one. They're going to expect everything in their lives to be on their smartphone and they’ll be the main consumers of financial services as well. And so that's an opportunity that the existing banks are not trying to address.” - Raffy Montemayor

“Being customer-centric is very important. Customers have to be the center of what you do and not profit. Profit is something that comes as you succeed. The use of technology, being able to use that to operate more efficiently and provide customer services more efficiently are big differentiators as well for financial services companies. When building a profitable lending engine, you need to make sure you're able to use the deposits of people to advert value that lend that out profitably, and then be able to pay good interest rates and then you earn from the margin. That is quite key because what we see in fintech right now, especially in the Philippines, everybody's doing e-wallets, which is a very low-margin business and it’s quite difficult to be sustainable and make money in the long term.” - Raffy Montemayor

Raffy Montemayor, Founder & Philippine Business Head of Salmon, and Jeremy Au discussed three main topics:

1. Country General Manager Learnings: Raffy talked about how his unintentional early experience at Nestle turned out to be pivotal in learning about sales, HSBC for marketing and his experience as an INSEAD MBA. He then went on to lead the Philippines market for Agoda (travel aggregator), OLX Group (global classifieds) and Carousell (regional classifieds unicorn). He shared his learnings on how to best operate as a country General Manager: embrace direct involvement in operations due to the absence of established processes, flexible strategy localized to the actual market, and effective stakeholder management by crafting strong business cases.

2. Classifieds Insights: Raffy explained that classifieds, as a business model, required building a user-driven content flywheel to generate organic traffic and achieve market leadership. He also talked about his experience navigating a shift from a profitable, smaller-scale operation focused on B2C segments like used car dealerships and real estate companies to a broader C2C focus, which led to significant investment in marketing without immediate revenue generation. He discussed Carousell’s OLX acquisition and the structural challenges it brought, which required him to advocate for the Philippine market within the larger organization and build strong business cases to secure resources and prioritize local market needs.

3. Fintech Founder for the Philippines: Raffy expressed his deep connection to the Philippines, not just emotionally but also in terms of the business opportunities shaped by demographics, income levels, and digital trends. He shares his excitement for the Philippines' underbanked market and why he co-founded Salmon to build financial inclusion, craft a customer-centric experience and and utilize technology to build a profitable consumer lending engine.

They also talked about professional burnout, becoming a father and experiencing the twists-and-turns of a professional tech career.

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(02:07) Jeremy Au: Hey, Raffy, really excited to have you on the show. You have such a rich amount of experience all the way from banking to GM across multiple tech companies, and now being a founder yourself. So really excited to have you on the show. Could you introduce yourself real quick?

(02:21) Raffy Montemayor: Yup. Hi, Jeremy. Thanks so much for having me. And I really appreciate the invitation. So, you know, I'm Rafi Montemayor. I'm the co founder and Philippine business head for Salmon. Our ambition is to build the best credit led financial services company in Southeast Asia, starting from the Philippines. And we're, you know, we're credit led. So we're tackling the hard part first, which is lending to Filipinos who are underserved and underbanked.

(02:47) Jeremy Au: Big problem and we'll definitely circle back to that. I want to start first with your early career because you started out at Nestle and HSBC or seven years. So what was that like? What was your thinking about at that time?

(02:56) Raffy Montemayor: that

(02:58) Raffy Montemayor: was more pressure from my dad. he really wanted me to start working. I graduated from a very difficult course in Ateneo. So it was Management Engineering, very numbers driven, no summers. Basically all our summers were like that. actually going to school. So I wanted to take a break. So we graduated in March. I was taking a break, having fun, doing what a 21 year old would do with free time. But then my dad was saying, Hey, you need to start working. So, he contacted his friends, found some opportunity for me in Nestle. So I was just forced to do it. So I did it, but it was a great learning experience for me because it was sales, something that I would never have imagined myself doing. And I was dealing with grocery owners and promo merchandisers. So people of different socioeconomic classes, different backgrounds, and I had to build rapport with all of them. I think that was a very important learning experience for me. I spent there six months and it was all just learning. Maybe not so great for Nestle as as an employee, but it was a great personal experience for me.

(03:57) Raffy Montemayor: And then my dream job became a reality.

Although I was numbers driven, I was very attracted to marketing and in HSBC, they had a management training program and I had the opportunity to be injected into the marketing function. So I really jumped at that opportunity. When I was in HSBC, I did sales, marketing and portfolio management for the credit cards business over that seven year period. And at the time, you were the second largest credit card issuer in the Philippines, constantly trying to figure out how to displace Citibank as number one. And that's where I really gained a lot of my banking experience and lending experience in our market.

(04:32) Jeremy Au: You know, at that time, obviously when you were a junior person, what was some things that you learned about yourself? Was it like, I love finance. Was it, I love marketing. This sounds like one of them. How did you think about it?

(04:42) Raffy Montemayor: Well, I think it was I definitely loved marketing, but what drew me to it was very different from what I ended up enjoying because when you're in college and you look at marketing, oh, it's all about the fun creative TV ads that you would be doing, all of these fun stuff. And I got to experience it. I actually ran the largest TV campaign of HSBC Philippines, I think ever. And it was a great learning experience, but what I found interesting was doing portfolio management, which was, we have like 900,000 customers at the time and a lot of data about our customers, and it was about diving deep into where can we add value? What is interesting about our different customer segments and what could we do to incentivize more business from them, to encourage them to use our card more, to spend more on their card and then to borrow from us. So that's what I found in the end, kept me interested, kept me engaged and excited to do my job.

(05:33) Jeremy Au: And what's interesting is that after that, you went off to build and become the country director for Agoda in Philippines for four years. So what made that jump from FinTech to travel?

(05:43) Raffy Montemayor: Yeah. So in HSBC, I spent seven years there. And in order for me to keep learning, to keep growing, I would need to go into commercial banking, which I found boring. I just couldn't deal with it. I like dealing with consumers and figuring out how to best target consumers and get them to engage with us, but once you're talking about large corporations these huge behemoths, I wasn't engaged. So I decided it was a great opportunity for me to take further studies. So I took my MBA at INSEAD and that's where I got exposed to the tech space. During summer break, we had the opportunity to optionally go on these treks and I went on a Silicon Valley trek and an India trek to see how the tech space or technology is disrupting places like Silicon Valley where it's the place, the Mecca for this type of thing, but also to see how it is happening in a developing market where things are still in early stages.

And I saw both sides of the sexy part of tech and also the gritty, difficult part of tech. And I like all of it. So that's why I decided, when I graduated, I wanted to be in the tech space, but I wanted it to be in the Philippines. So I've always had a very strong affinity for the Philippines both because it's the emotional connection. Like I want to help make the Philippines maximize its potential. And also because for family reasons, it's very important for me to be close to home. I help take care of family. So then, the tech space in the Philippines made perfect sense. And at that time, that was 2012, that's super early days, especially in the Philippines. So I was like, this is a great opportunity to jump right in. Agoda, an online travel agency was looking for a country director. I jumped at the opportunity to apply. My MBA really had nothing to do with how I landed this opportunity, which I also appreciated. In the end it, it was all about me, like what they attracted that they wanted somebody who came from banking, which well respected, very process oriented, although maybe things changed after the financial crisis, but they liked that about me. They liked that I was also marketing based sales and marketing based because the role would heavily rely on that. So, that's how I started that opportunity. And I was very grateful that they gave me the chance to show that I could do it.

(07:49) Jeremy Au: I'm sure that INSEAD MBAs program is like, Oh no, the career, the career team is like, Oh, we totally had a hand in that.

(07:57) Raffy Montemayor: At the time I was at INSEAD, the heavy focus of both the school and students was consulting, consulting and to a certain extent, investment banking. That internet tech space was really non-existent. So people interested in that kind of had to figure out how to explore opportunities. So, it made us learn to just be open and grab any opportunity that comes up in that space.

(08:19) Jeremy Au: And what was that transition like? Because obviously it's a big difference from HSBC, which is historically, one of the oldest banks. And we're talking about Agoda, which is a technology startup. What was that big transition? Any things that you had to learn and any things that you had to unlearn?

(08:33) Raffy Montemayor: Well, I think it was a big adjustment. It took six months for me to really adjust to the different way of working at the tech company. Agoda, though, it's not a startup, right? It's part of a listed company price line at the time, eventually became booking holdings. But it was a listed company, super profitable, but it was really just trying to figure out how to build traction in the Philippines, but still no processes involved, no structures in place. You just had to figure out how to do it. We were working out of a cowork, two rooms in a coworking. It was back then there was no WeWork or anything. It was just like a Regis and we were working out of two rooms. And so I liked that vibe. But the fact that there were no processes in place, you just had to figure it out. We're eventually now planning to move to a more permanent setup. What do I do? We don't have any HR admin function. It's just me and a few people in the team. You know, how do we search for offices? How do we work with contractors? You just have to be entrepreneurial and take initiative and seek help from the head office where we had certain centralized functions supporting us, but still, at the end of the day, you have to do it yourself. Well, of course, in HSBC there's a department for everything that you need, and there are people who are specialized in providing you support. So, it was a transition, but I actually really appreciated that flexibility and freedom to figure things out for yourself.

(09:54) Jeremy Au: And from there you did four years and then you joined OLX group and you were GM again. So you really love this GM role. So I want to hear more

(10:03) Raffy Montemayor: For me, because my dad was a president of a large organization, and then you enter my course management engineering in Ateneo and they drill into you, become a general manager, become a president, become a CEO that is the successful career path. So there's a little bit of that. Like, in the back of my head, that's the type of role that would be interesting, but in OLX, this particular opportunity came up because I already made the leap. I already decided, okay, if I wanted to continue growing in Agoda, I had to move to Bangkok because that's where the head office is. Or I need to move to a larger market such as Indonesia and that wasn't something I'm willing to do for family reasons. So, I was looking for opportunities. Ensogo, which was kind of, like a group on sort of business model. They were trying to transition into e commerce and so I, they were looking for a general manager role. I was like, Oh, this is great. They're trying to figure things out. I've helped an e commerce company effectively. An online travel agency is an e commerce company. I've helped them really build traction and reach a large scale here, and I can add a lot of value. So I resigned from Agoda.

(11:04) Raffy Montemayor: I was going to join Ensogo. And then, I have a three month notice period. And so, I was just serving my notice and then suddenly Ensogo closed the shop. Like they just completely closed shop, there's no more company, there's no more opportunity. And here I am like, oh my gosh what am I going to do? So I just started being more open to opportunities out there. Fortunately, one of my classmates at INSEAD, who I didn't really get to know him because we're like 500 people in one cohort at INSEAD. So I never really got to know him, but he was in the Philippines. I reached out to him. I wanted to find out more about what he's up to. I learned that he was the general manager of OLX and I learned about what OLX was, a classified business. And after talking, he invited me to consider an opportunity there. So I wasn't, my first role at OLX was not actually as general manager. It was as the chief operating officer. So I was going to be somebody helping GC, the general manager of OLX at the time to kind of help him build the capabilities of the team from, the operations team, the data analytics team the customer service team. So it was actually not a general manager role when I jumped at the opportunity. One, I was desperate looking for something else to do. And then here's this like interesting role where I can lead functions that I never really had direct experience in before. And I had a chance to learn it, learn about it and see how I can add value. So I jumped at the opportunity, but turns out that GC was actually going to be returning to europe. He was actually invited to lead OLX Portugal. And so he was looking for somebody who would take on his role within a short period of time, I think five, six months. And I proved myself that I could quickly learn different functions that I never had exposure to, and I quickly add value. They invited me to to lead the team. So I jumped at that opportunity. So of course in my resume, it's a leap from one general manager role to the other, but the reality is that there's just different paths that you often need to take to get to the next step. And that's what happened for me.

(13:03) Jeremy Au: And there you go off to become the GM of Philippines for Carouselll.

(13:08) Raffy Montemayor: Yeah, so OLX unfortunately, because of pressure from shareholders, OLX group is part of the Naspers group, there's a lot of pressure for the classifieds business to start making money, showing profit. And it was difficult because in Asia, classifieds really haven't taken off the way it did in more developed markets. I think there are many reasons why that's the case. But basically there was already this impatience of we need to show profit. And in the Philippines, we were not profitable. And we spent millions of dollars in marketing, driving people to the platform, acquiring customers, building the brand, but with not a lot of revenue to show for it. So there was a lot of pressure to put the company into a path towards profitability. So I worked on that. That was my main task. Somebody invites you to become a general manager, but your mission is to drive towards profitability and have to make a lot of difficult decisions. That was a great learning experience for me, but it was a very difficult part of my career. And the fruit of doing all of that was that then we became an attractive acquisition target for Carouselll. So Carouselll, big in Singapore, wanting to become the leading regional player in classifieds. And, here's the Philippines, a great market, a large market and the incumbent is looking to sell. So, I actually helped with that deal, helped with the due diligence, great learning experience for me to be able to understand how acquisition works and then all the things that go into a due diligence. The Carouselll team was actually a great team.

It was a great culture. The founders were really inspiring and they liked me as well. And what I brought to the table and then they invited me to continue leading the team after the acquisition closed and I embraced the opportunity. I love the people I was working with. There was a great opportunity to get more Filipinos to really sell the stuff that are just unused, unloved at home because it adds value to somebody else. So it's this whole circular economy. I stayed and that's why I also became the general manager of Carouselll.

(15:07) Jeremy Au: So you've been a general manager at Carouselll, OLX and Agoda. How would you advise someone to do well in this job from your perspective?

(15:15) Raffy Montemayor: think for general role in a tech company, you have to be very comfortable with ambiguity, the uncertainty and changing priorities because. of stakeholders. And if you're part of an international tech company, there's the global head office, there's the regional head office, who all have ideas, perspectives on how to do things, and you need to be able to listen to that, pick the right things that would work for your market, and at the same time, put forward what you think would really make sense. You have to be somebody who's willing to manage multiple stakeholders and be comfortable with the ambiguity and uncertainty, which leads to ever changing kind of priorities and direction and at the same time, have your own vision of how you would want to move the organization and the business forward and marry all of those things. That's what you need. And I've been fortunate that in my career, there was this natural progression that kind of helped you build certain skills you need to be good at these things. But, at the same time, I had to learn a lot on the job. And so you also have to be able to quickly learn, quickly adapt and figure out ways to get things done.

(16:22) Jeremy Au: It's interesting because as a general manager, you're not CEO, right? So the CEO is going to handle all the accounts in terms of functions all the different geographies. So GM, you're representing country. You have allocation for these business functions. How do you make it work from perspective?

(16:38) Raffy Montemayor: That's right. I think it depends on the organization you're with, because when I was with OLX, the general manager is effectively the CEO because at OLX, they acquired companies that were standalone. When OLX Philippines was acquired, it was a standalone company. It had all the functions represented within it. Even product and tech was developed locally. Over time, there was some best practice sharing across markets and eventually, we were building our platform off of one unified infrastructure. And so things were different there, but that was a more CEO role. When you go to Carouselll, the culture was very centralized because the way it evolved was it was founded in Singapore. It was a one market company and then as it started branching out, it made sense to the centralized functions. So that is in Paris. That's where I had that experience of them being more of that country representative where you had the lobby to get your Philippines on the prioritization for product and tech development, where you had to convince people of the opportunity in the Philippines and why here this opportunity is better than another market.

And that's why we should get the resources we need, so that was a learning experience for me. And I think the ability to build business cases is something that I've learned, but I've also been guided. In Carousell l, Brian, who went into the organization, I think maybe in my last year and a half of being there. He was trying to help build the case for reinvesting in the Philippines and he guided me and we put together this narrative document to explain the opportunity, what we can do and put it forth. So that's the sort of thing. A general manager ends up having to do in that type of organization, which was a great learning experience, but also very frustrating. I mean, you're very passionate about your market. You want to move fast, you want to get it done, but then you have to go through this, like, almost bureaucratic process, which eventually I think was not frustrating for me. And then, I think that led me also to explore other opportunities after.

(18:30) Jeremy Au: We'll talk about that soon. But one thing you mentioned earlier was that you feel like there's some structural reasons for why classifieds Haven't worked as easily in Philippines as compared to markets. And I think that was your learning from OLX of it. Could you share a bit more about how you're thinking about it?

(18:45) Raffy Montemayor: The classifieds is a very difficult business model. It was developed, or it came about really as a type of market where one winner takes all. And the philosophy of OLX is that you have to spend to become the leader in the space. So you build this flywheel of. unique content from people listing their things and that drives traffic, natural, organic traffic into your platform. You need to achieve a certain scale and then you start monetizing, but you need to be big enough so that when you start monetizing, it's not easy for customers and sellers to just jump to the next platform because there's a huge drop off in inquiries or leads that you would get, right? So that's, that was the model, but then here comes Facebook where 92 percent of Filipinas are on Facebook or what we're probably the largest Facebook market in terms of penetration in the world and they decided let's do classifieds, but we're not going to make any money from it. We just want to, we just want it for the unique content. Now, what, now what happens to suddenly the business model of a classifieds platform, right?

So you have to really then figure out where are you going to add value that the likes of Facebook is not going to do. So it's about going deeper into the transaction providing end to end service where, people, it's almost like an e commerce company. And so if you built your business on one kind of framework, and then suddenly the whole thing changes, it's very difficult. Not impossible, but it's very difficult to make that shift once you're too big of an organization. And so that, that's the challenge that a lot of classifieds players face. But one thing I would point out is that OLX, before it was acquired, it was called Sulit Philippines and it was profitable. It was already profitable when it was acquired. But it built its business off of targeting used car dealerships, real estate companies, the people with capacity to pay for the services we provided. But it was small, right? And it's the type that, it's already profitable, but the scaling up will take a longer time. But here comes OLX with a different way of thinking. It's about, oh no, it's about C2C, not B2C. And you have to build this flywheel. So they actually remove all the features that these car dealers, these real estate companies really enjoyed and benefited from. And then just change the way things are done, where you have to now invest so much in marketing to get the flywheel going. So from a soup, from a profitable company, then it became super unprofitable. And then here comes Facebook. That became like a recipe for very challenging space for classifieds.

(21:08) Jeremy Au: And based on all of these learnings across so many companies, you decided become a founder, after such a long and illustrious career. So could you share a what made you say like, this is the opportunity I want to go for and more to go in as a co founder as well?

(21:21) Raffy Montemayor: So it just didn't transition that way. I didn't leave Carouselll and said, I mean, I wanted to found the company and then I founded it actually, first I left Carousell because I was gonna be a dad. So we were expecting my daughter to be born November 2020. I was getting burnt out and I wanted to spend more time with my family and, be there for my daughter, especially during the early stages and really enjoyed that. So that's what I did. I left. I then became more of a consultant. And then an opportunity came along, which was Tinkoff Philippines. So Tinkoff is the leading digital bank in Russia, arguably the best digital bank in the world but focused only on one market. They were listed on the London Stock Exchange at its highest, had a 24 billion market capitalization, had 25 million customers, and were making close to 1 billion in annual net income per year. So super profitable, super successful as a digital bank, and they're looking to expand internationally and Philippines was the first market they identified, decided. Hey, let's let's start there. So, I met George who was leading the international expansion efforts. I also met Pavel who was the co-CEO of Tinkoff, or the parent holding company of think of at the time, and, you know, they really had this vision of what we could do given the knowledge that they brought in. And I'm in I'm in the Philippines, lived here all my life and financial services, even though I've worked for one before, financial services are horrible.

So here's world class financial services wanting to enter into our market not Vietnam, not Thailand, not Indonesia. They wanted to enter the Philippines and so finally, somebody is recognizing the potential here and we got together, we really liked the dynamic and I decided, hey, let me join and help bring this in. I'll be employee number one. So that was in October 2021. By then, my daughter was almost turning one and so, we were activated. Coming in as a commercial bank, we applied with the Central Bank of the Philippines, went through the process, submitted our application, did the presentation, and we were going through it and hoping to get approved for stage one out of a three stage process. Then the war broke out, Russia invaded Ukraine, and then it became just politically impossible to do anything tied to a Russian organization, no matter how professional or successful. So, I moved on. George and Pavel moved on as well, and so did many other people part of the Tinkoff Philippines International Expansion Group. And then, here I am again with suddenly nothing to do and trying to figure out what do I do next? And George already relocated to the Philippines. sO he's been in the Philippines for a while. Pavel was in the area and we connected in early July. And so, so, you know, we met at the coffee shop, discuss what's happening, how are things going?

And eventually, we got to this common understanding of how the market opportunity is there. And it. continues to be there. There's this huge underserved underbanked population in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, it's estimated to be around 40 to 60 million underserved underbanked Filipinos. In Southeast Asia, it's estimated to be close to 500 and we have the access to tech talent. We have the know how track record of getting things done in Russia in Ukraine in Vietnam and in the Philippines. So why not we do it ourselves? So, we're all passionate about financial inclusion. We want to be part of solving the problem. We decided, let's do it ourselves.

(24:43) Raffy Montemayor: That's found salmon. And that's how we found that salmon in July last year.

(24:47) Jeremy Au: Because this is interesting dynamic, right? You have high capita countries, and then you have low countries, and then on the other axis, you obviously have digital penetration versus people are still getting with it. So how are you thinking about why Philippines is attractive opportunity from your perspective?

(25:02) Raffy Montemayor: So the reason why we find the Philippines attractive is when you look at unsecured consumer lending, it's still heavily under penetrated by the banks. As a percentage of GDP, unsecured consumer lending in the Philippines is less than 7%. And that's like 13 billion when we were starting in 2022. And we saw that there are certain network effects that were starting to be built, starting to gain traction in the Philippines that is going to push it to a higher penetration. Indonesia is actually more than double that penetration rate of GDP for unsecured consumer lending, but it's still way behind the likes of, let's say, Thailand, which is 85% of their GDP is unsecured consumer land.

And in fact, there, the central bank is trying to lower it a little bit because it's an unhealthy rate, but Singapore it's like 50%, 60% of the GDP, it's unsecured consumer lending. So in the Philippines, it's only 6.8%. It's so small, it shouldn't be there. But there were things that kept it at that rate, right? It's the lack of a national ID, the lack of a unified credit registry and just lack of investments from foreign players who know how to do lending. And so, the Philippines has been a neglected market in Southeast Asia, but the opportunity is immense. We, at the time when we founded Salmon, we expected the unsecured consumer lending business to grow to around 30 billion, with some expecting it to be 50 billion. But actually now, there are certain players, including ourselves, who expect it to reach 100 billion by 2030 or in the next 5 years. In the next 5 years to 2030, the Philippines will have like an 800 billion GDP. By 2033, it will be 1 trillion, that's the expectations of the S&P and if we can bring the penetration rate of unsecured consumer lending to around 9 to 15%, that's going to help us get there, and so the opportunity is massive and it's like a land grab game like you need to be present. You need to provide a great customer experience and the opportunities there. So, so that's one of the reasons why we believe the Philippines is a massive opportunity. Plus it's a young population. I think it's the second youngest population in Southeast Asia. Median age of 24 years of age. And in the next 10 years, there are going to be like 20 million people entering the workforce for the first time.

And these people were born with the internet, with a mobile phone in their hand, access to internet from day one. And they're going to expect everything in their lives to be on their smartphone. And these are people who are going to be the main consumers of financial services as well. And so that's an opportunity that the existing banks are not trying to address.

(27:47) Jeremy Au: I think there are a lot of companies that are always trying to build this bank. Right. On financial institution, that's trusted by the next generation. What do you think are the key things that differentiate those that succeed versus those that don't succeed from your perspective?

(28:00) Raffy Montemayor: I think it's about being customer centric. That's very important. Like the customer has got to be the center of what you do and not profit. And a profit is something that comes as you successfully. Service the needs of consumers and your customers, not that's the end goal. I think that's one. I think also the use of technology and being able to use that to operate more efficiently, provide customers services more efficiently. That's a big differentiator as well and I think for financial services company in particular. I think building a profitable engine, which for us, because, we're in financial services we need to build a profitable lending engine, because if we're going to go into banking, you need to make sure you're able to use the deposits of people to advert value that lend that out profitably, and then be able to pay good interest rates, the customers, and then you earn from the margin. So I think that is quite key because what we see in FinTech right now, especially in the Philippines, everybody's doing payments, which, or e wallets, which is a very low margin business and it quite difficult to be sustainable and make money in the longterm.

So for us we're in fintech we're going to lending and we want to build a sustainable business and eventually become a bank and that's the path we're taking and getting lending right is the key. And that's why, that's what we started with in the Philippines when we founded Salmon.

(29:21) Jeremy Au: On that note, could you share about a time that you personally have been brave?

(29:25) Raffy Montemayor: So I have a few examples, but basically I've been brave when I made certain leaps. And the first one was when I decided that to make the leap and actually found Salmon back in July last year, right? there are other opportunities for me. I could go back into tech companies be part of a profitable business model and company that already has traction, or I could go into corporate life again. I decided financial inclusion is too big a problem and it's something that I wanted to really be a part of helping solve and to put my own money, my own time and effort in building something from the ground up. It's a huge task. It takes up a lot of time, energy. You have to make sacrifices, right?

You can't, it also takes away time from your family and loved ones. So I think making the leap into doing that. Founding Salmon, helping build up the team, spending all the time on weekends, working it's I think it's a time I would say that, I've really made that decision to be brave and do something about a problem that, that I see, and I want to be a part of solving it.

(30:26) Jeremy Au: Amazing. emotionally, what did you have to do? Was it Was it How did you think about that?

(30:32) Raffy Montemayor: It was getting over that, that worry that we wouldn't be able to make it happen because, I have made the transition from super corporate from HSBC to a tech company, which is Profitable but trying to build traction and then talk company a little more early stage, right? Unprofitable trying to figure things out. So it seems like it gets easier and easier because you're more used to it. But there's still this huge leap from being part of already a company where the infrastructure somehow is there. The people are there. And then taking this leap to you're just three people, you don't even have a corporate entity.

You don't have, you don't have anybody supporting you. And you have to find these people. You have to find these people who are willing to take this leap with you. That's scary. That's scary to want to enter into that. And I can understand why so many people end up not taking that leap. I mean, from the time I took my MBA, I went to business school. I had entrepreneurship classes, the type where they make you feel what it's like in the first a hundred days, but I'd say none of it really captures what it's like when you start a company from zero and deciding that, Hey, all of this, it's going to be really scary, the chances of it working out based on statistics very small, but despite all of that, you decide to still do it. And at the same time my wife already left the corporate world. So, I mean, she left the corporate world so she could take care of, help to take care of her daughter. And so, there's no stable income that's coming in. Ideally we wanted one of us to be in the corporate world and one of us can explore and, this entrepreneurship kind of opportunity, but that's how we planned it.

That's not how it worked out. So I think the leap also in the financial part of it, right? Financial aspect of it, like no money coming in. And when we started Salmon, we didn't have, we were spending our savings on building the team and we were trying to raise money. So yeah that, that part of it on the personal side, taking that leap, despite all the worries and anxieties you have, that this may not work out. And the financial drain of it where I had to actually get my wife's support that we're not going to get any money for quite some time. We have to use our savings to support ourselves and we have to control our budget a lot more and getting her support and all of these things, it was a leap, not just for me, but for my whole family. That's why I think it was a brave thing to do, looking back.

(32:51) Jeremy Au: Thank you so much for being so honest and sharing about this. I'd love to wrap up by summarizing the three big takeaways I got from this. First of all, Thank you so much for sharing about early journey as a GM. Uh, I think that that was rich set of experiences of like discovering sales and then marketing eventually general management. And I think good set of insights that you had about. What to do versus what not to do as a GM and how to succeed, especially in the context of how much business functions you have versus how much autonomy you have versus kind of the industry and geography that you're dealing with, versus how much autonomy you have versus the industry and geography that you're dealing with.

Secondly, thank for sharing about think about the Philippines. I thought it was interesting to hear about your perspective, different aspects. One is obviously your love for the country and how much you want to raise your family and take care of your family in the Philippines at one level. Another level, I think, thinking about the business opportunities in terms of the population, in terms of the income, in terms of digital penetration, in terms of finance, and you gave examples from the finance side and also from the online classifieds business about different aspects about how local culture and local alternatives all play a role in how people choose technology.

Lastly, thank you so much for sharing about your own personal journey, about why you decided to become a founder. founder. And I really appreciate you being so, honest about different parts of your career, how you made jumps, decisions to leave and you had new opportunities. And I think it was nice to hear that and very nice of you to share about how there was a gap how a lot of these opportunities never panned out initially, but eventually something worked out, something changed, A new window opened for you to take the opportunity. I thought it was amazing to hear about even though initially it wasn't going to work out, you eventually decided that you're still going to push on with the finance opportunity, which you think, is a large opportunity still in the Philippines and just a function of execution and doing it. So on that note, thank you so much, sharing your journey so far.

(34:41) Raffy Montemayor: And thanks so much, Jeremy, for having me.