Todd D Schweitzer: Founder Learning Curve, Complementary Distributed Teaming & SE Asia Decisions - E186

· Harvard,Thought Leaders,Philippines,Founder,Fintech

You just get no's all the time. No's from customers, no's from investors, no’s from family members, no’s from friends, no’s from potential recruits. And so, it requires a bit of being brave to say, we've thought this through, we're going to give it a shot. We're going to be persistent. We're going to validate whether or not this has been true. but if it's successful, it will be successful because others considered it too hard to do, because if it were easy, an incumbent would have done it already or somebody else would have come in already. This is really the founder dilemma for anyone is to…in the face of a bunch of no's to persist. - Todd D. Schweitzer

Todd Schweitzer is co-founder and CEO at Brankas, the leading Open Finance technology provider in Southeast Asia. Todd has held senior roles in private equity and management consulting, spanning technology, the public sector, and financial services. Todd and co-founder Kenneth Shaw launched Brankas in 2016 to address the technology gaps that hindered fintech-bank partnerships. Brankas provides Open Finance technology to banks, insurers, mobile wallets, alternative lenders, and other suppliers and users of financial services APIs. He holds dual Bachelor's degrees with honours in Economics and International Studies from the University of California, Irvine, and a Master in Public Policy from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Jeremy Au: (00:30)

Hi, Todd. Great to have you on the show. Really excited to hear your story as we both actually share a lot of commonalities since we both went through the University of California system and we both went to Harvard for Master's degrees and both in Southeast Asia Tech.

So really excited to hear your journey a little bit more. And we heard so many good things about you as well. So, love for you to introduce yourself. For those who don't know you yet.

Todd D Schweitzer: (00:55)

Thank you, Jeremy. Grateful to be on the Brave podcast. My name is Todd Schweitzer. I'm the CEO and co-founder of Brankas. We're an open finance technology company operating across Southeast Asia. I myself am born and raised in mostly in California, but I've been in Southeast Asia for seven years now, mostly in Manilla, Philippines, which has, I think, a market that is really taking off and has been an exciting place because in 2015, 2016, frankly, there wasn't a lot of Start-Up activity.

And now I think the Philippines has really found its time, particularly in fintech. So being based here while operating around the region has been an exciting vantage point to watch the ecosystem grow.

Jeremy Au: (01:38)

And one interesting thing I have to ask you, what was it like growing up and studying at UC Irvine? Were you a party goer? Were you studying a lot? What was that like?

Todd D Schweitzer: (01:48)

That's a funny question because my co-founder was a classmate at UC Irvine, but not just a classmate. We were in the same fraternity and we went through rushing like the induction together. So certainly, there was some partying, but actually before UC Irvine, I actually grew up in Joshua Tree, California, which when I was growing up there was a very backwoods small desert town, but has now become sort of the hipster paradise of California and objectively a beautiful place and it's a really interesting place to visit.

But growing up it did not have the appeal that it does now. It’s just seen as a small desert community with a very bizarre national park behind the scenes. But UC Irvine was great. I mean, it's a suburban community, but it's actually surrounded by and is mostly a part of Newport Beach and Newport Beach is an incredible place to live when you're of college age.

And most of my time at UC Irvine was spent in a beach house with friends, and it was a really great experience. Academics, I was, I have to say, the first couple of years I was more focused on social scene than academics. I think it's fair to say I didn't blow it, but I was much more concerned with being involved socially and through my fraternity.

But I studied abroad all of my third year and actually half of my fourth year of college in Europe and studying with an international crowd focusing on economic development, international studies. And that's what really got me sorted professionally and got me a lot more focused on what I consider to be important from a professional and personal development perspective.

So coming back after having lived in France and in Spain and then having interned at NATO in Belgium, really focusing on economic development policy, I came back much more focused on wanting to figure out aspirations, but also more focused on kind of why the studying and professional skill development mattered to me personally.

Jeremy Au: (03:39)

Yeah, and that's an interesting piece where you had pretty focused on economics, international studies, public policy, and you actually were going down that track because you had a Peace Corps as a community economic advisor, because you then became part of strategy and you became a consultant like me as well. And I think that's where kind of hinting of that skill set changes.

Tell us through that transition why you decided to become a consultant at that point of time.

Todd D Schweitzer: (04:05)

I left university thinking I was going to be a diplomat or involved in government. I’m always thinking about economic development policy and making sure that there's an even playing field, that there's policies in place that encourage wealth generation, that encourage investment. I saw that through working in the State Department and thinking through economic development policies in places like Afghanistan.

But then also while I was in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and the D.R. as a small country, 8/9 million people in the Caribbean. GDP per capita wise, it's pretty similar to a country like Indonesia, Philippines or Vietnam. So, a large and growing and young consumer population. But still lots of families, especially outside the city centre, are struggling to make ends meet.

And I remember an anecdote where several people in the community where I lived were…there's a term in Dominican Spanish, which is basically going from odd job to odd job. So, you'll do two weeks of construction and then it's the avocado harvest or two weeks of the avocado harvest. And then you're working for your brother's company because he needs extra man hours, but there's no financial security.

And meanwhile, if there was an industrial plant that opened up or if there was services work available, there would be 2000 resident CV's coming in. And what I realised is that having financial stability has a downstream impact in terms of building a credit score, being able to build savings, being able to reliably work towards financial goals. You don't have to take drastic decisions like pulling your kids out of school if finances are tight because you can actually plan ahead versus hopping from job to job.

That had an impact on me significantly and thinking about how to support an economy that allows even the mass population to find meaningful work and that can sustain them and so that they can start to plan and build wealth and build stability for their family. So, it was from Peace Corps that I said, look, I want to continue working in policy that brought me to Harvard Kennedy School, where I studied master in public policy, but with a real focus on kind of economic development policy.

I considered going into government full time after grad school or non-profit sector, but I think a big takeaway from my time previously was that working for a business or building a business that can have direct impact on the emerging market, problems that matter can actually be more impactful and with direct impact, because you're creating jobs, you're creating economic stability versus the government or non-profit side.

And so I think that was my big takeaway. I figured the next step in skill development would be management consulting. And I think a lot of people choose management consulting for this reason, which is there are few jobs out of grad school that provides such a strong set of professional skills, whether people choose to be a lifetime management consultant and kind of go through the partner track, that's a decision on its own.

But I think for 2 to 3 years and I ended up doing about three years, three years and change post grad school, I think tremendous development in terms of exposure to industries, exposure to different problems to solve, exposure to stakeholder management and understanding different people in an organisation. And they're thinking about themselves, they're thinking about the colleagues that they trust, the bosses that they've been loyal to, they have pride in what they've built, even if their team or their product is now potentially outdated.

So there's real organisational and personal dynamics involved as well that you really have to just learn through experience. And so I found that really, really valuable. I did two years in New York. Now, this was 2012 to 2015, so a lot of it was cost transformation projects for large corporates in the US. But then after that, for a number of reasons, I made a transfer internally out to Southeast Asia and maybe we can talk about that later on.

Jeremy Au: (07:53)

Yeah. And why is that so? Because you decided to do that, transferred to K.L. and then after that you start working and focusing not just in K.L. but also the Philippines and also across Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia as well. Walk us through like what was that rationale to say these are the geographies – there’s America then that was like the emerging markets in a kind of like outside America and then to be Southeast Asia is a place that I'm focusing on.

What was that set of reasons for you?

Todd D Schweitzer: (08:23)

I've watched Steve Jobs commitment speech so many times and his point about connecting the dots retrospectively I think is so valid because it's hard to put the dots together at the time. But looking back, I can see how it was a confluence of factors, all of which are pointing me in the single direction. Number one was I had been working and was professionally motivated to be involved in emerging economies.

Chaotic? Yes. Complicated? Yes. I'm certainly an outsider, yes. But exciting growth opportunities, exciting impact on social and economic development. And it related to my professional experiences. And so, working domestically out of New York, I did a bit of work in Latin America, but most of it was based in kind of East Coast U.S. And I was eager to get back to emerging economies and, arguably, there's greater impact as a consultant or even outside consulting. Secondly, personally, my girlfriend at the time, now wife, is Filipino. We met at grad school at Harvard and kind of we were back and forth between New York and I think deciding whether or not do we stay put in the U.S.? Do we do something else? The third thing was I had been in touch with a partner at my firm who was the head of the Public Sector Practice in Asia.

He was based out of K.L. and so we had been coordinating for years just very casually on this. My profile was interesting to him. Yes, he's looking for the right team. He wants to bring me out on a secondment. And then I got a call end of 2014 and he said, Look, congratulations, you just got promoted to engagement manager.

We really need managers out here in Southeast Asia. We have all these really exciting clients lined up, but it's got to be a transfer. That's the only way I can get approval for it. So sorry to put you on the spot, Todd, but you have to decide. Do you really want to come out here or just kind of flirting with the idea intellectually?

Basically, I had a week or so to make a decision, and three months later I was on a one-way flight from JFK over to KL, and that was the beginning of 2015. So, it was a mix of personal, professional and kind of an intellectual eagerness to get back into emerging economies. And I had not lived in Southeast Asia before, but certainly had studied and was familiar with the region and was excited at the chance of working with this new team within the same firm.

So I wasn't taking a completely new risk, but it was a lot of unknowns.

Jeremy Au: (10:47)

Definitely, and thanks for being so frank and direct and actually concise about why you chose to move, which is that confluence of like, you're open to it. You had a personal relationship that was important to you and the fact that there was that opportunity that came up together. Of course, there's a big difference because a lot of people move to Southeast Asia, but not everyone stays and not everyone stays and chooses to become an entrepreneur in Southeast Asia.

So you're almost like doubling or even say tripling down. If you double down for two more years by staying on as a consultant, you can leave any time for Southeast Asia. You work at Google or Facebook, you can always rotate anytime to the U.S. or another market. But to choose to be a founder means you're committing five years, seven years, ten years to a region at minimum and by that point of time, it’s pretty much forever.

So walk us through how you made the decision to say like this is something that I want to double down and say I'm going to be outside of consulting world, I'm going to build a professional career and even become a founder in Southeast Asia.

Todd D Schweitzer: (11:49)

Yeah. So, I think in management consulting, in a large professional service. So whether it's management consulting, in banking, even if you're with a large law firm, I think it is healthy periodically to just understand what your options are, at least speaking from consulting, I think it's as you're at the point where you're shifting from kind of manager level to the partner track, it's a different job being a partner at a firm where you're responsible for bringing in clients and managing clients as opposed to managing projects and delivering the projects and kind of doing the analysis.

Your job in a management consulting firm change. After a year or so, with Booth and company, which at that point was strategy and after they were acquired by TWC, I just took a few head-hunter calls, recruiter calls just to see what's out there. I spoke with a few start-ups and I spoke with a family office, an investment fund based out of Manilla, that the role offered was really interesting because I saw it as brand-new skill development while also leveraging what I had learnt for the last few years.

And basically, it was supporting the head of the fund to do two things. Kind of 25% or so of my time would be helping them look at deals, primarily early-stage tech deals, so investments and I had not done that before, but learning the process of how a potential investment is evaluated was new to me, but super interesting.

And then 75% was running as interim COO of one of their portfolio companies where they needed some execs to come in and help steer the ship. And it was basically a software company supporting telco in the Philippines. And the role was one kind of protecting the legacy business, which is very much a cash cow situation. So kind of mature industry, declining revenues, but still very healthy margins and just something that needed to be protected until it didn't make sense financially anymore, but also building new businesses out of the assets and the relationships that that company had.

So, we brought new business to Myanmar, which at the time in 2015 was a brand-new telco market that the Myanmar government had just released new telco licenses and then building out some marketing, some mobile marketing services as well. Anyway, I give that context because I spent a year there, but while I was there, I very quickly started thinking about I'm looking at tech deals in the region.

I'm getting more and more excited about the start-ups that are coming across the table. I'm directly involved in supporting new products, being developed from this organisation. I started to think, okay, what if I were to start from scratch and build something and tackle a problem and put the right team around it and kind of go for it? And around that time, I started making some phone calls again, just to explore, just to say, let's validate the options, see if something's there, see how if there's actually a real possibility here.

And one of my first phone calls was to Ken, my now co-founder, and as I said, Ken and I know each other from college back at UC Irvine. He was in computer science, I was in economics. We met through the fraternity almost two decades ago at this point and he used to live in Manilla and had been based in Jakarta for several years.

And I called him just for a developer recommendation. So, I said, Ken, I'm thinking about building something new. I haven't done it before, but I know that I need someone technical because I come from a kind of management and economics background. And he said, Yeah, I can recommend some people, but what do you have in mind? Because I had no idea when I reached out to him that he was also freelancing at the time and working as a technical consultant.

So had I not made that call, had I not chosen to at least explore opportunities, I wouldn't have found out that Ken was also kind of thinking about starting something. So that started a conversation about what are some ideas with Top of Mind, kind of where we are in terms of life stages. I had just gotten married, he had just had his first kid.

So, we kind of, at the end of 2016, we went for it and certainly that's gone through many iterations and difficulties, but that's part of the risk you take by jumping into a new venture.

Jeremy Au: (16:08)

How did that conversation happen? Because you had to have that conversation with your old frat brother. So how did that conversation happen? What would a difficult part of the conversation? What were the easier parts of it?

Todd D Schweitzer: (16:18)

Yeah, it's a great question. First of all, neither of us called the other one to start a Start-Up. I called him literally because I was asking for if he has any developers that he knows and recommends. And there was no ulterior motive other than Can I trust your judgement on software engineers? Is there anybody in the middle of that you recommend?

He was eager to hear what I was thinking about, but I think from the beginning he recognised quite transparently that he wanted to start something, a new business that he would need a co-founder or a partner as well, and that he really wanted to be focused on that technical system design and building an engineering team. And of course, I have zero capability to do that and I think it was several conversations and a trip to Jakarta, but it was several conversations about what we, what our motivations were, what our interests were.

I told this to several friends and contacts that are considering starting a new business. There is a counterintuitive lesson that I've learnt and maybe it doesn't apply to everyone, but it certainly holds true for me and for Ken and myself. It's so important to have complementarity when you're entering into a business partnership, meaning it is essential that you're bringing different skills to the table, number one, because then two heads are better than one.

But number two, it reduces the chance of overlap and it reinforces the fact that you need to trust each other's professional judgement. If it were two economics majors trying to figure out fintech in Southeast Asia, then certainly we would be butting heads on kind of certain decisions and ignorant or naive on other decisions. Meaning we both have the same blind spots and we both have the same strong opinions.

But if you have a business partner or a co-founder that brings very complementary strengths, then what you can achieve together and the kind of from an ego or a domain expertise perspective, I think it allows for you to run a lot faster and a lot more effectively from day one. And that's one thing I appreciate about the partnership with Ken is that I think we both recognise each other's abilities and strengths and we operate as a team rather than we operate as a team because we recognise we're bringing different skills together.

Jeremy Au: (18:43)

Amazing and complementarity is important. I think that's so underrated because there's so many founders we know who are looking for people who are exactly alike because it's easier.

Todd D Schweitzer: (18:56)

And it's human nature. We want to associate ourselves with people who share the same interests, who come from common backgrounds. And Ken and I do have common background, and that's sort of the relationship glue that held us together through the difficult times. But you're right, the reason I mention this is because I think it is counterintuitive. Just because they're a buddy does not mean that good co-founders, it will make. It really needs to bring complementary skill sets that together can drive fast and effective decision making.

Jeremy Au: (19:25)

I’ll love to ask, so how does two former frat brothers, now founders, how do you hash out problems with each other?

Todd D Schweitzer: (19:59)

Yeah, it's a good question. And it's more complicated because I'm based in Manilla, he's based in Jakarta, and one of the very first conversations was, were us being very clear that if we do this, it has to be a distributed first team and we actually both recognise that this is pre-COVID, all of that. So I think we recognised early on, number one because of personal circumstances, I wasn't planning to move to Jakarta, he wasn't planning to move back to Manilla.

If we're going to do this, we have to make distributed work and yes, there can be travel and whatnot, but distributed needs to work. But number two, I think we recognised day one that especially building an engineering team, it would be beneficial actually to source talent from across the region rather than just building a development centre in Jakarta or in Manilla or somewhere else.

And I think I'm glad we made that decision. And some of our best staff are outside of major cities that if we were localised or centralised, physically centralised, we wouldn't have an opportunity to get them or we'd have to convince them to move. Sometimes virtual beers, certainly. I mean, pre-COVID I would be travelling a lot to Jakarta. He would travel as well.

I'll be speaking for Ken a little bit, but I think we make each other extremely accessible to the other. If he and I need to work through something, the other one takes priority if we need to be in communication and the result of which is we are in a constant stream of discussion, whether it's through WhatsApp or getting on video calls or through Slack or whatever throughout the day.

So, I think just having that constant stream of communication as if we were seated next to each other is fundamental. It's kind of obvious, but it's fundamental and really important. Number two is appreciating where each of us have respective domain expertise and deferring to decisions based on who has more credibility in that domain. That's about as simple as I can say it, which is it would be silly for me to undermine…I will disagree sometimes, but like ultimately, an engineering decision, a technology choice, HR decision related to two developers, I have to trust his judgement because he may not be 100% the right decision, but it's going to be more likely to be the right decision than if I were to make it. And I think the same goes for some of the areas where I'm the most focused on the business development, on the kind of the overall team and corporate affairs side outside of engineering.

So I think recognising and respecting the domain expertise that each founder brings to the table and having a healthy discussion, but ultimately deferring to the counterpart who is kind of most credible or most likely to have the best judgement, I think is the is a recipe for success, more often than not.

Jeremy Au: (22:27)

One interesting aspect is, of course, you’re focus on distributed teaming before it became cool slash inevitable slash mandatory. Talk us through about, obviously, you said how you were lucky to do that. How do you see that trending in the future is that the future is all distributed? How does that play out from your perspective?

Todd D Schweitzer: (22:46)

Yeah, well, we've all experienced it, even though that most of us have experienced it, even if the company wasn't distributed, it was kind of forced, distributed. Those of us who work in offices, of course, health care workers and other service workers that are carrying the torch. But I, of course, speak with bias towards kind of office workers that have the privilege of being able to work from home.

This has been the case since we started. There are different points of view about how to make remote work successful or even if remote work is healthy. I think it is a healthy debate because there isn't black and white. So I remember the founder, Zach Perrette, did a whole blog post or a Twitter feed or something on the importance of having a camera off Zoom meetings.

Why? Because he talked about how studies show that it can be stressful having your camera on all day and it creates anxiety and it actually creates fatigue. And he said, Look, you got to give people the option to be camera off. And in fact, you should reinforce camera off for certain meetings. And I can find you a hundred other articles of people saying, absolutely, camera on is the way that you build rapport and see expressions and pick up on nonverbals.

And the indirect communication is so important in Southeast Asia, so having cameramen is essential. So, it's a healthy debate, super healthy debate. Personally, as a founder in Southeast Asia, the most valuable part of having a distributed team is you can find phenomenal colleagues outside of major cities. And these are people that for personal reasons, for lifestyle choice reasons, they're not going to migrate into central Jakarta, they're going to stay in Bandung or they're going to stay in Bali.

And I think that is phenomenal and it's healthy. Now, the challenge, Jeremy, is you have to then change your HR recruiting practices to screen for people who have the mindset towards productive remote work. I don't want to be too biased or sound too biased here, but it does involve a certain sense of emotional maturity and independence to be able to be accountable for your work, even if there’s not somebody physically looking over your shoulder. In Southeast Asia, managing a technology company, the benefits far outweigh the difficulties of remote working, but for me, I truly cannot see it any other way.

And putting product managers and developers onto public transport for an hour to go into the office and on a fixed schedule when some are super early birds or super night owls, it just…from a first principles perspective, it doesn't make sense. Maybe it does in other cities, but in Southeast Asia, I think the remote model is phenomenal.

Jeremy Au: (25:25)

Amazing, totally agree about the debate and the first order principles about what makes sense. What's interesting, of course, is that there's a lot of benefits, specially for people, for example, in the Philippines or Indonesia where historically, they could only get jobs, for example, from local companies that had an office and now they are able to get remote jobs from Philippine startups, but also regional startups that's remote. But also, I think we starting to see now what I call the MNC Multinational Corporation 2.0 where Facebook, Google, Series A startups in the U.S. Series B, willing to raise capital, but also look for talent globally and as a result, see that. So, I think this is an interesting kind of dynamic where there’s an auction or salaries are going up because there are multiple employers possible as a result of this remote, which is, I think, a good thing.

I'm just wondering if you see that.

Todd D Schweitzer: (26:22)

Definitely. I agree with what you're saying. To me, it sounds like retention challenges because it's even more reasons for our best staff to get poached by a company that is now setting up APEC operations or now allows for a U.S. company, but has a whole team now working Asia hours. And the biggest difficulty are actually the crypto companies because they operate globally, they operate 24 seven.

Many of them choose not to operate out of the West for various reasons. It's practically the ethos of crypto companies to be distributed as part of their decentralisation kind of way of working and mentality. So as the crypto economy has grown and crypto companies are grown globally, not just in Asia, I think that's been a direct threat to tech companies operating in Southeast Asia.

And I imagine other founders would agree with me and are experiencing the same to say nothing of the fact that salaries are crazy because of all of the capital coming into crypto. And so basically, you're getting really good staff that are able to get multiples of what is already a quite attractive salary. That's a day-to-day challenge we're all facing at the moment.

Jeremy Au: (27:35)

Well, that’s good for employees slash Global Nomad. That’s a rather low cost of living an American-ish kind of salary is a nice, sweet spot, I think. Yeah, I think that's one of the interesting challenges for a lot of startups in the region would just be like stuck in that dilemma, in that sense, how do you kind of like compete for talent on a global and regional and local stage simultaneously?

On that note, I'd love to kind of hear a little bit more about the ups and downs. Could you share with us a little bit more about your reflections about your personal change as a leader over that time?

Todd D Schweitzer: (28:07)

So professionally, the biggest change or personal development that I've undergone is shifting from operator to manager. When you're starting a company and it's just you and your co-founder, you are every function in the company. You are CFO, you are head of sales, you are COO, you are…who's head of product? It's kind of between Ken and I, all the corporate functions, all the front office functions, that's me.

So, I'm doing everything. I'm accountable for everything. I'm thinking about the details of how to execute on everything. And then you hire people little by little who are helping with tasks. They may be leading a particular piece of the function. Do you still have your hands on practically every part of the operation that is not handled by my co-founder, which in our case is very black and white.

He's handling the engineering and I'm handling everything that's not the engineering. But as we're now a staff of 110 people and we have a whole bench of really, really expert leaders, my role is very different now. My bias is still towards being very close to the day to day operation. I certainly need to be shifting to a role where I'm thinking about how to ensure longevity, how to ensure that people are taken care of, how do we make sure that we're making the right choices strategically?

How do we engage investors and external partners while trusting that the operations are being handled, but also stepping in when the operations need adjustment? Again, this sounds a bit obvious, but I think it's tremendously difficult. We're five years in and the first three of those five years it was basically me running it and I'm not running it anymore.

I'm managing it, but I'm relying on a team of experts that are really running day to day operations. Of course, I'm accountable for it, but I have to rely on a team and I have to make sure that team is set up for success. So that's challenging from a skill development point of view, but it's also challenging from a personal letting go point of view and empowering the team to make the right decisions.

And even if those decisions have their own flavour that are maybe different than I would have done it, and that's okay because the end result is better than it would have been if I had just been micromanaging every piece. So, that's a challenge I think appreciating the fact that I am a Bule, as they say in Indonesia, I'm an outsider.

I did not grow up here. I'm not Southeast Asian. I do not have excellent Bahasa Indonesia or Tagalog skills as much as I would like to. I definitely don't have Thai or Vietnamese skills or Mandarin. So as an American, there are distinct cultural differences. I mean, Americans are proud to be direct and frank and confrontational in an intellectual walk, sometimes literally confrontational, but confrontational in a kind of put problems on the table kind of way.

And I don't think it's stereotyping to say like Southeast Asia, conflict resolution, it takes place in a very different way typically. And so, learning that and respecting feedback from colleagues, having kind of the humility to learn that concerns or conflicts or disagreements can be handled in a different way than the typical American style. I think that's been a steep learning curve, but something that I've appreciated and hopefully I have a little bit better radar now than I did five years ago.

Yeah. So those are some of the learnings, I think.

Jeremy Au: (31:36)

Amazing. And on that note, could you share about a time that you have been BRAVE?

Todd D Schweitzer: (31:41)

When I think of a brave moment, it's the moment or series of moments early on in Brankas when everyone was trying to convince me and convince Ken that this was a terrible idea. Colleagues were telling me that this is a highly regulated industry, it's a highly cartel-ized industry, and breaking and disruptive financial services is dead on arrival at best and opening up to litigation or criminal issues at worst.

And anyway, we're not locals and we don't have local connections, so forget about it. FinTech infrastructure and open finance is too early for Southeast Asia that it doesn't apply to Southeast Asia. The market's not ready. The No from investors saying that Ken and I do not have the track record together or individually to make this a reality. The No from potential hires that said no we don't want to join Brankas we'll join somewhere else where we have another company.

You just get no's all the time. No's from customers, no's from investors, no’s from family members, no’s from friends, no’s from potential recruits. And so, it requires a bit of being brave to say, we've thought this through, we're going to give it a shot. We're going to be persistent. We're going to validate whether or not this has been true.

And potentially, if this is successful, and Brankas is definitely still a work in progress, but if it's successful, it will be successful because others considered it too hard to do, because if it were easy, an incumbent would have done it already or somebody else would have come in already. This is really the founder dilemma for anyone is to…in the face of a bunch of no's to persist and say, we're going to see this out for a period of time and validate whether or not there's actually something there.

And trusting your judgement, trusting your own analysis, trusting in your own abilities. Even if people say you're not capable and saying, no, we're going to try.

Jeremy Au: (33:42)

Amazing, there's a lot of truth there. And how do you tell the difference between when everyone tells you that it’s a bad idea and it is a bad idea versus everyone tells you is a bad idea and it’s an idea that can work if you execute well enough. How would you reflect that? Because I'm sure you've met a lot of founders who’ve given you other ideas as well. What would you say?

Todd D Schweitzer: (34:09)

When I receive advice or judgement from someone, I try to think about what is the point of view that they're coming from and someone coming from the traditional financial services industry saying this can't be done. Well, they have an interest in the status quo and they've been working inside the system, so to speak. I appreciate that feedback. I recognise that it's going to be hard, but you have to understand that they have a lens through which they're viewing the world.

What I'm trying to say is there is a category of advice or advice givers where they are telling you their opinion based on their vantage point versus, they're giving you an opinion based on similar research in the space. Yeah, it's a difficult challenge to separate the no’s that are coming from a biased point of view versus the notes that are coming from a really credible point of view.

I try and think of them, each, as a data point and one data point, maybe someone coming from a traditional bank or traditional financial institution and they say, Yeah, but you take each is a data point. And if there are a lot of credible data points saying, Todd, you have a blind spot here, right? And they're coming from a point of view that is fact based and credible, based on their own experience, then that's worth taking a look at.

Advice and opinions are easy to come by, and we could give our opinions all day long, but some opinions are more credible than others, right? So having that lens to say this person is giving a feedback and they really know what they're talking about from the big picture point of view versus this person is giving feedback and they're coming from a very particular point of view.

And so thank you. I will take that data point. I'll give you an example. Up until a couple of years ago, investors from the U.S. or even most of Europe were not deploying capital in to Southeast Asia. They considered Southeast Asia too small, too early stage. If they were looking at emerging markets, they were looking at China or India, they said Southeast Asia is fragmented, unstable, too early, doesn't make sense.

I literally got that feedback from basically unanimously from San Francisco based VCs in 2018. Now, they're not wrong. These are super successful venture capital firms, but their vantage point was they had plenty of deal flow in the U.S. They don't understand the dynamics of the Southeast Asia market. They're not an emerging markets focused fund, they're a U.S. focused fund.

And so, of course, they're going to say that Southeast Asia seems too weird. So, if I had taken only their advice because Silicon Valley is the hub of venture capital, that would have been an incomplete view of the opportunity. And so, the same goes for getting advice about a startup or a new business idea, which is advice is easy to come by, but some of that advice will be incomplete.

And so, it's up to you to string those data points together and build your own complete picture.

Jeremy Au: (37:10)

And when you think about the complete picture, how do you form the complete picture versus all the people who are bullish for you versus all the people who are bearish on you because like you said, they're fragmented on region, fragmented on being a founder, fragmented on the system, how do you make that final call?

Todd D Schweitzer: (37:27)

Well, one is just doing more listening than opining, myself. I recognise the irony because I've just been talking for the last hour on this podcast, but in general, making sure that I’m doing listening, whether it's with colleagues, whether it's with customers, whether it's with partners, whether it's investors, and just making sure that I'm not jumping to conclusions even about Brankas, where I've been laser focused the last five years and making sure that I'm open to feedback. Again, that feedback may be incomplete, but it's a good data point.

And so just recognising and maintaining a bit of self-awareness of am I doing more talking than listening? Do I have confirmation bias? And I'm no longer listening to someone who's trying to convey a message to me, basically, am I being stubborn? So having that mindset and just making sure that I continue to absorb information I think is valuable and probably is even more valuable now than it was years ago.

Jeremy Au: (38:19)

Amazing. Thank you so much, Todd. On that note, I’ll love to recap the three aspects that I found kind of popped out as themes. So, the first is thank you so much for, I think, consistency showing what I call the learning curve as a founder so I think how you learnt about yourself in terms of your own career of not being a diplomat and choosing to build out that skill set as consultant. Also, how you learnt about the geography of markets that you wanted to be at, but from a professional way, but also of which country that you wanted to be in on a personal and professional aspect. Also, how you as a founder learnt how to figure out the complete picture in decision making across the different advisors. So, really interesting to see how you draw out that learning curve multiple times. So, really interesting there.

The second one is really about thank you so much for sharing what I call a complementary distributed teaming, so on one level, you talked about it in terms of like you did meet your co-founder in terms of having run across them as frat brothers. While on the other hand, it’s more like you find that person because you're going through that past networks because you're looking for that complimentary person. So, I think that was a deeper insight there, I think you have emphasised that again and again about how you distributed a team, what you're looking at, how you saw that opportunity and we talked about some of the second order impacts of that happening as well.

Lastly, thanks so much for also sharing about decisions. You talked about Southeast Asia. I think you talk about different facets of it. In the aspect of it as an emerging market from when you're inside America. You talked about it in Southeast Asia as a home that you made for yourself and your now wife. Congratulations. As a place to make home and you also talked about Southeast Asia as a place to work for so many of your team-mates, as a place of competition. You talk about Southeast Asia as a decision for venture capital. So, lots of different aspects that you have there. And it's really exciting to see how you've articulated that for so many different people to think about. So again, thank you so much, Todd, for coming on the BRAVE podcast.

Todd D Schweitzer: (40:20)

Thank you so much, Jeremy, had a great time.