Business Today meets a business founder building a business so that one day it can run without him – By Amanda Suriya Ariffin
Jared Lim doesn’t so much leave an impression as he does an imprint.
No brash over-sell here at the simple, sunny and clean Finology office in a part of town becoming increasingly and irritatingly gentrified; no.
Lim is soft-spoken, but very certain in who he is, what he wants, and more importantly, how business – specifically, the one he has helped found and mould – stays true to its original intentions.
The gentle and unfailingly polite Lim and his boyish looks belie his old soul and hard-earned wisdom. He doesn’t shy away from teeth-grindingly hard work late in the night (coding!) though he served time in a nine-to-fiver. The managing director who is at ease with words such as ‘asceticism’ and who once went without a salary for fifteen months.
As the Business Today crew and I slip off our shoes at the entrance to the Finology office (perhaps that went some way to explain the level of ease in our chat?), the media relations manager makes us cups of tea in the very homey pantry, and Lim walks in, quiet as a mouse, but with a very, very firm handshake.
The nerdishly articulate Lim, founder of Loanstreet in 2011, an entity that has grown to spin-off two half-siblings including the rebranded corporate identity and entity Finology (born 2017), is acutely aware of what customers want.
This is the centrifugal ethos around which his businesses revolve. After all, he, too, was once a consumer, and he understands too well the exasperation and difficulty with which some customer experiences come.
For instance, buying a home; or, specifically, one’s first home, in itself such a defining moment in one’s life.
“In 2009, my family was going through a hard time, and I had to try to get a loan to buy a standard, basic apartment,” he relates, no sign of discomfort or manufactured angst; “Being a Gen X, I go to Google to get my information but there was nothing there.” He paid a broker to take care of things, and it wasn’t until two to three years later when he realised, “It wasn’t the best deal.”
“But then, he adds, “I was naive and didn’t know much.” Especially, he admits freely, about loans, financial products and finance.
Now nearing his mid-thirties, infinitely smarter and wiser, Lim is part of a growing breed of entrepreneurs whose passion – and ensuing portfolio – are realised because they experience first-hand the frustration, see the gap, and strive to do something concrete – and lasting – about it.
He is not your trust fund blue-chip baby pretend-slumming it with the rest of us pedestrian plebs hoping to blend in; he knows what it’s like to have your savings wiped out, proper sacrifice and the gritty determination it takes to push ahead when your peers are living it up.
“I worked and saved, I lived like a monk,” he shares; softly, so soft, but in the quiet room holding all five of us, the words have their own weight.
“I downsized my car – which I sold for RM750 – to a motorbike; I still have it,” he smiles, “and I still ride it to work.”
He left his job in the FMCG sector in 2010 with the singular mission to learn about why it was so diificult for people like him – against the backdrop of simply trying to buy a home smack bang in the depths of a family crisis – and joined an organisation that provided loan origination systems to banks.
“Applied for the job, got it and within four months, I discovered how right I was about how manual and inefficient it is,” he relates. Calmly, I should add. There is almost a monk-like Zen quality to him, but there is also that unexpected booming, unadulterated joyful laugh that is, frankly, charming. (It comes out when we volley and deadpan dry-humour observations.)
Which is not to say he is a confusing vessel of contradictions; no. He’s just been through the grinder and he’s survived with a healthy sense of humour and – so important! – perspective.
And oh, yes, the recognition, too. Finology recently won the Hong Leong Launchpad 2018 award with two other start-ups, and now it is about to embark on pilot projects to reimagine the future of banking.
While ease and convenience for his Loanstreet customers – typically aged between 25 and 35 in the middle executive income bracket – are necessary to keep the business thrumming, Lim points out that “We still need to build trust among consumers; this is where brand building, recall and recognition are important.”
He says this in response to my question about technology-based start-up disruptors changing the way business is done, and how trust translates in the digital space.
“Trust is not a given just because you are there long enough,” he says, gaze steady, “but brand recall is trust because people will go with your brand name first. We have to stay in the game long enough for customers to remember us.”
Remembering is clearly something Lim understands; the young man who still rides his motorcycle to work is set to introduce motorcycle insurance this year. The way he describes the process to us is as simple as the process is designed to be; surely, for the man who hangs on to his own motorcycle, it is a decision borne of deep empathy and business acumen.
“I have foregone partnerships and corporate offers because of the death trap; for me, as an entrepreneur, it’s not just ‘what’s in it for me’,” he says, “but a sense of responsibility.
“You have your good days and your bad days and there are a lot of people who have their faith in me – my family, my staff who have given their energy, and if I don’t continue, I don’t think I can live with myself – but my goal is to bring Finology to live on its own legs without Jared Lim.”