Dominic Morris, CTO, TradeHero, tells e27 about how a startup needs to capitalise on its sole advantage — speed
Launched in December 2012, Singapore-based mobile stock market simulation app TradeHero has come a long way. As of April 2014, it has garnered more than 400,000 virtual traders across its iOS and Android apps.
Currently, it draws real-time data from more than 28 stock markets, 45,000 global securities and 1,300 forex exchange rates. Players can either subscribe to so-called Heroes who give out stock tips, or become said Hero and earn subscription fees whenever someone subscribes to their feed.
The Echelon 2013 alumnus and Launchpadder had previously secured US$480,000 from TNF Ventures, and another US$10 million from KPCB Capital and IPV Capital. It recently launched its Chinese app, which is in line with its China-centric development roadmap.
Making tech decisions
Given that the team is now based in both Singapore and China, Dominic Morris, Chief Technology Officer, TradeHero, told e27, that the way they now make decisions has changed a lot. But he still likes to get his entire team together to get as many as inputs possible.
Earlier this year, TradeHero managed to gain entrance into Microsoft Venture Accelerator in Beijing, China. Speaking of Microsoft, the startup has been a proponent of the Redmond giant’s services. In a case study, Morris was quoted as saying, “Setting up our Linux virtual servers on the Azure platform was completely straightforward. We had no interoperability issues and it only took an hour.”
“My background is Microsoft, I worked for Microsoft for three years,” he told e27. “… When I was learning about programming and development as a kid, I was on Microsoft platforms.”However, in the startup world, Microsoft can come off as “unfashionable”. In fact, Morris added, “If I’m interviewing some guys who are very talented… if you’ve got guys coming from the Ruby on Rails world or the Scala, or whatever is very fashionable, I would say that can be a disadvantage if the perception of Microsoft is that it’s not so trendy or is not so cutting-edge. I think that perception is wrong, actually, very wrong.”
Microsoft, on the other hand, has been trying to boost its startup-centric initiatives. Harish Aitharaju, Server and Cloud Business Group Lead, Microsoft Singapore, shared, “When we look at it, technology has to be incubated in different ways. Imagine Cup is one way of encouraging students to come and choose a platform. That’s how we evangelise our technology for a young generation to come on.”
China – what about IP?
Making a move into the burgeoning Chinese market is no easy feat. One of the much-talked about topics revolving around setting up shop in China is the protection of intellectual property (IP), or the lack thereof. According to Financial Post, a report has estimated that 50 to 80 per cent of IP thefts originate from China, and cost the US economy about US$300 billion annually.
“I think it’s a good test of our ability to deliver,” said Morris, who added that the issue is not merely limited to a particular geographic, or China in this case. “And you know if we don’t move fast enough, to make the IP issue a non-issue, we only have ourselves to blame.”
That said, TradeHero does have an in-house legal staff managing a number of patents. “… Our primary protection is speed, a main advantage all startups have, the only advantage actually,” he said. “Every other metric — cash or people — we’re outgunned by big players. But what we have is our ability to deliver fast,” he added.
He further acknowledged that there will always be copycats. The only way to deter these lookalikes is to build and engineer solutions to a high quality level quickly.
Are you game?
At the moment, the startup generates revenue through subscription fees. To follow other players (i.e. Heroes), users can pay a TradeHero Content Credit, which costs US$1.99. This is a recurring monthly fee. The company keeps half of the fee, and passes on the other half to the “Hero” followed.
“I think I liked the idea from the start, definitely, but you know that’s only part of it because obviously at that stage, all there was an idea,” said Morris, who noted that the funding from TNF Ventures played a big part in getting him on board.
By allowing users to follow experts for a small fee each month, TradeHero helps enthusiasts find out more about stock markets without rendering them intimidated. “… The reality is that it’s quite daunting. I know this from my own experience,” he said.
Going forward, there will be more examples of gamification, which will help more people get familiar with the ins and outs of a stock market. “We don’t want something where people come and have to put real money in; they’re already quite nervous about ‘where’s my money?’,” he concluded.