Startups must get out of the building and talk to people: Audrey Tan

In the first 2014 session of Startup Grind, PlayMoolah Co-founder Audrey Tan talks about validating startup ideas and picking the right co-founder

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Heard of Startup Grind? It is a global startup community designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. It was recently reported in Forbes that the global community has expanded to 75 charters across the world.

e27 visited its first session for the year in Singapore to check out what’s happening with the community.

In the opening remarks, the organisers stated that the community event is mostly to assist entrepreneurs in networking and finding co-founders, as well as to learn from more experienced individuals about entrepreneurship. Audrey Tan, Co-founder of PlayMoolah was the guest speaker for the session.

PlayMoolah encompasses three verticals — education, technology and community. It recently launched WhyMoolah, a platform for young adults to simulate life’s big decisions and help them see their otherwise abstract financial consequences. Within its product portfolio is an online platform for kids to earn, spend, save, give, and invest by practice and taking action, while parents track their child’s learning, activity and are educated about financial services relevant to them.

Tan shared that the business is still growing since it started out in Silicon Valley. Its revenue model comes from licensing out technology to educational and financial institutions, as well as from parents and young people who pay for the solutions directly.

Although it was incorporated in 2010, the origin of the idea was the financial crisis of 2008. Min Xuan Lee and Audrey Tan co-founded PlayMoolah together when they realised that people in general did not have enough financial knowledge. They wanted to find a way to use technology and design to enable action.

Since both the founders share a passion for children, they started out with that group in mind, but have grown to bring the service to adults as well. PlayMoolah teaches people how to spend, invest and budget their money. One component of it is a simulator where users can act out scenarios and watch the consequences for their actions.

Ask the expert
When asked about how she selected her co-founder, Tan said that it was through a “self-selection process”; what drew them together was the passion for children. They also shared an interest in creating products that had impact and meaning. Although there were disagreements, the co-founders had a common vocabulary; they communicated effectively, clarifying situations and not jumping to conclusions.

When they started out, they did not know how to programme the platform. They did a scrappy user interface minimum viable product, and tested it with their customers, kids and parents, immediately. This is because without the input from customers, all startup ideas are simply based on a hypothesis which may or may not be true. According to Tan, startup founders must simply “get out of the building” and talk to people in order to validate their concept.

PlayMoolah’s first paying customer came from a pricing plan drawn from the back of a napkin. In the early stages, they brought on Jay Patel, then an 18-year-old college student who complemented the duo in building the MVP, paving the way for their first seed round.

Tan also said that so far, the co-founders have not reached an impasse in regard to their business, claiming that they usually get out of the office to talk about more serious work. She emphasised that it’s important for co-founders to sit down and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When asked about her biggest challenge, time was the reply. Her startup takes up so much time, and it’s hard to have time for the family and loved ones, though she is trying to balance it, she said.

She ended off the session by saying that although the company has been doing well since its incorporation, and she does not intend for the company to exit, rather to scale across markets sustainably, unless the larger company fulfills a common vision. She also described their company’s culture as open, saying that they want to keep communication transparent.

Son Le Thanh, a professional software developer working as a Product Manager at Deskera Open Source, has been running the Startup Grind show for the local charter for the last two years.

Last Thursday’s (May 8) session was hosted by Silicon Straits Co.Lab, which is a co-working and hardware fabrication work space at Blk 71 in Singapore. Besides the co-working spaces, Silicon Straits also manages the US$5M fund via Neoteny Labs, and is an approved Technology Incubation Scheme (TIS) incubator partner with the National Research Foundation (NRF).

Startup Grind Singapore is currently looking for sponsors so that it can offer more free tickets for attending the event to founders and aspiring students who are eager to undertake their entrepreneurship journey.

Theon Leong

Theon is a skeptic who believes in possibilities after learning that three thirds of a pie does not add up to one and that cats can be dead and alive at the same time. He writes about business and technology, and is particularly interested in deconstructing complex ideas into bite-sized chunks. His favorite novel is The Little Prince, and spends his free time on chess and video games.

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