7th June 2017
Life After Banking Panel Talk
Life After Banking Panel Talk
Ex-bankers joined to share their journey to entrepreneurship
HONG KONG – 7 June, 2017 – Five former investment bankers were brought together on 1 Jun to share their stories of transition from a banking professional to a startup entrepreneur. A signature event of Asia Bankers Club, the panel event was attended by over 200 banking professionals who were looking for inspiration in light of the mixed outlook on the industry. The event was sponsored by Hong Kong Golf & Tennis Academy (HKGTA), a holistic sports wellness destination in the stunning natural country side of Sai Kung.
A growing number of professionals in the banking fields are actively looking to pursue their passion beyond financial. ‘Life is meant to be lived, not meant to be in a cubicle.’ Mr. Anthony Solimini, The Stand Up Banker who moderated the panel said during the opening remarks when reflecting on his banking experience before quitting. ‘Leaving banking is about realising in life what your passion is.’
Banking veterans who started out on their own often met hardship during their first few years of startup. Their former positions in investment banking have prepared them for the tough years. ‘Banking has prepared me to be able to work really long hour. The structure and process I encountered when working in a bank helped me to understand how to pull different resources together and push through different projects.’ Mr. Eric Gnock Fah, Co-Founder & COO at Klook, mentioned when asked what kind of transferable skills he acquired in banking. ‘Being a banker prepared me to do things in a structured way – it is about how to present and package your products and services to appeal.’ Mr. Kingston Lai, Founder & CEO at Asia Bankers Club, added. Ms. Michelle Sun, Co-founder & CEO at First Code Academy, said, ‘I learnt to be better at doing things you don’t like in banking. Being an entrepreneur, especially during the early years, you have to get used to do things you don’t like and get them done.’
On why they decided to quit banking, panellists agreed that it was not an easy decision. It was an idea that had been brewing in mind before putting into action. ‘It was when I realised that my real passion is to work with people who have creative ideas, and that I enjoy seeing things come to life, that I resolved to focus my energy on that. Few people remain in banking all their lives and it is very important that you have an idea of what you are passionate about, that can guide you in your life after banking.’ Ms. Yeone Fok, Founder at SparkRaise.com, said when discussing her decision to leave. Mr. Shaun Kraft, Chief Financial Officer at CompareAsiaGroup recalled how he made the decision to quit, ‘I reached a point in my life that I had to decide whether I wanted to do banking for the rest of my life or something different. I was an adviser to company CFOs during my banking days and one day I decided to roll up my sleeves and get operationally involved in business. It was difficult to go from a comfortable life to something new, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.’
When it comes to financing the startup business, planning is just as important as finding investors and funding. ‘I have invested in startups before quitting my banking job but they all failed. I used the money I saved along with loans I got from banks but I finished all money within 6 months. I had no business plan at that time. I maxed out all my credit cards and even almost went broke twice over the period of two years. A good friend came to offer me a loan and luckily I survived after several changes of strategy.’ Mr. Kingston Lai admitted his error in planning during his early years. ‘I saved some money from my banking time and bought an apartment at Hong Kong’s property bloom. We wanted to finance the business before we got funding so I sold the apartment. For the first 6 months, the three co-founders of Klook funded our own business and chose not to receive salaries for the following 12 months before we received Series A funding. For 18 months, we had no salary.’ Mr. Eric Gnock Fah described the financial decision at the beginning of the business. Ms. Yeone Fok added that there are other ways to get capital, ‘The wonderful thing about Hong Kong and the startup environment today is that the Hong Kong government, and a number of other organisations, are more supportive than ever of people with creative ideas. Accessing the free money available to startups would be a good way to get started before thinking about external capital. In addition, crowdfunding (through SparkRaise) offers an affordable way to fund your product or idea, build exposure for your brand, and interact with your customer base.’ Ms. Michelle Sun started First Code Academy as a side project. ‘I didn’t have salary for 9 months. I used my saving from banking days and working as engineer in my previous job in a startup. An advice is to keep personal burn rate and personal expense low. Be creative in how to lower spending.’
Being an entrepreneurs in a new field opens your eyes to challenges you had never imaged would face one day. ‘I underestimated the challenges associated with hiring because I was used to having smart and ambitious candidates lined up, which is often the case in banking. Be prepared to invest a great deal of time to hire the right people and equally great amount of time to develop and take care of them in building up a team.’ Mr. Shaun Kraft remarked. Ms. Yeone Fok emphasised further on the importance of talents and said, ‘We take it for granted that we will work with people who are smart, hardworking and quick learners. The kind of talent we look for in our business is not the traditional kind of talent – we want creative people who believe in the products and projects we’re putting forward, are trustworthy, and ultimately have a shared passion to bring innovation and ideas to life.’ ‘Looking back, I wish I had branched out more and spend weekends building something during my banking life. Find a problem big enough to affect a lot of people that you’re interested in solving would have helped a lot before you found a startup. Also, I met our co-founder through my first startup. Networking is best done when you don’t need it.’ Ms. Michelle Sun suggested. ‘To be prepared to leave banking, open up yourself and get access to different information and talk to different people from different background.’ Mr. Eric Gnock Fah added. ‘If I could start again, I would have looked for other like-minded people as co-founders to share the stress.’ Mr. Anthony Solimini also advised on having a partner when forming a venture.
Jay Liu, Head of Development of Hong Kong Golf & Tennis Academy, stated the importance of a balanced lifestyle when presenting a lucky draw prize to the winner after the panel talk. ‘Hong Kong Golf & Tennis Academy is the first sports wellness academy in the city to provide world-class golf & tennis training. Our bespoke facilities and commitment to total wellness encourages a balanced and healthful living. We believe when your mind, body and skills harmonise, a person will excel further and live a successful and fulfilled life.”
The evening was concluded with a networking session where attendees got to meet and engage in conversations with panellists. Mr. Kelvin Wu, Director of Asia Bankers Club, noted the success of the event, ‘The overwhelming response to Life After Banking is a testament to the changing tides in the banking and finance industry. Our company is founded on the premise of bringing together like-minded professionals. This event not only offers a platform for audacious individuals to foster meaningful relationships, it also inspires them to forge their own path.’
About Asia Bankers Club
The Asia Bankers Club is an investment club for banking and finance professionals in Asia. With a vast member base, the Asia Bankers Club organizes events for its members and provides physical assets for investments, such as properties, fine wines, art, timepieces, and collectables. Our members are from top tier investment, private and consumer banks, asset management companies, private equity firms, hedge funds, and sovereign wealth funds primarily located in key financial centres.
About Hong Kong Golf & Tennis Academy (HKGTA)
Set in Sai Kung’s stunning natural countryside, Hong Kong Golf & Tennis Academy provides a new benchmark in aspirational training and facilities for sports lovers near and far. As a holistic sports wellness destination, we not only offer tailored programmes from two world-renowned training academies but also provide beautifully crafted ancillary facilities in support of sports wellness. These especially designed ancillary wellness facilities, overnight accommodation, dining and leisure opportunities are inspired to nourish and revitalise.
About the Panellists
Mr. Eric Gnock Fah, Co-Founder & COO at Klook
Born and raised in Mauritius, Eric Gnock Fah is an avid cultural explorer with a multicultural upbringing that taught him to speak seven languages. Before co-founding Klook, Eric worked in investment banking at Morgan Stanley Hong Kong, specializing in consumer retail and travel, and later joined an investment firm. In 2013, a trip to Nepal with fellow co-founder Ethan Lin and friends helped Eric discover the immense potential of travel experiences booking in Asia. This inspired him to build Klook to better serve the needs of free independent travelers. At Klook, Eric spearheads the company’s expansion across key regions in APAC including Greater China, South Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia. He is instrumental in establishing partnerships with key players of the travel space such as Asia Miles, Hong Kong Tourism Board, AirAsia BIG, Universal Studios and many more. Eric’s leadership contributed significantly to Klook’s rising popularity, tallying more than 5 million trips booked in 2016. Eric is often covered by world’s leading media including Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, Forbes, among others. Under his management, Klook is consistently recognized by the media and local governments as one of the region’s startup rolemodels.
Eric has been named to the 2017 Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia Consumer Technology List and Yicai (China Business Network) Brilliant 20 List.
Klook is Asia’s largest in-destination services booking platform. We give travelers a simple, trusted and convenient way to book and enjoy popular attractions, local experiences and services around the world at exclusive prices. Travelers everywhere can easily customize their itineraries on klook.com or on Klook’s award-winning mobile app to satisfy their wanderlust and spontaneity. Each day, we help countless customers savor every moment of their trips with over 10,000 offerings in more than 90 destinations at their fingertips. In 2016 alone, over 5 million trips were booked by travelers from over 30 countries. Klook staff has grown to over 250 across 8 offices in Asia and is backed by reputable investors including Matrix Partners, Sequoia Capital, among others.
Ms. Yeone Fok, Founder at SparkRaise.com
SparkRaise is a global creative community and crowdfunding platform. Prior to founding SparkRaise, Yeone spent over a decade as a banker at Credit Suisse, JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank, in New York, London and Hong Kong. Having previously worked on well over 100 IPOs and equity capital raises, Yeone now enjoys working with creators and innovators to realize their fundraising needs.
SparkRaise empowers individuals everywhere to band together and bring ideas to life. An inclusive online fundraising platform, SparkRaise is where people who share creative, entrepreneurial and philanthropic interests can spark ideas, funds and connections. Individuals, groups, and businesses can use the platform to raise funds for causes, creative projects and new products. Founded in Hong Kong, SparkRaise launched its open beta site at the beginning of 2016.
Mr. Shaun Kraft, Chief Financial Officer at CompareAsiaGroup
Before joining CompareAsiaGroup as Chief Financial Officer, Shaun was a Director at Perella Weinberg Partners in New York focused on M&A and Financial Advisory for Financial Institutions. Prior to this, Shaun worked at Lazard in Frankfurt. Shaun holds an MSc in Business Administration from Rotterdam School of Management and a BSc in Economics from the University of Maastricht.
CompareAsiaGroup, which is the parent company of MoneyHero.com.hk, raised USD40mn in investment from Goldman Sachs, Jardine Pacific, Route 66 and Nova Founders Capital in 2015.
Mr. Kingston Lai, Founder & CEO at Asia Bankers Club
Prior to the founding of Asia Bankers Club, Kingston was an Executive Director at Morgan Stanley Hong Kong where he oversaw institutional sales & distribution to financial institutions in South East Asia. He has been a seasoned investment banker for the past 12 years, has held similar roles at several other investment banks in London, Singapore, and most recently Hong Kong, building a comprehensive list of contacts along the way. Kingston graduated with First Class Honors in BSc. Accounting & Finance from London School of Economics (LSE).
Asia Bankers Club was originally founded by a banker with the simple intention of providing alternative investment services for bankers. Our founder recognized a need for diversification of investment products from the conventional financial instruments offered by banks and saw a gap in the market for such services. That resulted in the conceptualization of the Club, whereby bankers joined the niche community dedicated to the identification, curation, and management of short and long term physical assets that provided value returns for a variety of investment appetites.
The physical assets offered by the Club received great acclaim from bankers and professionals from financial industry and beyond. Membership in Asia Bankers Club offers reliable and promising opportunities with comprehensive advisory and management service in physical asset, which will help diversify members’ investment portfolio. With our vast network of contacts, we connect members with like-minded professionals with potential to form personal and business alliances through networking and private events organised by the Club. As part of your membership in Asia Bankers Club, members are entitled to benefits such as a dedicated Relationship Manager, exclusive event invitations, priority investment access and portfolio management portal.
Ms. Michelle Sun, Co-founder & CEO at First Code Academy
Michelle is the CEO and co-founder of First Code Academy, an education startup that teaches coding to kids from 6 and above. In addition to running First Code Academy, she is also passionate about women entrepreneurship and empowerment, cofounded a community for women in technology, Women Who Code (Hong Kong chapter). Prior to starting First Code, she graduated from the inaugural class of Hackbright Academy, and held various technical roles in high growth startups in Silicon Valley, including as the first growth hacker at Buffer and Bump Technologies (acquired by Google in 2013). Born and raised in Hong Kong, she graduated from the University of Chicago and began her career at Goldman Sachs as an equity analyst. In her free time, she loves to train for long distance running, vinyasa yoga and travel.
Her work has received international and regional accolades including the Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2016, Women of Hope Award (Entrepreneur Category 2015) and (Tech Category 2014) and American Chambers Women of Influence Awards (Young Entrepreneur Category 2015).
First Code Academy (FCA) is Asia’s leading education institute that teaches kids coding courses and develops curriculum for K-12 students to learn not just coding skills, but computational thinking and entrepreneurship mindset. Since launch in 2013, the team has taught over 4000 students in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan with projects-based, small group learning environments. In addition to regular classes, First Code has partnered with Google and many corporations for social impact projects teaching students from underprivileged communities how to code. The team is headquartered in Hong Kong, with workshops and courses operating in both Hong Kong and Singapore. Their work has been featured on BBC, CNN, Wall Street Journal and multiple local press including TVB, NowTV, South China Morning Post.
About the Moderator
Mr. Anthony Solimini, The Stand Up Banker
Head of Sales and Capabilities Development at UBS
Anthony Solimini is a seasoned banker, sales professional, sales coach and public speaker who can take mediocre performers and turn them into rock stars!
Originally form Boston, MA, he has worn many hats in 26 years of international experience in London, Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong, and has excelled at most of them! But one thing he knows for certain is that a person’s ability to communicate effectively, charismatically and with passion is what separates winners from “averagers”!
Fully certified in the Sandler Sales Process as well as the Management Groups Leadership 360′, for the past 15 years, he has worked with companies all over the world such as JP Morgan, Lenovo, Heineken, Societe General, Deutsche Bank, Gulf Oil, Freshfields, USA Consulate, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America helping people become more charismatic and compelling leaders by using body language, humor, “power” words and confidence!. He also works with individuals and groups motivating and creating top performing sales people, leaders and negotiators.
A published author of three books, he is also a stand-up comedian and self-confessed travel junkie, having been to 41 countries! He is happily married and currently resides in Hong Kong as well as spending as much time as he can at his home in Marco Island, Florida!