Ms Charis Liau always knew she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. She just never knew she would end up being an entrepreneur in order to do that.
Recognising a large gap in financing for small and medium-sized enterprises, she started Minterest with the hopes of helping deserving businesses gain access to funds to fuel their business growth and fulfil their dreams.
Ms Charis Liau calls herself an accidental entrepreneur; she had no plans to become an entrepreneur when she first started her career in the finance and banking sector.
Nearly 2 decades later, she co-founded one of Singapore’s leading non-bank fintech groups, Minterest, which focuses on bringing financial inclusion and empowerment to both borrowers and investors.
Ms Liau envisioned that the future of financial services would be vastly different for the next generation and sought to bring financial inclusivity through digital services.
“With many of the younger generation being digital natives, it will be almost impossible to ask them to walk into a bank branch to open a bank account in 10 years’ time! At Minterest, our investors can sign up online and open an account 24/7. It thrills me to know that financial inclusion can be borderless and is not restricted by time.
I knew early on that I wanted to make a difference to people’s lives. I joined the banking industry immediately after graduation and knew that banking and finance are important, as they impact every aspect of our society. Little did I know that it would bring me full circle, as I now am charting new paths in making a direct positive difference in people’s lives and businesses,” shared Ms Liau.
Ms Charis Liau started Minterest with the concept that there were borrowers who needed funds quickly, as well as investors who wanted curated investment opportunities.
Nearing the launch of the company, thoughts of “What if no one wants to borrow money on our platform?”, “Would any investors want to invest in the loans that we offer?” came into her mind.
Her worries were put to rest, as word-of-mouth and a network of professional contacts and investors ensured that Minterest was well supported. Through the years, the group has also managed to earn the firm trust of its stakeholders as well.
In order to grow the business in a sustainable way, Ms Liau found that teamwork and communication were key factors to success. Since she did not have the luxury of a large support system, she had to exercise perseverance and grit in order to bring a talented and capable team together.
When asked about her leadership style, Ms Liau cited some of the role models that guided her approach to entrepreneurship and leading a team:
“Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, leads one of the world’s most well-known tech companies and is known to be a keen advocate of women in business. She is also known for her interpersonal skills as well as sharp intellect.
Another lady who inspires me is Anne Boden, CEO of Starling Bank. She is one of the pioneers of digital mobile banking in the UK, which has revolutionised the way hundreds of thousands of consumers in the UK manage their finances.
Steve Jobs once said ‘Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.’
Important leadership qualities to me include effective and open communication, integrity, as well as having the empathy to understand my team members’ motivations and problems to provide a more productive and collaborative environment. This helps to improve work strategies, align team goals and inspire the team to reach success,” expressed Ms Liau.
One obstacle Ms Charis Liau faced at the start of her entrepreneurial journey is one many can relate to: overextending herself. She was unable to find a good work-life balance and finding the right talent to bring into the company was also difficult.
She thus spent time building relationships and connections in order to find the right talent through word-of-mouth and referrals. Ensuring each new hire is on board with the Minterest vision is important for the company to have a cohesive ecosystem as well.
“Have a vision and write it down. We share this vision with our staff and with our stakeholders. Minterest is about empowering borrowers and investors, creating a sustainable community in which investors and businesses mutually benefit by collaborating and leveraging innovations in financial technology. In our business decisions, we ask ourselves whether it contributes to this vision, or if it is value destructive,” advised Ms Liau.
The most important decision that has defined her journey was starting Minterest with someone she knows and trusts. As former colleagues with Mr Ronnie Chia, they had worked alongside together for over 11 years, allowing them to build a bond of mutual trust. Both held similar visions and beliefs in terms of how they could better serve the SME community in providing suitable financing solutions to fuel their business growth. This shared vision of theirs was eventually realised through Minterest.
To all budding entrepreneurs looking to start their own business, Ms Liau has this advice to give:
“Have a solid business plan, be prepared to work very hard, don’t be afraid to ask for help, build a team that shares your vision, never stop learning and most important of all, look after yourself and stay healthy. The last piece of advice will ensure that you will always be in top shape to manage your way to success.”
This article originally appeared in the Entrepreneur's Digest print edition #91 and has been edited for clarity, brevity and for the relevance of this website.