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On The Money
Lee Ching Wei, the CEO and founder of iMoney, tells us how he got started as an entrepreneur.
In the past couple of years, as the value of the ringgit dropped and GST was implemented, many Malaysians turned to the only financial advisor that they knew: the Internet. Luckily, one man was poised to help – sorting myths from facts in the murky sea of search engine results.
Lee Ching Wei is the founder of iMoney, a regional start-up. iMoney began as a comparison site, with information on credit cards, home loans and insurance. But since launching three years ago, the business has evolved. Today, iMoney is where many Malaysians go to find out more about the economy, and how they can manage their own finances.
“There’s been a shift from two or three years ago in Malaysia,” says Lee. “People were talking before about investment and maximising wealth. Today, there’s been a big turnaround, where people are more cost conscious: like, how do they maximise a pay check?”
In these uncertain times, iMoney has taken on the role of a trusted, knowledgeable service. From the beginning, Lee knew it was important to build trust, so he included a content platform on the website, publishing blogs that explained financial terms and breaking down jargon for the everyday reader.
“Now we are producing more interactive stuff, like videos and surveys. Our goal is to help consumers make smarter financial decisions,” says Lee.
Lee launched iMoney in 2012. After living in Australia for eight years, he returned to Malaysia and wanted to apply for a credit card. He saw the “pain point” straight away: he had to go to each bank, get information and compare it himself, then apply for the card in a brick and mortar store.
It was clear to him that there had to be an easier way. Since comparison sites had been set up in other countries around the world, Lee launched one for Southeast Asia.
Now, iMoney gets around 230 million unique users a month across its sites in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore. Customers can browse for financial products online, then call up iMoney to get advice and to apply directly for credit cards. The website is monetised through commissions and advertising.
iMoney is Lee’s first serious start-up, and it’s come a long way in a short time. The 31-year-old entrepreneur is a former investment consultant and personal finance advisor. “Towards the end of my corporate career, I was just bored,” he says. “There was no direct impact on a person, a consumer.” Around that time, digital businesses like Airbnb and Dropbox were gaining a lot of attention. “So I started experimenting with digital businesses.”
Unlikely as it may seem, the first “experiment” involved ukuleles. Lee knew he needed to teach himself the basics of e-commerce: running a website, customer relations, and working with suppliers. So he set up a website called Strictly Ukulele. “I did it on weekends, week nights. I’m not a musician, I don’t even play the ukulele,” he laughs. “But it was a fun thing to do.”
Lee says the experience taught him a lot: “It got me clear on things like: how do you drive traffic to your site. How do you influence organic rankings, where to market.”
Today, iMoney employs about 90 people across the region. Lee is no longer doing everything on the website himself. “It’s probably a cliché now, but you want to hire people who are smarter than you,” he says. “These days I’m lucky to have an established team who are great at what they do. My role has transitioned to empowering them to do their job.”
For budding entrepreneurs, Lee’s advice is simple: know your stuff. “Make sure you are adequately prepared. It could be as simple as just reading up,” he says. “But get your hands dirty, join a project, work with start ups, contribute to teams doing the kind of things you want to do.”
In other words, find your ukulele, and get started.
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