Atul Garg, Founder, SingX
A veteran in financial services, Atul Garg went on to create a startup because of his passion to innovate. He tells us about the three I’s that startups need, and much more.
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Most successful businesses are built on addressing pain points of its consumers. With the homogenous make up of financial markets, and banks playing a major role, there are very few who enter the market and better the consumer experience. SingX is doing exactly that with its virtual cross-border money transfer. SingX was awarded one of the best FinTech startups in Singapore and is now present in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.
We spoke to Founder Atul Garg about Fintech, his vision for SingX and the 3 I’s that startups need to succeed. Going from a professional to an entrepreneur, Atul is driven by his constant need to innovate.
An engineer who hated engineering and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, he tells us about the two words banned in his company, and how SingX is revolutionizing cross-border payments by cutting out middlemen.
On going from a corporate career to an entrepreneur
Atul has spent a significant amount of time in the Fintech sector. According to him, this is all he knows. “So typically, when you look at a bank, a bank performs three functions. You can deposit your money with a bank, you can take loans from the bank or a bank offers payment services. If you think about it, there’s no reason why these three different products should sit under one corporate entity because it may not be the most efficient way of running a business. So Fintech companies are companies which are using the power of technology to change the way financial services are delivered to the consumer.”
On why he chose to leave a long-standing corporate career in favour of entrepreneurship, he says, “I’ve always wanted to innovate. And what better place to innovate than in an industry where I have spent a lifetime?”
Disintermediating the banking sector
SingX works to facilitate cross-border payments in a faster and cheaper way than banks. The way they do that is by streamlining the supply chain, where most of the margin is kept. Transactions are made locally in respective countries and SingX serves as the intermediary.
“In many ways, if you look at it conceptually, the whole Internet of things is basically about disintermediation. And I personally believe that the supply chain has accounted for a completely disproportionate part of the overall revenu. And what is happening now is that consumers are getting better value for the prices and the producer is getting more for their produce. So a farmer, for example, for a produce priced at $10, the farmer only makes $1 with the balance $9 going to the supply chain. Now the consumers are also buying the product at $5, the supply chain gets only $2 and the farmer gets $3. And that’s what this whole thing is about. And we are doing that in a small way in financial services.”
On having a co-founder
Most startup entrepreneurs think that having a partner helps. Be it to compliment skills or make up for weaknesses. Atul has a simple logic –
“It always helps to kind of have a co-founder. I think each one has to evaluate what their strengths are. And I would say that for a startup to succeed, I call it the principle of the three I’s. So the first one is that you must be able to think around the bend and to innovate. So if one individual can do this, to answer your question, then there’s no reason to have a second founder. You can have the greatest innovation on Earth, but then you need to be able to influence people around you. And ultimately, it’s all about implementation. You can have the greatest idea. We can have all the funding in the world, but we need to implement our idea and scale and become profitable at the same time, I think those are the recipe to success for a startup. So if one individual has it, he can do it on his own. Otherwise maybe partner with somebody.”
The two banned words in his company
Having learnt tremendously from his mistakes, Atul is also quick to point out why a lot of things are learnt outside school – “The Indian education system taught us to be analytical, to do math at very high speed. Maybe even to think around the bend. It never taught us the principles of leadership. It took me decades personally to learn the principles of leadership and a lot of reading.”
Reciting a single mantra everyday – “We need to be better off today than yesterday, every day of our lives,” Atul has honed his leadership skills to successfully run a business of such magnitude. He even went as far as to ban two words in his company.
“Interestingly, from the time we started SingX, we’ve banned two simple words in the company. The first word is the word ‘I’. And there’s a reason for that because the ‘I, me, my’ leads to ego and doesn’t empower people, doesn’t allow them to make mistakes. The second word to be banned is the word called ‘but’. And imagine a child coming up to his mother and saying, ‘Mommy, I got A grade in history’. And the mother says, ‘that’s very good, but you need to work hard on your math’. The challenge with that response is that the child is not complimented, he only hears the second half of the sentence, which is you need to be better than that. So we try to substitute the word ‘but’ with the word ‘and’. So if the mother, for example, said that ‘you got an A grade in English. That’s fantastic. And you know what? You actually have the potential to get an A grade in math as well. And let’s work on it together’. Very different constructs to the same sentence. And that perhaps empowers our people to make mistakes, to think. Because there’s no individual mistake, we make a mistake. It’s a collective mistake which the companies made.”
Atul has over 25 years of banking and payments experience with Bank of America and American Express. He is a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and a Mechanical Engineer from Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani , India. His general management and leadership qualities were sharpened while leading the network business for American Express in Korea, Indian Sub-Continent and ASEAN. His track record of growing market share in both developed and developing economies across Asia will be instrumental in his vision of introducing SingX to the world.