How StashAway got to $1B AUM in 3.5 years with Michele Ferrario (StashAway)

In this episode, Michele Ferrario (StashAway) talks about:

  • How StashAway built credibility and customer trust in its early days
  • Focusing on building an amazing product and customer experience
  • Bringing sophisticated investment strategy to the masses using tech
  • Why a digital wealth manager should know what NOT to digitalise
  • Investing in the right employees to scale superior experience
  • The importance of persistence in the early days of a startup


Podcast information:

About the guest

Michele Ferrario is the founder and CEO of StashAway, a digital wealth management platform based in Singapore, that became the fastest solution to reach $1 billion AUM in its category. Prior to StashAway, Michele was the CEO of Zalora, developed the Southeast Asia business for Rocket Internet and was a consultant at McKinsey.

Find him here:


Books, tools, people, frameworks mentioned in this episode:

Michele Ferrario 0:00
Client experience is not just the product, it’s not just UX. It’s a bit more than that. And part of that is, of course, the ability to get access. Again, going back to the idea of trust, the fact that when you have a problem, you can pick up the phone call us and somebody will pick up and try to solve your problem that build trust, and people can trust you’re going to be there if they need you.

Ricky Willianto 0:20
StashAway reached the milestone of $1 billion AUM in three and a half years, faster than any digital wealth managers in the world. And the secret sauce, according to the CEO, Michele Ferrario is to build trust early by educating people and becoming a leading voice in the robo investment segment. Even though the company is leading digital wealth manager, it knows exactly when to bring the human touch to the user experience. And that is how the company has enjoyed an amazing exponential growth since its inception.

My name is Ricky Willianto, co founder of Ravenry and the host of the Growth Multiplier podcast. Through this podcast, I hope to uncover the pathways startups and companies have taken in their journey of growth, share some stories from the trenches, and hopefully identify patterns and hacks that can be replicated by businesses in Asia and the rest of the world. I hope you enjoy the show.

Hi, Michele. Thank you so much for joining us today. Now, before we begin, can I get you to very quickly introduce yourself and also the company that you are currently running?

Michele Ferrario 1:22
Sure, my name is Michele Ferrario. I am the co founder and CEO of StashAway, which is the largest digital wealth manager operating in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. In my life, I kind of spend half of my career in and around financial services and the second half building consumer internet companies, I guess we can go into the details as we chat.

Ricky Willianto 1:42
Can you tell us a little bit about StashAway first to begin with?

Michele Ferrario 1:46
Sure. So especially as I mentioned is a digital wealth management platform. So what we describe internally is we say we want to empower people to build wealth for the long term. The reason we built the company, when we started four and a half years ago in 2016, was to feel what we thought was a gigantic gap in the market, where there was nobody actually helping people do the right thing with their savings. We at the beginning, you know, one of the tagline we use was investing that makes sense. I know as a customer myself for the financial services industry. I thought back then in Singapore where I live, there was no options to do what I thought makes sense with my money. So that’s what we started with. So we build special way to tackle that problem. We’ve been quite successful. So far. We’re, we’re now live in three countries. So we are in Singapore, we’re in Malaysia, and we serve the GCC region out of Dubai. And we just announced that we managed a bit more than a billion US dollars in assets. So obviously, we’ve been growing quite strongly.

Ricky Willianto 2:48
So tell us a little bit about that journey of reaching $1 billion. us I think that’s not a small feat. And you guys did it pretty quickly as well, I think within less than four years, right?

Michele Ferrario 2:58
Yeah, it’s been three and a half years since we launched, we launch in July 2017. And we kind of reached a billion US in January 2021. If you look at our numbers, it’s kind of the definition of exponential growth. Like it’s literally kind of percentage growth that compounds on itself over time. And which is driven, I guess, by a little bit of the way the business model works, which is on one side, a lot of people start investing which stash away with, you know, small amounts is what amounts means different things for different people in order, you have people that invest $100,000. And that’s a small amount for them. And you have people that invest $500, and that is one a month for them. And we cater to both groups. But you know, people started with a small amount, whatever that means for them. And then over time, as they get more comfortable, as they see returns, they tend to invest more. And that kind of if you if you continue to acquire new customers every month, and you have the old customers, investing more over time, you kind of start getting that kind of shape of continuous an increase in growth over time. So that’s 111 feature. And the second and the second feature, of course, as we kind of went to second market now third market, of course, that also helps on the compound compound or compounds of growth. And the third is that obviously our asset manager in crude returns we give to clients and returns compound over time. So we’re also that helps kind of create that hockey stick how people call it shape to our growth curve. I still remember when we celebrated the first million dollar and the first $10 million and then the first one

Ricky Willianto 4:28
When was that? What was that?

Michele Ferrario 4:29
Oh, a million dollar was actually quite quick million dollar was million dollar was like first maybe week or something back then I remember we close the first year, which after six months, we were more or less at 20 million. Wow. So 10 months, there’s a 10 million probably I don’t remember exactly, but probably four months, something like that.

Ricky Willianto 4:52
Okay, so let’s let’s wind back to the early days right off stash away. That time there was not a lot of robo advisors in Singapore. And you guys are one of the first pioneers, how do you convince your first few clients that this is the future, this is the way to go.

Michele Ferrario 5:07
So we actually were the first one to get the licence from MAS. So we were the actual first launch. And you’re right. So we had to explain to people what we were doing. And I think that no, one way, one way to describe what we do from a business model perspective is that we are in the business of building trust, right? So we are, we need, so we are telling people look, we are a good place to put your savings in order to make sure that you can retire well. And that’s a you know, you need a lot of trust to be able to do that. And when people ask me back in the beginning, you know, how do you build trust? And my answer, and that was a discussion we had internally as well, my answer has always been look, you need to be trustworthy. And then communication will come by itself, you know, okay, what is important to you build a trustworthy organisation, you actually do the right things. And then that will transpire outside, you know, in one way or the other, you go out, you don’t need to try to tell people, you’re trustworthy, because you know, when you have somebody telling you, you trust me, that’s when you don’t want to trust that, you know, definitely worse things probably, exactly. So we try not to do that we try actually just build a transport organisation. And then without going out there, the rule will go out, the noise will go out. And that’s kind of what happened. And so.

Ricky Willianto 6:25
So maybe I’ll pass that like specifically, like, Can you give us an example of how that that osmosis of trustworthiness who’s out of your company, naturally,

Michele Ferrario 6:35
it’s word of mouth, so I think there is. So the second step is word of mouth. And maybe one thing I didn’t mention earlier, one of the reason why our growth is really, again, exponential is word of mouth. So you know, more than 80% of our new clients come from word of mouth. So it’s just people referring people, and that that obviously has a gigantic power and obviously compounded itself. But we’ll answer your question. So step two is word of mouth. Because you will, if I tell you trust me, you will not trust me. But if a friend of yours that you trust tells you Oh, you can trust that way, you will trust me. So word of mouth is actually a very powerful mechanism to to kind of push trust around and be happens naturally, you can do much about it. As I mentioned, you need to be trustworthy. So that actually somebody really trust you enough to tell them to trust you. Right? So that’s the idea there, but the first step, because the problem is okay, how do you get the first client, I look at the first client is, I think the founders lending to the company, their trust. So in practice, people that trusted me, people, trusted Friday, people who trusted me know, becoming our first clients, trust in us as people first. And then and then kind of creating a little bit of this snowball effect. And then in the early days, I still do it a lot. But in the early days, we spent a lot of time, I used to say, kind of putting our faces out. So I was gonna, I spoke at a lot of events, I did a lot of seminars, etc. And I was, again, to make sure people could just talk to me and decide whether they trust me or not for themselves now, and that was the initial initial way of kind of trying to, you know, get in touch with people. And it worked. You know, obviously, it’s not scalable, but he actually worked at the beginning. And I still do it, meaning that we still do a lot of educational investments, or, you know, I spend a lot of time doing webinars. Now, unfortunately, seminars are not possible. But you know, webinars and, and to me, to us, that’s one way to educate people about investing in personal finance, and for me, personally, is a good way to actually continue to interact with our clients.

Ricky Willianto 8:34
Well, I think like once, so I actually use StashAway. And that is also referral for my brother. And I’ve actually referred a bunch of people as one. I think that model definitely works. Right. Thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah, no, thanks. Keep the keep keep doing the good work. Like we’ll we’ll be supporting you. I think the amazing thing as well as I think when people see result, right, that’s also the other thing that makes people excited about sharing the good news, the solution, right, like to other people, right. So tell us a little bit about how you’ve kind of like, you know, design the product created the product and how you’ve been able to kind of like make sure that people have good experience. And also people have like good results from the investment.

Michele Ferrario 9:08
Yeah. So there are, I guess, two main areas of focus. One is on the product experience, and maybe the customer experience overall. And then the second one is on a let’s call it investment experience. So on the on the first part, that’s where we got to, we built a very strong product DNA from the get go. So I founded a company with two co founders Nene on Friday, Mino spent all of his career building tech companies and is in tech and product guy. And so our very first hire was a UX designer. So we actually really started from thinking about the user experience on the app. Now on web we know actually the full funnel you know, from marketing channels to website to app I never was that has been a core of a focus from the very beginning and therefore it became it became a core skill set of the company not writing.

I think there is one thing we do definitely well is kind of taking a very complex problem and trying to make it simple through product. And and I think that was a core focus of our still is a core focus.

Ricky Willianto 10:11
I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna pause here, I’m going to bookmark this because I want to get into this, which is, you know, whether you should build a minimum viable product or minimum lovable product. I think a lot of people think about that, I think like you have, I’m sure you have a point to to add to this, but let, I’ll let you continue first.

Michele Ferrario 10:26
Yeah, no, definitely happy to talk about it. So anyway, the product was obviously a key part of our initial effort. And then we thought about it a bit more holistically about client experience, rather than just product experience, or UX. So for instance, I know if you fast forward to after launch, from the very beginning, we put the bar of, you know, customer support, or client engagement very high, you know, you can call our phone number, and we pick up the phone in eight seconds. You know, try call your bank and see what happens. Or, you know, as soon as we launched the app, as soon as, as soon as, as soon as technically possible, we actually added a WhatsApp icon on the app on a mobile app. So you can click there, and it opens up automatically WhatsApp chat, with a human being in our client engagement team. So it’s not about we don’t have anybody ever replying to you, we always have human being. So again, client experience is not just the product, it’s not just UX, it’s a bit more than that. And part of that is, of course, the ability to get access. Again, going back to the idea of trust, you know, the fact that when you need when you have a problem, you can pick up the phone, call us and somebody will pick up and try to solve your problem that builds trust. And that trust is that you know, you’re you are, you’re trustworthy, that’s what I’m talking about, you know, people can trust, you’re going to be there if they need you. And that will transfer quite well from one person to the other.

Ricky Willianto 11:48
And that, like, it’s interesting that you guys are robo advisor, but you guys are putting a lot of emphasis on a human side, which I love. I think that’s a great thing.

Michele Ferrario 11:56
No, absolutely. I think, look, I think you need to automate everything that that is better done by a machine, and not not automate anything that is better by by human problems that some people mix it up. So you see, now you have a lot of institutions that have call centre the robot, exactly. And then they sell you a product, spending one hour with you and having you you know, signing 100 pages documents with a person, they should flip it right now, that’s what we’re trying to do. Whenever if a machine does a job better get let the machine do it. If you want to do the job better, let the human do it. That’s the way to

Ricky Willianto 12:33
thank you. Thank you for saying that. That’s great.

Michele Ferrario 12:35
Yeah, so so that was the first part, which is the kind of the product and attack and client experience. And one way too, that I always thought I will, one thing I always mention is that when you look at companies in our industry, in our domain, a lot of them will have a very tiny product and tech team, because you know, usually the founders come from a finance word, and it will have a bunch of investment analysts, etc, etc.

50% of our payroll goes to tech and product. And so we are a real tech and product company, which I think is very important because it enables us to build very solid infrastructure to build very clean user experiences, and and kind of to translate the investment framework, and we’re gonna talk about in a second, into a kind of easy to use product. And so I think our emphasis on product and tech is very, very important is a core part of the way we think about development. The second part of that you mentioned earlier is and the second part of that, obviously, affect very strongly client experience and client happiness is, you know, people making money or not. And that’s actually the point of this interview. Right? Yeah.

And so we spent a lot of time since the very beginning on creating an investment framework that was distinctive and superior to what you can actually get access to it the way we thought about it is how do we give access to everyone to the type of sophistication that only institutional investor will have? And the reality is that normal people, so people that have less than, let’s say, 10 million in financial wealth, so I’m not talking about people that have less than $1,000. I’m talking about, you know, even people that have five 610 million dollars. So people that have less than $10 million tend to think about security selection a lot that tend to be pitched securities that actually invest in these stock investment, these bond investment is a product by product we invest in this structure, not with like three underlying instruments or whatever. Yeah, which is absolutely not what people that have a billion dollars, or institution that have, you know, $500 billion do what those guys will do, they will actually think about asset allocation, they will think about Okay, how much money I whenever I’ve been in equities, how much do I want to have in North American equities? How much do I want to have in long term bonds? How much do I want having gold, etc, etc, etc etc.

So what we did is, let’s bring that sophistication to everyone. We respected whether they have $50,000 in savings, a million dollars in savings, $10 million in savings. And let’s make it easy to understand, let’s help people understand why this is important by investing a lot in education. And that’s how we kind of build what we call era, which is economic regime based asset allocation. It’s our asset allocation framework, which was developed, internally leveraging, obviously, Fridays, or our chief service officer work over the past over the previous two decades, plus our advisory committee and a few people in our network. So it’s obviously Yeah, we developed internally, but we leverage a lot of academic work, and a lot of the work done by institutional investors. And the results are stunning. You know, I’m a client of sexual all my financial wealth is we stashed away and my, you know, so I see my returns, and I’ve never made anything close to that, you know, my, our, our highest risk portfolio, which is equivalent to a basket of equities, as than 18% per annum since we launched three and a half years ago, and our lowest performing, which is equivalent of a basket of ones has done 5.3 5.4% per annum, since we launched three and a half years ago. I mean, those are hedge fund type of returns and positive hedge funds type of returns without the fees of the hedge fund and, and with easy access, and you know, 24, seven control, no lock up on the money, etc, etc. So I guess that’s part of the success. So far, we’ve done a good job in making people make money with their own savings.

Ricky Willianto 16:41
Now that you mentioned it, and you share that story. I feel like it is apparent, right? Like, why can’t people actually do this? Why don’t people do this earlier? Why don’t all the banks and all the other businesses in this space do this earlier? What makes you think, you know, like, the industry hasn’t been able to move to the direction that you’re taking now that you’re leading them?

Michele Ferrario 16:59
Okay, because in because the banks make way too much money selling you unit trust investment in policies, and Stein’s lecture notes, they have a gigantic hardware cannibalization issue. So that’s one problem. The second problem is that the bank is difficult to to like a bank and move it from the old world to the new world, it’s just very difficult. So I’m not saying it’s easy. And I don’t envy people that actually have to do that. It’s much easier to start from scratch, like we did, and build a service using modern technology, and just build a great service from scratch, it’s actually easier than to change the largest solution. Now, the second problem that large institutions have, on top of that, cannibalization issues that they have these very kind of human centric, distribution, distribution logical you have these relation manager or kind of bankers that you know, sitting in an office and meeting people want one. And not only that’s expensive, and therefore, forces them to sell expensive product, because otherwise they don’t pay for themselves. But also, it makes it difficult to convey sophistication to clients. Because as as part of the process, no, of course, at the centre of the bank, you have a lot of intelligence, you have a lot of sophistic investment sophistication. But by the time that the message goes to 1000s of relationship managers, you need to simplify the message, the message will never get to that Exactly, yeah. And in that process, the death process, you lose a lot of intelligence, just because you need to simplify, there’s no way to kind of and therefore, you’re not able to actually provide the type of sophistication that we offer because of this reason. And so those are the kind of the I would say the main reason and there is a third one, of course, which is also a lot of the banks have this the kind of older financial institutions have an issue with the legacy system. So just changing things from a technology perspective is not trivial. You know, I always say the worst job in the world is being the CTO of a bank, because you cannot win. Like if you have Yeah, you know, it’s, you know, everything you do is so gigantic risks that is impossible to actually win. It’s the most horrible job in the world.

Ricky Willianto 19:10
Yeah, no, I have a story. I was in consulting. So I hear a lot of stories from like, my friends who’s kind of working with clients where they’re doing digital transformation, where you’re letting the digitise is the front end for the client. But everything in the back end is still done by humans. So people are literally literally copy pasting the form from the computer to a piece of paper, and then they fax it over to copy to another firm. So I totally understand what you’re saying there.

Michele Ferrario 19:32
Look, I’m not surprised. I’ll give you two examples. One is I’m not going to name but there is one large bank that has a product that kind of goes into the direction of what we do. And every quarter they send an email to client saying for the next two weeks, you cannot deposit and withdraw because we need to run rebalancing. What I think that means and then so this is what I just said is facts. Now from here on what is my interpretation, maybe Wrong. But I want to think that means that somebody downloads in an Excel spreadsheet the clients position, and so cannot manage if there is new deposits or withdrawals, the system rock breaks, right? So somebody that loads it does the math and then uploads it again, that’s the only explanation I have to having to stop these, you know, to give you a sense, we do rebalancing on a daily basis, like, if not automatically, daily basis, like it just runs by itself. And so so I think that’s exactly what is the right word you said, right, there is a front end. But then somebody that is actually doing the math, would you think about it? It’s scary? Because it was how how prone to error is that? It’s a great example, absolutely. The worst job in a bank just just got moved from the CTO to this person has to rebalance on this for two full weeks. Again, I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s how it works. But what I know is that that’s my only explanation.

Ricky Willianto 20:50
I mean, reality is so strange, right? Like, they have to kind of like pause any like, you know, activity for two weeks?

Michele Ferrario 20:56
Yeah, the only explanation I have is somebody needs to download the database and do that manually. I don’t I don’t see any other explanations, right. And as you mentioned, that’s the issue of, you know, it’s easier, obviously, to do a new front end, and it’s much more difficult to integrate it with a very legacy system. And I’m not saying it’s easy, I think it’s incredibly complex. And I i sympathise with whoever has to work on that. Yeah, but and that’s, you know, if you look at it, from our perspective is a competitive advantage we have right, you know, we, because we built a company, from scratch, with new technology, with included an incredibly talented tech team, those things are, quote unquote, easy, you know.

Ricky Willianto 21:31
So let’s talk about that. I think you’re in a in a very regulated space, right. So building a new product, building any product, in fact, will take some time, we’ll have to go through a lot of you know, like scrutiny. And I want to go back to that concept of MVP versus most most minimum lovable product as well. Right? How do you balance the two? Because you do care a lot about a customer experience, right? But at the same time, you mentioned that your competitive advantage is speed? How do you make sure that you can actually balance those two.

Michele Ferrario 21:57
So I think that when we launched them, we cannot have, we cannot didn’t have a choice of whether to kind of launch fast with an MVP or actually building a believable product, like you mentioned. And that’s when we were forced to do the right thing. And the right thing, was not rushing it, but rather going live with a product that was well developed. So when we went live, the product was in like its fifth or sixth iteration, we did a lot of iteration offline, you know, when actual clients come into the office. And the reason is that we needed a licence to go live your hand because it took us I know, we filed in. So we incorporated in September 2016. Five, so started working on the product in let’s say, October, October 2016, we started working on a product. We we filed for a licence in November. So quite quick, actually. But then we got the licence at the end of June. So we had like, you know, we’re at eight months, let’s say where we actually couldn’t go live. So what we did is we iterated offline with, you know, getting potential clients to the office and kind of go through wireframes and kind of iterated. So when by the time we went live, the product was actually definitely believable. So it was not just that it was it was way more than nvp.

Ricky Willianto 23:08
Let me pause there. I think i think that there was you’re kind of working on a constraint, right? Like, if you were to build any other product, you probably would have launched or at least get it live much, much earlier. Right? Do you think that was a blessing in disguise, having that, you know, a little bit of that constraint forced you to just huddle down and improve on that experience and making sure that it’s loveable, when it’s out there?

Michele Ferrario 23:26
Yes and no. So yes, definitely was a good thing, as I mentioned, but I think given what we do, we would have done the same anyway, because the reality that we manage people’s money. So you know, you can really go live with something that is not 100% foolproof, right? So it’s 100%. Perfect. And so yes, we kind of were forced to do it. But we would have probably made the same decision otherwise, but you’re right. You know, if you’re launching an e commerce company, you know, you should try to get it live in three weeks, and then see what sticks and then change it. If you’re launching a wealth manager, you may want to think about it a few times more. Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about like the journey from you mentioned, you talked to us about you know, the path to 1 million, we took you literally just a week and then 20 million, and then now 1 billion, right?

Ricky Willianto 24:11
Is there anything along that journey that really 5x 10x that growth, beyond just the word of mouth that you mentioned earlier?

Michele Ferrario 24:20
So as I mentioned, it was actually so if you look at the curve of growth, it was there wasn’t any step function. It was really, you know, it’s really the definition of exponential growth, which kind of grows over time in, you know, the hockey stick type of type of drawing. So I don’t have a moment where I do get that actually brought us 5x 10x I don’t have that if I have to split growth in factors. Yeah, word of mouth is actually what made it and because word of mouth is like a snowball effect, like in order. It builds on itself. That’s actually one of the core engines of our exponential gold so far. And I’m sorry, I don’t have like a one secret formula

Ricky Willianto 25:02
that we all we all are waiting to hear, what’s the point of this podcast then?

Michele Ferrario 25:07
If you find it in a conversation, please let me know. I’m looking I will I will drop you a note when we find it.

Ricky Willianto 25:12
But I think like you’re right, I think, to be honest with you, I think a lot of the company that has enjoyed that hockey stick growth has really enjoyed it from word of mouth. And like, you know, it’s all good in like, fundamental to the customer experience. Right. So back to that.

Michele Ferrario 25:22
Yeah, yeah, the end of the game is product lead growth, right? No, how do you continue to improve the product and in a way that delights clients to the point that they feel compelled to talk about it to their friends?

Ricky Willianto 25:37
Yeah, no, that’s true. Yeah. So I think I’m just curious as well to understand, within this, you know, amazing speed of growth, right? How have you been able to scale your own team and your operations and you know, activities? And now you’re also in the third country, right? In fact, my third region, right, so how do you actually manage to do that.

Michele Ferrario 25:57
So we try to be a little bit ahead of the game on hiring. So trying to predict growth, and obviously, we failed. Often times we are struggling to keep up on on, you know, you can actually divide our team in kind of two paths, right, there is the bad bout, actually, that historically has been the largest part of the team, and actually, sooner or later will actually become the smaller part, which is the group of people that were mostly on the future. So this is an optional problem element in most most engineers, a marketing team, etc, etc. And then you have a group of people that kind of work more on kind of the current business, which is obviously the client engagement team, again, picking up the phone and responding to What’s up, as we discussed earlier, and the operations team that do whatever we can automate with the banks. And those are more driven by the current volume. So it’s obviously key that we take, we get the second part size, right, because otherwise, our client experience will kind of reducing quality. And what we have done historically, is that we have over invested a little bit, so we’ve always been a little bit over invested where so where we are, because anyway, we know that in a couple of months, we grow into it, when we have very fast burst of growth, like actually happened in the last month, for instance, we do actually get stretched. So the client engagement team has been working very hard over the last few weeks. And we’re trying to keep up keep up by hiring a bit more a bit faster. But you know, sometimes it’s just not easy to be as fast. And also, we always put as a condition that we do not want to lower the hiring path, we always hire very high quality people, even if we are in a rush. So that’s kind of the second part, then the first group of people, which is the one working on the future, which again, historically been the largest group, but now obviously, we are the size of the business growing over time, the client experience, they will just become the largest team in the company. But so we the first group people working on the future, we keep, we try to be a little bit ahead of the game, and we usually fail meaning that we usually we are a bit slower than we would like to. So if I look at our business plan, we’re always a bit low, a bit delayed in our hiring speed versus what we like. And the reason is that we put a lot of attention in hiring people, you know, people that are truly exceptional, we have a very long interview process, and we would never lower the bar. In fact, we were able to kind of we have very few cases where people didn’t work out, we also had very, very small churn. You know, we are now 150 people. And I think, over the course of the last four and a half years, I don’t have the exact number, but we probably lost maybe six, seven people four and a half like that they actually left because of their own will in you know, four and a half years with, you know, on average, maybe 6070 people, so it’s actually a very tiny number. I know. And and that’s because we spent a lot of time

Unknown Speaker 28:47
recruiting the drawback is that something you know, oftentimes where we recruit is lower than we would like. And I think it’s still we we are we have a very strong point of view that we still think that it’s the bright way to do it is just not Don’t rush it. And you know, it’s better to find the right person Two months later than the wrong person today.

Ricky Willianto 29:05
Yeah. Yeah, I think especially if your business relies on that customer relationship and that experience, and then you want to make sure that you also treating your people, right, finding the right people. And I mean, like it translates, as you said, I think like if you’re able to build that trustworthiness within I think that people will actually get it will feel feel it, you know, when they interact with any any part of the company. Yeah. So I think you’ve talked a little bit about, you know, how it’s been challenging, right to make sure that you’re ahead of the curve, in a sense, and I think that’s a really nice problem to have. But maybe talk to us a little bit about, you know, what has failed as well within stash away that you’ve kind of observed and you want to advise other founders or entrepreneurs, you know, to be careful with.

Michele Ferrario 29:46
So it’s a tough one because to be honest, things have gone very well since we launched maybe the most difficult, so I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t have any clear, like weeks for not worth the failure to be honest that I can not about maybe what I can do two things I can try to be helpful for other people, I can talk about two things.

One is fundraising in the early days was very difficult. And the reason is that people. So the legend says that early stage investment is all about the team. But that’s only part of the truth. I think there is an enormous amount of emphasis from VCs on the business model. And when we were launching, you know, 4, or 4 years ago, even three years ago, people thought that building a B2C digital wealth manager was going to be very difficult, and the customer acquisition cost would have been too high. So fundraising, the early days, was incredibly tough. And we were very lucky that we found Asia capital and advisor as our backer during our pre series A and our series A, because they believe what we’re doing. But you know, just to give you a sense of the numbers for our pre series A, which was a bit more than USD 2 million round, it was a tiny round. At the very beginning of the journey. I spoke to 125 investors, and I got 124. No.

Most of us know Moore’s most of these answer were related to the fact that they, they would have preferred if we were doing a B2B. In fact, there is a couple of competitors that started more or less with us, they ended up building B2B companies. And I think the reason is that they got the same feedback, we decided that we believed in what we’re doing, and we just pushed ahead. But somebody else actually pivoted to b2b, I think we were driven by this type of feedback. Now, unfortunately, I don’t have a suggestion, like, I don’t know, if I went, if I went back, what else I could have done. It’s not clear to me to be honest, it’s just, I think it’s just a topic that people need to be aware of that fundraising, even, you know, we had a very strong team, you know, I know why experience we all have, like 17-18 years experience, Nino has built several companies before one of them is a unicorn. Freddy built and managed money for institutional investors for two decades, managing billions of billion dollars at you know, some of the financial institution is the word you know, Morgan Stanley, millennial capital, etc, etc. And I have also quite a bit of experience in building companies and and and as a consultant to the financial services industry. When I was at McKinsey is all of our profiles were actually quite strong. So people told us, oh, you have a great team. But then they told us button.

Unknown Speaker 32:27
Not enough, because we saw that in the US, the business model doesn’t work for venture capital investors. So we’re not gonna do it here. And so you need to find somebody that actually builds their own points of views, which it may not be easy. And so that’s maybe one thing. And then things have changed for us, like in the last couple of rounds have been actually extremely easy. And the reason is that now because now we have enough history, people instead of looking at business model trends, look at our numbers, because our numbers are great. Just you know, the story is now much easier. That’s why again, this is more of a word of caution that rather than a suggestion, just be ready, be ready for the rite of passage. Right? Yeah. And maybe David, maybe the suggestion is, you know, be persistent. You know, keep going, keep going, keep going. As I mentioned, you know, it’s a tough one. And when you get no, no, no, no, no, no, everyday, maybe you talk to three ambassadors a day, you get three, no, everyday for a month that’s 90 knows, it hurts, especially if you’re working 16 hours a day on Sunday, you strongly believe in and you have these very smart people tell you is not going to work. So it’s not exactly a pleasant experience. But you know, something that you need to be honestly, you need to know that that’s going to happen, if we want to be an entrepreneur, that obviously, I’m sure there is stories of people that they do something that from day zero, they get everybody wants to invest with that.

Ricky Willianto 33:44
Well, now, now that you know that you you, you’ve done this with StashAway, I’m sure like, you know, the next company, whatever you’re going to build next is going to be much easier to raise fund, you know, it’s always like,

Michele Ferrario 33:55
I don’t know, and I have no plans to. I mean, 120% focus on on StashAway. But you could argue, you know, when I was at my previous job, it was this, right? Yeah, you’re done so many other companies as well, if you raise more than $200 million when I was, so I, you know, I had been fundraising before I raise way much, much more money when I wasn’t a lot of than when I was a special way. So it was not a lack of experiences that I’d never done the very early stage fundraising, to be honest, like the, you know, 234 million dollars for Dallara was, you know, was a rocket company. And so we had initial funding already, and we can raise later, but it’s not that I did not was not the first time I talked to investors. So I think there was just lack of experience, which I again, think it was just a business model issue. And then again, we got lucky, but it took a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of stamina. Yeah.

Ricky Willianto 34:45
So I think let’s talk a little bit about really quickly about, you know, your personal growth as well. I think like going through, you know, the entire journey. You I mean, I’m sure you’ve probably thought okay, like, you know, I’ve done this before I knew what I’m in. I’m in for, you know, fundraising and I’ve done it in Zalora and now knocked on 124 investors doors, and you’ve been getting those as well, right? Like, how do you actually deal with that? And how do you make sure that you’re able to kind of like, you know, you know, like, keep growing yourself and developing yourself to make sure that you know, you’re able to be, you know, like the right leader for stash away and helping statuary really grow?

Michele Ferrario 35:16
So very difficult question and a very good one. So I. So first of all, I don’t know, if I’m doing a good job in trying to continue to learn and grow, I do my best. But you know, I’m sure that there is a bunch of areas where I’m not meeting the bar, I think there are some areas where, so I believe in learning by doing as much as possible. But perhaps sometimes I lean a bit too much on it. So So what I’ve started to do, in the last maybe two years or three years has been trying to leverage external input. And in particular, I’m trying to do that in the form of books and podcasts, most importantly, so the two, those are two things where I kind of try to take some inspiration from them. Now, is there any direct learning usually not is more kind of a hints and kind of thought provoking and things that I can think about? Okay, so as you can see in your video, there are people will not be on video, but on my desk, I actually have a book called SEO, the great SEO within I haven’t even started it, as you can see from it, but it was, it was recommended to me by one of the people working from working with me, one of my one of my colleagues. So obviously there is something I need to learn about jokes aside. So I think reading books and listening,

Ricky Willianto 36:33
there was a very subtle, not a very subtle hints at you. You might want to read it.

Michele Ferrario 36:44
Yeah, no, I know. I know. I want to read it in that nobody jokes aside, I think the I took it the right way. And never never jokes aside, I think leveraging some external content, I think it’s relevant. I know, a lot of people in my my position actually have a coach. I don’t, I’ve been thinking about it, but I ended up not doing it. I think especially we have a very senior leadership team. So on top of my two co founders, also the rest of the C suite is very senior. So I actually try to learn as much as possible from people that actually work with me. And because I think that’s more applicable to what we do. And I think you know, there are, you know, in our C suite, there is a few people that actually could well be microchipped. So I don’t see why I would need to find somebody else. externally. I may change my mind on this. But as of now I’m not doing great, great.

Ricky Willianto 37:33
Okay, cool. So let’s kind of like, you know, end this podcast, we usually end up with a quickfire round. So I asked a bunch of questions, and you just ask answer, you know, with the first thing that comes to mind. Okay, are you ready? I’ll try. Okay, cool. What is the one metric that you care most about right now as stashed away?

Hmm. Okay. What is your favourite software to help you or your company grow?

Michele Ferrario 38:01
software? I think slack had a big impact on the way we manage communication and turn. Okay, cool.

Ricky Willianto 38:12
And what is your favourite growth strategy? Or what growth strategies that you’ve implemented that, you know, you think it’s awesome is great, everyone should look into it.

Michele Ferrario 38:21
Product and client client experience, I think just focus on that.

Ricky Willianto 38:25
And then next is, is very relevant to what you’re just saying before, which is what are your favourite go to resources for personal growth? Or, you know, business growth? can be books can be newsletters, websites, you know?

Michele Ferrario 38:36
Yeah. So on podcast, I think there is a couple that so there is one called In Depth, which is the podcast version of the first. So first round is a VC in the US, and they have the right a lot of content. And recently, like a few months ago, they started trying to go in depth. I think it’s a very, very well done interesting, I think, what is the coffee? It’s called Blitz? blitzscaling. why we did it on scaling. Yeah, we have Matt. Yeah, I think that one, it’s a bit too curated for me. But you know, I think there are some interesting insights here there. And yeah, maybe my my two top podcasts right now.

Ricky Willianto 39:10
Any books that you’ve been reading?

Michele Ferrario 39:12
So as I mentioned, I’ve been recommended to read this great deal with the haven’t read the guide to company building. So so next next on my list, I’ll let you I’ll let you read this. And we’ll publish this episode in about two months time, I’ll get you, you know, get some review from you to add into the show notes. Make sure that you actually read it. Okay, exactly. That’s gonna be a challenge. And I need to find time because it has been sitting on my desk for the last three weeks. And I haven’t opened the first page yet, but I’ll find time. Yeah. Exactly. So actually, I’m struggling to read books like this. I’ve been trying to use audible as kind of a way to kind of read a book while I do something else like exercise or something. Yeah, I’m struggling to find time where I can read and I don’t follow

Ricky Willianto 40:00
So, no audible is great. I highly recommend it. Especially for business books. Yeah. Okay. Two more questions. One is, who are some of your growth role models in Asia? And if it’s not in Asia, you know, anywhere else outside of Asia is fine.

Michele Ferrario 40:17
I don’t have any specific one, I would say, you know, I think probably I’ll say something obvious. You know, I think Jeff Bezos is probably the best manager of our time, even if there are a lot of things about the Amazon culture that I will probably not copy, paste. And then I think from a pure growth perspective, I think I’ll be controversial. Yeah, I think Oliver somewhere was a rocket internet founder and CEO, you know, he’s an unbelievable entrepreneur and business guy. You know, there is a lot of things that I may I don’t want to be him, but I think there are a lot of things to learn from him.

Ricky Willianto 40:52
Right. Michele, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate the time and also really enjoyed the conversation. And I’m sure I’ll see you around.

Michele Ferrario 41:00
Thank you very much. You’re welcome.

Ricky Willianto 41:03
Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. Check out other episodes to hear more growth stories and hacks from experts who have been there. You can find our show on iTunes, Spotify, or via our website See you next time.


About Growth Multiplier

The pursuit of growth is never-ending for any business – from a small startup all the way to a large global corporation. The Growth Multiplier podcast examines pathways, strategies, and hacks companies have explored and tested in their efforts to scale up their businesses. 

In each episode, host Ricky Willianto – co-founder of Ravenry – speaks with CEO’s, growth hackers, product managers, and marketers all around Asia to find nuggets of wisdom and insights from their journey multiplying growth. 

Ricky and his guests discuss viral marketing, community building, pricing strategies, channel development, and also company culture and people. Growth Multiplier explores not only replicable successes, but also phenomenal failures that we all can learn from.

Growth Multiplier is produced by the team behind Ravenry.

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