The co-founder & global COO of Startupbootcamp FinTech, which operates across London and Singapore, Markus Gnirck has a portfolio that is grounded in technological innovation, business engineering and tech startups in Europe. Having worked in tech startups and venture capital firms, he brings a broad range of experience and deep familiarity to his role as the global COO of the startup accelerator.
Besides running the three-month accelerator programme in Singapore, his role involves organising events like hackathons, innovation workshops and pitch days. These activities are designed to build the network of relationships and grow a community of innovation that brings together, the members from the startup ecosystem and the financial sector.
He has a strong desire to innovate in the FinTech space, yet, is relatively new to Asia, given that most of Gnirck’s experience has been in Europe. How does that translate across to the Asia-Pacific?
In an interaction, DEALSTREETASIA was able to gain his perspective on a number of issues concerning the FinTech space and the latest trends affecting it.
Edited Excerpts from the interaction:
What are some of the crucial differences between the FinTech landscape of the Asia-Pacific and the Europe?
The crucial differences is the in-depth understanding of FinTech problems/solutions and the available expertise in each ecosystem. Where you can find deeper and more complex FinTech products in Europe, APAC has a growing volume of FinTech startups that are only looking at the obvious layers, in terms of providing B2C solutions. By contrast, Europe creates more B2B solutions.
Additionally, there is a higher density of mentors, experts and angels in Europe that provide crucial knowledge transfer to startups. They challenge startups to dig deeper, do more customer development and think bigger. In certain ecosystems, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, you can find maturing ecosystems where various stakeholders get together and push innovation forward.
Where do you see cryptocurrency heading in the next five years, especially given your involvement in Factom?
Blockchain technologies will change the work data and information will be sent through the internet, fundamentally. At this point these technologies still have a very strong currency layer to it, which brings an obvious use case. So far the bitcoin community has been fairly separated from the FinTech activities and focussed on various currency solutions.
We see more FinTech, banking and blockchain merging together. Blockchain engineers learn of use cases in the banking world, get to know FinTech opportunities and build scalable businesses models around it. This very necessary step comes in at the right time, where banks articulate their challenges and are keen to learn more about these exciting technologies.
What qualities do you seek in the startups you will accelerate in Startupbootcamp Fintech?
We are looking for amazing teams with all the necessary skills sets (i.e. coding, business, design and product). The team needs to be able to understand the real problem and build a scalable product. It is important for us to see industry expertise and experience, where the startups understands the domain and the fundamental pain points.
We challenge every team to have done enough customer development, in order to validate the product and test the need. As we are looking to support the next big players in finance, we are keen to see businesses that want to grow globally. It’s not just about solving a local problem, entrepreneurs need to think big!
Any memorable startups and concepts you’ve encountered during your time?
I came across various exciting FinTech startups in the last weeks when travelling throughout Asia. Neuroware.io offers an API for blockchain, MoneyThor a toolkit for digital banking, p2p concepts in Malaysia, lending in Bangalore, wealth management platforms in Shanghai and financial inclusion startups in Indonesia. A recent article I wrote for e27 elaborates on what I’ve encountered in the Asian FinTech space.
For example, Hong Kong offers a mature ecosystem with a mix of foreign and local FinTech entrepreneurs, who use it as beachead to enter China, with a strong presence of ventures offering B2B solutions for hedge funds and investment firms, Big Data analytics and wealth management.
Pitch days in India showed us that Indian entrepreneurs possess high-quality engineering skills, with highly tech-driven startups building solutions for various verticals in FinTech: Big Data Analytics, Payments and Authentication. There’s also a trend of ventures building digital products that cater to the growing middle class in India.
Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur are very early-stage FinTech ecosystems, with most startups offering B2C solutions focused on personal finance management, mobile payments and expense and bill-splitting management. Singapore has a mix of these trends, which reflects the diversity of its ecosystem, with a presence of P2P lending and transactions, wealth management, remittance and cryptocurrency solutions.
During a recent interview the CIO of DBS, Neal Cross, said that “If I were an entrepreneur in the FinTech space, I would look at what’s next, future-casting how consumers are going to interact with banks in the next five to ten years. Then I would build a product around what I projected to happen in that space.” What’s your opinion on that?
I agree with Neal that the interaction between banks and consumers will become critical with more banks offering innovative products for engaging the customer. The famous saying “we need banking, but no banks” makes clear that banks are eager to be close to their customers and find the right channels to them. It is going beyond existing products, such as accounts, cards, etc, and going deeper into a customers lives, to take part in more layers, e.g. education, healthcare, internet of things, etc.
Accounting & finance vs economics – which area of knowledge do you feel is more critical for FinTech entrepreneurs to know and why?
All these areas are good to know. But more importantly, entrepreneurs need to understand a problem extremely well. Additionally, they need to understand exactly what the pain points of the customer are and why he/she would pay money for the solution. Having this skill set sets you apart from other solutions and makes sure that you build a startup with some IP / defensibility. Besides that, an entrepreneur either needs to know how to sell or how to code!
Of the different types of innovation, which is fundamental to the FinTech sector? What sort of innovation was specific to the European financial space and what sort of innovation do you see being achieved in the Asia-Pacific (APAC)?
I see mostly three types of innovation happening in APAC: breakthrough, new market and sustaining. Less so disruption, as the solutions don’t go deep enough yet to disrupt entire markets or industries. An evolving ecosystem goes through various stages of innovation where it starts with incremental changes to existing technology layers.
As we are moving in the FinTech space, startups are still working with incumbent banks to include a new technology for example to drive more revenue. Early stage startups don’t have the capital to come up with ground breaking ideas to disrupt heavily. Rather, they innovate in small steps then become a more able to challenge the dominant player(s). This might be different in other industries, e.g. e-commerce, where disruption can happen on a larger scale more rapidly.
How do you see the cryptocurrency and FinTech communities interacting in the future? Convergence, divergence or the creation of something that melds the two?
As already touched on that earlier, the crypto and the FinTech community, plus the banking world will merge more in the coming years. Opportunities are too large to ignore and utilising various technologies would create many win-win situations. After financial institutions articulate their internal challenges, more entrepreneurs realise the potential and start working on products. We see first merging activities, for example DBS’ Blockchain hackathon, which we support. The bank is inviting the coder community to work together and their challenge statements. Great stuff!
Nektarios Liolios, the MD of Startupbootcamp Fintech, recently stated in an interview that much of the problems facing the FinTech and finance space tended to lie more with the people and the conservative nature of the banks and financial institutions, rather than the technology. What’s your take on the people vs tech vs organisation debate?
I think that cultural change in large institutions is one of the main challenges we seek, in order to drive innovation forward quicker. Most top level management is keen on innovation, however the difficulties start in the mid level management, where the risk is perceived as still too high to take on new ideas.
Changing the mindset of people in these positions is crucial to have an open approach to new ventures. That is where you can unlock a lot of potential! The issues in integrating new technologies in the complex infrastructure of a bank is indeed apparent, however with more APIs being developed and sandbox environments given, it is becomes easier to run pilots and validate propositions.