Caecilia Chu is the founder of the Singapore-based multi-currency travel wallet YouTrip. She had stints at Lufax, Qfpay, and McKinsey, before she donned the entrepreneurial hat to found YouTrip in 2016.
The startup offers users 0% on transaction fees and competitive exchange rates, competing with major banks. In May 2019, it announced a seed round of $25.5 million from Insignia Ventures Partners and other Asian family offices.
During the pandemic, Caecilia Chu pivoted the company away from serving merely travellers in Southeast Asia, to also focus on online shoppers looking for the best deals on overseas websites.
She was among the 12 women (co-)founders interviewed for our Women in Startups: The SE Asia Edition report. She shared her experience as a woman entrepreneur. Edited excerpts:
How has your fundraising journey been, and were there challenges as a woman co-founder?
I found our fundraising experiences to be stage-dependent. In the seed stage, it’s about finding angel investors. Then, as we move to pre-Series A or Series A, the size of the funding that we’re looking for is much more sizeable. Then the kind of investor groups that we need to talk to, is different. The very first funding comes from our friends and family.
At the very beginning, it was really about me and my co-founder and I was very lucky to have a male co-founder. We had complementary skill sets. I came from a finance and business background, while he was an engineer by training, and also he was a data scientist. It wasn’t by planning that we have both genders on the team.
So I think, I haven’t really felt that being a female founder was hindering my fundraising at any point. I think an investor would evaluate the overall strength, the complementary skill sets, and the diversity within the senior team.
Are you seeing more women founders in the tech space these days?
I haven’t looked at it from a statistical standpoint, but it certainly resonates with me. What I saw in the market are two very interesting trends, particularly with regards to grooming and encouraging more women founders over the last two to three years. Number one, the venture capital industry has really exploded, as compared to, say the 10 years ago.
You naturally have a lot more female VCs and investors doing the profession as well. I have also seen VC funds that have women VCs and wanted to back female founders. That is certainly a very positive development on the investor side.
The second trend is that over the last five years, a lot of companies in the business world, both corporations, and startups, intentionally want to bring on more senior female leadership into the management team or even to the board.
So, I would say this creates a lot of training opportunities for females to become very capable in the tech space. And I think this certainly helps to put a lot more ready female entrepreneurs into the startup ecosystem as well. Both developments have really helped create lots of opportunities for female founders.
Your company pivoted during the pandemic, and it appears transaction volume for your wallet returned. What were the signals for the pivot and how fast did you change?
We are a consumer technology company. The first thing we do is follow and listen to our customers. Since early 2020, our customers have been doing work from home and study from home. And they are spending a lot more time at home. And they are browsing online all the time, and start shopping and playing games and all that stuff.
What we saw is, among our user base, people are crossing the border less. That’s the first signal. And the second signal is there is a clear shift, in terms of offline payment to online payments. So we discovered that they are much more reluctant in terms of handling physical cash, particularly during the pandemic.
So from a marketing front, we immediately shift gear to talking a lot about online spending tips. From a product perspective, we immediately worked on that enhancement around our online security feature. So we have a new version of the 3DS.
So you know, historically, when you use your bank card, you need to input that random six-digit SMS into the website. Now it’s just an easy tap, so no more random six-digit SMS sent to users. So we kind of shifted gears as an entire company. And I would say it’s a positive outcome for all of us. And what it ultimately shows is the resilience in terms of our business model. That a digital payment product is essentially more than just travel. And I think that was an encouraging sign for us.
How would you differentiate your wallet versus competitors such as Revolut or Singtel Dash?
I think it is from a market share standpoint. One, we are the first mover in Singapore, and we are a first-mover in Southeast Asia. That really helped us gain very strong traction even before the launch, and actually, from local community support standpoint, I think that it is just very lucky to be well-loved and well supported by the local community as a local company.
And because of that, I know from a market share standpoint, our user base has been a few times more than some of our European players. I’m comfortable to say that we are by far leading by a very, very large margin.
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