My parents, my role models

My parents, my role models
PHOTO: Tabla

A TYPICAL day for Mr Mohamed Abbas' parents begins at 5am as they prepare ingredients to take to their stall in a canteen at Outram Secondary School. It was also where he studied and hung out every day after lessons to help his father, 48, and mother, 47. He would also help them prepare for the next day, even on a Sunday.

"I watched them stand and work in a hot environment for long hours. They were very hardworking and committed," said Mr Mohamed, who sees his parents, who came from Tamil Nadu, as role models.

Now, the 25-year-old Singaporean has a dream - to work hard and set up his own company so that they can retire at the age of 55.

"And I'm happy I'm on the path towards it," Mr Mohamed told tabla!

His hard work has paid off. He was recently featured in this year's Forbes 30 under 30 in the finance and venture capital category.

After secondary school, he pursued a diploma in banking and finance at Singapore Polytechnic before he did his National Service.

In the army, he met Mr Hizam Ismail, 25, and they became good friends. During one of their conversations, they discussed how their friends and neighbours had unpleasant experiences when they approached licensed moneylenders to get short-term loans.

One of his friends told Mr Mohamed: "I just wanted to know what the interest rate and late payment fee was over the phone but the licensed moneylender told me to go down. The whole process was very long and this was just for one lender.

I had no choice but to borrow from them because I didn't have time to go around comparing the rates."

Mr Hizam and Mr Mohamed decided to find out if the process was indeed so time-consuming.

They went to a licensed moneylender to ask what the interest rate was for a loan. "The process of just finding out what the rate was required us to go down and wait for half an hour," said Mr Mohamed.

He added that there are about 170 licensed moneylenders in Singapore and it would be tedious and time-consuming for a borrower to research, collate and compare the rates.

The duo thought they could set up a company to solve the problems that borrowers were facing. In March last year, they launched Onelyst - a website that lets consumers apply for loans and compare loan offers from licensed moneylenders.

Users fill in an application form before they receive up to 10 loan options for comparison. After choosing the offer they think is best they receive an approval form before they collect their loan from the licensed moneylender.

The start-up currently works with 42 licensed moneylenders in Singapore and it earns its revenue by charging them a monthly subscription.

But why a platform for licensed moneylenders and not banks? Explained Mr Mohamed: "Friends and neighbours we spoke to were going to licensed moneylenders because they didn't have a perfect credit history and were shunned by banks. Bank rates are quite affordable for people with good credit history but I wanted to help a vulnerable community make informed borrowing decisions."

He started the company while he was doing his degree in business with a major in banking and finance at National Technological University.

He enrolled in 2012 and was due to graduate last year but he took a two-year leave of absence in 2014 to work on the start-up.

He will return to school next year to complete his degree. His co-founder has a degree in economics and finance from RMIT University.

Said Mr Mohamed: "Initially, juggling studies and working on the start-up wasn't easy. I slept only about four hours a day and I couldn't go out with my friends either because I was busy or too tired."

Then there was the issue of funding. He and Mr Hizam took part in a business plan competition called NTU Ideasinc.

In 2014 where they pitched the idea for the start-up and emerged among the top 10 from 100 teams. They received a sum of money from Spaze Ventures, a seed capital firm and start-up incubator that provides funding and mentorship.

Finding a co-founder who was an expert in the IT field was also a challenge for the founders.

"Hizam and I are good in business, economics and finance but not IT and Onelyst is an IT platform," said Mr Mohamed. After four months, they found IT expert Prakash Raja, who is now the chief technology officer. Together, they lead a team of seven in departments such as marketing, sales, IT and content writing.

Talking about his being named by Forbes, he said: "My parents were very happy and proud that I made it to the Forbes list and it made me happy to see them smiling about my achievement," he said.

The start-up also has a social responsibility component.

Loan applicants who are found to have many debts will be referred to counsellors.

Mr Mohamed has plans to replicate the Onelyst model in Malaysia and Hong Kong, "where the non-bank lending markets are much bigger than Singapore". He also intends to start another platform on the website for business loans in the middle of this year.

amritak@sph.com.sg


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