I started an Asian fintech firm aged 23 with almost no experience. Here’s how

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Eddie Rong

You finish university, you clock up several years in banking, you spot a gap in the market, and you leave your stable career to take a punt at fintech.

For Eddie Rong, however, this traditional route into tech wasn’t quite quick enough.

Rong graduated from Hong Kong’s Lingnan University in May 2015 and just two months later, aged 23, he set up his own fintech company in the city.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, says Rong, who majored in risk and insurance management, with a specialisation in finance.

“I planned to have a more conventional early career. I interned in several sectors: banking (at ICBC), insurance, technology, and even hospitality. I used my school breaks to find out which industry I fitted into best,” says Rong, speaking to eFinancialCareers on the sidelines of the FST Media Future of Banking conference in Hong Kong last week.

Rong eventually took a graduate job at insurance company FWD, but he left after a few months.

“During the interviews I thought it was an innovative organisation, but I soon discovered that it was very old school and wasn’t engaging with young people,” he explains. “It wasn’t using technology to solve people’s questions.”

His short stint in the workforce got Rong thinking about a “fintech project that everyone could relate to and could be grown globally”.

Soon after leaving FWD he teamed up with business partner Adam Lau to launch money-conversion firm Heycoins, which now counts Chinese tech behemoths WeChat Pay and Alipay as clients.

Rong’s early success in fintech hasn’t just been about having the right business plan. He didn’t face a barrier which often stops 20-somethings in Hong Kong from joining the sector: overzealous parents who want their kids to work in big-brand financial firms.

“I’m originally from China and my dad’s in the army. He initially wanted a military career for me, but he’s long abandoned that and now let’s me follow my own path. My mother works in banking and so do many of her family. She’s been very supportive as she knows first-hand that tech in traditional banks isn’t great,” says Rong.

But why didn’t Rong get at least a few years’ finance experience under his belt before launching a start-up?

“If you’ve been in the finance sector for a while, it can be harder to quit your job because you’re older and probably have the pressure of a family and a mortgage. I may be young, but that means I can afford to fail and even begin again in fintech.”

Rong says having a board of experienced advisors – including Howard Ling, chief consultant for the HSBC Social Enterprise Business Centre – helps mitigate his own lack of experience. “As a young fintech entrepreneur you can never stop networking – I’ve found that people in the industry are very keen to advice and teach me.”

Heycoins now has 10 staff members. “The people I recruit are interviewed by the whole team so we know they really buy into the company and its culture. I like to hire people whose skills I can learn from as I haven’t been in the industry long.”

Rong often shocks candidates by asking them “what do you want to do here?”. “I need people who are self-motivated and can act as business owners rather than employees. So they should be able to tell me how they can improve the business.”

He says young people who want to set up their own fintech firms should do plenty of market research before quitting their jobs.

“I spoke to 300 people in person while working full-time to test out my fintech idea,” says Rong. “You have to use your weekends and any other free time to scope out the market and do your risk management.”

Image credit: Eddie Rong

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