Bosco Tan and Alvin Singh are the cofounders of Pocketbook – a Sydney based startup that’s building an application which makes managing your money ridiculously simple. They do this by aggregating a user’s bank accounts, credit cards, loans, rewards programs and providing a single view of their money.
The best ideas originate organically and grow from that. Our ideas always have our key raison d’etre at their core – simplicity – and that drives everything we do.
Alvin is an experienced software engineer who hates doing his taxes and Bosco loves business development and marketing. Between them, they have over 15 years of corporate and startup experience. We had a chat with Bosco.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
Pocketbook came from a problem Alvin was having with doing his tax return – it was taking him longer and longer to collate and categorise transactions. He created a small little utility to help him to do this and quite quickly it snow-balled into a working and functioning prototype with functions such as auto-categorising and auto-updating transactions. With this, he showed some friends (including me) who loved the prototype and wanted it for ourselves.
What motivated me to join him on the project was because of the idea and the early execution. The problem was universal, and when built out can really solve a lot of problems busy people have when it comes to staying on top of all their spending, in a ridiculously simple way.
That was 9 months ago, today, we’ve built Pocketbook out to include more institutions and more features, including things like bill alerts and predictions, analysis tools and budgeting. Within 60 seconds of signing-on to the app, Pocketbook will automatically sync your accounts, get 80% of your transactions automatically categorised and upcoming bills detected. We’ll send you helpful alerts for when bills are late, and bank fees are charged. Not to mention a weekly summary to keep you on track.
How do you make money? (please explain your business model)
There are a number of hypotheses we have about the business model, we’re 8 months old and still refining these. Ultimately we want Pocketbook to be a product for every Australian – helping them to spend smarter. So we want to keep the product free. At the same time, we recognise the opportunities that data allows us to help individuals spend even smarter, if we are able to make some smart suggestions. Whether this is a better financial product, a better way to structure debt or simply a cheaper shopping basket.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
We’re really excited about our mobile apps right now. The iPhone version has just been released to some overwhelmingly great feedback, and Android is on its way. We fundamentally rethought about the banking experience and asked ourselves what our users would want while they’re on the go. And we built it for that experience.
We have some great features in the works as well to reduce the manual work even further. One example is going back to our roots, with tax season. We’re building a tool which helps our users tease out probably deductions and tax important spending and incomes without much thinking. This will be coming in a week or so .
In terms of events – we are a finalist in the SWIFT Innotribe startup competition 2013, and due to compete in Dubai this September. SWIFT is the international messaging network between tens of thousands of banks globally. Think “SWIFT Code” whenever you transfer some money overseas. We’ve recently won Asia-Pac in Singapore against some strong competition from across the region and are really excited to go up against the best in Europe and North America. The best part of the process has been getting feedback and validation from a peak body in the global banking sector.
How do you make ideas happen?
The best ideas originate organically and grow from that. Our ideas always have our key raison d’etre at their core – simplicity – and that drives everything we do. We are always looking at how people are using our app and talking to our users. Things just naturally start to bubble to the top when you are living and breathing it – you start to hear and see the same things come up again and again. That’s when you know that you might be on to something.
What does your typical day look like?
We work out of a lounge room today, so it’s really startup lean! We start about 9am everyday and finish about 9pm everyday – we often forget to eat. The day typically starts with a standup of where things are at, some tracking of our numbers and then we get right to work. Alvin typically puts his focus on building and pushing the core product and I focus on talking to our customers and building relationships.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
To be honest, given what we are building, we are in a great geography to execute.
Finances are highly important to Australians, we’re not great at saving as a population, and asset prices (i.e. homes) are very expensive – some of the highest prices in the world. This means young Australians, particularly in big cities are starting to struggle purchasing their first home. We think we can really make a huge difference.
Aside from this, we have great infrastructure in that our banking, insurance and core utilities sectors are well established with some great technology platforms for us to leverage. All of this helps give us a way to deliver our product a whole lot easier.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
There should be some way of aggregating trust in e-commerce if you like. I want to use my eBay feedback for other markets I sign up to – like Airtasker. If I can aggregate all this and use it as common currency then new two-sided websites can have instant trust in its buyers and sellers at launch.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Local, (and perhaps now internationally), we really like Bugcrowd. Having come from the security industry, I know how important information security is to organisations big and small. These guys are democratising the industry. Just like what Kickstarter did perhaps for product and industrial designers. Another one is Airtasker which works pretty awesome – Alvin actually used it to get his iPhone (waiting inline on launch day)!
What about internationally?
Naturally, we love our space. So we look at Simple.com and Square.com as real game changers in the financial services space. in a lot of ways, they have the Steve Jobs gene, building businesses around products that are built for humans.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
As I mentioned before, financial lives are core to the wellbeing of Australians. Whenever the Reserve Bank rates to up, or down, the average working Australian sits up and takes notice. Similarly, everyone it seems has some opinion on how they feel about the banks. I think if we were able to alleviate the financial stress for Australians, we go a long way to becoming a better nation. Wealth for all starts with wealth for individuals. Wealth starts with financial literacy and discipline – we’re just trying to find that compelling way to play at the grass roots.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?
Sinica Podcast – If you’re a nerd for what’s happening politically, economically and culturally in China like me – then this podcast by Baidu’s PR man Kaiser Kuo is a must subscribe.
Paul Graham’s Essays – If you’re a startup guy, essays and perspectives from the co-founder of YCombinator is always insightful.
Square’s homepage – If you want an example of a great landing page, this is it – if you can build pages like this, we’d love to talk to you :).
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?
@latikambourke – given that politics just got more exciting given the leadership change and election coming up, follow the most entertaining reporter at parliament house.
@carlbarron – one of Australia’s funniest comedians has taken to Vine – 6 sec videos have been mastered but a number of US comedians as the perfect medium for punch lines, waiting eagerly to see if Carl masters it.
@aussiegrit – Mark Webber, one of Australia’s most internationally successful drivers is leaving F1. How will he transition to Le Mans that almost once claimed his life?
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
We’re just in the process of closing our round of funding, but we’re looking for developer and possibly marketing interns.
Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.
If they were to re-imagine the banking experience for today’s age what would it look like?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
There’s a place in Melbourne recently that really surprised me. Led by an ex-assistant chef at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, Little Hunter on Little Collins Street is an exceptional and unique grill house. You’ll be sucked in by the complementary chicken skin buttered bread.
What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment?
I love instrumentals with a hip-hop root. There’s a Perth based beatmaker called Ta-ku that has been lighting it up. You can find his stuff here.
We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?
Sure, love to have lunch with the winner and talk business.