One of the most complicated and tedious processes that employers and lenders face is validating the track record of applicants. It involves a myriad of background checks and screenings to determine if the applicant is a good fit for the desired role or for the desired loan. This is where Smile comes in.
Smile is a financial technology start-up headquartered in Singapore and with operations in the Philippines. It offers user-authorized access to recent, comprehensive, and verified employment data that is accessible in real-time. Smile covers a wide range of data — from employment, payroll systems, gig economy platforms, and social insurance systems all through a single API. It aims to provide instant access to the latest, extensive, and authenticated data about user identity, employment, and income. With this, why don’t you join me in learning more about Smile with its CEO and Co-Founder, Jerome Eger.
We have seen that you have had extensive experience in the fields of management, development, technology, and start-ups. With this in mind, what motivated or inspired you to go into these fields? What made you want to dive into the startup world given that there are difficulties of being a startup founder?
I am a second-time founder, so I have experience and I know what I’m getting myself into. The most successful start-ups are founded by those that would like to solve a problem, and not just for the sake of founding a start-up. Passion drives the ‘want’ to put up and continue a start-up — at least for a big part of it.
What inspired you to start Smile?
It's an interesting story actually. My first start-up Ginmon, a wealth-tech company, also has business in Europe, specifically Germany, despite being based in China. We had some regulatory issues due to the changes in policies. I had to re-orient myself and ask: “Do I go back to Europe to continue working in wealth management? Or do I stay in Asia?” I think the latter was the answer for me. I looked for investors and asked them what we could do? We traveled and searched throughout Southeast Asia and stopped over in Silicon valley. The idea at that time was to revolutionize lending. Two things immediately came to mind: first was earned-wage access which allowed access to money that has been earned, second was a buy now-pay later feature which allows monthly or quarterly payments with zero interest.
I had the idea to execute this in Southeast Asia. In order to make this work and to have the mechanics in terms of risk management work out, you have to understand the infrastructure needed. In Southeast Asia, there was no infrastructure, so we had to build it from scratch. Since a majority of Southeast Asians don’t have bank accounts, the idea was then to go to employment for risk management data. If you don't have a credit score, the only thing that can tell a lender if you're capable of repaying a loan is from employment data: how much you earn, where you work, and how long you have been working among other things. If you're a freelancer or a gig worker, it will be very difficult to prove to a traditional bank that you have a solid income. We wanted to serve people like these, especially during the COVID pandemic. We realized that what we needed to do was to connect to all sorts of platforms.
The lending business wouldn’t have been the most significant value of our business, but actually the access to the employment data. We canceled the idea of being a lending business and we actually focused entirely on the employment data part. That’s the story of how we came into being. That’s where we are right now. We have raised rounds, a team of 20 people, and customers coming in.
In one sentence, how would you describe Smile? Why?
Smile unifies access-to-employment data in Asia to help lenders make better credit decisions. I think this is one way of explaining what we do. But the interesting way of describing a company is always through their culture.
I think the word ‘smile’ already defines our culture. We want our customers to smile and to be happy. They’re only happy with us when we provide the best service that we can extend to them. Every employee that starts in Smile gets an A4 page wherein we have our culture and values. Also, we make our customers smile by making the ‘makers’ which are the coders, build relationships with the customers themselves. It’s through this that we make our customers feel at home, by building genuine relationships. This is also how we are able to provide the best service to our customers. Quality is very important.
What particular problems does Smile address? How does it give a solution to these problems?
There are an almost unlimited number of problems in the world. To a lot of these problems, the answer is technology. The question really is: whose problem do you want to solve? This is where the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) comes in. It's important to understand what’s the problem of that ICP. For Smile, our customers are risk managers for fin-tech companies that are eager, exploring, fast-growing, successful, and appreciate quality and speed. These are our ICPs. We orient ourselves to the problem that risk managers have which is essentially how to reduce the risk of the company. Our target is to reduce the problem of risk managers. For example, if someone is unemployed as of the moment, and the risk manager still decides to offer him/her a loan, it's because he sees in his employment history that the person was a successful entrepreneur in the past. The risk manager is only able to do this if he has all the data in his hand. Data is what we need to arrive at the right conclusions, and we are helping them to do that.
Lastly, as a founder yourself, what message would you like to impart on future entrepreneurs?
It’s all in the team. This is what matters the most. The most important thing is to have a team that is extremely capable. Personally, a hands-off style or management is very important because that attracts the best people. The best people also appreciate freedom, to strive in an environment that is supportive. Culture is also important since it's something you can't change, it's something you start with from day one.
Specialization and focus is also very important for an early-days founder. You can’t solve every problem in the world. Focusing on one thing is the root to success.
About The Founder
Jerome Eger is the CEO and Co-Founder of Smile and has an extensive background in the fields of management, development, technology, and start-ups. This has allowed Jerome to offer user-authorized access to recent, comprehensive, verified employment data that is accessible in real-time through Smile, enabling employers and lenders to go through applicant data easily and hassle-free with the ultimate goal of reducing the problems of risk managers. Smile provides instance access to the most recent, comprehensive, and verified data about user identity, employment, and income – made available with their consent.
Visit www.techshake.asia if you would like to know and connect more with Smile.
Smile API is one of our portfolio startups in Plug and Play APAC.
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