CEO INTERVIEW - ZETL : Financing the next generation of businesses in Asia-Pacific
Please share with us briefly what you do.
I’m the co-founder and CEO of Zetl. We help staffing and recruitment agencies bridge the cash flow gap through receivables financing. It’s my belief that everyone should be paid on time, therefore I’ve made it Zetl’s mission to finance the next generation of businesses in Asia-Pacific.
What were you doing before this?
Prior to Zetl I ran a personal challenge to launch 12 startups in 12 months! Did a few fintech startups before that and I started my career in finance, working at banks and hedge funds.
Describe your product. How does it work?
Zetl provides fast, flexible financing to staffing agencies, recruitment firms, and HR consultancies.
We have three products, each suitable to a different use case.
- Single Invoice Financing–Submit an invoice, unlock up to 80% of the cash immediately
- Full Turnover Financing–Ensure you can pay your staff on time throughout a project–even if your clients pay late
- Credit Line–Flexible long-term facility secured against your revenue
What are the key benefits?
We give customers access to flexible financing–whether it’s for bridging cash flow gaps or unlocking working capital to reinvest in their growth.
We find a common use case is to put a facility in place to finance contractors' books to bridge the gap between when the client pays (60-90 days) and when staff salaries are due (every 30 days).
Our financing is confidential–you don’t need to notify your client. It’s fully digital so you don’t have to come to our offices or be in the country. And it’s fast–customers typically receive same-day funding with no hidden fees
We also believe that you shouldn’t risk everything you own on your business. That’s why we finance without any personal guarantees.
Who are your closest competitors?
One could consider other money lenders, however, none of which focus specifically on staffing and recruitment companies.
Most p2p financing is not confidential to the end client and generally unsuited for financing longer contracts as you need to keep making new applications, each with a risk of non-funding.
Who is your first customer and how did that happen? What were they using before this, and why did they switch?
Our first customer was a young, ambitious executive search firm. They knew that having large sums of cash tied up in invoices would slow down their plans so they partnered with us to finance their growth. Almost 2 years on and we’re still backing them in both Hong Kong and Singapore!
What motivated you to start this business?
My firsthand experience of how difficult it is for the new generation of companies to get access to fast, flexible financing. In a previous business, I had to empty my bank account to bridge long payment terms and that was an intensely difficult period personally. My goal with Zetl is to ensure that other business owners don’t have to go through that same experience I did.
What is your biggest sacrifice to make this work?
Time commitment. As any entrepreneur knows this is a 24/7 endeavor, especially at the early stages.
How did you get funded?
We started with a very small sum from our close network, as well as a grant from Cyberport in Hong Kong.
As we gained more traction we’ve been fortunate enough to attract a high calibre of investors along the way, most recently upon graduation of the inaugural Workplace Accelerator cohort.
What has been your most successful form of marketing?
This would definitely be referrals. There is nothing that beats word of mouth marketing; it has shown that we provide a great service and that our customers are happy.
Describe a typical workday
We officially start our day with the daily standup at 9:15 in the morning. Depending on the day of the week we’ll have various other meetings throughout the day, with another key meeting being the product huddle at 4:30pm as Europe comes online. As a distributed workforce we place a strong emphasis on meeting protocols–keeping them short and logging notes religiously. We’ve set up our systems to pipe all notifications into Slack, ensuring that we don’t have to repeat our updates many times a day.
Who has been the greatest influence in your business and why?
Without doubt our customers. We took an agile approach to product development which has meant that every step of our growth has been led by customer demand.
What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business and why?
During the worst of the pandemic when there was still significant uncertainty we found many of our customers were facing delayed settlements from their clients, especially as accounts payable functions moved to work-from-home. Being in a position to help our customers through that period, and seeing them thriving today makes me incredibly proud. Not least to support other entrepreneurs, but also being able to support local jobs and keeping payroll going.
What is your favourite business failure (and what did you learn from it)?
I’m not sure I’d call it my favourite as it was a very difficult time for me but it would be at a previous startup when I experienced first hand the damage cashflow shocks caused by late payments can do to a business. Being unable to find business finance and ultimately having to pay staff salaries out of pocket gave me an acute empathy for other entrepreneurs and a key insight into why Zetl is so necessary.
If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him/her?
Keep investing in your relationships with people you admire and like. They’ll likely outlast any individual job or business and the right people will always motivate you to become a better person.
What’s one productivity hack you can’t live without?
The Eisenhower Matrix to prioritise work.
You split your tasks into four boxes:
- Important and Urgent
- Urgent (but not Important)
- Important (but not Urgent)
The trick is to prioritise (3) Important over (2) Urgent tasks. Our natural urge is to prioritise (2), but that’s how we get caught up in busy work that doesn’t move the needle. When done correctly, doing the important work first often eliminates a bunch of urgent/other tasks, enabling you to accomplish more with the limited time available in a day.
MORE ABOUT SHAN:
- First job: Junior Trader at a financial institution
- Someone you admire: Warren Buffet
- Favorite book: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk
- Favorite author: As a kid, Brian Jacques. As an adult, Tim Ferriss
- Last holiday: Two weddings in Sydney. Was supposed to spend a month in Melbourne in between but then COVID happened...
- When you are not at work, where can we most likely find you? In the pub with friends!
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