COVID-19: running a fintech in Asia during lockdown

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When you launch a London-based $800m AI fund but are on lockdown in Japan and Malaysia. Skymind Global Ventures co-founders share their experience.

COVID-19: running a fintech in Asia during lockdown

Image source: Skymind Global Ventures

At the start of this year, Skymind Global Ventures opened their headquarters in London and launched an $800m fund to invest in AI startups helping fintech and other sectors.

Skymind picked London as it seemed the best place to set up their operations, owing to the vibrant financial services industry and the belief that the fintech sector in particular would see increasing demand for machine learning and AI innovation skills.

At the time of the launch, Shawn Tan, CEO and co-founder, said: “The Turing Test, developed in 1950 by Alan Turning, was the first in the world to test a machine’s ability to present intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from a human,” he said.

“This was ground-breaking and pushed boundaries – something that Skymind Global Ventures is also trying to do by supporting the scaling journeys of AI-driven companies. We look forward to playing an influential role in the advancement of the AI sector in the UK while expanding our global reach.”

However, the founding team members, who are living in Asia, have yet to set foot inside their new London office, which is situated in the City’s Gherkin building.

Instead, they’ve been under lockdown for weeks as they wait for the Covid- 19 pandemic to pass. AltFi asked co-founders Shawn Tan and Adam Gibson, based in Malaysia and Japan respectively, about life ‘inside’ – and the impact that quarantine living has had on company and staff.

Shawn Tan, CEO and co-founder

1. Where are you now, and how long were you in isolation as a result of the corona-virus?

“I am based in Malaysia and mostly travel around the world for work. I’ve been grounded back in home since mid Jan 2020.”

2. Describe what life is usually like for you – what’s a typical day out?

“I was frequently travelling on business and living out of a suitcase before Covid-19 struck. In 2019 I had been out of the country for more than 250 days. A typical day would involve airports, hotels, meetings and flying to the next city, and then repeat!”

3. How did you manage to spend weeks running a business and keeping your mind at ease?

“Think positive! Spend time with family, and rethink how the world is going to be post-covid19. Strategizing, looking at a new business plan, I keep my mind at ease as long as I’m working. But it’s hard – the boredom and temptation to go out can be brutal.”

4. How did you manage to keep in contact with your team and keep their morale up and yours? How big is the team at Skymind Global Ventures.

“Software mainly and applications like WhatsApp and Slack. We’re used to a remote working culture as we have offices in more than 10 cities across the globe. There’s over 300 employees at Skymind Global Ventures and its subsidiaries.”

5. What is one of the things you wish you’d done before you went into isolation?

“I used to wish I could stay at home more instead of travelling before the lockdown! Now I wish I could travel!”

6. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced during quarantine?

Kids yelling and running around while I’m having conference calls – that’s been a challenge.”

“Trying to create boundaries between your workspace and your private life is hard when you’re stuck at home. Trying to look and stay professional during office hours also requires discipline but it helps to get you into the zone of ‘being at work’ even if you’re working at home and not seeing your colleagues.”

7. Any suggestions/tips for companies trying to run their business in isolation?

“This is a good time to identify self-discipline and to focus on motivating your team members by reminding them that there will be an end to Covid-19 and there’s exciting plans and opportunities on the horizon.”

8. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned while in isolation?

“Someone I know passed away due to the virus. Appreciate life as it happens!”

Adam Gibson, Co-founder and SVP

1. Where are you based, and how long were you in isolation as a result of the corona-virus?

“I am based in Tokyo, Japan. We are not officially in isolation yet but as a precautionary measure we are all working from home – and have been

doing so for weeks now. Japan was one of the first countries outside of China to test positive for the coronavirus but we haven’t seen the large

number of cases and deaths experienced in other developed countries. Life seems to be going on amidst the pandemic. Trains are still running and kids are still at school. But everyone is cautious.”

2. Describe what life is usually like for you in Japan- what’s a typical day out?

“Most day-to-day business is fairly formal. Many people still wear suits and professional attire. Long working days and evenings out with colleagues is pretty standard here in Japan.”

3. How do manage spending weeks running a business at home and keeping your mind at ease?

“It’s hard. You never know what news is coming the next day. Japan seems to have calmed down a bit. The compliance rate with wearing masks is fairly high still though. Everyone is wearing them.”

4. How did you manage to keep in contact with your team and keep their morale up and yours? How big is the team at Skymind Global Ventures?

“We use software to keep in touch – that is pretty straightforward. Google Hangouts, WhatsApp and Slack are essential portals of communication. Morale, on the other hand, is a bit of a struggle. But with the launch of our fund and seeing our new customers and partners in 2020, we’re focusing on growth after the virus settles down.”

5. What is one thing you wish you’d done before you went into isolation?

“If Japan does go into isolation, we are already prepared. We need to streamline operations a bit more and try to see what financial institutions would do in the case of the lock down. We are observing the situation in our other offices very closely.”

6. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced during quarantine?

“Customer and shareholder uncertainty.”

7. Any suggestions / tips for companies trying to run their business in isolation?

“Learn how to run a remote first company that communicates with software. Help employees at home who aren’t used to working from home to be productive and happy – keep them busy. Also, pay attention to people’s well being during this time. Keep the communication channels open. Ask twice if they’re doing ok. These are unprecedented times – and the outcome is uncertain.”

8. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned while in isolation?

“Diversify. Don’t put all of your assets or bets in one place.”

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