Startup Interview with a Serial Fintech Entrepreneur Shan Han, CEO of Zetlby@zetl
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Startup Interview with a Serial Fintech Entrepreneur Shan Han, CEO of Zetl

by August 13th, 2021
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Shan is a serial fintech entrepreneur who has been published on HackerNoon since July 2016. His startup, Zetl, specializes in providing growth and working capital to services-based businesses who are typically underbanked. Shan says he's most excited about adoption of cloud software across the SMB space in Asia-Pacific. He says the move to remote work will create a lot of disruption in the labor market. Shan: "It can be scary to jump on the ship from a space you’re familiar with, but if you don’t take the plunge you'll never make it to the next level"

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HackerNoon Reporter: Please tell us briefly about your background.

Hi, I’m Shan, a serial fintech entrepreneur. I was born in the UK but grew up in Tokyo, Singapore, and Hong Kong. I used to work in banks and hedge funds but have been running various startups since then, including a personal project to launch 12 startups in 12 months!

What's your startup called? And in a sentence or two, what does it do?

We’re called Zetl because we help our customers ‘settle’ their bills!

We specialize in providing growth and working capital to services-based businesses–think tech companies, staffing agencies, and consultancies who are typically underbanked even by other fintech.

Typically we find that our customers have long payment terms with their clients which creates a mismatch between cash flow as they need to pay their staff every month. Our products eliminate that month-end payroll stress and ensure that staff wages are always met on time.

What is the origin story?

Each of the co-founders has experienced or seen how underbanked the new generation of businesses in APAC is. For me, it was when I was running a previous startup and I had to empty my personal bank account to bridge long payment terms and ensure that I could pay my staff on time.

Unfortunately, this is a very common experience amongst entrepreneurs in APAC. This was an intensely difficult period personally and it shocked me that there were no alternatives. My goal with Zetl is to ensure that other entrepreneurs don’t have to go through the same painful experience that I did.

What do you love about your team, and why are you the ones to solve this problem?

Despite being a distributed by default team we’ve managed to build a really close, collaborative culture. Teammates are regularly helping each other out and the level of transparency in our work is a key advantage that we have. I’m most proud of this culture that we’ve built–everyone who’s come through our internship program has pointed these qualities out!

If you weren’t building your startup, what would you be doing?

Building another startup!

At the moment, how do you measure success? What are your core metrics?

We measure our success based on our average 12-week trailing revenue growth rate. Our target is 3.5%/week and we’ve been consistently beating that this year! Other metrics include customer retention, time-to-financing, and default rates (0 to date!).

What’s most exciting about your traction to date?

The fact that most of our business has come via referral is really exciting. Customers are happy to leave us 5-star reviews on Trustpilot too which is really encouraging.

Our actual performance has also been much better than projected– both average revenue per customer and retention is much higher than we expected. Plus we’ve had no defaults since we launched!

What technologies are you currently most excited about, and most worried about? And why?

We’re most excited about the adoption of cloud software across the SMB space in Asia-Pacific. This will open up a whole new way of supporting and financing such businesses. We’ve been able to work with customers much faster thanks to the adoption of cloud accounting software as an example.

Not concerned about tech per se, but I worry that the move to remote work will create a lot of disruption in the labor market. The skill gap is only going to widen and many will find themselves suddenly unable to compete with remote labor in other markets. Retraining these people and ensuring that they can continue to earn a living is going to become very important to ensure that they don’t get left behind.

What drew you to get published on HackerNoon? What do you like most about our platform?

I’ve always been a big fan of the type of content on HackerNoon. I’ve found it in-depth and actionable unlike a lot of other similar media. Looking back through my inbox now I see I’ve been following HackerNoon in some shape or form since July 2016, exactly 5 years ago!

What advice would you give to the 21-year-old version of yourself?

It’s time to move on when your learning curve plateaus. It can be scary to jump ship from a space you’re familiar with and know a lot of people in but if you don’t take the plunge you’ll never make it to the next level.

Growth only occurs outside of your comfort zone.

What is something surprising you've learned this year that your contemporaries would benefit from knowing?

If you’re in a leadership position, your role is essentially always that of a people-oriented salesperson. My calendar is now increasingly filled with meetings, whether internal or external. I’m speaking to customers, investors, employees, prospective hires, regulators, partners, etc.

This is a fundamental shift from those early bootstrapping days where on balance you get/have to spend a lot more time in ‘building’ mode. Given that I naturally gravitate towards this ‘building’ mode, I’ve learned to ensure that I should focus on the right things to grow the business.

Vote for Zetl as the startup of the year in Wan Chai now!