Xfers is founded by a group of friends — three computer engineers and one legal professional — Samson Leo, Tianwei Liu, Tianyao Liu and Victor Liew.
The seeds of Xfers were planted years ago back when Tianwei worked for a startup in California’s Silicon Valley as part of National University of Singapore (NUS)’s Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme.
Silicon Valley is dubbed the mecca of the tech industry, and it propelled “startup” to become a buzzword. People were constantly talking about startups or working on one with a couple of friends.
The startup culture was so infectious that Tianwei was motivated to build his own tech startup, and he understood that the basic building block of a business is that it needed to solve a pain point, or help fill an existing gap in the market.
Back then, Tianwei would help friends in Singapore to buy e-readers from the United States. As orders grew, he had a frustrating time collecting payments.
“He would have 20 orders of e-readers, but after laboriously going through his bank statements, he could only find 15 payments. Since it’s all for the same amount, he couldn’t easily tell who has paid and who hasn’t. This was during the time before FAST/PayNow banking transfer innovations, and he didn’t want to pay the surcharge to accept card payments,” shared Xfers co-founder Samson.
“This [problem] pushed him to code a tool that could collect and reconcile bank transfer payments, and soon, the prototype for Xfers was born.”
Xfers is one of Singapore’s first Y Combinator companies
Later on, when a friend of Tianwei who ran an online store in Singapore asked about automated bank transfer payment reconciliations, he realised that the Xfers prototype fits the bill.
This spurred Tianwei to rope in his Silicon Valley roommate, Victor, to help him build a better digital payments platform.
The two of them worked on this “garage project” part-time for a good part of 2014, with the eventual addition of fellow NUS graduates — Samson and Tianyao — as co-founders.
Samson is not new to the business world at all. Before he worked as a corporate lawyer at one of the “big 4” law firms in Singapore, he had started up his own education business, which grew to five tuition centres islandwide at its peak.
In mid-2015, Xfers was accepted into the Y Combinator incubation programme, which prompted them to leave their jobs and focus on building the business full-time.
“Our vision is to create an accessible financial ecosystem in SEA supported by open APIs. The current payment landscape can be described as “walled gardens”,” Samson told Vulcan Post.
For example, if you’re a customer from Bank A and you want to open an account with Bank B, you’d need to go through a full Know Your Customer (KYC) process again — even if you did it with Bank A. He sees this as a common pain point.
There is no easy way for users to move from garden to garden with ease. So we aim to break down these walls and improve the experience for both consumers and merchants to make it seamless and convenient. To achieve this goal, we are building a ‘wall-less’ payments ecosystem that will unite SEA and drive financial access.
– Samson Leo, co-founder of Xfers
Gaining trust and credibility among consumers
As a fintech company, being in a regulated space poses high, upfront startup costs.
Samson refused to disclose specific funding details but shared that they needed to invest heavily in regulatory compliance and technology cybersecurity even before commencing full-scale operations.
Furthermore, when they first started out, many of their customers were apprehensive in putting their money in the Xfers wallet and entrusting them to help collect payments.
Some customers would candidly ask us, ‘what if you run away with our money?’ or ‘what if you startup closes down?’
– Samson Leo, co-founder of Xfers
Additionally, when Xfers gained traction, their customers began to be defrauded by scammers to transfer money into their Xfers wallet, or even to give them their user name and password so the scammer could access and empty out the victim’s Xfers wallet.
This prompted Xfers to engage their external stakeholders — law enforcement, regulators, banking partners and the likes — to help consumers understand more about digital payments, digital wallets and digital currency.
Xfers has since partnered with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in cracking down cyber scams, and have received police awards in 2018 and 2020 for their part in helping to fight cybercrime.
This year, Xfers was also recognised by the SPF due to their contributions in scam intervention. To better protect its users, Xfers has developed a long-standing relationship with the Anti-Scams Centre to enhance the identification of suspicious transactions, which enabled them quickly freeze funds should the need arise.
For these efforts, Xfers has been awarded the Outstanding Community Partnership Award by SPF in July 2021.
To further strengthen their trust and credibility, Xfers was also granted a Major Payment Institution license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) early this year. This helps assure customers that their monies are safeguarded by their partner bank in accordance with the Payment Services Act (PSA).
When asked if obtaining the license has been challenging, Samson simply said that MAS has been very “supportive and consultative throughout the entire process”, especially considering the fact that they were one of the first online wallets when they submitted the initial application.
He added that Xfers maintains close engagement with MAS, ever since they received approval from the central bank to be an approved holder of a Widely Accepted Store Value Facility in 2019. They were the only fintech startup in Singapore that has joined the ranks of EZ-Link Card, NETS CashCard, NETS FlashPay and CapitaVoucher.
“Through the various MAS consultation papers on the proposed payments regulations, it was a good opportunity for us to put forth our views to better advance the fintech and payments industry to ensure Singapore’s global competitiveness. We’re heartened to note that MAS has been generally receptive to our feedback and the industry feedback,” said Samson.
With the upcoming changes to the PSA, he added that Xfers will continue to engage MAS and continue to be agile in their product offerings and business models.
Standing out from the competitive fintech crowd
From starting out small in an apartment, Xfers today has over 200 employees spread across their offices in Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Backed by 500 Startups, Golden Gate Ventures and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Xfers has also served more than 10 million people and processed more than US$800 million of transactions in 2020.
“We are truly appreciative of our early adopters who trust us to do the right thing as we continue to build a trusted and secure payment system. Without their support, we might have never gotten the chance to scale up,” said Samson.
However, the fact that the fintech industry is very competitive didn’t make it any easy for them.
Commenting on the fintech landscape in Singapore, Samson described it as “varied” and “sophisticated” because of the generally savvy consumers, ready infrastructure (both physical and technological), promotion of innovation, skilled workforce, and a progressive regulatory framework.
“All these help fintech companies ideate, innovate, and grow exponentially to bring new solutions to market. That said, the fintech landscape is equally competitive when we have such a landscape.”
At the same time, the colourful fintech landscape in Singapore has presented them with a viable business opportunity to design seamless and compliant payment flows.
“In Singapore, we are spoiled for choice in the range of payment options we have — cash, cards, bank transfers, e-wallets et cetera. Most of our merchant customers would be first thinking of accepting card payments, especially when consumers are incentivised by miles or reward points to spend on card.”
Unfortunately, this means that the merchant has to bear the card acceptance costs, which range anywhere from 1.5 to 3.9 per cent. This in turn trickles back down to the consumers in the form of increased prices.
By building an alternative payment network, we are excited with the wave of alternative payments so that merchants now have more digital payment choices. We will continue to integrate more payment options to better support our merchants and the local payment behaviours of consumers in the sector.
– Samson Leo, co-founder of Xfers
Xfers is also betting big on blockchain. The team strongly believes that distributed ledger technology (DLT) and blockchain is a foundational technology that would transform the way we pay.
In fact, banks and central banks are already exploring applications of DLT in trade finance and Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC).
Back in 2019, Xfers had a chance encounter with the Ziliqa team, which led to them working together to launch the StraitsX XSGD stablecoin on both the Ziliqa and Ethereum blockchain.
“The Ziliqa blockchain is able to process more transactions at a cheaper rate, in the range of thousands of transactions per second at a gas cost in the cents, compared to Ethereum network processing,” explained Samson.
Since the StraitsX initiative was launched in October 2020, it has seen significant growth. As of September 2021, its XSGD has surpassed over S$1.5 billion in on-chain transaction value.
“We’ve also provided APIs to over 10 different digital assets platforms, enabling them to seamlessly accept and disburse funds to their users. Through these APIs, StraitsX has processed over S$2 billion in digital asset-related transactions in 2021 alone.”
XSGD has also become available on various Decentralised Finance (DeFi) applications, including Uniswap, Zilswap, DFX Finance and 1inch.
Riding on the digitalisation wave
Covid-19 has been a turbulent time for most businesses. For Xfers however, the pandemic has served as a “very big business opportunity” for them as it helped to accelerate digital commerce and digital payments in Singapore and the region.
“With the various movement restrictions, people were starting to shop and pay online, when in the past, their behaviour may have been to physically visit the shop and then to pay with cash,” observed Samson.
With the onset of Covid-19, Xfers has put in place a Business Continuity Plan to better cope with the evolving pandemic.
Many considerations were actually made when creating the plan. For instance, the need to preserve the workforce of their Operations team as Xfers’ onboarding and customer support processes would be at a standstill without them.
Fortunately, Covid-19 did not pose any operational impact, especially considering that compared to the same period last year, Xfers’ transaction processing volumes continued to at least double, and new user signups increased by two to six times.
“As a fintech company, being able to adapt and react to change quickly has always been one of our core strengths — it has essentially become a part of our culture.”
Despite the pandemic, Xfers has also charged ahead with its growth plans. Earlier in March, Xfers partnered Indonesia-based Payfazz to form FAZZ Financial Group (FFG).
Following the formation of this new entity, Xfers now serves as the designated business-to-business (B2B) arm of FAZZ, with a focus on enabling market access in SEA through digital financial services.
“We first met the Payfazz founders back in 2016 after their Y Combinator program, and we hosted them in our apartment when they came to Singapore to explore expansion opportunities here,” recounted Samson, who also serves as the Group Chief Legal Officer of Fazz Financial Group.
“Later in 2017 and 2018, when we were thinking of expanding to Indonesia, they returned the favour, hosting us in their office and helping to make introductions. Tianwei and Hendra (co-founder of Payfazz) continued keeping in contact.”
In 2020, the stars aligned and both parties felt that they have a huge synergy in their goals of enabling and reinventing financial access for consumers and businesses in SEA.
Moving forward, Samson said that Xfers will continue to expand regionally and build their business within the payments, digital asset, e-wallet and e-money space, as they inch closer towards being the “Square for Southeast Asia”.
Featured Image Credit: Xfers
Sit-stand desks were once a hype and attractive piece of furniture that automatically made an office “cool”, or showed that it cared about an employee’s health. Well, at least that’s what I used to think about them.
But it’s now been a hot 2 years or so since the pandemic has turned most people into remote workers. The trend of revamping home offices has also seen a rise in small businesses cropping up to provide for these Malaysians, alongside older businesses like Alterseat, TTRacing, and Balak’s.
Joining Malaysia’s red ocean for ergonomic office furniture is Woody Lab. Its way of standing out in this market is by allowing customisation services for its sit-stand wooden tables.
From furniture design to building it themselves
Launched in August 2020, Woody Lab is a brand extension of Wood Press Studio (WPS). The latter is a design and build firm that offers wood fabrication services including design, production, and installation for retail fixtures.
Naturally, creating wooden tables was in founder Travis Thong’s plans to expand, as WPS’s portfolio mostly caters to improving the spaces of retail buildings and offices. In our interview, Travis shared that having their own line of wooden furniture has been in the cards even before the pandemic, but Woody Lab’s launch was fast-tracked by the WFH shift in 2020.
While Travis didn’t give us the exact figure for Woody Lab’s capital, he shared that the only cost required for this expansion was the raw materials for the products. With most assets and the team already in place from WPS, they could save costs in these areas.
Fitting in various spaces
Woody Lab’s main goal is to spread the appreciation of good quality wood with Malaysians, and to the team, their way of doing so is by allowing customers to customise their tables. This goes down to the table’s size, build, and type of wood used.
On its website, Woody Lab allows you to Build Your Own Desk where you’ll first pick out the type of wood to use for your tabletop. Of course, they vary in prices between RM2,399 to RM7,099 as some woods are rarer and harder to source than others.
Travis told us that the raw wooden boards are imported from Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. Once they’re acquired, all of the wooden finishing and assembly are done locally.
Additionally, customers can also indicate their desired table width and length, which serves as a practical solution to customers who may not have the real estate to fit tables of fixed sizes in their workspaces.
This was Travis’s intention. “We wanted to take care of the demand of those staying in condos or apartments with limited space for their home office,” shared the 32-year old. “Since we have our wood fabrication factory, we decided to offer this service to make our table to fit people’s specific work needs.”
The team leverages these customisation services as Woody Lab’s unique selling point, after surveying the market to find that most brands only offered standard-sized tables.
Of course, Woody Lab also offers tables with fixed sizes, and still allows customers to choose some elements like the table legs’ colours, and whether it comes with add-on wheels. Price-wise, they are still the same as the range mentioned above, which indicates that the customisation service is complimentary.
From home to the office crowd
Due to the repeated MCOs over the past 2 years, people are now giving attention to setting up their own office spaces at home. This trend was reflected in Woody Lab’s growth, with Travis reporting that the business has been experiencing steady growth since launching.
Able to produce between 20 to 30 tables per week, Woody Lab sells an average of 20 to 25 tables per month to both consumer markets and corporate offices. To date, Woody Lab has already broken even and is profitable.
In the next 3 years, Travis hopes to continue rolling out other product variations so they can provide their clients with a complete ecosystem for their premium wood products.
As COVID-19 approaches its endemic phase and more workers continue to return to the office, it is likely that Woody Lab will see more B2B demands overtake consumer ones for its products. While it could mean higher demand for the company’s tables, the team should also be ready to supply.
In fact, it’s already supplied its sit-stand desks to the staff of an MNC under an employee purchase programme, which points to a potentially growing market of corporates looking to revamp their offices for employee health and satisfaction.
Featured Image Credit: Travis Thong, founder of Woody Lab
Because it can take me up to 2 hours to cook something that isn’t instant noodles or canned food, I’ve yet to reach an adulthood level where I’m cooking every day of the week. So for now, the chore is reserved for just the weekends or a particularly productive weekday.
Abdulrahman Ahmed is a Software Engineering student who can relate to this. Often getting takeout, he rarely cooked for himself. But when he did, he found that the ingredient portions sold in regular grocery stores were too large.
“[They don’t have] consumers like me in mind, a person who would cook only once or twice every 2 weeks and would be forced to buy more food than I need,” Abdulrahman described to Vulcan Post. This often leads to leftover food being thrown out after going bad.
Hence, he took it upon himself to develop a service where individuals could shop for groceries in smaller portions, therefore only buying the ingredients in exact amounts they need.
The tipping point was a single banana
Born and raised in the United Arab Emirates, Abdulrahman came to KL to study at Asia Pacific University. Living alone, he’d occasionally crave home-cooked meals and wherever he could, he’d get takeout for them.
“As a Somali, we’d usually eat chicken or beef biryani with a banana,” he shared. “So, I would always have to overspend on purchasing a whole bunch of bananas when I just needed one.”
Aggravated, he recalled saying to his twin brother, “Why am I forced to buy all these bananas that I don’t want when I just need one? I wish there was a service that allowed me to buy the exact portion of food that I need.”
That was the trigger to Abdulrahman’s journey into launching Fractional Market in October 2021, with half a banana as its logo.
Buy what you need
Fractional Market’s Shop page is where customers will buy their groceries in portions. From there, you can choose to add items in your cart and specify the weight or quantities of your desired amount (eg. 1 piece of banana or 100g of milk) from a drop down menu.
Prices are reflected based on the portions you chose. The cost of portioned items is determined based on the product’s existing price at grocery stores, with an added premium on them that serves as service costs. This is how Fractional Market monetises.
Furthermore, deliveries are free if orders exceed RM20. Otherwise, it’ll be RM5.
However, the products listed on Fractional Market are limited, with no meats or frozen items available. When asked, Abdulrahman had a good reason for this.
During his market validation, Abdulrahman realised that people mainly wanted to buy fresh vegetables in smaller quantities because they would go bad faster.
On the other hand, meat could be frozen. Thus, with meat and other frozen items being less of a priority, Abdulrahman has limited the items offered, but he’s open to adding more in the future, and will do so as the business grows.
He doesn’t even have an inventory
Still operating on a minuscule scale, the most economical and efficient way to carry out such an operation is on a per-order basis. Meaning, once an order arrives, Abdulrahman will go to the grocery store nearby, purchase the products, fractionalise it in-house, then deliver it to the consumer.
To maintain a level of food safety, Abdulrahman, who sometimes ropes in his brother, will wear face masks, gloves, and cover up all their hair when working with the items.
“Repacking should not take more than 1 to 2 minutes as we try to minimise external contact as much as possible,” he added.
Currently repackaged in plastic ziplock bags, Abdulrahman is also looking into greener options as being environmentally conscious and sustainable is one of the company’s core values. It was the whole point of Fractional Market’s presence too, to hopefully reduce food waste.
One thing I found interesting about Fractional Market was also its promise to deliver a customer’s groceries within an hour of placing your order, considering the repackaging needed. While I didn’t test this out myself, Abdulrahman has actually been able to fulfill his orders within this timeframe.
This is because most of his current customers are the neighbours in his apartment complex.
Being a youth, he also had interesting marketing ideas that leveraged pop culture. 2 weeks into the site’s launch, Squid Game was the talk of the town.
So, Abdulrahman and his brother made cards that looked like the ones on the show and left them on their neighbours’ doorsteps.
He printed 100 pieces and spent 2 hours cutting them into shape. He then woke up at 4:30AM the next day and spent over an hour walking around the building, selectively leaving cards in front of the doors that had the most shoes displayed.
“To me, that meant there were more potential customers obtained per card,” Abdulrahman stated. And out of the 100 cards distributed, Fractional Market attained around 70 new visits to the site. (Well, thank goodness those cards weren’t an entrance to Squid Games IRL.)
Though he didn’t get explosive results, he did report that he’s now getting 1-2 orders a day on average.
Will this work on a large scale?
To me, Fractional Market and the way it’s being run right now may work on a smaller scale when there aren’t that many customers. If demand picks up however, there would need to be a bigger team to handle preparation and delivery.
Thus, I had to probe its founder on his longevity plan for Fractional Market.
“This is a business that would benefit greatly from scale,” he envisioned. With more users, more data will be present on customer demands, which will in turn be valuable information to the team in managing their inventory that Abdulrahman hopes to expand too.
“I believe that this business has great potential and if I am able to weather the storm of the early days, I can manage the growth from there on.”
As he says, there’s potential for demand to grow, but it’s likely that he’ll need to automate certain processes in the future to meet increased demands.
Of course, Malaysia does have stores to purchase groceries in portions: bulk stores. But from our previous analysis, we’ve found that they mostly cater to the wealthy, which is less accessible for those needing their groceries in portions at a lower cost.
Hence, Fractional Market addresses an issue in a small, yet effective way that can help less privileged people looking for smaller portions when grocery shopping. They include groups like students and single households.
- You can learn more about Fractional Market here.
- You can read about more zero-waste related stories here.
Featured Image Credit: Abdulrahman Ahmed, founder of Fractional Market
[This is a sponsored article with Castrol.]
With the whole lockdown and seemingly never-ending pandemic, I haven’t been getting out much. Not to mention, my car has been sitting at home, mostly neglected, for the last 17 months. And I’m fairly certain that it’s making a noise it’s not supposed to.
With #cuticutiMalaysia finally open to us again, I’m now realising the daunting task ahead of me: making sure my car actually works. What I didn’t know was that not driving my car regularly can lead to huge issues. Some of the following points are from our own real-life experiences that we had to now deal with when driving regularly again.
Here’s a quick checklist of things you should look at before hitting the road (and how to fix it):
1. Check if your battery is still alive
It may come as a surprise but your car is still “running” even when you’re not driving it. Just like your laptop or smartphone, your car battery is on at all times.
On top of that, the power-consuming devices left plugged into your car’s cigarette lighter port slowly seep juice too.
If you’ve just checked and your battery is dead, you’ve got two options:
a) Find a car battery delivery service
Car battery delivery services are widely available online, most with the promise of 30-minute delivery. Some options include Carput, TukarBateri, and Century Battery.
b) Jumpstart your car and go to your local workshop
If you have access to cables, a battery and gloves, jumpstarting your vehicle is a great option. Here is AutoBuzz.my’s quick and easy to follow video on how to do it safely.
Tip: If you know that you’re not going to be driving your car for a few weeks, place your vehicle on a trickle charger. These chargers continue to supply power to a car battery even when the vehicle is not in use.
2. Take a closer look at your tires
More often than not, I wake up in the morning to find that my hair is flat on the side I slept on. Cars do the same thing when left in the same spot for extended periods. They develop flat spots when you don’t drive.
Tires can lose pressure when they sit—about one to two PSI per month. A quick spin around the block once a week will help avoid this problem.
Before making your trip, use a tire pressure gauge to check the pressure. If it’s lower than expected, make a quick stop at your local workshop or petrol station before zooming off.
Tip: You don’t have to worry about making it to the gas station to get air when you have a portable compressor at home.
3. Check your car’s oil & water levels
Engine oil naturally degrades over time while water evaporates. When you don’t regularly replace it, it can cause premature engine wear or permanent damage.
Castrol MAGNATEC Engine oil is specially formulated to cling to critical engine parts and reduce engine wear. It ensures non-stop protection. Over time, the anti-corrosive additives break down while contaminants and moisture accumulate.
Vehicles that sit unused for long periods are especially vulnerable to engine moisture because they aren’t producing the heat from normal operation responsible for evaporating moisture and condensation. This is why you should drive your car for 20 to 30 minutes once a week, in addition to regularly changing your oil.
4. Examine the surfaces of your car interior
In Malaysia, we are no strangers to humidity of which mould is an unfortunate side product.
Cars with leather, fabric, and even vinyl covering can run into this issue. A quick fix is that you can send your car for a wash and vacuum, but do note that mould can return if the car remains unused.
For a simple home solution, you can do the following with common household ingredients:
a) Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar
b) Spray and saturate affected areas
c) Brush aggressively
d) Air out and dry under the sun
5. Take note of your rubber car seals
With the Malaysian weather, your air conditioning seals drying out would be a nightmare.
You see, refrigerant is a pressurised gas that enables your air conditioner to cool the air. If that gets too low, the A/C will stop blowing out cool air.
Refrigerant doesn’t get used up (the way your car uses gasoline) or wear out and needs to be replaced (like your motor oil). So if the refrigerant level is low, there is only one possible reason: it has leaked out.
Auto A/C systems often contain many rubber components and seals. And with the A/C system sitting idle for a while, the rubber can crack and allow refrigerant to escape.
Your door seals can also suffer from the same fate, especially if your car is not regularly parked in a shaded area. And with the rainy season coming at the end of the year, that’s another issue that you would want to fix soon, or leaks could also contribute to the mould problem mentioned above
Tip: Avoid the issue next time by turning the vehicle and the AC on for ten minutes once in a while.
6. Make sure your brakes work
When you haven’t driven in a while, two things need to happen before you zoom off.
Firstly check your vehicle’s brake fluid level. You need to make a visual check of the fluid level against the markings on the translucent brake fluid reservoir. Remove the cap of the reservoir and note if the fluid looks healthy or dirty.
If your brake fluid is low, it could indicate a problem with your brakes that will need repair urgently. Dirty brake fluid can indicate water contamination; the vehicle’s brake system will need to be flushed at your local workshop.
If your brake fluid level is all good the next thing to do is actually hit the brakes.
Brake rotors and drums are made of plain steel, with little anti-corrosion treatment. When sitting in wet environments, a fine layer of rust will start to develop on their surfaces.
When heading out for your trip, take the time to gently push and release the brake pedal a few times before setting off. Then, with a window or two lowered, listen.
If you hear some light to moderate scraping noise from the brakes, avoid panic stops and instead brake gently for the first few stops.
This will allow the brake pads to wear off the rust build-up without overheating the rotors and will lessen the chances of a brake vibration that will require rotor replacement to cure.
Tip: If you’re going to leave your car untouched for some time, become a regular parking brake user, exercising these systems is key in avoiding them seizing.
As someone who is really looking forward to her next road trip, many of these are the tips that my coworkers shared with me. We’ve all run into car issues over the last few weeks upon using them for the first time in a long while (all images in this article were courtesy of the Vulcan Post team).
These issues can easily be identified and then solved with the right tools and professional advice, so do be safe as we take to the roads again.
- Find out more about Castrol MAGNATEC Engine oil here.