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Scientists moonlight as financial planning entrepreneurs

SINGAPORE — If you are busy pursuing a doctorate, would you still work as a street promoter on the weekends? This guy will.

Mr Jackie Tan (left) and Mr Wesley Goi, co-founders of financial planning website Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY

Mr Jackie Tan (left) and Mr Wesley Goi, co-founders of financial planning website Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY

SINGAPORE — If you are busy pursuing a doctorate, would you still work as a street promoter on the weekends? This guy will.

Every weekend, Mr Jackie Tan, 28, a PhD candidate in biology at Nanyang Technological University, heads out to Orchard Road and neighbourhood estates to meet people on the streets to spread awareness about his financial planning website

“There is nothing to be ‘paiseh’ (Hokkien term for embarrassed) about, even if I am a PhD candidate and I promote my product on the streets. Having a PhD just means you slog in school for four to five years more than other people,” he said.

Indeed, Mr Tan sees many similarities between being a scientist and an entrepreneur.

“The failure in the tests made during our research helps me build myself as a person. This to me is similar to the tenacity needed in an entrepreneur who often gets doors shut in his face.”

On weekdays, after lab or classwork, the student scientist spends his evenings working on the website or meeting the stakeholders in the start-up, sacrificing leisure time and even sleep.

“Having no time as an excuse is a weak reason,” he said. “Nothing good in life comes without a certain amount of sacrifice.”

As the co-founder of a financial planning portal, Mr Tan certainly walks the talk. A regimental money-saving machine, he hardly takes taxis, often cooks his own meals and goes for vegetarian food when he eats out because it is cheaper. He does not hold any credit cards, has no debts and has enough savings for a “rainy day”.

This dogged determination — juggling a career as a scientist and a separate business — followed a family tragedy when Mr Tan was just 17. His father died of lung cancer after his family was unable to afford the treatment because the insurance bought was unsuitable. The harsh reality drove Mr Tan to work hard in school. He gained entrance into the Faculty of Science at the National University of Singapore, but had to work his way through university by taking on part-time jobs in labs and giving tuition.

The importance of good financial planning became a key principle that drove Mr Tan to go beyond his academic focus to help others in this area. Mr Tan and his co-founders — Mr Wesley Goi, 30, a PhD candidate in bacterial metagenomics at the National University of Singapore and Mr Matthew Lim, 33, a digital marketer and financial consultant — started developing the fundMyLife website last year and launched it in January this year.

The trio had pooled their own savings and tech expertise to create the portal. Mr Goi, who taught himself coding, created the artificial intelligence platform that processes questions from customers and connects them to financial advisers.

Besides directing customers to financial advisers best suited to their needs, fundMyLife also builds awareness of financial planning through conducting workshops. Although it has been operating for only six months, it has already turned profitable, with its user base growing 10 to 30 per cent month-on-month and revenue rising 30 to 50 per cent. fundMyLife declined to give absolute numbers.

The business is getting more traction. Last week, fundMyLife held a financial literacy workshop for about 100 union members from the National Trades Union Congress. It is also looking to expand into Malaysia by the end of the year.

Mr Tan also wants to help individuals and groups in society who are under-served, including single parents.

For now, Mr Tan has no intention of quitting his day job, saying it helps support the business as a “buffer”. He added that there is no conflict of interest between his research studies and his business as work on the latter is done during his spare time.

“Call it a cop-out, but I would like to think of it as keeping my options open. Furthermore, if doing a PhD gives me the attitude and mental resilience, doing a start-up provides me with soft skills. These are complementary in developing myself as an all-rounded individual in either career,” he said

“People are usually afraid to try because they are afraid of failure and hence are usually less exposed to failing. When I fail, I let go and move on,” he added.

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