Business Strategy

How a bank is supporting a startup in Singapore

How DBS has opened doors for us at Kobe, and such doors are not always in the form of business opportunity

Credits: Kl Koh. This article was first published Medium.com © on August 31, 2017. Republished with permission.

In this time and age, we’re seeing large corporates actively engaging technology platforms and startups for a few reasons. One of these reasons ties in with strategic business objectives, or what is loosely know as ROI, but the way we at Kobe Global Technologies see it, this isn’t the case for one bank.

Enter DBS Bank, a bank that’s rebuilding itself as 22,000-man startup. What must a startup at that scale embody and do? In my very humble opinion, it is about being lean and constantly learning as an organization. While startups may not always be directly helpful for business, they may possibly be so for some of the bank’s stakeholders, and this is where the bank can consider jumping in to value-add and connect the dots.

We’re glad DBS did.

Now, I am no head of any corporate innovation lab, so I’ll focus this story on how DBS has opened doors for us at Kobe, and such doors are not always in the form of business opportunity. Besides generating leads, our close relationship with DBS has been helpful on a few fronts:

1. Perspective

Working with banks shows us another world of doing business and day-to-day operations. A few things we’ve learnt while working with the bank on a few campaigns (here, here, here and here) include:

(a) Structure and organization. Communication within the internal teams are structured, and every point of contact we were liaising with knew their individual responsibilities and roles to play in the campaign. When we scale and start to need have processes put in place, this is one key takeaway that we will implement internally too.

(b) Aggression. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t get into any disagreement! The team at DBS had a very clear objective of what they wanted to achieve, and we played out the campaign in a ‘go big or go home’ manner — everything we did on the campaign were looking at the top-line results true to our own mantra of ‘play to win, not to not lose’.

(c) Strategic thinking and alternative consideration — which a lot of startups don’t get decent scores at. There’s nothing wrong with being obsessed with the ground work, but occasionally taking a break and considering different scenarios in an overarching manner is important as well, and is also something we’re starting to adopt.

2. Conversations

Being a small fish (startup) in a big pond (the bank’s other partners), we tend to be more easily noticed and talked about within the bank’s ecosystem. The same goes for a few other startups that the bank has been working closely with, and to be part of this journey is simply amazing.

If you need more context — not blowing our trumpet here — imagine the little math whizz kid who could do 8th grade assignments in 3rd grade back in school. He will naturally be a focal point for the school and larger community, right? It’s that same effect we’re enjoying, just that we’re no whizz kids but a group of borderline insane people.

3. Thought Leadership

The whizz kid, assuming his ability grows with his age, will inevitably be invited to speak at school assemblies. And that’s what happened to us — having established ourselves as an SME digital enabler, particularly in the areas of marketing, word-of-mouth, and social media, we started to be invited by DBS to hang around and help SMEs who have questions in these areas.

We started off by co-conducting workshops, teaching small business owners how to get on digital platforms, entering the scene just wanting to sharing within our comfort zone. Eventually, we moved on to be invited as speakers at DBS’s panel discussions, such as the recent F&B Disrupt. It’s heartening to know that as we grow and become more of a practice leader, someone else is wanting us to be a thought leader as well, and that really gives a lot, a lot of validation to what we’re doing.

4. The Entire Journey

Being invited for talks, the way I see it, is just step one of the DBS journey for us, and for the bank’s other partners and clients as well. Listening to someone from Kobe speak doesn’t incite someone enough to want to collaborate, even if he/she finds it meaningful at that specific point in time — people need to be nudged to take action at every point along their customer journey with DBS.

And it’s not just for the leads and exposure, meeting traditional SME owners who are on their banking journey with DBS and learning from their wisdom is equally valuable, and something we wouldn’t trade for anything else, and wouldn’t have access to if not for being part of this community.

As some of you might know, I’ve always personally advocated for industry players to be part of a larger community that brings businesses and stakeholders closer to each other, as well as the ex ante importance of community builders. Catalyzing collaboration and knowledge sharing, in my opinion, will be key to Singapore achieving our Smart Nation goal.


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