Lost and Founded Series - Rosaline Koo

Find out how Rosaline Koo, CEO and Founder of CXA weathered her startup storms and pick up a life hack or two from the corporate mogul.


Author: DBS BusinessClass, Administrator of DBS

Dark was the night and she weathered the storm...

Rosaline Koo, CEO and founder of health and wellness brokerage platform CXA or ConneXionsAsia, is just about the biggest rock star of the trade. Her impressive accomplishments include launching two successful start-ups, and growing heavyweight Mercer & Marsh's employee benefits business across 14 countries in Asia by over eight times in as many years. Most recently, the relatively new CXA, which was founded in February 2013, completed the acquisition of 21-year old veteran Singapore home-grown benefits firm, Pan. Rosaline is DBS BusinessClass' resident advisor on tech start-ups and of course, employee wellness and benefits – which are critical for retaining talents as well as maintaining their loyalty and morale. We recently had an opportunity to catch up with her to discover more about what makes her tick:

You had a successful career at Mercer & Marsh – the biggest name in HR consulting and benefits brokerage. Why start CXA?

The establishment of a comprehensive wellness and benefits technology platform was dream that I spoke about incessantly for 5 long years to my Mercer & Marsh teams across the 14 countries I led. Year after year, I had begged and wrote business cases to NYC Headquarters to let me do this for Asia. But in the end, I had to leave the corporate world and return to the startup world to finally transform my vision into reality. Now I am on a mission to prove that Asia can leapfrog the West.

Please share with us the best moment in your startup life:

It was back in 2001 when I personally signed a $US 4m regional payroll outsourcing deal for my second start-up Netcel360, which was extremely well-funded by Bain Capital, Credit Suisse and Softbank. I was in charge of building out the infrastructure for an "e-business", but we kept pivoting for 2 years until this deal where we figured out our B2B business process outsourcing model.

What's the most eccentric thing about you?

My family tells me that the most eccentric and weird thing about me is my obsession with my work. I just love to work and also to read about leadership and entrepreneurship in my spare time.

In your startup career, were there any secrets that you hid from your co-founders or partner? Why?

It was when I found out that the MAS would not allow me to have foreign investors, which were already lined up, for my acquisition of Pan. This meant that I would have to personally inject $5m of my own money, in addition to the DBS bank loan and personal guarantee, for the acquisition. I didn't tell my husband about this for a while as that would wipe out all our savings in Singapore. But I finally did as having our own broker was crucial to our business model. That's because clients appointing CXA as the broker get the flex wellness platform together with the insurance as part of our offering without paying more. Whereas with our competitors, the clients would only get insurance. So this way, it becomes a no brainer to appoint CXA.

What are you up to today? What gets you up in the morning?

I am now running CXA. I feel like the sky's the limit, but the hardest thing for us is prioritization and execution as we have more business than we can handle. We need to ensure we do not take on more than we can handle as flawless execution for clients is key to our success.

How do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit for start-up life?

With CXA's emphasis on wellness, I've substantially changed my lifestyle habits and it's made a huge difference for me mentally and physically. So now I actually sleep at least seven hours a night, eat meals during the workday, exercise and have begun practicing a bit of mindfulness to keep my mind focused. Anyone's that's ever worked with me knows that I used to not sleep or eat and just powered on through.

Offer a life hack (or two) to a young founder.

Before my own start-ups, I gained a great deal of corporate experience starting new businesses and turning around broken ones for big companies in the US and in Asia. I would recommend either of those two types of stretch assignments for young founders as they gave me the necessary leadership and operational skills to successfully build my own.

What is a song that best describes you?

"Win" by Brian McKnight with the lyrics:

Dark is the night I can weather the storm

Never say die I've been down this road before

I'll never quit I'll never lay down,

See I promised myself that I'd never let me down

Your favourite quote?

"Stay hungry. Stay foolish." – by Steve Jobs. Also by the American counterculture magazine, the Whole Earth Catalog

Who and what inspires you?

Steve Jobs is the greatest disruptor of all time and because he was able to get back up after learning lessons from highly visible failures.

Tell us about Rosaline Koo in 2030.

By then, I hope to be a philanthropist who can help others escape the poverty trap, and a VC who can fund ventures which impact and help our society in Asia.

Name 1-3 startup founders in Singapore you'll like to hear answer these questions.

Eugene Soo of Epigami.

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