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BillPin CEO Darius Cheung: Being a Second-Time Entrepreneur is a Double-Edged Sword

vanessa tan

If you’re well-versed in the Singapore technology startup scene, you probably know Darius Cheung. He is the co-founder of tenCube, which was acquired by McAfee back in 2010. At present, he is embarking on his second startup, BillPin, with some friends he met during his NUS Overseas Colleges stint. Coincidentally, most of the co-founders are also second-time entrepreneurs. How BillPin Came About Some of you might recall in the interview with BillPin co-founder Aileen Sim, she mentioned that having to live in shared households poses a problem because most expenses are shared - from bigger expenditures such as rent and utilities, to minor ones such as groceries and McDonald’s delivery. As for Darius, having lived overseas for 15 years, he has resorted to various expense-tracking services. He used to keep track using Billmonk, but since the acquisition six years ago, the service has become dated and lacks sufficient mobile support. In recent years, he has also used platforms like Google spreadsheets, Evernote, and even WhatsApp group chats to track shared expenses. But none of these solutions were ideal, so the team decided to build something that was: BillPin. BillPin is designed to allow you to keep track of your shared expenses fairly, lowering the risks of you getting into an argument with your housemates. How BillPin Works and Some Statistics Available on both iOS and Android platforms, BillPin is simple and straightforward to use. All that is required is for me to click on the “Bill” tab located at the bottom of the screen. I will then be brought to the next screen to “Select A Friend” from my contact list, indicate whether I owe my friend money or vice versa, enter the amount, and the purpose for the amount owed. All the minor details will then be recorded in the “Events” tab, and the general summary will be in the “Home” tab (pictured below).

Users who do not have the app will receive an email notification once the bill is pinned, and users who have the app receive both push and email notifications. It is also a plus if you have a Gravatar profile, because your picture will show up in the list too. Darius tells us that while there are many bill-splitting apps on the iTunes App Store or Google Play, they do not notify friends once there is a bill pinned. He explains:

[The] goal is to create the social graph for your money, to have a transparent and real-time record of the tabs you keep with your friends, which would reduce friction and disputes caused by shared expenses. Friends are fun and it's good to share, but we want to take away the stress of dealing with the money!

BillPin is currently still in the early stages of its launch, with a healthy user acquisition rate of five to ten percent per week. It has also recently launched its Android version, and is hoping to see a higher growth rate soon. Darius also tells us about some interesting behaviors in the app. He notes one passive user in a group could possibly be a very active user in another, and the top five words that are frequently pinned include lunch, dinner, rent, grocery, and Internet. I wonder why would they include the word Internet? Using user data, the team has even created an infographic on users’ favorite drinks during the holiday season (pictured below): Second-Time Entrepreneur - Good or Bad? Apart from the fact that most of the co-founders are from NUS Overseas Colleges, they are also second-time entrepreneurs. While being a second time entrepreneur could mean that you're wiser, it can also thwart your imagination. Then again, could also mean that you will get preferential treatment from the startup community, including investors. On this, Darius shares:

[We] obviously have an advantage. It is much easier to raise funds, [but fortunately], we have the ability to self-fund it substantially for now. [There] are certainly many other advantages too, [but] above it all, would be the chance to work with an excellent team (pictured below) where you had the chance to form [friendships with] over time and experience. We have a great team at BillPin. [We have known each other for a long time,] because we were comrades in our respective startups, and found the opportunity to come together to make something worthwhile.

But as much as being second-time entrepreneur can be an advantage, it can also be a double-edged sword. Often, Darius finds himself at a crossroads wondering whether to move forward or do something else, particularly because with his previous startup experience, he is even more cautious about taking the next step:

I find myself dismissing many ideas because my past experience tells me that they are unlikely to [succeed]. On one hand, I [could] probably be right and end up being more efficient; while on the other hand, [it is uncertain] what works and doesn’t. [Often,] you will have to try and eventually figure a way out. A first-time entrepreneur […] will try everything one can, with all the energy and zest that one possesses.

He also draws parallels between the ambition levels between a first-time and second-time entrepreneur. With the success of the first startup, the ambition level is a notch higher. Darius explains:

You will want to do something that has a lasting significant impact. [However,] it is very hard to foresee how one move will lead to the other, so you end up second guessing yourself very often, on top of being much more careful about making decisions. In comparison to [a first-time entrepreneur], the motivation to keeping afloat is very strong. Survival is what keeps you on your toes, so you keep jumping from one place to another, [in the hope of finding] a break in the process that would get you somewhere. A more geeky way of putting it is perhaps that it is hard to find the path to the global maxima especially if you can't see very far; while without the compulsion to reach such goals, it would be easier taking small incremental steps to somehow get to a local maxima. I guess these are both double-edged swords, and we constantly remind ourselves to know how to use it to our advantage.

For the entrepreneurs out there, give us your thoughts on this in the comments below. And for those who are keen to give BillPin a shot, it is available on both iOS and Android.
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