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YouTrip expects to double headcount in the next 6-12 months: CEO Caecilia Chu

Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO, Youtrip. (PHOTO:  Janet Ong/Yahoo Finance)
Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO, Youtrip. (PHOTO: Janet Ong/Yahoo Finance)

SINGAPORE — The operator of YouTrip, Singapore’s first multi-currency mobile wallet linked with Mastercard, said it expects to double headcount within the next six to 12 months as it expands in the region.

Since its founding in 2016, You Technologies has grown its staff to over 120 people in Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand, with more than half of them based in its Singapore headquarters, said Caecilia Chu, the 36-year-old co-founder and chief executive officer of the company.

E-wallets, which allow users to make cash transfers using their mobile phones, are growing exponentially in many Asian markets. At the same time, the competition in the e-payment space is expected to intensify, according to the Hong Kong resident.

“When we launched last year, we were competing against some of the traditional banking products who issued multi-currency debit cards. This year, we have seen a bit more foreign competition in the non-bank category,” Chu said.

“There will be a battle, but we are really confident in our product,” she added.

Her confidence is attested by the key metrics showing YouTrip’s growth since its launch in August 2018.

The number of downloads for YouTrip has grown to over 400,000 while the e-wallet has processed over 10 million transactions, said Chu, who declined to give the actual number of users.

According to the “e-Conomy Southeast Asia” report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Co., e-wallets are forecast to grow in the region to US$114 billion in 2025 from an expected US$22 billion in 2019.

YouTrip’s stored-valued Mastercard allows users to pay at more than 30 million Mastercard merchants worldwide. Users can top up their cards with up to S$3,000 using any credit or debit card through the YouTrip mobile app, which allows them to exchange up to 10 currencies in-app.

Chu said YouTrip differentiates itself from the competition by doing away with certain customer fees.

YouTrip doesn’t charge any fees for cross-border transactions, unlike bank-issued credit and debit cards, which typically come with small transaction fees. There are no issuance or annual fees and the company derives its revenue from merchants who pay a commission for each purchase made with a YouTrip card, she added.

Growth in Singapore and beyond

YouTrip launches in Thailand. (PHOTO: YouTrip)
YouTrip launches in Thailand in November. (PHOTO: YouTrip)

Chu said that while she and co-founder cum Chairman Arthur Mak are based in Hong Kong, they chose to launch YouTrip in Singapore, mainly because of support from EZ-Link, a subsidiary of the Land Transport Authority, and the conducive regulatory environment.

On 17 October, You Technologies announced it would take over from EZ-Link - its co-partner in the stored-value Mastercard - and assume the role of card issuer and holder of stored value accounts. This came after the startup secured a principal licence from Mastercard.

Being its own card issuer allows YouTrip to directly deliver the latest features to its users and set up a more robust payment security system ahead of the Payment Services Act, Chu said. Taking effect in early 2020, the regulatory framework covers the licensing of payment service providers, payment systems and other related matters.

The company also recently obtained a remittance licence from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, enabling it to develop and launch new products.

"As the regional fintech space continues to develop dynamically, this licence will provide the ideal springboard for the development and expansion plans we have in the pipeline," Chu said. 

In May this year, the startup raised US$25.5 million in pre-Series A funding, with investments from venture capital firms led by Insignia Venture Partners and other private entities.

With the funding boost, YouTrip plans to scale its presence across the region. “We started with an ambitious goal, we want to be a regional player,” Chu said.

The next launch will be in at least one of the key markets of Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia next year, said Chu, who declined to be specific because of confidentiality agreements.

Earlier in November, the company announced it had launched a YouTrip Mastercard in Thailand via a partnership with Kasikornbank, in its first expansion outside of Singapore.

YouTrip attracted 10,000 signups in the first six hours of the launch in Thailand, and aims to have 400,000 Thai users within a year, Chu said.

Inspired by Harvard Business School alumni

The path towards tech entrepreneurship for Chu came by way of her post-graduate education in the US.

Following her graduation from the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania, Chu worked at institutions including McKinsey and Citibank before she enrolled for a Masters of Business Administration course at Harvard Business School (HBS) in 2009. It was a stint that would change her professional life.

Some of Chu’s classmates read like the Who’s Who of the regional tech scene: Malaysians Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling, co-founders of Grab; Indonesian Nadiem Makarim, co-founder of Gojek; and June Kuvinichkul, the founding partner of Grab Thailand. Kuvinichkul, a Thai national, would go on to become a founding partner of YouTrip Thailand.

Chu was inspired by the business success of her Southeast Asian classmates who had used technology to change lives in the region, where the markets are more fragmented compared with the larger and more unified markets in China, India, Europe and the US.

After recognising that there are many underserved opportunities in the financial space for the regional mass market, she decided to map out a business plan.

“I think that is something we can use technology to tackle, and for me, that is my life mission. So that is where I am going to spend my next 30 years doing,” said Chu, the mother of two children aged three and five.

It has been a huge transformation to apex of You Technologies from her humble beginnings - her father was a postman and her mother a kindergarten teacher. She said she was able to study abroad only because she had won scholarships.

When her father wanted to start a small business, he tried to get a loan but was rejected by banks numerous times, Chu recalled.

Giving her advice to budding entrepreneurs, she said, “Whatever setbacks you may face, you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on the horse ASAP and just keep going.”

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