[Interview] Koh Kang Liang: An entrepreneur who believes in giving back to the society
Whilst most embark on their career journeys as salarymen, Koh Kang Liang ventured a different path. In 2019, he decided to start his own financial-technology (fintech) start-up, ‘Swapie’.
It was during a meal with his friends when the inspiration for Swapie struck Koh. Whilst using his credit card to pay for dinner, the idea of earning rebates when completing transactions got him thinking.
The Singapore Management University (SMU) graduate subsequently founded the company, with the aim of leveraging the power of the consumer and business community to enable more savings for everyone.
How Swapie works
This unique business model operates using a “pay upfront, get cashback” platform, targeting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-businesses.
What this means is that the company settles the invoice in full upfront, and gets a 1 to 5 percent rebate. This is made possible as Swapie connects the company to a credit card holder, who makes the purchase on behalf of the company; the card holder then gets to keep the rebates they’ve earned from the issuers, and gets reimbursed 95 to 99 percent of the invoice amount.
The platform helps both parties to benefit, as the company gets to reduce their business costs by up to 5%, whilst the card holder keeps the cashback they’ve earned.
Challenges faced whilst starting the business
Building this unique business model was a challenge in its initial stage; having to start everything from scratch was one of the many hurdles Koh had to cross.
Aside from that, dealing with uncertainties such as whether the campaigns ran would take off was of concern for the founder. All these aspects were placed in high importance as they determined his livelihood. To ensure that the company gained traction when it first started, Koh put in vast amounts of effort to make the company known.
His hard work paid off as 10 merchants have come onboard to date, with the company’s gross merchandise value amounting to more than $50,000.
An upcoming new business venture
With Swapie up and running, Koh thought about other ways to expand his business portfolio. The new concept he thought of was something close to his heart, which is giving back to the society.
Keen to lend a helping hand to those in need during the global pandemic, he came up with the idea of Gifting.sg.
Launching in mid-March of 2021, Gifting.sg has a similar concept as Swapie. The difference is that the new business model focuses on providing items to the less privileged.
A joint collaboration between local SMEs and Gifting.sg, the platform works with local SMEs to reduce prices of essential items, so that donors can co-sponsor them at lower rate. Donors’ will then use their credit cards to make payment so that they are able to enjoy the rebates, and the bought items are then gifted to charities or communities in need.
Giving back to society when he was a student
The idea of giving back to the society isn’t something new to Koh, for he had started volunteering since his school days. Aside from helping out at the Chingay Parade in 2014 and 2015, he was also an active participant in SMU’s volunteering activities.
His interest in giving back to the society was further piqued while working as an intern at ShopBack in 2014. It was during this internship stint when the act of selflessness of his colleagues left a deep impression on him. Koh recalls, “The people [at ShopBack] don’t mind sharing knowledge and giving back. That’s the kind of tribe I want to be with.”
Having benefited from his mentors during his internship stint, Koh was motivated to reciprocate using the same manner. He became interested in the idea of building a community around start-ups while studying at SMU; by doing so, he was able to give back to the society through knowledge sharing with like-minded individuals.
He started conducting networking sessions where he would introduce his friends to people working at start-ups. It was during these sessions where he met other students who shared the same vision as him. Together with a few students from other universities, the group soon formed an initiative called ‘EDGE’ (Empower, Develop and Groom Entrepreneurs). The aim was to let students gain more exposure to start-ups.
Koh oversaw the events and strategic partnerships portfolios at Edge. Some of the events conducted were workshops and incubator programmes, with the purpose of connecting students with the larger start-up ecosystem.
Image: Koh Kang Liang
“I think every business owner needs to have the giving mentality, more than the receiving mentality in general. You [can] give your time, share your knowledge and insights [with others],” he comments.
Image: Koh Kang Liang
Being both a mentor and mentee
As a strong believer of mentorship, Koh understands the importance of coaching those in need. This is due to the fact that he has benefited from it as well.
Being an entrepreneur who just started out, he also seeks advice from mentors who are walking a similar path as him. His mentors go beyond just understanding more about his business, and are also equally interested in his personal growth and development. “My mentors are people who are personally invested in who I am as a person. So I do share with them every single challenge I face,” he says.
The mentors provide a safety net for Koh, allowing him to share his concerns freely. In addition, they also encourage him to take risks, which he knows is necessary in his learning journey. Koh says, “Without me taking mini risks and facing mini failures, there is no way I will grow as a person.”
Despite his busy schedule, Koh still finds time to give back to the society while managing his businesses at the same time. Aside from providing mentorship to students at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Koh is also an entrepreneurship trainer and mentor at the Social Impact Catalyst, where he conducts training sessions for youths who are interested in social entrepreneurship.
Future plans for the company
As a risk-taker who welcomes challenges, the 29-year-old is excited about the many new developments in the pipeline. He looks forward to expanding his company at a larger scale in the next few years, with the goal of building businesses which can help others in the community.
“We really want to build platforms which are circled around sharing and helping one another. We want to connect two parties so that they can work together to enable something else, be it to maximise rewards or social impact,” Koh says. The founder has plans to venture overseas in the upcoming years, setting his sights on Hong Kong and Australia as potential markets.
As a parting note, Koh encourages those who are keen to become entrepreneurs to embark on their journeys. He says, “If you calculate too much, you’re never going to take the risk. Calculate up to 80 percent [of the risk] and go with your gut feel for the remaining 20 percent. Life is an ever-winding journey. Surround yourself with people who are not just interested in your business, but also how you grow and develop as a person as well.”
Feature image from Koh Kang Liang