Interview with Elena Ionenko
  1. How is being a leader and heading a business different in a corporate versus being in a start-up?

    In a corporate you can focus on a certain role you’re hired for – be it marketing, finance, business development, HR or operations. In a start-up you’re responsible for everything, especially in the beginning, when the resources are limited. Every day you have to learn multiple things and make multiple decisions and each of them can be vital for your business. In a corporate world the processes are settled and the business models are proven. In a start-up it’s constant experimenting with what’s working and what’s not. You have to be able to evaluate the results of your actions promptly and to find new, better ways of moving your business forward.

  2. What are some of the curveballs you have experienced in running your business and how have you dealt with them?

    Having a curveball is normal in running a start-up, actually there’re hardly any other balls in the beginning! We’ve had plenty, starting with geopolitical situation in Ukraine which made us relocate our business to Singapore; ending with cultural specifics of developing countries, when tried and proven marketing technics which worked in developed countries just do not work. The secret is just the same – evaluate the results, investigate the reason, find the way around and execute.

  3. Is there ever a good time and can you prepare yourself to be an entrepreneur one day?

    I believe that you still need certain life and working experience before you can take full responsibility for starting and running your own business. Yes, some entrepreneurs did it at a very young age and became successful, but if you look at the statics that’s a rare exception rather than a rule. The amount of stress you experience every day is such that you have to be healthy and young and energetic enough to withstand it. However, building your relationship with employees and customers require certain level of maturity and knowledge which comes with experience. Nonetheless, if you can find good mentors, who will guide you through the journey, a young age is not an issue (although everyone still tends to learn from their own mistakes in my experience.)

  4. Do you think your industry is progressing at the right pace? How do you see your industry evolving in the next 5 years?

    On one hand it’s progressing too fast. Since lending looks like an attractive and lucrative market, a lot of inexperienced and amateur lenders open businesses without deep understanding of credit risks mitigation and lending operations. On the other hand, it’s progressing too slowly in adoption of advanced technology and credit risk assessment tools and process automation. In the next 5 years, we will see significant development of niche lenders: all sorts of loans offered to unbanked population and underserved markets, which will create incredible impact on financial inclusion. We’ll also see the results and the impact of new alternative credit assessment ways. We believe SEA will be a pioneer in credit decisions, including AI, scalability and new loan delivery channels.

  5. Can you share a crystal ball prediction for 2027?

    I can speak only about the lending industry which we’re serving. I envision that by 2027 banks will not exist in the same form they do now. All the financial services, including lending, will be facilitated online and through mobile devices and AI-powered voice control systems. No brick and mortar branches, no lengthy queues. There’ll be multiple options for investing and borrowing money, mostly from non-bank financial institutions. Every single SME will provide loans and credit terms to their customers properly, evaluating their credit worthiness using our simple and convenient SaaS.

  6. What is the one piece of advice you would like to give to your younger self? Or to the aspiring female entrepreneurs?

    Don’t ever give up. When it looks like there’s no way, there is way – just keep looking for it. Listen to your customers, to mentors, to partners and be ready to change based on what you hear – change your business model, your product, your attitude, but don’t give up. Persistence is the main key to success.

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