An entrepreneur at heart, CEO and Founder of Xendit featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30, shares his secrets to start-up success – from finding the right people to setting bigger things in motion.
In this episode, we sit down with Moses as he talks about how Xendit started and how he weaved its success. Leading an award-winning start-up digital infrastructure and payment gateway in Southeast Asia, he speaks about his experiences from his days at Berkeley doing 24-hour hackathons, to expanding and launching in emerging markets, and to set out to accomplish more and bigger things.
On starting the framework and finding the right people:
“Similar thing with the Co-founder, I said, these are certain qualities I want, most important being commitment. Someone that you can build things with; you can argue with. Who actually makes the decisions? How committed are people going to be when things go badly? So those were the dimensions I cared about. And I tried to test that through a few examples.”
On setting up a business in Southeast Asia:
“I had no idea how hard it was going to be. I didn’t understand fully. I knew it in theory because there are books about it, but I had no idea what it looks like in practice. What it’s turned out to be is a mix of working with the right investors who can help navigate these dynamics, building relationships. Asia is all about relationships and building the right relationships.”
On dealing with potential disappointments:
“What we said to ourselves as we tried to be really rational, I think this is the Asian side of me, but it’s to get rid of your emotions. And you have to be really logical and rational and say, ‘Okay, all right, it failed. What’s the next best thing that we can try?’ Iterating and believing that if we kept iterating, we would eventually find something that would find a product-market fit.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Sean Li: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today, we’re joined by Moses Lo. Moses is the founder and CEO of Xendit and full-time MBA class of 2015. I’ve been waiting a long time to have you on a podcast. I’ll be very honest because when I first met you, you came to Haas, which was 2019, pre-COVID, and you came to Haas to give a presentation for the Finance Club.
[00:00:26] I remember Bill Rindfuss invited you. And it was just amazing to hear your stories. So, it’s one of these things that, you know, we really want to get your story and share it with our community so that more people can hear it. Be inspired.
[00.00.40] Moses Lo: Well, thank you so much for having me, Sean.
[00:00:41] Sean Li: Alright, Moses, let’s start from the beginning. I’d love to hear a little bit about your background, where you’re from, and where you grew up.
[00:00:47] Moses Lo: I’m from Southeast Asia. My mom’s from Indonesia. My dad’s from Malaysia. I was born in Singapore and Malaysia. Then Australia, which is where the accent’s from, and then the U.S, and now back to Southeast Asia. So, I kind of lived all around and worked in a whole bunch of different places.
[00:01:02] Family of entrepreneurs. So, my grandfather, his first job was collecting sticks and selling sticks at the market. And on the other side, my maternal grandfather was a janitor his whole life, but taught himself the stock market and managed to send my mum to university in Australia from that. So that’s the legacy I was born into.
[00:01:18] Sean Li: Did your parents meet in Australia?
[00:01:20] Moses Lo: Yeah, my parents met in Australia. So, my personal father selling sticks in a market became a jewelry apprentice, started his own jewelry company, sent nine kids to university in Western countries. So, in kind of one generation switched the whole equation around. My parents met in Australia. I was born back in Asia but moved to Australia when I was a kid.
[00:01:41] Sean Li: So, you’ve got into a school in Australia as well for your undergrad?
[00:01:43] Moses Lo: Yes, high school and then undergrad in Australia, went to BCG after that, and then came to California, went to Cal.
[00:01:51] Sean Li: What did you, uh, study in Australia?
[00:01:53] Moses Lo: Undergrad. So, I’ve always wanted to do FinTech. I knew that since I was about like 13, there’s some few memorable moments in my life where I just remember, I discovered the capital reserve system through encyclopedias or whatever we were looking at when we were 13, whatever existed before we get PDF.
[00:02:09] And then just thinking, this is an amazing system where the rich get richer, so I need to join it. So, I wanted to do finance. And then the tech came about just from a love of hardware, which became software over time. So, did finance and information systems undergrad in Australia, but there’s no start-ups.
Atlassian was the first time I heard about the word startup.
[00:02:28] This is before Atlassian was Atlassian. They’re a few years ahead of me, actually the founders, in terms of same degree, same scholarship program. But this was when Atlassian was four people in a room rather than the behemoths we know now. And there, they were talking about this crazy idea of selling software based on a monthly service, rather than buying windows at a box, which is how you bought software back then.
[00:02:49] So there’s a fuss I had about startups, and that kind of got me interested into this whole technology world. But from Australia, I knew I couldn’t do startups from Australia. It’s just such a small market, and FinTech, I didn’t think Australia was the right place. So, I went to consulting afterwards to learn how.
[00:03:06] Proper mature people think about business. It’s just quite the learning experience and then came to California as soon as I could to understand how to rewire my brain for a Silicon Valley-style thinking.
[00:03:17] Sean Li: I’m really curious. What kind of hardware were you into when you were little?
[00:03:21] Moses Lo: Just making computers. This is before Adreno and all the cool things like this. It was like layer technique. When you really look at it, then it became like building computers for friends, and that was kind of the first small thing I did was build computers for friends and charge them for it and then fix people’s computers when they accidentally got viruses or wanted to upgrade. And so that was like the job I taught myself and money through high school.
[00:03:44] Sean Li: That’s amazing. So, once you got to Haas, kind of walk us through your story of how Xendit came to be. The idea started when you were at Haas, right?
[00:03:55] Moses Lo: Right. I got some good advice from Rob Chandra, who’s no longer with us, but he was. He taught at Berkeley for a long time. And he gave some good advice around spending a lot of time finding the right founders. And so, I knew the first thing I needed to do was find founders. I knew I had this two-year period at school.
[00:04:10] When you’re a Cal student, nearly anyone will talk to you because the alumni network is so big and just Kelpie with a reputation for being reasonably smart, so you can get into places. And because of the way I look in the way I talk, people assume I’m undergrad engineering, which is totally fine by me.
[00:04:25] So lots of doors were open cause they can just talk just enough to enter those discussions. I’m still a business person at heart, so I kept the spreadsheet of all the people I met and who I thought could be founders. I remember the list had about 45 people but, in the end, found my co-founders, we did some hackathons together.
[00:04:40] We won a few hackathons together. The big one probably being at the time was the Andreessen Horowitz sponsored Berkeley versus Stanford Bitcoin hackathon, 24-hour hackathon. We won that. And so, we decided let’s go build a real big claim business based on that tiny bit of traction. The second-year Haas was then all about trying to actually build something.
[00:04:59] All the classes are converted into projects. So whether it was market entry or ops or entrepreneurship or whatever the class was, I’d try to make my assignments about Xendit. And I was actually just looking through my class Facebook the other day because of the announcement, someone else kindly posted it for us, but people were saying, I remember like working on this, or like seeing the first PowerPoint version of this but who we are now.
[00:05:21] So, the name has stayed, nothing else has stayed the same. But lots of people were involved in my class. So, I appreciate them for letting me experiment. So that was kind of academics. The second part was in co-curricular, which is, I took part in launch and hackathons and all sorts of the available things at Berkeley. It’s so different compared to my undergrad, just the quality of people that you can find in opportunities.
[00:05:41] And so, like in the Launch example, which I know you’re part of Sean, was on organizing the first year and then second-year took part. And that was really helpful to
[00:05:54] And I think Rob Chandra was probably like most notable there, but Robin Toby taught the course, and quite an amazing dynamic, so learned a lot from both of them. And then there’s other professors who no longer teach, but they’re executors or their investors. And so, they’re also pretty formative in helping me think about how I should build things.
[00:06:12] Sean Li: I want to go back a little bit to your spreadsheet because I remember you talking about this. And that finance club event. And it was like seared in my memory. And I thought, wow, this is, he is so brilliant. And so methodical about this. Like, why don’t people do this? Because everybody complains about how difficult it is to find founders as if it’s just supposed to be this magical thing that just happens like a date or something. Like, you know, you just run, bump into somebody. I’ve always wanted to learn more about what was your madness behind this and methodology.
[00:07:05] Moses Lo: I grew up. As my mom is saying like, we may not be the smartest, but we will overwork and outwork anyone. And so, no matter what we’re doing, grew up with a tiger mom, but it was all about effort. So, this fundamental belief that work ethic is seems pretty important to success, luck too, but work ethic creates luck. I mean, even in finding a life partner, I wrote down a list of a four-page, 32 lines of things I wanted in a life partner. And that’s how I found my life partner, first person to match that. And I was like, I’m going to marry. So similar thing with the co-founder, I said, these are certain qualities I want, most important being commitment.
[00:07:38] Someone that you can build things with; you can argue with that. I look for that downside, like the negative cause, the positive, when you’re in that room and stage, when you have that honeymoon period, all the positive stuff will come. So, I worried less about that, but I said, let’s go test. How do we argue?
[00:07:52] Who actually makes the decisions? How committed are people going to be when things go badly? So those were the dimensions I cared about. And I tried to test that through
[00:08:31] He was like, all right, what should I do now? Like what should I do job-wise? And we say, well if you want to do Bitcoin and FinTech, none of us have FinTech experience. How are we going to have any credibility? And he’s like, all right, let me get a job in FinTech. And within a week, he’s an engineer.
[00:08:44] So, within a week, it’s six different job offers, and then we sat down, and we said, which one’s the most likely one to help us. And, you know, we want to do anything Bitcoin at the time. We said, let’s, do ripple. So, he went into ripple and with that. So, is this like that’s it a whole different level of commitment to change a whole job for something where we don’t even know what the idea is?
[00:09:01] We just know we want to do something infant tech. And then now, simple as like when we became from a remittance business to a purely Indonesian business, I’ve reasoned to go back home. He has no reason his whole life was here. But he cut off a whole bunch of personal. Things which he says is not correlated, but little bit correlated, and then moved to Indonesia.
[00:09:19] So that kind of commitment in someone is really hard to find.
[00:09:29] Sean Li: It’s amazing. Really smart. And I think it’s a really interesting approach because a lot of entrepreneurs that I come across,
[00:09:47] What am I going to get out of this relationship versus trying to analyze, they’re saying what is this person’s going to get out of the relationship or could get out of this idea or this engagement, and one of the ways to sort that side out is to see their commitment because clearly, they have a clear vision of why they want to do this. They have their own why. Versus a lot of founders. I see they’re trying to convince other people why they should do something. And, you know, you kind of answered my question, and I want to dig into this a little bit deeper is, in an NBA environment where there is a lot of pressure for people to get jobs, there’s a lot of noise. Everyone’s
[00:10:28] Moses Lo: I feel like MBA’s a weird time, because more often than not they, they talk the big talk, but they actually have a risk minimization action. That’s actually what they action. So it takes a certain personality, I think maybe naive, maybe a little bit stupid, but you need to be a little bit stupid to be crazy and do startups. So you need to ignore facts and reality suspend reality. So it took a little bit of work to find those people, but the people we started Xendit with and the people I worked there was two MBAs that worked with, Xendit off-post MBA. So we managed to find some of these crazy people.
[00:11:00] Sean Li: Did you put like a call-out? How did you? It’s a big community, right? And our community has grown since you were here to at least 400 people per class. Now, how did you meet people?
[00:11:10] Moses Lo: It was the same process where I used it as every project in every class. Lots of people worked on it. A few people kept working on it after those projects. And a few people kept working on the weekends, and then very few were willing to say, Hey, I’ll do this after school. So I think it was the same commitment test over time is like with very little traction in hindsight and a bunch of really stupid ideas.
[00:11:31] In hindsight, they’re willing to jump and build the airplane as we’re falling. So it was looking for that. I didn’t actually go beyond my years, so maybe I should have, but I stayed within the people that were in close connection or like within my immediate vicinity and ended up building a business with them.
[00:11:48] Sean Li: That’s great. So you went through launch, and then shortly after, you went into Y Combinator. And if I remember correctly, your, I think the first Berkeley founding company or MBA founding company to did go through Y Combinator. Tell us a little bit story about that.
[00:12:05] Moses Lo: I don’t remember who, but I remember someone when I went into Berkeley, and I told them my intention to. I wanted three goals out of the MBA. One, I wanted a job offer from Google and Amazon. Number two, I wanted a job offer from a place that would IPO soon and then wanted to get into YC. I was told a few things.
[00:12:24] One, that’s too many things. Two, no one’s gotten into YC. And I think that’s the best thing that person could have said to me because that grinds my gears to no end. I hate being told what I can’t do. So that ended up being really motivating. And I was lucky to get hit on with the goals I had. Well, getting into YC was, in hindsight, a little bit accidental.
[00:12:45] And if I could do it again, now that I understand the game a little bit better, I would have planned it a lot better. You can see my history. If I understand the game, I would have tried to play it, but we’ve lucked out in a few ways. So one, we managed to meet Kevin Hale in Serta hall ‘cause he came, of course, they come to the engineering side. Why would they come to the business side?
[00:13:02] So he was doing office hours on the engineering side. And so, I managed to sneak in because you just write your name down. And so, I wrote my name down, showed up, told him the idea, and he said launch next week. And we gave all these reasons why we couldn’t. He said launch next week, show me a traction, email me in two weeks applications.
[00:13:18] About three weeks later. So, we launched, we grew a little bit, we emailed him, he said, make sure you apply. And so, we applied. So, I think in hindsight, getting in front of a partner like that was really important is really important. We just had done it by accident. The second thing was getting a YC company to recommend you.
[00:13:36] And I’d randomly met, I’d gone to these networking events, and I’m a terrible networker because I’m an introvert at heart, so I’ll stand in the corner. But
I, I met a really wonderful person who had found she had founded plan grid, which is a YC darling. They’ve grown really well. And also from a really underdog background, not from the flashy universities, but had hustled their way through.
[00:13:55] So I’d asked her for advice on the applications. And I never asked her for a recommendation because I didn’t understand that’s what you needed. But I think she must have written one because
[00:14:07] But I think we read the application maybe a week beforehand or like a couple of days before, and we really didn’t think we’d get in. We didn’t think we were good enough, but it’s ah, screw it. Why don’t we just write one anyway? Yeah. And then that’s why the interview process itself was a fight.
[00:14:19] We got two interviews, which means you’re not a clear yes. And you’re not a clear no. So you’re a maybe. And I was talking to Justin kind of about this just the other day. We were lucky that our second interview batch office was with Sam Altman. He asks us really smart questions. We probably didn’t have very smart answers.
[00:14:35] The second interview, Justin can’t happen to be there. And he said he really fought for us. And until actually two days ago, when I talked to him about it, had suspected he fought for us but didn’t know for sure, but he had family in Indonesia, turns out, and he thought Indonesia was an interesting market. And we said these guys seem smart, so let’s take a bet.
[00:14:52] Sean Li: Wait. So, you guys pivoted and launched then?
[00:14:54] Moses Lo: We didn’t pivot and launch. So, we got into YC as a Bitcoin remittance company. We pivoted in the middle of YC. So, we pitched ourselves to YC as Bitcoin remittance. Sam guild us some Bitcoin probably couldn’t tell; we didn’t know what we’re talking about. But we sold Justin on this idea of; we ended at least understood Southeast Asia and wanted to build a FinTech business in Southeast Asia.
[00:15:15] Sean Li: Wait. So, was it Bitcoin remittance also in Indonesia?
[00:15:19] Moses Lo: Yes. So, the idea was
[00:15:32] Sean Li: I see. Okay. So YC. For any aspiring entrepreneurs and for myself debating on applying to YC right now, any additional advice that you can give?
[00:15:46] Moses Lo: I’ll speak to the framework that I think they use is my personal opinion. I think a few things they look for team traction, and I call it unique insight. TAM is consumed. So, team traction and unique insight. I think one of the biggest reasons YC companies fail in the first year is founders breakup.
[00:16:03] I didn’t know if that’s fake news, but I feel like I’ve heard that I’ve seen that definitely in my batch. So, I think they want to test that chemistry is really there. And there’s a few ways to demonstrate it, but I think proving that if it’s unproven, which for us, we had just met, less than a year ago. So, we had to prove that we could actually show.
[00:16:22] Traction, then it’s pretty simple. YC talks about 7%, which is about 30% month-on-month growth. So whatever that North star metric is for you.
[00:16:28] The last part then is unique insight. What do you know to be true that everyone else thinks is false, but it’s actually true. And this is the example that YC talks about often is Airbnb. The idea of, Hey, at the time, we’ve got this great idea where people will let strangers sleep in their house. Which I did time with people like, no, that’s crazy.
[00:16:46] No one would want to do that. So, most people thought it was spots, but it was actually true. So, I think, what do you know that unique insight is pretty important? I think that’s what they look for. Now in terms of the framework for applying to YC, I think it is yep. Yeah. Application has to be good.
[00:16:59] Your video has to be good. Highlight those three things. I just mentioned also, I think getting the right recommendation into YC, see there’s a whole bunch of alums. But I suspect, if you got recommended in by John Collison, that’ll be different than me. That’d be different than someone else.
[00:17:13] Getting the right recommendations and then if you can, in our examples, were lucky to meet Kevin Hale, but if you have Berkeley, you have these opportunities to be a student and speak to people and network and find access to important folks in Silicon Valley, so I would do that too.
[00:17:29] Sean Li: Nice. All right. So, let’s talk a little bit about where Xendit is now, how has it grown in the past – what five years now?
[00:17:36] Moses Lo: Five years. Yes. Yeah. We, um, half a decade. It doesn’t feel that long. It feels like yesterday. How are we’ve begun? So, we pivoted twice since we got into YC, we pivoted from Bitcoin remittances to Venmo, and then we pivoted to more like a Stripe, which is what we do now over that time, lots of ups and downs. But if you kind of average it out, we’ve grown 10 or 15% every month.
[00:17:57] Since month one, which has been quite the journey, we operate, in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, mostly. And then we just opened in the Philippines last year. A team has grown now about 350 people around Southeast Asia in the U.S, so that’s, I guess that’s, what’s ended it looks like today.
[00:18:13] Sean Li: And you guys have raised what? 85 million.
[00:18:16] Moses Lo: Yeah, we’ve raised something like that in the markets. I think fundraising is a lagging indicator of value provided. Uh, internally, we talk a lot about how do we actually help the next customer. Who’s the next customer that we bring in. And we do that right via the valuation, and the money will come.
[00:18:31] Sean Li: What was the light to start a business that will be launched in another country where, frankly, yes, you have roots there, but you grew up in Australia, you went to you know, Berkeley, what was the thinking behind, I can go launch a business in this country.
[00:18:49] Moses Lo: I’ve always wanted to build for Southeast Asia. There’s kind of macro and micro reasons for that. The macro is you’ve got the fourth largest country on earth in Indonesia. And then, as a region, it’s still fourth-largest. You’ve got 50% of the population under the age of 30. You’ve got a move off first population.
[00:19:07] So 120% from penetration. So, the average person has more than one phone, and you’ve got smartphone penetration through the roof. And then you’re coming from a legacy of really antiquated systems coming out of the financial crisis, Asian financial crisis. I think there are really, really old systems in place and in a place where it’s hard for young people to take hold of their destiny. It’s not the same opportunities that you have in a place like Silicon Valley.
[00:19:30] Sean Li: How did you get those insights?
[00:19:31] Moses Lo: That’s in macro reports. I think that I think, having grown up in the region, so zero to seven was in Asia. So, I could see like a lot of that structural, systemic issues. Like there’s really important power dynamics that you need to be aware of that actually control how countries work. And those can work for good or for bad and all that’s up to interpretation, but that’s an important part of the dynamic.
[00:19:54] And so, I think it was this Venn diagram of who is able to change our world and who is willing to change our world because I think who is able is in 2015, very small, cause you needed to be, you need to put a few things together. You need to put the government relations together, you need to partnerships well, you need to product well, and then you need to define raising well.
[00:20:15] And typically, people who can do all those, we’re sitting here in Silicon Valley, not wanting to go back because they live with a white picket fence. They’re in tons of money, and they take nervous to do that. So, 2015, not that. And there’s no unicorns, there’s no exit. So there’s no proof points. I’m doing this in 2014 when we started in 2015.
[00:20:33] So, that’s a willing, to able is then, yeah. There’s very few people who can put all those different parts together who are not from the institutions of power. And if you’re really part of the institution of power, you may not be necessarily incentivized to change it.
[00:20:47] And I understand that if I was in the institution of power, so let’s say we’re the incumbents and payments. We also don’t want to be upgraded. So, I understand that. So I thought there’s this real rare chance to go change what history looks like and change right the rules in the way we want to? And I think when you look at markets, you can see that payments makes a big difference in terms of infrastructure and in terms of service and digital economies. So, it’s an underlying bit of infrastructure that must exist. And so, we thought, let’s go build.
[00:21:13] Sean Li: So, I took this emerging markets class at Haas. And we had to do all these exercises in our country that we got to pick, it was Philippines. And throughout the class, you see in here, especially in emerging markets, that the biggest challenge is navigating the political landscape. What made you think that you could navigate the landscape therein in a sector that is probably heavily entrenched, right? And with very deep pockets? How did you even start to tackle that?
[00:21:43] Moses Lo: I think this is where you’ll need just the right amount of naivety. I think maybe some people think they can. I didn’t think I if I know what I know now, I wouldn’t have started, which is why I think entrepreneurship takes a little bit of naivety. We didn’t. I had no idea how hard it was going to be.
[00:21:58] I didn’t understand fully. I knew like in theory cause there’s books about it, but I had no idea what it looks like in practice. What it’s turned out to be is a mix of working with the right investors who can help navigate these dynamics, building relationships. Asia is all about relationships and building the right relationships.
[00:22:18] So you can navigate these extremely complex gray areas. Yeah. I think the only answer is like hustle to slowly figure out what is the right answer. And depending on which vertical you’re in, depending on which industry, and depending on who your regulator is, depending on who’s in power at the time, all those answers are really different.
[00:22:36] No, I think what’s true though, is that most people want good for the countries that they’re in. I think there is this fundamental drive that in Indonesia, in the Philippines, we want the best for the country. So, I think that’s universal. And that’s what I think a lot of time we’ve tapped into to say.
[00:22:52] Hey, this is how we help the country really thrive. And we can prove that we can show examples where Indonesian businesses have used us as payments, but, and because our stack is better, their revenues jumped up 90% in the next month because they’re able to accept payments from around the world, for example, in the needs, a big tourism place. And that’s great for the economy. That’s great for the country. And then you also have a leadership in the current government, which is. Very much pro-innovation and pro-change. So, I actually think like, despite all the things that are written, the underlying momentum and intent is to improve validations that we come from. So I think it’s got all the right mixes. And it’s definitely a hustle to get there, but it has the right ingredients.
[00:23:39] Sean Li: I’m really curious in the early days. What would keep you up at night the most?
[00:23:45] Moses Lo: Until we found product-market fit, finding product-market fit. It’s so hot. It’s probably the hottest thing I’ve done.
[00:23:52] Sean Li: How long did that take you?
[00:23:53] Moses Lo: Well, we pivoted twice, and we even got funded for an idea. So we managed to convince ourselves and other people that the idea was good, but it took us a well if I include all the time and kind of like working like a cow probably a year to find what would actually work.
[00:24:08] And then we didn’t realize it had product-market fit for another six months. So it took a year and a half, maybe two years. When you’re in the early stages, interviewing customers. So many people will say things to you about what they’ll do and how they’ll act, but then how they act is actually really different. I don’t think on purpose. Just we didn’t know actually ourselves that well. And so we tried all these things, and we got feedback, but that’s not actually how people acted, or that’s not actually what they wanted.
[00:24:35] I also didn’t know what to look for. I didn’t know what product-market fit feels like until Justin Kahn said, hey, it feels like drinking out of a fire hose, such that you can’t keep up with the grid. Like when there’s so much demand, you can’t keep up. That’s what product-market fit feels like.
[00:24:49] And to me at the time, that’s so foreign. That’s like, okay, this little, the cool companies get, but what’s a realistic product-market fit. And he’s like, no, that’s what you’re looking for. If you want to be in venture-backed startup, that’s what it should feel like now. Luckily for us, six weeks later, that’s what we felt as we were finishing YC on demo day, and we had 16,000 users in six weeks and ended like it exploded. And I was like manually doing things. Cause we were like willing to do things manually. We had no idea we were gonna get product-market fit, but I was doing things manually where the engineers were like building the automated thing, but it would take them a couple of days to build.
[00:25:22] So I would be working manually. This is payments. Like we were doing a Venmo, so to get money out to people or to accept payments, it was all manual behind the scenes. So that would be behind the scenes, like clicking buttons and entering numbers into the DB. so disappointed with Justin was like, that’s what product-market fit feels like. It feels like you’re so smashed that you can’t handle the volumes.
[00:25:40] Sean Li: And how do you deal with that initial, obviously potential disappointment when you might get like a flood of just complaints. It’s like very disgruntled. Did you get that, actually?
[00:25:52] Moses Lo: Yes, tons. When the reviews on the app store just start like straight-lining down. Like when I saw Robin Hood’s numbers, I was like, I didn’t empathize for that, like different scale, but I can empathize with that,
[00:26:08] So when it’s taking a long time, we were like, is this a scam? Is this real? And it was real. It was just me, one man, trying to do all these payments while we built software behind. So how do we deal with disappointment? I think the biggest disappointment is like when we’re spinning for, it was only six weeks, but I was in YC when everyone else was succeeding.
[00:26:27] So I was really being the black sheep of the family. What we said to ourselves as we tried to be really rational. I think this is the Asian side of me. Yeah. But it’s to get rid of your emotions. And you’re really logical and rational and say, okay, all right, it failed. What’s the next best thing that we can try?
[00:26:40] What’s the next best thing uh, and kind of, iterating and believing that if we kept iterating, we eventually find something that would find product-market fit. I think it’s easy in a place actually like Southeast Asia, where there’s so many greenfield opportunities and so many things unexplored.
[00:26:56] I think it’s harder in a place. Where things are mostly competed at like China. I have no idea how you find product-market fit when everything’s competed to the nth degree or in a mature market, like the U.S but in, in Southeast Asia, you just pivot and try enough things. You’ll hit something because most things haven’t been done.
[00:27:38] Sean Li: All right, so, what’s next for Xendit? You guys just raise your series B, 65 million. Congratulations. What’s next?
[00:27:47] Moses Lo: We think of ourselves as an infrastructure business. So we currently do payments, but we’re adding on more and more things. The goal is to. If you’re just trying to start the next unicorn, the next startup, next Instagram shop, next brand, whatever it is, we want to provide all the tools you need to go build that business.
[00:28:03] So, kind of what AWS has done for computer power hardware. In even more than that in the stack, we kind of want to do about full hyper-local infrastructure. So payments taxes, invoicing, accounting. So, therefore, what’s next is two vectors. One is, we want to be more and more regional, which is we need to go build deep infrastructure in various countries around Southeast Asia, work with local partners to do that.
[00:28:26] The second is then build other bits of infrastructure. So we currently do payments, is still a long way to go from the payment side. But there’s other things that customers are asking us to do. Whether that I mentioned some of them before, but whether that’s working capital, whether that’s KYC, know your customer whether that’s anti-money laundering, whether that’s is an idea real or not real.
[00:28:47] So there’s a whole bunch of things which are adjacent to payments or part of the payments flow that people are asking us to build. And we’d love to.
[00:28:53] Sean Li: The second part of my question, and you don’t have to answer this, but what’s keeping you up at night these days?
[00:28:58] Moses Lo: Yeah, things that aren’t too dissimilar to four years ago, one is people, but just different kind of scales of different questions. So, on the people’s side with a growing org, we’re about 350 people, and going into COVID, we were 250ish. So, we’ll be on our way to, at some point this year. There’ll be more people that have never seen us in person.
[00:29:20] When we go back to the office, they have seen us in person. We’re also really proud of our culture. We’ve had folks from Silicon Valley VCs come and sit in at town halls, and then I was once given feedback like I’ve been in town halls and pulled meetings all over the world, but I’ve never seen a culture like that.
[00:29:34] So really proud of the culture that we have at Xendit. So how do we keep that one in a COVID period and then two when we come back, and there’s this whole group of people who’ve never seen us before. So, I think one aspect of people that keeps me up to the second is there’s a whole bunch of big questions.
[00:29:49] As you scale, you have to build an exec team. You have to grow up. You have to start acting like adults. So how do we keep certain parts of the DNA to keep us agile and startup? And then how do we grow up? Parts of us that need to grow up, and where’s that balance? So that’s one. The second is. New business lines to find product-market fit again.
[00:30:07] And our new countries’ very expensive decisions. Opportunity costs expensive and then expensive in terms of investment to get there. So those decisions keep me up because it’s not my money. It’s other people’s money. And I’m very well aware that I need to return those funds at 10 X, what they gave me. The weight of those decisions are real. I mean, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had, but real decisions.
[00:30:28] Sean Li: I imagine Moses Lo must have a productivity hack or a system to help you manage and prioritize all these decisions across all these functional areas and whatnot. Do you mind sharing kind of some of your productivity hacks?
[00:30:45] Moses Lo: There are people from Silicon Valley, and I feel like they would have much better answers for this, my view and productivity. One is my job. I think my job now, and this is advice I’ve been given, is make sure that we have money. One, more importantly, hire people smarter than me and get out of the way.
[00:31:05] So I think the highest way I get productivity is to hide people way better than me and people that I’m scared of and people that I would be happy to work for into the right places, make sure that they can work together, but then get out of the way. And those reasons, I think that’s a productivity hack is.
[00:31:23] I can hack myself, and that maybe gets to one to 1.1, but to get to 10 X from where we are now, that’s really what I need to do. What I try to spend my time on now is the way I’ve heard it is my product is no longer the product of Xendit. My product that I need to think about every day is the company as a product.
[00:31:41] So a lot of my time is spent on removing processes that are no longer useful, adding processes that are useful. How do people work together? How do orgs work together? Who do we hire? Who do we fire? What do we punish? What do we incentivize? Which is, therefore, my actual definition of culture. And then my other definition of cultures, I think of culture, like the operating system, the rules by which different applications interact on the system.
[00:32:02] So, that’s what I think about every day. And if I can get those things right, then I really get the leverage of the people that I work with. And that’s real productivity.
[00:32:11] Sean Li: That’s brilliant. My last question is I want to end on culture. I’m really curious to hear, what are the core values of this organization that you’ve built? What are your defining leadership principles?
[00:32:24] Moses Lo: Okay. So let me talk about some definitions of culture, and then that will go into some of our core values. Definitions of culture that I like, three definitions. One is from YC. It’s the extension of the founders. The reason I like that is this is there’s another Chinese saying, like to change the nation. You change your state. To change your state, you change a city. To change a city, you change your village. Change a village, change a family. Change your family, change yourself.
[00:32:58] So you know, these idioms but extension, the founder means that whenever I see something wrong in the org, my first question is, what am I doing wrong? What do I need to change a behavior that people are copying? The second definition of culture I like is the operating system is it’s the set of rules by which different applications in the system interact.
[00:33:14] And so that’s,
[00:33:34] And so how I think about scaling our Oregon culture is acting on all of those three. And then our core values are matrixed to this. So, we tell lots of stories about who we are and who we have been in the past. A honey badger is probably overused word in the U S but in, in Southeast Asia, hasn’t been known for anything.
[00:33:52] So we talk about honey badgers a lot. The other one that I like is Justin Kahn gave us the word via cockroach, which is another way to see a thing, but for us, it’s really relevant because we have cockroaches in all our houses in Southeast Asia. So it’s, we understand the fear and panic of a cockroach,
[00:34:06] Moses Lo: But some of the Valleys uh build a family of honey badgers, which to us is all about. We can be smaller, a smaller animal than others, as the snake bites us and we fall down, that’s okay. We’ll get up. In fact, the same snake. Again, we’ll happily take on a group of lines at once. One of us is be golden, do to others what you want them to do to you? I think that’s really important. I liked that one because it’s absolute, but it’s also very relative. It helps us say you know, for example, when you fire the person, would you have been okay to be fired in the same way? Another example is always be growing, which is to us as about, as a business, we need to grow growth is life.
[00:34:38] Sean Li: Students always.
[00:34:39] Moses Lo: Yeah. Student always. Yeah. Well, it’s been growing, but that’s Paul Graham. Yeah. Growth is life.
[00:34:43] Sean Li: Yeah.
[00:34:45] Moses Lo: So, examples of the core values. And we tell stories about these, but I think it’s the really actionable things are the first three. I mentioned the first, the way we think about culture. So, change myself first, then think about how people interact. Then think about who we fire, who we hire, what we punish, what we incentivize.
[00:35:02] Sean Li: Moses. This is a personal question. Do you have any good reads lately recommendations?
[00:35:09] Moses Lo: So, we went through the YC growth program, which is a newer program. But I trying to extremely useful, maybe partly because I didn’t actually get the full YC experience during YC. I was in Asia, so I didn’t get like the YC thing that most people do. And it wasted growth. I was actually in the U S for ten weeks or so and heard these people speak. And it was just everything they said was golden and so much advice in that. And then I found a book which had basically the same content, so it was already open-sourced, and it’s called high growth handbook by Eli Gill. And so to all our new managers and anyone who asks me, I’m like, go read this first, understand why we built the organization the way we have, understand why we’d led people, or understand why you’re late.
[00:35:50] And understand what the opportunity is in front of you, even if you’re late or understand. Why we built things away. We have which we, I had initially through YC Griffith. And then once I picked up this book, I was like, this is gold. This is how you scale a business. And it’s laid out in this freak, or it’s $10 or something.
[00:35:53] So, I’m all about action. So probably read. Instagram advertise to me that the average CEO reads have a mini millions of hundreds of books a year, which made me my mind is why there may be average CS rather than, but yeah, focused on like I’ll find books that I kind of latch on to. And this book is highlighted to the nth degree, and we take a section and like, all right, let’s go implement that this quarter. So, that’s a book that helps us every single day.
[00:35:56] Sean Li: Now to follow that up with, what does Moses lo do for fun?
[00:35:57] Moses Lo: Work, eat, sleep, exercise. Yeah. Repeat, I’ll add to that, like play with family. So,
[00:36:14] Sean Li: This has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
[00:36:17] Moses Lo: Thanks so much for having me, Sean.
[00:36:21] Sean Li: Thanks again for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas Podcast. If you enjoyed our show today, please remember to hit that subscribe or follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review. If you’re looking for more content, please check out our website at Haas dot fm. That’s spelled H-A-A -S dot F-M. There you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts. And until next time. Go Bears.