Founder Q&A:Caroline Tran, Hello Clever

Post by: Anna Johansson
Published: 8 September 2022

Caroline Tran is the Co-founder and CEO at Hello Clever. Hello Clever is a buy to earn ecosystem, for both individuals and businesses to manage and track their finances. They have recently announced a $4.5M seed raise, led by Vectr Fintech Partners.

How did you get started in Fintech? Tell us a bit about yourself and your career so far.

I got started in Fintech about 2 years ago, but my background is in accounting as a qualified CPA. I worked in the corporate setting for the past 7-8 years and spent that time learning about the environment, commercial acumen and commercial operations. Finance was always something I wanted to pursue as I was always really passionate about money management and personal finances because it is something that I am personally really strong at and enjoy doing. 

My co-founder, Gavin Nguyen was a technologist at Microsoft, so combining both our backgrounds it just made sense to build a fintech company. We also found some really interesting problems in the market, involving consumer behaviours and payment. We coupled our experience together to build Hello Clever to where it is right now. 

What does the process of building a start up entail? What does a typical day look like for you? 

It is around the clock, we are a remote first company with teams across Australia (Syd, Melb and Bris) and then also teams in Vietnam, Singapore, Europe and the US. 

As the founder, I start my day pretty early around 8am speaking to the team here in Australia and then finishing around 5pm but then you have to stay in contact with the team in Europe because they have just woken up. 

It’s a really busy day for a founder, especially for a company within our nature but we really enjoy it. As a start up, there is always something new, you never have a chance to say still, there are always enquiries or people reaching out to you or you are reaching out to potential partners. It definitely isn’t for someone who wants a stable lifestyle which is why it suits me. I am someone who wants to go out and do things everyday rather than the usual 9-5. 

What have been the biggest challenges that you have faced throughout the process so far? Did you ever experience self doubt along the way of building Hello Clever? How did you overcome it?

I think one of the challenges in early days is finding the right team members to join you. You can’t build this by yourself, absolutely not. I cannot take credit for all of the wins that we have achieved over the past two years because it is quite literally a team effort. 

In the early days, it is almost like you are pitching your ideas to the team members, because they are going to risk this with you. For you to find the right team members with the same mindset and who are willing to take risks with you and do those long hours it is really really hard. 

The more you grow your business, as a founder it is your responsibility to convince people that this is going to work, and this is the vision and the mission you are building. So I guess one of the first challenges is human resources. 

The second one would be the initial capital that you need to run a tech company, especially in fintech because it involves licences, technology and other things like that. It is definitely not for people who don’t have that initial capital to build. 

And the last one would be product experience, your ‘what are you?’ or defining who you are. In the early days it was really hard to say what the product was, it was more of ‘this is what we are trying to build’. Of course the more we build, the more we adapt to the market, the more we learn and the more we define who we are. 

So those are the main things we had to overcome to get to that first win. You know how people say 0 to 1? I wouldn’t say we are at 1, we are still 0 to 0.4 with so much more to build. 

In Australia, only 22% of startup founders are female. Why do you think there are so many less female founders than men? Do you think there is any bias or barriers for female founders in the tech industry?

Yeah for sure, there is definitely bias towards female founders. It comes with a really old mindset of some of these industry bodies who think that women can’t build businesses because they have family to take care of. Everyone defaults to the woman being the stay at home one instead of going out there and doing their own thing. 

It will take time to change, it is shocking that it is only 22%. Fintech in particular is really heavily male dominated. All the bankers are stereotypically male, it is definitely harder to crack for female founders. I do have hope for the best though, we need more people to realise that we have so many strong female founders, of course examples like Canva and Bumble, the more women can do the same thing. We are not just stay at home mums we can build out an empire. It is important to recognise that it still exists to be able to change this. 

From your own experience, what are some of the skills that females wanting to become entrepreneurs should work on? 

I have a lot of female founder friends, we have our own community and we all go out and actively support each other. Some of the things that we share in this journey is that we need to be bold and we need to be strong in terms of the commercial side of things. You don’t have to be really strong in tech, because you could have a co-founder whose strength is tech, but you do need to understand business vision. It is about defining what you want to do in the next 5 to 10 years to make sure you can be successful. You need to learn how to deal with all of the stakeholders, how to make sure the business runs smoothly and there are so many skills that you can learn from financials to marketing to business to help you succeed. It’s like a real life MBA and you don’t have to pay for it. 

Sales skills are also so important. Every founder needs to sell the vision to employees, to partners and later on to investors. You need to have the skills to sell your vision.

The next one is to really build out your own personal brand as a founder. All of the stakeholders, they want to know who you are, who is behind the business? Who is she? What has she done? Building your personal brand may range from being a podcast guest, to joining a foundation or other groups or similar things like that. It’s super important for female founders especially. 

Did you think at any point that Hello Clever would fail in reaching your goals or vision?

There are so many risks, 100%. Especially in the fintech industry, with licences and then money laundering and also with the technology itself. For the tech itself you need to make sure it has scalability and obviously also around the growth and the resources. 

You really need to have a good team from day one otherwise it just is not going to go anywhere. For example, you might think about bringing on your best friend but if you’ve never worked together on anything before you might have conflicts. Remember this is going to be your business partner for life. You have to stick together for the whole journey so you really need to make sure you are making the right decisions. 

The last one is of course, working capital, making sure you have enough capital to run the business to where it needs to be. This is where you need to have a really solid business model that will generate revenue to be able to go out and build a sustainable and profitable business. At the end of the day you can’t just keep asking for external funding you need to control your own cash flow. 

Congratulations again on the seed funding, what’s next for Hello Clever?

We were really lucky to be able to raise in the current climate. A lot of doors have started shutting in terms of funding at the moment, I still think potential and quality businesses will get funding, especially for earlier stages when investors can see the potential. 

We are lucky enough to have support from international and local investors to really build out the mission and vision that we are trying to deliver. We want to use this funding to invest into the Australian market to really grow and potentially expand into APAC. This means this will be good for the end consumers and the merchants. We also want to invest in Australian talent. As you know with so many layoffs over the past months we wanted to use this opportunity to support Australian talent and grow out the vision here.