Incubator experience - 10 Lessons from Fencore

June 10, 2021

James Crosby never set out to start a business, but that all changed when he “realised there was a better way for financial institutions to manage data” . So he started Fencore.

Fencore joined F10’s Singapore Incubator program in 2020 to take the next step on their growth journey. We sat down with James to hear where it’s taken him - and the important lessons he had learned.

Back in 2019, when James Crosby founded Fencore, his aim was to make data management easy. With so much first hand experience of the pain points that banks and asset management firms struggle with, James spotted a gap in the market and did not hold back until it was filled. Looking to the future of data management, James shared his hope that:

Digital transformation tip

Fencore joined F10’s Singapore Incubator program in 2020 to take the next step on their growth journey. We sat down with James recently to hear where it’s taken him - and to learn the 10 most important lessons he’s uncovered on his entrepreneurial journey and his experience on F10´s incubation program:

Lesson 1: Start with what you know

Founders should look to the skills they already have and use these as springboards. When James first considered starting a Fencore “the stars aligned ... I had all the inspiration and the ideas for a business, as well as the technical expertise that I needed to create the product.” By following what he knew and building on his previous experience, James could see that, “there was a real lack of easy-to-implement data platforms out there, so I identified this gap and Fencore was born.

Lesson 2 : Lay strong data management foundations

For businesses to be successful, data management and data governance needs to become central to operations - especially as we are creating and consuming big data at unprecedented rates. From James’ perspective, clients should be free to focus on running their business and not worry about the state of their data holding them back.

He reflected: “Having a strong operating model in place for managing data means you can focus on your profit-generating business.” James found customers really receptive to the time-saving potential as it would free them to, “seek high returns for your customers and free yourself up to spend valuable resources elsewhere.”

Lesson 3 : Follow the demand  

As the climate crisis and social injustices start to become priority concerns for businesses, ESG - that’s Environmental, Social and Governance - has come to the fore as a way to quantify progressive values. “Tracking ESG data is important for financial institutions because there is a real demand from investors keen to know the ESG ratings of the products they’ve invested in".

” This clear demand for an easier way to capture these measurements has helped Fencore build a product the market truly wants and needs. James shared that currently, “companies have to consume a tonne of different types of data from ESG ratings providers, which produces a huge technical burden.” If you focus on an emerging problem, you can tailor your offerings to meet a frequently changing market.

Lesson 4: Think outside of your target audience

The beauty of data management can be found in the surprises of the customer base. “We initially thought we’d target boutique customers in the buy-side space as that is an overlooked segment of the market - companies who can’t normally afford data management solutions,” James reflected.

But this was not the case: “our value proposition resonated with many larger asset managers as they have had their fingers burnt by adopting older legacy data management platforms which were heavy and difficult to maintain.” This ability to provide for audiences beyond your immediate radar, and prove your efficacy to diverse customers, is essential to keep building and adding value to your industry.

Lesson 5 : Agile manifesto

If you approach a dynamic problem with a fixed mindset, you may find yourself pushed to breaking point with your business decisions. That’s why James adopted a flexible approach to cater to different sectors of the same market. Agile software development was key, because “There are so many use cases for data management platforms on both the buy-side and the sell-side so having a platform that is agile enough to cater to both, while being easy and intuitive to use, is key,” he reflected.

What your customers say they want may be different to what their customers want - so be prepared to adapt to their changing needs by adopting Agile practices.

Lesson 6: Data comes with strings attached - so learn how to operate them

In James’ opinion, “it is key for financial institutions and vendors alike to be aware of different regulations faced by the companies they work with.” But in a global marketplace, understanding the unique circumstances of each customer’s regulatory environment can be complex.

Fencore addressed this by building in compliance to location-specific regulations, which has helped them to remain agile to changing laws. Whether it’s cultural norms or matters of compliance, entrepreneurs should strive to create an adaptable product that is ready for a world of opportunity. Don’t be afraid to outsource expertise to keep ahead of the constantly evolving regulations we so often see in the fintech space.

Lesson 7: Learn to sell yourself

This was James’ first startup and admittedly, the whole process was a steep learning curve. In an ordinary day, he would be juggling admin processes, creating decks, and pitching to investors. But it was learning how to sell himself that was one of the hardest but most rewarding skills gained along the way.

He shared, “I've never worked in sales but soon realised how much being a CEO involved selling what we were about. It was a good step for us to identify how to position our product and communicate its value proposition in the world.” This willingness to really understand how your company is seen by the outside world in the early stages will help ground you in your mission as you scale.

Lesson 8: Leverage your network

Gaining credibility for your startup is one of the most satisfying, and rewarding aspects of the whole journey. For James, the visibility from being accepted by the F10 incubator really gave them a boost in the fintech community and granted them strong foundations to network from.

James reflected, “it has been really useful on the business development front to have this community support, whether it means getting relevant referrals or just tapping into [F10’s] well established networks in the world of finance.” It does take a village to nurture a startup and by investing in your network, you will reap benefits beyond credibility. Invest in relationships and see them flourish and inspire even more growth in the future.

Lesson 9: Daily meditation should be mandatory for CEOs

James attributes his calm leadership approach to meditation, which he does for 10-20 minutes at the start of every day. “It really helps you switch your mind off all the plates you’re spinning and gives you the space to think about absolutely nothing.” James describes how the benefits can ripple throughout the rest of his day: “it helps me bring extra mindfulness to my interactions with people, and means I am better able to deal with adverse situations you face as a CEO.”

Lesson 10: Communities can teach each other the most valuable lessons

James shared how the community born out of the F10 incubator has led to valuable lessons being shared among the startup cohort. The select group has undergone double the education in half the time, in part due to the immersion of being surrounded by other entrepreneurs.

James added, “there is the ability to learn so much from other startups in the incubator”. No one can quite grasp what you’re enduring like a cohort of fellow startups, so consider the people you surround yourself with when you start building - sometimes the social benefits can offer you the richest support.

The lessons James has learned in building Fencore are based on intuition and a mindset of growth and adaptability. But to thrive, any startup will need to pivot, stay agile and remain focused on providing the best services for their customers. While James hadn’t always planned to become an entrepreneur, the killer mixture of a ground-breaking product idea, a supportive community and a stellar ecosystem has set him on a route for the stars.

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