The Startupbootcamp Meet the Mentor series are interviews profiling inspiring stories from our extended network of mentors at Startupbootcamp. Today features Startupbootcamp FinTech Dubai mentor Thomas Jacob.
Thomas Jacob is the Head of Strategy and Investor Relations at our partners, Mashreq Bank. Jacob is keen on supporting startups that are solving problems that resonate with the banking sector industry.
Hello Thomas, Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I have been heading strategy and Investor relations for Mashreq for the last five years. Experience is split across strategy consulting and banking, having previously worked for EY and BCG. I am an avid tennis player and manage to get in one hour of tennis as part of my daily routine.
Were you mentored in your career? If so, what impact did this have on you? If not, why have you decided to embark on mentoring?
Having spent quite some years in strategy consulting, I have received mentoring on both a formal and informal basis. I have found it to be quite beneficial as it provides a good sounding board and also helps in getting a different perspective/ viewpoint.
What do you wish to gain from mentoring startups?
Mentoring is an aftermath of the selection of the startups that resonate with our strategy in the banking sector. The objective here is to assist a potential idea or problem statement that we are passionate about solving as well and really transfer our experience, access, and bank infrastructure to speed up the thought/current state to a final product.
The other aspect is that the exchange of information involved in the mentoring process can allow us to take away some ideas/areas where we feel the focus is required. This may help our business unit teams address customer pain points in a different way.
Who/what inspires you?
To quote “Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us, Footprints on the sands of time” – H. W. Longfellow
Tell us about the SBC startups that you are mentoring. How do you plan to help them throughout their journey?
As part of the previous cohort of the SBC, we mentored a few startups at an institution level. For the same, we provided our feedback for the product, the next steps, and connected them with relevant stakeholders to accelerate their journey to the proof of concept stage. One of the startups is in the process of completing a POC with us and post the same we hope to provide our feedback, and if the product offering is of mutual benefit, we will see how we can work in partnership.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
I would like to live in the hope that my greatest achievement is still to come, and the book is still being written.
What are the greatest challenges for FinTech startups?
- The customer’s willingness to switch away from traditional banks has been overestimated. Customer switching costs are high, and new innovations are often not sufficiently material to warrant the shift to a new provider, especially as banks adapt
- Fintechs have struggled to create a new infrastructure and establish new financial services ecosystems, such as alternative payment rails or alternative capital markets. They have been much more successful in making improvements within traditional ecosystems and infrastructure
- Lack of access to key stakeholders
- Lack of access to funds
Any final words of wisdom that you would like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
The idea of an action journey should be a balanced one. Though the idea needs to be validated by the market, important steps need to be taken to be cognizant of both the competition and of the startup’s unique value add. People are looking for solutions – if that is provided in the right manner, then market entry/ traction becomes easier. Also, once the initial steps are completed in terms of the research, MVP, etc., the startup should be quick in testing out the value proposition and in the process of securing key partnerships. Once this process is robust, the funds will come since you are addressing most, if not all, of the questions an investor is looking for.