Sudhanshu is the co-founder and CEO of Rewardz, a team that’s on a mission to build happier and healthier workplaces.
He worked as a senior technologist in some of the largest investment banks in Singapore such as JP Morgan and Credit Suisse for over a decade after graduating from NUS in 2004.
In 2014, he gave up on the corporate job to follow his passion and build Rewardz with this wife and co-founder – Nicole Seah.
In less than 3 years, Sudhanshu has grown Rewardz to become one of the market leaders in the employee benefits and corporate wellness space in Singapore with over 200,000 employees, 100 clients and presence across 8 countries.
1. Please share a bit about what you do.
I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of Rewardz.
Rewardz is a HR technology start-up based out of Singapore with subsidiaries in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur. We provide HR solutions in the space of employee benefits and corporate wellness.
We have launched three products since inception.
Our first product – Emperks is a very simple-to-use mobile app where employees enjoy the host of discounts all over Singapore.
Our second app – Flabuless is a corporate wellness product which companies can use to incentivise their employees to stay healthy and see the return on investment (ROI) on their wellness initiatives.
Our latest app – CERRA points was launched two months back with some prominent clients like DBS and Carrier and this is a spot rewarding app that helps companies reward and recognizes their employees for their performance and contributions.
The app is configurable to align itself with company’s rewarding strategy.
About myself, my role is to figure out the overall company strategy, manage key business partnerships (clients & resellers) and raise funding for the company.
Given my background in product management, I am also quite hands-on with the product development
2. What were you doing before starting this business?
Before starting Rewardz, I was working as Technology Program Manager in the Derivatives space in JP Morgan Singapore.
Prior to JP Morgan, I had also worked at Credit Suisse and RBS. I had 10 years of experience in Investment banks in Singapore before I decided to quit banking tech and start Rewardz.
3. How did the idea of your business come about?
The idea came from my co-Founder and wife, Nicole.
She comes from the HR background and she was facing a lot of challenges in organizing employee wellness events, managing perks, and discounts for Credit Suisse.
Management of employee engagement programs lacked technology vendors and even though she loved the impact of her work on the workforce, it diverted her from her core responsibilities as HR manager.
So, both of us put our head together to build products that can improve the effectiveness of employee engagement programs and reduce HR overheads.
4. What sacrifices have you had to make to be an entrepreneur?
I think the first couple of years were very hard.
From the financial perspective, we almost ended up using all our personal savings.
However, more importantly, it is your time with family and friends that you need to sacrifice to keep the start-up hustle going.
We (me&Nicole) have a three and a half years old daughter and I think I would have loved to spend much more time with her during these formative years.
I think that’s probably the biggest sacrifice we have made so far.
5. How did you get funded?
We started off by self-funding the company.
In the 2nd year of operation, we received excellent government support in the form of grants worth SGD 250K.
After we have on-boarded few clients, we managed to raise around SGD 500,000 of angel investment.
I think Singapore start-up ecosystem is very strong in providing seed and angel level investments.
In Dec 2016, public listed Japanese conglomerate Benefit One invested USD 2.1 million in Rewardz for next stage of growth and expansion.
6. How did you go about marketing your business?
We initially focused on cold calling and emailers to reach out to new clients.
We also leveraged our network to arrange meetings with HR managers.
One of the most successful ways of marketing is to participate in HR events to showcase our products to our target clients.
Some effective PR in HR and mainstream magazines have also worked well for us.
We are trying Linked-In marketing since last year and it has also proved effective.
So, we will be doing focused Linked- In marketing along with offline channels this year to promote ourselves in the HR industry.
7. Could you describe your first sale and how it came about?
I think our first sale was by chance, one of our friends went to pitch his start-up to NUHS HR who didn’t buy into his service but they were looking for a rewards platform like ours.
So, he recommended us to NUHS and that’s how we got our first deal. NUHS being a big organization, solved the chicken and egg problem for our business model.
We on-boarded 40+ merchants and 7000+ employees to our platform from our first client – NUHS.
8. Describe your typical work day.
My usual work day starts off with catching up with key team members in the sales, marketing, and product development streams.
On most days, I would have at least 2-3 hours of meetings booked with either clients, resellers or product development teams.
Rest of the day is used up brainstorming on new product ideas, clearing the backlog of emails or reviewing other operational company matters.
My typical day starts at 9 am and I will leave office by 6:30 pm.
I will spend time with my daughter for 2-3 hours before working for another 3 hours in the night.
I usually sleep around 1 am.
9. What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business?
My proudest moment has been when we launched Flabuless with Walt Disney last year.
It was a huge success; we tracked hundred million steps in one week.
There was almost 100% participation and I believe every Disney employee in SE Asia knew about our app and was actively using it.
It created a lot of positive buzz in the company and even though we were stressed and swamped with production support, it made us extremely proud to build a product that was making a positive healthy impact in people’s lives.
10. What was your lowest moment for you?
I think our lowest moment was around Jan-2014.
Our sales were not picking and we were almost out of funding.
We were in a desperate situation and even offered to sell off the company for SGD 150,000 to a well-funded start-up in the same industry.
Luckily, the deal didn’t work out and we received the government grants to navigate through that tough stage.
11. What your revenue number with the past year?
Our last year annual revenue was SGD 460K.
We have seen 300% YoY revenue growth for 3 straight years.
We are on track to maintain the same growth rate for 2017.
12. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
It will be my dad.
He is a very hard-working, honest person who took immense pride in being a public servant and helping the needy in the society.
I think he has been the biggest influence on my working style and how I approach work.
13. What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
I think one of the biggest lessons that I have learned is that you should only give equity for either capital or sweat for the company.
Being my first start-up, I was very naive and received wrong advice in giving away equity and options in Rewardz to individuals and corporations who didn’t make a significant contribution towards the company.
Founders work very hard and sacrifice a lot to build a company from scratch and it’s a pity to give away equity cheaply.
14. If you could go back in time to speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you tell him?
I would tell him to learn quickly from the corporate job, save $$ and quit it as soon as you can.
I think I took much longer to switch over from a corporate job to starting up and was late by at least 3-4 years.
14. What’s the business focus for this year?
The focus is mainly on growth and setting up a sustainable business that’s profitable in Singapore, Malaysia, and Dubai by 2018.
We also want to spend on R&D and build technology enhancements that do not exist in the market.
15. Is there an app or two you can’t live without?
I am a heavy user of these 3 apps and most of my work is co-ordinated through them.