Meetig8 – Australia’s first online marketplace for risk talent. An interview with James Lai, Founder & CEO
Paul Muir (PM) – Welcome James, thanks for your time today. How about we start with you, tell me a little bit about yourself
James Lai (JL) – Thanks Paul, I spent 20 years in risk management. I started my career at PwC as an IT auditor supporting financial audits in Sydney and in Singapore. I then moved to Westpac to set up the control assurance framework for BT and ran that for 7 years reporting to various governance committees, including up to the Super Fund Trustees, Insurance Boards and the BT Funds Board.
PM – When did you leave Westpac?
JL – In 2016 to set up Meetig8.
PM – At what point did the concept of Meetig8 pop into your head?
JL – I’ve always had the entrepreneurial streak. Even when I had a corporate job I wanted to get into my own business some day. Since 2015, I was looking at various business models and opportunities. It was in late 2015 when I seriously looked into online marketplaces. It started when a friend of mine asked me why I kept taking taxis instead of trying something new like Uber. He gave me a $10 voucher to try Uber. I downloaded the App & tried it right away.
PM – what was your experience like?
JL – I really liked it. I was amazed by it as there where 3 clear value propositions that stuck in my head when I got out of that Uber car. The first one was, it’s a clean car. Second, the price is cheaper and thirdly the driver is compelled to be nice to me. He knows that once I hop out I have to rate him. So I thought, he’s being held totally captive from a price perspective, customer service & cleanliness of car. That got me thinking about marketplaces and which vertical to get into.
PM – Is that where your platform idea came from?
JL – When I looked at professional services, I realised there weren’t a lot of platforms for B2B businesses. In Australia, there seemed to be more B2C platforms at the time. Also, I found out that there wasn’t one platform that focused on risk management. I started doing research and I found there was nothing like that in the world.
PM – so you’re a world first.
JL – (laughs) I was quite surprised, I thought someone would have done this, there are some platforms for other professional services but none focused on risk and compliance. At the time, I thought – let’s set up a niche risk and compliance platform to fundamentally change how risk advisory services are delivered to organisations.
PM – So what’s your passion? Where do you get your drive & energy from?
JL – I find risk, compliance & audit is still very traditional and sourcing talent is still done using traditional recruitment channels and relying on the big accounting firms to deliver resources. In addition, there is a lack of technology adoption and use of data within risk and audit functions. My passion is changing how risk and compliance is done, making finding talent much faster, on-demand and more dynamic. We are also building a dedicated market on our platform that focuses on RegTech (Regulatory Technology) – this will enable organisations to start making use of technology to supplement their risk, compliance and audit activities.
PM – How does Meetig8 solve this problem?
JL – Meetig8 is an online marketplace where we connect organisations in Australia (at the moment) with independent risk specialists. Originally that was for short-term contracts but we have now expanded this for longer term placements as well. This allows organisations to hire on-demand and allow them to leverage a contingent workforce. This also provides the risk specialists with flexibility and help them achieve better work-life balance.
PM – how does the platform work?
JL – clients and specialists both sign-up via our web landing page at no cost. Specialists are vetted as we want to ensure we have a high quality curated team of people. The client posts a job which the specialists can review and apply for. Unlike some others who flood the clients with applications, Meetig8 curates the best specialist applications for the client. The curation is one of our value propositions. We have built an AI curator – a bot that will do the curation quickly and with high accuracy. The AI curator will learn over time and get smarter hence we can use this technology to scale up our business for overseas expansion.
PM – Does the specialist have to keep checking in to the online marketplace?
JL – No, what the curator bot will also do is to check client’s jobs against specialist’s skill sets and notify the specialist by email when a job matches their skillset.
PM – how do you make your money?
JL – we charge the client a service fee for using the service when they connect with a specialist. Once they hire the specialist we take a small commission on top of the specialist’s fee. It’s totally free for the specialist to use.
PM – In respect of the bot, is there something unique about it?
JL – we built the bot from scratch. The curator bot studies the client job post and all its requirements and then using algorithms, it scans specialists on our platform, specifically their competencies, experience, etc to find the best matches. It’s really a lot more than just looking at keywords, it also uses location, skills, competencies, experience and it gets smarter over time as the client provides us with feedback on the specialist. We will also train the bot to look at soft skills as well as hard skills as it becomes increasingly sophisticated over time.
PM – Why do clients come to you rather than a recruiter?
JL – We are risk experts not recruiters and really understand what the client is looking for rather than just matching keywords between a job description and specialists’ profiles.
PM – What’s the main risk skills that clients are seeking at the moment?
JL – There are a couple of ‘hot’ areas at the moment. One is compliance, as there are more & more regulations coming through off the back of the Banking Royal Commission and financial sector scandals. Also, there are more fintechs & small companies popping up – they are seeking expertise to help them with their compliance obligations. The other hot area is technology risk as banks are going more digital. The demand is for the specialist who understands digital, tech risk, cyber risk, data security, cloud infrastructure and applications.
PM – what is the typical persona of the risk specialist.
JL – there are basically 4. The first is the person who is already self-employed, second is women who are wanting to return to the workforce and want more flexibility. The third persona is people in their mid to late career who want to do something different after many years in corporate life and lastly any risk and compliance person who has more than 6 years’ experience interested in “gig” work or longer term placements.
PM – What were the main challenges that you experienced in starting up Meetig8?
JL – one of the main challenges is the development of our technology. We spent 18 months and a fair bit of budget in development. There was a lot of trial and error in finding the right designers and software developers and we are glad that we finally found the right ones and it’s going strong ever since!
PM – how did you find the right developers?
JL – this was part of my learning experience. Trying to find the right developer. In hindsight there was a lot of things I could have done differently and I now share this with others so that they don’t have to make the same mistakes. The lesson is to have direct access to the developers and not through a third-person like a project manager and ensure absolute alignment especially if we are doing a custom built. We have a great development team now. You have to be clear on the experience of the developers and look at their portfolio to determine if there is a good fit.
PM – You’re part of Tank stream labs. What benefit(s) does that provide for you?
JL – I’ve been at Tank Stream Labs for 15 months now. Its more than just a space, what you get at tank stream labs is the networking, connections, conducive environment for startups and great events. Meeting with the right people who are start-up founders, entrepreneurs, innovators, venture capitalists and government representatives are really invaluable. There is a lot of knowledge in the space and that really helped me. I really enjoy being here.
PM – RegTech Association of Australia. How did you get involved?
JL – The association was launched early 2017. I met the Chair who talked to me about their vision of being the advocate for regtechs in Australia. RegTech companies need a lot of support because the industry on the whole is still quite young and adoption is still relatively low in Australia. RegTech is an area that we are very interested in as a business, given we are currently using tech to solve compliance issues but we will be heading deeper into a RegTech offering on our platform in the future. The risk industry will change in a big way with RegTechs coming to the fore, and technology & data will be the driver of that change. An opportunity arose to be part of the Association’s Advisory board. I took the role because I want to contribute to the ecosystem in a meaningful way and help lift the profile of RegTechs within industry and advocate for them through the Association.
PM – what have the main achievements been for RegTech Association?
JL – In terms of membership, we have attracted a lot of great Regtechs all around Australia. We now have over 50. We are starting to add value to our member base through conferences, events & enhancing the overall ecosystem with various initiatives.
PM – That’s awesome. What’s next for James?
JL – The immediate focus is on rolling out the Meetig8 technology platform deeper into the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane markets. Next, we have plans to expand to the UK very soon as well. And last by not least, we will continue to develop and enhance our technology capability, including the AI capabilities on our platform.
PM – thank you for your time today James, that was great. All the best for your future plans.
JL – thanks Paul