Growing up in the collapse of the steel and manufacturing industry in the Southern United States, Michelle Katics recognised the uncertainty of life at a very young age.
“I quickly realised that even if you set up a comfortable life, it can come crashing down; no matter how smart and hard-working you are,” she said.
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She credits her success today to the strong work ethic (and the slight traces of paranoia) instilled in her through her harrowing experience with the deep recession.
At present, Michelle is the co-founder of PortfolioQuest, a premier gamified simulation platform for retail banking. PortfolioQuest is a powerful digital training tool that seeks to develop workers’ skills through a “virtual reality” simulation of the real world.
An experienced entrepreneur, PortfolioQuest marks Michelle’s second venture into the FinTech industry. She also co-founded BankersLab™, a leader in learning innovation that delivers classroom-format, “flight simulator” training for bankers, in 2010. The training software developed has been used by multiple entities across the banking and lending industries across 45 countries.
Before her foray into the tech startup scene in Singapore, Michelle worked at Standard Chartered, providing much-needed insight, direction and infrastructure implementation on risk management.
A woman who clearly knows her strengths and weaknesses, she made the difficult decision to step down as CEO of Bankerslab,
“It’s clear that my strengths lie in creating ‘Version 0’, and connecting dots that are not yet apparent to others. I’m a connector, a creator.”
She added, “I’ve realised I can be much more effective if I hone my focus on testing use cases of the ways we can combine BankersLab workshops, PortfolioQuest, and other training and assessment innovation tools, which are quickly emerging.”
Instead, Michelle has taken on the role of Innovation Advisor to create new products and markets for the company.
She also actively participates in several mentorship programmes in Singapore, The Founder Institute, The Finlab Pte Ltd and Startupbootcamp FinTech, as she values giving back to the startup finance ecosystem.
The New Savvy: Tell us more about your business. How did you get started in this business?
Michelle: I see myself as a banker solving her own problems. Working in the financial industry, I was troubled by the gaps in the breadth and depth of the skills, the lack of accountability for those gaps and the lack of recognition for those who were highly competent. I noticed that using simulation in training was not only effective but also served as a great equalizer. I deeply believe that the stars will shine – given a chance to practice their skills – no matter their educational or cultural background.
The New Savvy: What are the Unique Selling Points of your business?
Michelle: Anyone who has spent time in the financial industry finds boring training workshops and E-learning to be the bane of their existence. Through PortfolioQuest, we can gamify and simulate training workshops, which will be beneficial for participants. Doing so also improves the bank’s bottom line and provides meaningful data and insights about employees.
The New Savvy: What prompted you to take the leap into starting your own venture?
Michelle: Why not? It’s less of a leap than people think.
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The New Savvy: What’s your greatest fear as an entrepreneur?
Michelle: I feel it’s a misperception that entrepreneurs are always worried about running out of money or the business failing. I feel most anxious when I see a great opportunity or several at the same time and am not sure which path to take. You need to choose wisely where to focus and prioritize accordingly, or that particular chance may not present itself again.
The New Savvy: Which parts of your job do you find the most challenging?
Michelle: Company Building. Some say that entrepreneurs fall into one of two categories – product builders and company builders. If that is true, I squarely fall into the former rather than the latter. Company building involves building up your HR, hiring, firing, internal processes and systems. If I focus my time there, I’m missing out on building our products and enhancing customer value, which is more of my strength. Screwing up the company-building pieces is critical to your success, so it must be done well!
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The New Savvy: Can you share 3 habits imperative to your success? What keeps you going?
Michelle: First is Listen, next is Strong Work Ethic and lastly, Read & Learn (laughs). Boring, huh?
The New Savvy: As the FinTech industry rapidly grows in importance, what do you think is requisite in facilitating its continued growth?
Michelle: Talent. We see folks in the incumbent financial sector who struggle to change their mindset or change to an innovation-led job. We see folks in innovation who lack the understanding for navigating the processes within a bank. The sooner we can bridge that gap, more progress we’ll make.
The New Savvy: What are some patterns you’ve noticed over the years about women at work or in business? What could they be doing better to further their careers?
Michelle: There seems to be culture-specific trends, which I cannot explain but would love to understand. For example, I recently addressed a group of Taiwanese bank executives, and 50% of the audience was female. Wuzupwidat? How do they do that?
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The New Savvy: What is your view on mentorship and sponsorship? How should a woman start to engage a mentor or a sponsor?
Michelle: First, you are all mentors. I cannot say I am god’s gift to entrepreneurship, but it didn’t stop me from volunteering to be a mentor for the Founder Institute UOB’s FinLab, and Startup Bootcamp. You will get more than you give. So first, give.
For those who engage a sponsor or mentor, have specific ‘asks’ ready for them. Whether it be pointed feedback, introductions, or their assessment of a decision you need to make. I never walk out of a meeting without giving a question, especially a mentor, sponsor or advisor meeting.
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The New Savvy: Which women do you most admire in life?
Michelle: I will skip over the obvious ones like Sheryl Sandberg and Sallie Krawcheck. Women here in Singapore inspire me. Women who take time to help others out, work behind the scenes to advocate for each other and are always ready to lend a hand no matter how exhausted they are. You know who you are 🙂
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The New Savvy: What is the biggest challenge facing a woman today?
Michelle: The same as any sentient being, to be happy.
The New Savvy: What is the most useful tip you received/ follow when you manage your money?
Michelle: I was raised with a strong budget and saving ethic. This served me when I was young. However, as I became older, I realized that I had not developed an ethic for investing, and realized that saving and investing are separate skill sets.
The New Savvy: What do you think we can do to improve financial awareness today?
Michelle: Someone — please start a company, which will help Alexa, Machine Learning and AI manage everything for me! I know, not a good answer for this audience, but I find managing finances tedious and boring, but very important. With a good dashboard, which integrates spending, saving, investing, using rewards and promotions, and providing informed feedback, I can spend time making good decisions rather than doing the boring stuff. I used to track my exercise manually in a spreadsheet – and vastly prefer automatic data capture and dashboard for my exercise and health. I want a Fitbit for my finances.
The New Savvy: What is one book you deem a must-read for everyone?
Michelle: For Entrepreneurs, “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz
The New Savvy: Tell us something unexpected about yourself 🙂
Michelle: I never wanted to be an entrepreneur or a leader. I have always wanted to solve problems and it appears to be the most effective means to that end.
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Give us a parting quote!
“Neither a space station nor an enlightened mind can be realized in a day.” – Dalai Lama
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