Money makes the world go round. Like charity, however, money management habits should begin at home.
With the world still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis and the more recent European sovereign debt crisis, it is clear that greater financial education is in order. While we Singaporeans (and many of our Asian counterparts) still have some moolah in the bank, it is difficult to foresee what the future may hold.
I guess this is why I like what PlayMoolah is doing.
Founded by 25 year old Audrey Tan and Min Xuan Lee, PlayMoolah is an online platform which teaches kids to manage their money through virtual and real-life activities. Focused on five key activities – Earn, Spend, Save, Invest and Give – the website employs game mechanics to make financial discipline a fun and exciting activity for kids.
As the “Dream Architect”, Audrey formulates the business model, develops the business, forges customer relationships, and manages investors and employees. Her partner “Princess of Possibility” Min Xuan explores cutting edge innovation, manages technology, and works with ecosystem partners to champion the cause.
Fueled by the mission of “inspiring kids to take control of their money, and become empowered by using it to live their dreams and create value for the world”, PlayMoolah considers itself a financial empowerment company. Through helping kids and their parents to make better money decisions, it seeks to give them the tools to live confidently and freely.
The impetus behind PlayMoolah was triggered by the American mortgage crisis in 2007-2008. Then NUS exchange students at Stamford University, Audrey and Min were hit by the shocking news that checking accounts were so prevalent in the US. Financial literacy was so low in the States that people were spending money they did not have, caught in the wave of consumerism and instant gratification.
An awful realisation then struck the girls. It wasn’t the kids who had problems with money. Rather, the problem laid with parents, who weren’t providing the right role models to their young ones.
Spurred by their sobering experience in the US, the founders decided to tackle the root cause of financial ignorance by building a portal which teaches families how to deal with their dough. Backed by the firm support of their mentor professor Tom Kosnik in Stamford, it combined their interests in technology, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. With angel funding from Silicon Valley, Singapore and the Philippines, PlayMoolah was eventually launched in Singapore on January 2011.
With Singapore as its test market, PlayMoolah is targeted at global markets in the US, Europe and Asia. The growing enterprise embraces the principles of Lean (see my book review on Lean Startup for more details) and was developed based on the following iterative cycle:
1) Build customer development model by talking to parents and kids in order to understand what their needs and experiences with money were;
2) Create wire frames and mock-ups while seeking usability feedback from parents;
3) Building the system and platform itself while continuing with user experience testing;
4) Testing it constantly by taking in user feedback and refining its products.
A social enterprise with a heart for kids, PlayMoolah was a dream come true for both Audrey and Min. Indeed, speaking to Audrey, I couldn’t help being infected by her enthusiasm and passion for the business.
Recounting her childhood, Audrey shared that she used to create a “business ecosystem” at home using “pretend money” when she was six or seven years old playing with her brothers. She also started various small businesses during her teens.
In a similar fashion, Min started a design firm in her younger years. Like Audrey, she loved kids and nursed a passion to nurture and educate them while embracing the possibilities and scalability of technology.
Spotlighted by the National Youth Council (NYC) as an outstanding social enterprise started by youths, PlayMoolah is a tenant of The HUB Singapore – a curated co-work, event and community space in the heart of Orchard Road. Made possible through a S$100,000 grant from NYC, HUB Singapore seeks to “gather the country’s best entrepreneurial minds, changemakers and professionals” in a collaborative work and event space.
To encourage more Youth Sector Organisations (YSOs) and Youth Social Enterprises (YSEs) like PlayMoolah, the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth (MCCY) – parent Ministry to NYC – has recently launched the National Youth Fund (NYF). With S$100 million in its kitty to be drawn over the next 20 years, NYF encourages YSOs and YSEs to initiate the following:
– Capability development projects that improve organisational capability while leading to more cross-sharing and partnerships;
– Public, People and Private (3P) partnerships that promote community engagement, volunteerism, arts and sports; and
– Research studies that contribute towards the youth sector’s understanding of youth trends and concerns.
(More details of the NYF can be found here.)
I’m glad to hear that talks are already underway between PlayMoolah and NYC to explore how they could bring the enterprise further. This could hopefully provide greater support to the company’s growing initiative such as “Sekolah Bisa” – a community project in Indonesia which seeks to educate kids on financial literacy while serving them.
For the future, the road appears bright for the fledgling financial empowerment firm. To date, they’ve already won awards like Echelon 2011 (Asia’s TechCrunch) and Top Startup of SWIFT Innotribe Challenge 2012. Partnerships with financial heavyweights like OCBC Bank have also been inked.
To find out more about PlayMoolah, do sign up for a free trial at their portal here.
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” – Will Smith