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Going Against the Grain: I’m a Tennis Athlete, a Harvard Graduate & the Operations Lead at Neat

Kelvin Lam heads up our Operations team here at Neat, and joined quite early on as the seventh employee. He was the first person to take on operations here, and has been helping to smooth out and automate internal processes ever since.

His path here, however, is not what you’d expect.

Kelvin is also a formerly professional tennis player and a Harvard graduate, who started his startup career in Singapore before returning home to Hong Kong.

Here’s his story.

Quick facts!

  • Team at Neat: Operations
  • Favourite food: Gummy bears (note my fun fact below); sushi; ice-cream
  • Hobbies: Recently picked up a new hobby of flying drones; and of course tennis!
  • Fun fact: I once ate 12 pounds of gummy bears (thank you Amazon) within a month during my freshman year in college. My tennis coaches obviously weren’t impressed by it.

When I was a kid, my dream was to play tennis

I’ve loved tennis for as long as I can remember.

When I was a kid, at the time SARS hit Hong Kong, everything was closed. I couldn’t go to school, people couldn’t go to work, and everyone just stayed indoors. Since there was nothing to do, I went downstairs and played tennis with my dad literally every day. It’s funny because he tried getting me into the sport before, but I never really cared.

But for some reason or another, I ended up loving the sport.

My dad started sending me to tennis classes. Things started to get more serious as I went from classes to training squads to eventually joining the national team when I was 12 or 13.

I wanted to be like those guys you see on TV; that was the dream I chased.

I found myself representing Hong Kong at the East Asian Games when I was 14 years old, as one of the youngest athletes in the delegation. When I was 16, I represented Hong Kong at the Davis Cup (the world cup of tennis) – one of the youngest athletes to ever represent Hong Kong at the event.

At this point, I knew that I wanted to pursue tennis into university as well. And the best place to do so was in the United States. Choosing to go to school in the U.S. would allow me to get a world-class education while continuing to compete in tennis at a high level. Its college sports system is second to none, and what’s more, playing a sport can go a long way in the application process.

That’s how I got into Harvard University, to major in economics and play on the Harvard Men’s Tennis team.

Choosing to pursue the world of startups

After four years of economics, tennis, and meeting some of the smartest people in the world it was time, I graduated from Harvard.

Everyone around me was applying to jobs so I thought I should too – but honestly I wasn’t really in a hurry to find a job. I contemplated continuing playing tennis professionally, unless something really good came through.

After graduation, I was still playing at some professional tournaments; then I got an offer from honestbee to work under the CEO as a management associate.

This was my something really good.

At the time, the company was growing very fast. The CEO needed someone to help support him and to get an extra pair of hands to help with the ins and outs across teams – what’s more, in working directly alongside him, he also wanted to train up entrepreneurial talent.

When most of my classmates from Harvard were joining large corporations and investment banks, I thought working at a technology company would be interesting. The idea of changing the way people do things by building innovative products was something that excited me. And at that point honestbee was already a fairly well-known company.

So I took it, chasing a dream that moved me all the way to Singapore.

My role at honestbee was incredibly different. I wasn’t in one team – marketing, or product, or customer support, etc. – but rather, together with the CEO, I worked across teams, overseeing and helping out with projects that spanned multiple teams. This gave me the ability to see how different deliverables from different teams worked together in a company. I got a really unique perspective into how a business is run on the operational side.

When I joined there were 100 people and were operating in 3 countries, when I left we were at 500 and operating in 7.

After having this chance to be a part of a great startup as it grew exponentially, and having the opportunity to oversee countless cross-departmental projects as we scaled, I felt ready to own a project of my own.

That's what drew me to Neat.

Joining Neat in Hong Kong

A longtime friend of mine, who also used to play tennis at a young age, introduced me to David, the CEO and Co-Founder of Neat, back in Hong Kong.

The prospect of diving into FinTech intrigued me. It’s such a highly regulated industry that it’s one of the more difficult industries to disrupt. I joined as the seventh employee after the two co-founders to run operations, due to my unique experience working cross-functionally.

As a small team, you really feel a sense of ownership, and a sense of really building something. When I joined, we had just launched our Personal product. As year and a half later, we have expanded into offering multi-currency accounts for businesses, officially acquired two licenses (and counting), and the team is over 40 people strong.

What’s more, gone are the days of my one-man show – now operations is a fully fledged team at Neat.

The Operations team! From left to right: Maxi, Jamie, Andrew, Vincent, Kelvin

So what does the operations team do at Neat?

Today, I lead the Operations team at Neat.

Basically our role is to build tools to help us do things better and more efficiently– or, as I like to say, build tools to help us not have to do anything.

We make sure all the internal processes are running smoothly. For example, to ensure we always have enough physical Neat cards to keep up with the rate at which new customers are signing up, Operations came up with an inventory monitoring system with a predictive capability.

What’s more, our job is also about finding things that aren’t necessarily broken, but at the same time can be optimized to work more efficiently.

For example, we have different spending limits for different tiers of our Neat Card. In the beginning our Customer Support team wasn’t able to see the remaining limits on a card, and needed to ask us on operations for that information. This worked, but of course, it wasn’t ideal. So we added a feature on our internal dashboard that allows CS to see this information themselves. Next up, we'll be adding this information right in the Neat App, so a customer can get that information themselves. This eases the workload on not just Operations but on the CS side as well, so they can focus on working with customers with more pressing issues.

Our job is to be hungry and eager to learn, and particularly not be afraid to challenge what’s already there.

So the members on the Operations team are very curious people. We come in and we don’t see it as work; we’re building something here.

Going against the grain pursuing a dream is something I know a lot about

All my life I’ve done the opposite of what people normally do.

In high school, when everyone’s single goal was to spend as much time studying to get into a good university, I was playing tennis, spending often 15-20 weeks a year travelling.

When most of my classmates at Harvard were joining investment banks and consulting firms on Wall Street, I joined a startup in Singapore.

And now I’m at a startup whose mission to provide financial solutions for all people and businesses, and become a decacorn company in the process. We’re trying to disrupt a space that’s highly regulated, where traditional financial institutions have thrived and held monopolies for decades.

I’m here to see it through. It’s a dream that goes against the grain – exactly my modus operandi.

Interested in opportunities at Neat?

See our open positions here!

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