This UAE expat is a mentor to migrants and sustainability startups in Singapore

Named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 and shortlisted for the 2021 Bracken Bower Prize, Vardhan Kapoor moved to Singapore to join the burgeoning tech industry. He tells us about the exciting possibilities in fintech, and why he devotes time to mentor migrant workers and sustainability ventures.

By Vardhan Kapoor | 29 Nov 2021

Vardhan Kapoor moved to Singapore in 2018 and joined Remitly last year as Head of APAC.

It’s interesting how my experiences living in different regions around the world led me to Singapore.

After graduating from the London School of Economics, I started out my career in financial services, then switched to management consulting. Within a few years, my work took me to places like China, Saudi Arabia and Russia, and increased my exposure to APAC.

Throughout my career journey, however, I was always on the lookout for a fast-paced ecosystem that is not just a catalyst for innovation but one that has the right ingredients to scale startups.

I found just that in Singapore.

The government support for startups, the conducive regulatory environment, the diverse talent pool – these were just some of the reasons I felt make this little red dot the perfect launchpad for any company that wants to seriously make a mark in the region.

When I moved here in 2018, I joined a high growth startup that was very much focused on B2C e-commerce. Now, my experiences in consulting and e-commerce have come together perfectly in my role at Remitly, where I’m growing the consumer-facing business in APAC for a fairly complex financial service.

Taking out-of-town visitors to sample some of the top local delicacies in 2019.

A Milestone Year at Remitly

Remitly is a mobile remittance platform with a vision to transform the lives of immigrants and their families by providing trusted financial services.

As head of APAC, I have a very hands-on role in overseeing our Australia and Singapore businesses. It includes managing our marketing campaigns, optimising our pricing structures, working closely with our product teams to find areas of improvement, engaging with customers for ongoing feedback, and connecting with the global leadership at quarterly board meetings.

2021 has been quite a milestone year for Remitly, especially since it went public on the Nasdaq stock exchange in September.

For me, the most exciting project has been the launch into the Singapore market. I remember countless nights working across product, legal, marketing and analytics, double-checking and ensuring that every aspect of the launch was good to go. We had successful outcomes at the end of this, but it was definitely a high intensity period.

Having a meal with the Remitly team in London this year.

Tech with Benefits

The tech sector in Singapore is growing at a rapid pace, particularly in terms of the size and sophistication of the talent pool.

I would say it wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t really consider Singapore to be a mature tech hub. But now, with the confluence of great institutions, experienced investors and, most critically, successful tech companies, you’ve got a really dynamic community.

In fact, I don’t know of a single tech company in Singapore that hasn’t faced talent shortages in recent months. As such, there’s a big rush for working conditions and packages to be more in line with international best practices, and with that you’re seeing a dramatic improvement in work-life balance.

Globally, Remitly has a massive focus on cultural values with 360 feedback, unlimited PTO (paid time off), career coaching, and other benefits that ensure the corporate culture remains strong as the company grows. It also doesn’t hurt to find some downtime – anything from Zoom happy hours to our own international talent contest at the height of the pandemic.

Enjoying a work Halloween party two years ago!

Nothing Prepares You for the Humidity

I came to Singapore knowing very few people, but I quickly found it to be a nexus for high-energy individuals from all walks of life. There are so many welcoming communities here. The hard part was finding time for all the meetups and activities I wanted to fit into the first few weeks.

I’d recommend newcomers to tap into communities such as the Tech65 Slack group (tech professionals can join SGN to learn more), university alumni associations, and interest groups on social media platforms like Facebook for quick queries to gain fellow expats’ insights.

Getting whisked to a World Cup celebration a few days after landing in Singapore in 2018.

That being said, nothing prepares you for the humidity.

On first arriving here, I definitely faced some challenges with the climate. After a few weeks, I realised that almost none of my old wardrobe was suitable for the climate. Uniqlo’s light and breezy range has become a wardrobe staple since!

On the other hand, Singapore’s weather (outside of the tropical monsoons) makes it an idyllic place for leisurely evening rides, and I’m a big fan of cycling. The Park Connector Network makes it surprisingly easy to find some genuinely world-class routes.

During the pandemic, I moved to Robertson Quay. Tucked between Fort Canning Park and the Singapore River, it’s a great spot to be close to nature yet remain central and connected. Before that, I lived in Tanjong Pagar, a neighbourhood I still find myself going back to, given its amazing array of lovely community shops and restaurants.

Exploring some of the fantastic urban nature Singapore has to offer.

Giving Something Back

I’ve been volunteering with migrant causes since my teenage years. The United Arab Emirates, where I grew up, had many migrant workers from around the world, and so there was ample opportunity to contribute to their wellbeing.

In Singapore, observing the challenges that so many migrant workers faced during the dormitory lockdown in 2020 was a great motivation to get up and give something back. I worked with Leap201, NTUC Income, and the Migrant Workers’ Centre to help launch a scheme that would provide ultra-low-cost health insurance to over 50,000 migrant workers in Singapore.

In parallel, I’ve been volunteering with Aidha to provide coaching and mentorship to foreign domestic workers looking to upskill themselves and achieve economic independence. It’s a great way to spend weekends and I can’t recommend it strongly enough!

One of the most fulfilling moments for me was working closely with my mentee Eli Nur at Aidha. Over the course of several months, I watched her evolve into a true powerhouse – with a strong plan, a clear vision for execution, and a deep drive to build her business.

Zoom celebration for the Aidha Business Accelerator class of 2020.

Making Sustainable Impact

I’ve also been involved in the sustainability space for quite some time. I think there’s something about growing up in a desert environment that really makes you appreciate just how fragile certain ecosystems are.

My interest in this area has led me to spend a lot of time advising companies that aim to scale up their sustainability initiatives. I do this both through my formal mentorship activities with Big Idea Ventures, and informal connections accrued during my time as the co-founder of the Deliveroo Global Sustainability committee.

A recent meet-up in London with the team from FUL, a Dutch foodtech startup that I advise.

My primary perspective on sustainability is that, by itself, it can’t be the only reason why customers choose your offering over the competition. Players in this vertical need to figure out a business case to justify why companies should adopt greener solutions.

This means thinking about how to provide a strong product that’s well priced for their target audience. So what I do is help companies become more competitive with their go-to-market strategy or obtain better product-market fit.

Singapore is currently going through an exciting evolution, with major operations of American and Chinese technology companies being present side by side. It’s one of the few places on the planet where you can see some unprecedented intellectual cross-pollination.

I anticipate that we will soon see some uniquely pioneering companies coming out of Singapore, and I hope to be able to, wherever I can, support and guide them to become as high impact as possible.

For a closer look at life on our sunny island, download our Insiders’ Guide to Living in Singapore.

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About Vardhan

Based in Singapore since 2018, Vardhan is head of the APAC region at Remitly. Outside of work, he is passionate about mentoring sustainability startups and volunteering with migrant causes.

Connect with him here.

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