As a young boy, Stuart Thornton’s first introduction to entrepreneurship was through his father. The CEO and co-founder of Singapore-based e-commerce service hoolah saw how his dad left a stable, well-paying job to successfully start his own company.
“Our family experienced the highs and lows of my father’s choice, but seeing him take that risk and navigate the growth of his company was extremely rewarding,” Thornton reflects. “To be independent and brave enough to create something from scratch stuck in my psyche.”
True enough, Thornton has followed his father’s footsteps by leading hoolah’s strategy, people, and growth development today. He explains that the company essentially liaises with merchants to provide buy now and pay later options for their customers, allowing them to complete a purchase in zero-interest monthly payments.
“Our company focuses on building closer relationships between retailers and consumers,” Thornton expounds. “We’re ecstatic to offer a win-win solution for both merchants and consumers. Not only do we help the latter attain their preferred shopping lifestyle, but we also educate them on responsible affordability.”
The year 2018 was a defining year for Thornton: he resigned from his cushy job at payment processing giant Worldpay to establish hoolah. It was a momentous move reminiscent of his father’s.
“I was introduced to Jason Van, who had previously spearheaded the technology for a global Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) company,” Thornton shares of hoolah’s founding years. “We had a similar business vision, so he joined hoolah as our chief technology officer and co-founder.” He notes that having Van onboard was vital because they needed to build a minimum viable product: an online platform that could add value to merchants and consumers.
As Thornton and his team refined their value proposition as a platform, they began learning what was important to merchants and customers.
“Consumers wanted something that would help them afford items they want or need, but didn’t like going into debt,” Thornton says. “This helped coin our mantra of responsible affordability.”
He also learned that merchants were looking for partners to drive consumers to their stores, convert browsing customers to paying ones, increase their shopping cart’s value, and get repeat customers. Fortunately, Thornton says that these are the problems that hoolah has solutions for.
“We don’t make money from the consumers,” Thornton clarifies. “Our revenue share is based on a percentage of each successful transaction made using hoolah, plus we don’t charge our merchants any setup fees or create onerous contracts.”
hoolah pays the merchant upfront once the product is sold, so there is no impact on their cash flow. Moreover, the process is deemed fuss-free for them as it is all done digitally, allowing them to deploy hoolah for both their physical and online stores. It’s also worth noting that this contact-free method is especially beneficial amid the pandemic because it helps sustain businesses through recovery and onto growth.
“Our merchant partners have reported at least a 20% increase in conversion and basket size,” Thornton proudly shares. “There are also many other merchants with significantly greater outcomes.”
With e-commerce and fintech becoming increasingly fluid, seamless, and global, Thornton says that technology is truly proving itself capable of knowing a customer’s financial position through data. He adds, however, that being in Asia adds a layer of complexity in terms of compliance, legal, language, currency, and cultural differences.
“We built hoolah with these challenges and opportunities in mind,” Thornton supplies. “It is a scalable platform that allows us to localize solutions for crucial variances, as well as manage critical elements like local government requirements. We also have a platform to help localize payment options and allow customers to pay the way they want.”
hoolah may be a relatively new player in the industry. Still, Thornton says that the company already has sound tactics that would sustain them and propel them to become a leader in the fintech and e-commerce landscape.
“Focusing on the consumer and their experiences has been helping us refine their shopping journey.” Thornton starts. “We also designed our business to be product-led. It has helped us develop our core platform to be scalable in terms of size and flexibility, as well as enable us to move into new markets very quickly.”
Thornton is candid about his struggles before hoolah was founded. “Establishing a business venture outside your home country is tough,” he reflects, “I firmly believe that if you are building a business that you are passionate about, you can only do so if you have experienced tough times. Nothing will be delivered to you on a platter, so you have to make things happen on your own.”
To keep a business financially healthy and steadily generate revenue, Thornton advises that providing excellent service to your customers goes above and beyond expectations. He also adds that understanding and learning customer’s pain points and focusing on the people make a company great.
As far as hoolah goes in the next decade, Thornton visualizes the company existing across the Asian region and continues to help merchants, partners, and consumers wherever they are.
“hoolah will be a verb that will stand for responsible affordability as a lifestyle,” Thornton declares.” It would essentially stay true to its primary objective: helping everyone – the banked, underbanked, and unbanked — to achieve their aspirations whatever they may be.”