Val Yap, founder of Singapore insurtech PolicyPal, has written a memoir about her experience as a female tech entrepreneur. “Balls Inc.” is her attempt to explore and explode the prevailing attitudes toward women tech entrepreneurs in Asia.
“Balls Inc..” is also about entrepreneurship and how to manage a startup.
It’s mostly a success but incomplete.
Yap combines personal storytelling with many dos and don’ts of creating a business from scratch. DigFin recommends this for entrepreneurs and VCs or other investors in startups; and for women in fintech. (The book is self-published. Note to Val: make this available on Amazon!)
Yap has turned a sad series of events in her life, particularly around her parents’ troubles with insurance companies, into a well-rehearsed pitch, familiar to anyone who’s seen her present. Her memoir goes deeper, showing how other disappointments and betrayals influenced, or threatened to derail, her business.
PolicyPal arose as a response to family trauma, creating a digital space for people to consolidate and access their insurance policies. Yap overcame skepticism from the traditional industry to connect with insurers via API by going around them and engaging directly with their customers. This forced insurers and their agents to realize they were better off collaborating than trying to freeze her out. Today PolicyPal has many insurance partners and a business catering to SMEs as well.
Yap notes some of the things that helped her along her way: admittance to the MAS fintech sandbox; crucial publicity from journalists; finding mentors; taking classes to learn certain business skills; putting in the hours and the footwork.
But none of this was straightforward, and “Balls Inc.” addresses the challenges she faced as both a woman and as an entrepreneur.
First, Yap talks about the issues she faced as a single woman founder. Potential investors, employees and partners often wondered if she’d end up getting married and having kids, and ignore the business. No one asks this of single male founders. Yap describes how she responded: by seeking out women mentors, building a community, and where necessary, developing the grit to just keep going and make decisions that aren’t always easy. She also discusses how she handles sexual harassment and inappropriate situations at work.
Second, Yap provides anecdotes that should resonate with any startup founder. She faced the chicken-and-egg problem of how to secure both funding and build a team, when you don’t yet have either – something any entrepreneur will want to read. She also goes into the perils of giving away too much trust and information, not to mention equity; how to tell the difference between a company genuinely open to partnership versus those just trying to get dirt on you; and investment money that’s “dumb” versus the kind that nurtures your business.
Yap says in the book that she chose to emphasize her personal story over the technicalities of running an insurtech. She is up front about many things. But not everything. Nowhere does she mention PalNetwork, a project she launched to create insurance products based on blockchain. Nor the $20 million she raised for it via an initial token sale – talk about balls! Let’s hope she writes a sequel.