Regulations are messy. Meet Evan Wong, the 25-year-old entrepreneur wading into the problem with his Australia-based regtech startup Checkbox, designed to turn your compliance headaches into a business opportunity.
Compliance regulations are complicated and subject to frequent changes, an alien language and costly, cumbersome procedures associated with them – a constant challenge facing businesses, both startups and international corporates alike. This is something Evan Wong knows well, having founded his first startup Hero Education aged 17. “I found the navigation through regulatory rules complex and confusing, and I wanted to do something about that,” he recalls. That frustration, combined with his disappointment over a lack of solutions in the market, eventually became the impetus for his new business venture Checkbox – a regulation technology (regtech) startup based in Australia.
“Checkbox is a no-code platform that enables businesses to build rule-based automation software without touching a single line of code,” the CEO begins. It seeks to digitalise regulatory procedures, from “document automation of contracts and agreements to automating legal advice, or even the entire international financial reporting standards,” with the least amount of hassle.
As Evan sees it, this is revolutionary. Many corporations still struggle to keep up with the latest developments in technology, especially in compliance-oriented sectors, including legal services and financial institutions, where he says there is, “a default reliance on people, as opposed to technology, to solve compliance issues. These companies lack the capability and talent to undertake digital transformation successfully because most of them aren’t traditionally software or IT companies,” Evan explains of the predicament. Despite the increasing demand for technology aid, “it never makes it to the top of IT’s priority list.” According to Reuters, compliance issues cost corporates as much as USD 100 billion each year, and that investment doesn’t always yield the best results. “‘People’ cannot provide the scale to keep up with the regulators,” he explains of the shortcomings of manual processing.
Tapping into this pain point, Checkbox offers an easy, do-it-yourself alternative, synthesising thousands of pages of documents into one software model. With its inbuilt functions, such as interactive decision-tree mapping, dynamic form building, interactive spreadsheets and a customisable configuration of security and permissions, Checkbox helps corporates streamline their problem-solving and decision-making procedures. One way corporates can utilise Checkbox is to aggregate spreadsheets of updated regulations and transform them into a questionnaire, with which professionals can then use to decide whether or not certain practices adhere to the regulations.
In turn, this reduces firms’ compliance costs and frees up professionals from paperwork so they can return their focus to building relationships with clients, as well as other areas where human judgment is required. “This is particularly important for the professional services industry such as law firms and consulting firms,” Evan says. “Checkbox enables them to break the ceiling on scaling revenue, which is now limited to the number of experts in the firm.”
Having rolled out their solution a year ago, the startup has already grown threefold and quickly garnered accolades and attention, bringing home the title of ‘Regtech of the year’ at the 2017 Australian FinTech Awards and securing AUD 1.77 million from angel investors last year after two years of bootstrapping. Currently, Checkbox boasts an impressive client list comprising of more than 10 tier 1 and 2 professional service companies, including legal research company Lexis Nexis, Clayton Utz, and Australia’s leading business advisory firms CharterNet.
A fast-rising prospect in Australia’s startup arena, Evan is quick to point out that his journey with Checkbox hasn’t all been smooth. Family pressure was one of the first roadblocks he had to overcome at 22 when he took a leap of faith to start it in 2015. “It took some convincing to have my parents fully on board,” he recalls of the time he quit his graduate job at a prestigious advisory firm. “My parents come from an upbringing where security trumps risk-taking, they always urged me to take the safer option.”
Developing his product was no easy feat either. Checkbox’s Software as a Service (SaaS) platform only came to be two years after Evan and his co-founders, best friend James Han and business mentor Paul Wenck, started working on it. “We spent six months validating the idea, went through four significant pivots, and underwent a year of product development before landing on our current solution,” he remembers.
Underpinning his success has been Evan’s unwavering determination and self-belief. As a young entrepreneur, he’s lost count of how many time he questioned his ability to lead. “It can be daunting being a young business starter, because you end up hiring, managing, and selling to people much older than you,” he speaks of his experience. “My piece of advice is to find your personal niche and believe in your own ability. Discover what your unique value or expertise is as a founder and double down on this. Prepare yourself for a period of discomfort and uncertainty before it unveils itself. Once you’ve found your personal niche, it’s imperative to understand your gaps, build a team to fill those gaps, and trust and empower them to help you achieve your vision.”
Having recently inked a contract with their first oversea enterprise in Hong Kong, Evan is now focusing on establishing Checkbox’s first foothold abroad. Capitalising on the lucrative opportunity he sees fuelled by further digitalisation, Checkbox wants to “empower anyone to build software.” Evan hints, “We’re starting with compliance and regulation within financial and professional services because that’s where it hurts most. Next, we want Checkbox to be the go-to tool for creating software.”