Founder Spotlight: Benjamin Blanchard and Kieran Martin of Index-Asia
Gateway to Greater Innovation
By Michaela Villaroman
an emerging market with a huge potential for growth, Asia is undoubtedly a
great choice for investors looking for numerous opportunities. The prospects that
Asia’s economy incorporates, almost certainly ensures that investments will
reap great profits and rewards in the near future.
Recently, the Philippines was heralded as having the fastest-growing economy in Asia with a growth rate around 7%. Along with its impressive economic status, the country retains a promising workforce with the ability to speak English fluently; holds abundant row resources and bears great business opportunities already. Indeed, the Philippines offers tremendous potential, but incredibly remains uncoordinated with this massive powerhouse in most mindsets.
The Philippines’ shift from being “the sick man of Asia” to “the rising tiger of Asia” is met with newfound credibility. However, that historical reputation remains prevailing for some oblivious stakeholders.
And this enlightens the dilemma they are facing.
As much as it would be a shame not to seize the chance to partake in the Philippines’ ongoing progress, many investors still remain unaware of all its current potential.
Fortunately, Index-Asia is stepping-up to remedy to this problem. Focused primarily on bridging Europe to Asia, this company aims not only to make European companies and investors aware of Asia’s opportunities but also to provide local and foreign clients with financial consulting services. They provide support with funding research, Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) operations and thoroughly optimized business models, by assisting the build-up of emerged-economy standard deliverables as well as connecting those clients to the right resources then able to understand what the business is about.
FROM IMPLEMENTING TO CONSULTING
Benjamin Blanchard, co-founder of Index Asia, shared with us the story of how the company came about.
Benjamin studied at HEC Paris, with a specialization in finance and in the digital economy. Then, he worked as an investment banker for Lazard Frères where he gained a strong experience in the realm of financial and M&A advisory. After that, he was hired by Iliad (#3 French telecom operator owned by Xavier Niel) to work particularly on several M&A projects such as the $15 billion offer for T-Mobile US and on the in-market consolidation in France. In addition, he continued to perform as a freelancer consultant for diverse businesses in France to assist them in their fundraising and financial operations.
He actually ended up almost by chance in the Philippines, with a new entrepreneurial project he had in mind. He originally came to the country for a visit when his friend and client invited him to the acclaimed Malasimbo festival in Puerto Galera to discuss about the opportunity to deploy his product – a cashless payment system - all over the Philippines. “After that, I came back to Manila and stayed at “Z” (Z Hostel, Makati, today’s ranked number one hostel in The Philippines)” Benjamin shares, “there I met the President of “Z” who asked me to come back in the Philippines to implement what will be the first 100% cashless system for a hostel all over the world.”
But the job didn’t end there.
Having just recently opened, but receiving a terrific turnover, Z Hostel was interested in looking for expansion but required more funds. They turned to Benjamin for further assistance. Using his previous experience in the financial field, Benjamin saw the opportunity and decided to switch his core business to focus solely on financial consulting instead. This led to Index-Asia we know today.
Kieran Martin, a management consultant with a master’s degree in Business Development in Asia from EDHEC, was immediately contacted by Benjamin to take part in as a co-founder of Index-Asia. Kieran and Benjamin’s partnership goes way back; coming from the same remote countryside in France they’ve always been collaborating since. Benjamin recalls, “One day I just called him and told him about this opportunity. A week after, Kieran decided to quit his job and to take a one-way flight to Manila!” The story is ongoing.
Thereafter Antoine Blanc, a former entrepreneur with a background in the Private Equity in South East Asia decided to join the team as a co-founder of Index-Asia as well. He became a friend of Benjamin through scholarship in HEC Paris. Antoine decided to quit his position at Zalora for this entrepreneurial project in the financial consulting field.
BUILDING THE GATEWAY TO ASIA
Aside from focusing on financial consulting, Index-Asia urges on addressing European companies and investors to the potential discovered in the Philippines. “Some European companies plan to go to Asia, but they don’t know where to start. They don’t find the right local partner” Benjamin explains. He says that when European entrepreneurs think of Asia, they rarely consider the Philippines; the country remains relatively unknown to them. But Benjamin intends to change all this.
According to him, “The Philippines’s GDP has almost tripled in 10 years, switching to improved services and manufactures. The population’s average age is below 25 leading to an impressive one fifth being currently in school. Competition from those quality workers and English speakers shall lift the country up on top to become the new lung of South-Asia.” The incredible turn in the likes of the BPO services and renewable energies is the tip of the iceberg. Determined on providing a chance and promoting what the Philippines truly has to offer, Index-Asia intends to fully enlighten worldwide companies.
It may take time, but Benjamin is confident with the country’s abilities and capabilities. He has no doubts that European companies will soon take notice.
What led Benjamin to the Philippines was primarily innovation and business optimization through the implementation of the cashless payment system. Index-Asia integrated both aspects in their business culture.
In fact, they believe that there might be a gap between traditional business models and the tech and digital oriented ones, in which all Index-Asia members enjoyed significant experience (founders of a tech distribution company, consulting in digital strategy and digital transformation for multinationals). Incorporating a digital strategy (online marketing, digital organization tools) in its business model when you are in a traditional industry is already innovating. And this is the key to be competitive and to maximize the efficiency of the company. As of today in France, Benjamin says that “around 42% of SMEs do not even bother going online through a website”.
Secondly the purpose of innovation is also to think “global” for your company. Whether you are in Europe or Asia, sharing resources between the two is the perfect cocktail for creativity and optimization. Knowing the specified knowledge, expertise of European companies and the countless resources and opportunities in Asia, this will certainly lead to incredible stories in the very near future. Benjamin notes that “you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, there is always a way for innovation in your business.” So, it isn’t limited to the digital sense of opting for new technologies, and the likes. Ingenuity also comes from realizing where the opportunities lie as well as being able to seize them. Simple improvements and more effectively managed current business models is already a big step forward when done smart.
There is a long way to go, Index-Asia is in the midst of this exciting journey.