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Kent Kwan, co-founder of Elevate Super

Kent Kwan, co-founder of Elevate Super

What my 9-year-old taught me about start-ups and the meaning of life

In this Kickstart Monday article, Kent Kwan talks us through his one piece of business advice and his lessons regarding startups and the meaning of life – all of which has been inspired by his 9-year-old daughter.

On a quiet evening just before bedtime, my nine-year-old daughter asked me out of the blue…why do we exist? Before you ask, it wasn’t an awkward question about where babies come from. No, it was a philosophical and existential question. Why are we here? Why do we exist in this vast universe?

I didn’t know the answer. So, I took a page out of all good parenting guides and answered with a question: “Why do you think we exist?”. Immediately she responded, “I’m not sure but there must be a reason.”

From a very young age my daughter has displayed an intense and unrelenting need to know. Every rule, every reasoning, every situation, every ‘fact’ must be questioned. Accepting the status quo is like doing homework – she’d really rather not.

Thinking back to how Elevate Super came about, our team went on a similar journey. We relentlessly questioned the status quo, asking why so many industry norms are just accepted.

Why is it ok to for so many super funds to invest without much regard to a sustainable world? Why is it ok to not tell people what their super is invested in exactly? Why is it so hard and boring to understand super? Why are super funds just so difficult to relate to?

I think that’s why Elevate Super exists, to tackle some of that status quo in superannuation and start the journey to change things for the better. Over time, this has become an unwritten rule among the team. Every single person, irrespective of their title or position, is encouraged to actively ask why something has to be done in a certain way.

This constant questioning of the status quo has a couple of key advantages. Firstly, it leads to much better product and services because there are no such things as status quo features. This tends to result in the creation of more customer-friendly experiences. Secondly, it generates ownership of innovative ideas within the team who become deeply engaged trying to solve problems by going back to first principles reasoning.

It certainly tests a lot of fixed assumptions many of us have about how things should be done or what features a product should have. If it starts feeling uncomfortable, you’re probably on the right track.

Challenging the status quo isn’t meant to be comfortable. Is the so called ‘key feature’ of your product really necessary? Is the business process you’ve had for years still the right process? Are you still the right person to lead a particular team?

Asking difficult first principle questions is certainly something we all used to do as kids. Sadly, as we grow up, we are often encouraged to think within the box and stop questioning the ‘norm’. Tuning in more to our nine-year-old inquisitive selves might help create much better products and an environment where colleagues feel more empowered to create change for good.

Maybe that is the answer to my daughter’s question. We humans as a species exist to keep questioning the status quo. Without it, we can’t collectively keep progressing for a better self, a better community and a better world. Without it, we would simply just accept everything as is.

Either way, I hope both my daughters (between the hours of 7am to 7pm!) and the Elevate Super team continue to passionately question the status quo.

Kent Kwan spent over 17 years working in finance including at Macquarie, JPMorgan and as CIO of an ASX-listed investment fund. Kent also runs a charitable foundation, Jam and Jelly, together with his wife. Their mission is to improve the health and well-being of children around the world. You’ll find Kent binge watching Big Bang Theory and Star Trek in his down time.

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Loren Webb

Loren Webb

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