Notes + Quotes: Fintech Investor Forum 2017

We recently attended the London Stock Exchange’s Fintech Investor Forum 2017, where Ahmed Badr from GoCardless was involved in a panel on Infrastructure.

Sometimes it’s just nice to have a brief selection of notes, quotes and highlights. Read on to see what caught our attention.

Are larger investors switched on to thriving fintech opportunities

Juan Lobato, Ebury

“The reality is that even some very successful fintech cos have been going for 8 years or so and even then, it’s not clear enough that it’s a safe bet.

The company needs to be stable before you get institutional in. For many B2B finetch cos, it’s not there yet.”

Jon Prideaux, Boku

“Big investors aren’t even necessarily desirable from the startup side either. A 5% change in meeting your target can have real consequences. And you may see that if a customer ships just slightly late, which can easily happen.”

Difference between B2C and B2B fintech

Todd Latham, Currency Cloud

“Customer acquisition is substantially higher but when you get it, is more predictable, sticky, margin rich. Businesses will pay for value.”

Ronni Zehavi, Hibob

“It’s B2B2C for us. Had to build the ultimate experience for B2B with the employer. Then also handle large old-fashioned systems of suppliers. And then consumers.”

Ahmed Badr, GoCardless

“You attract different types of individuals at a B2B fintech.”

“Also, scale has a completely different meaning. 20000 customers may be poor for a B2C play, but for us that would work very well.”

Challenges

Todd L, Currency Cloud

“Competitors can become ambiguous. Look at ClearBank. They can compete but also be a partner.”

“I worked at Microsoft when Linux became a thing, and you could position against them. You don’t have that luxury here — it moves to fast and you have to be nimble.”

“It’s also too easy to get wrapped up in any single piece of news. You should drive and execute your plan. That’s where success lies.”

Juan L, Ebury (re. Brexit)

“On a beautiful day like today, people want to be in London. But we have people interested in living in Paris, in Madrid. And these cities are giving you amazing tax breaks.”

“These cities will attract talent and I don’t think it’s a bad thing out have talent spread out. And the reality is, London can only cope with so many people.”

Augur writes about the future of journalism on TechCrunch

One thing we think is really important at Augur is to be properly connected to the world of the companies we work with. So we often end up writing for places like Quartz, Wired, The Guardian about technology and culture trends that are changing behaviour.

Most recently, the editors at TechCrunch published Max’s piece about how payment for journalism must work online. Check out the full piece here or read on below for a taster. (Impressively, it also marks our first crossing of the Great Firewall with a Mandarin version on TechCrunch China here!)

I write. I work with writers. Many of my friends are journalists. The future of being able to charge for quality material online is really important to me.

However, to make progress in this area, I think the industry needs to stop pinning its hopes on the same dead ends that come up again and again. To me, one of these is microtransactions for material.

Leading this field, Blendle has recently been on a PR push around its U.S. launch. Twenty U.S. publications will share with an audience of 10,000 test users articles for between $0.09 and $0.49 (9-49 cents).

Basically, none of this matters. It’s a wasteful diversion. Because to make real impact on this challenge, you need three key things — and Blendle has none of them.

Observations from Level 39 office hours

One of the pleasures of what we do is being invited into accelerators like Level 39, Barclays Fintech and TravelTech to give time to the next generation of young startups.

Every time we wrap up one of these sessions, it strikes me how the themes progress between the different conversations and how I think it says something about the current state of the startup ecosystem.

I’m sharing some simple notes here, in the hope that they may be of interest and use to some of you.

Messaging is a new plateau, not winner takes all

Messaging is the new big trend. As a result many founders are turning their design principles toward this, just as the move to apps became very common in the last few years.

One reaction to this is to think: “won’t your messaging platform just get stomped by Apple, FB, Google and co?” But the interesting thing about messaging is that you don’t have to own the platform to design something valuable that speaks the language of that format.

Quartz new app shows how a messaging dynamic and design language can inform a useful new way of presenting things, whether you are literally running on a messaging platform or not. You get a head start working to this trend, you are immediately compatible with anyone that may think to acquire you and the language of successful messaging apps like Line and WeChat is to integrate a whole variety of third party services into the platform.

Messaging is an opportunity to join the new normal, not just a looming ecosystem war in the hands of a few giants.

Persuading institutions

Often, innovations must play into and function within the realm of more traditional markets or communities. As a result, it can be hard to get the buy in of established key figures and influencers.

One way to tackle this challenge is to think about how you create prestige and opportunity for a core few, that incentivises them to be part of the trend. How do you make disruption aspirational in the eyes of those wed to the old way of doing things?

You may start small — but gathering these first few advocates is like bringing together the first flakes of a snowball, a snowman, then an avalanche.

The entrepreneur is changing

If nothing else, the “Tech City” initiative has made one thing clear: if you want to found a business, London is ready for you.

The variety of founders I have me in the last year is far broader and more diverse than those present five or six years ago. For example, it feels like people who may have been more conservative in the past, who already have existing and growing businesses, are more eager to take the path less trod and disrupt themselves.

This previous experience can be an enormous asset. But, especially if disrupting an existing established biz, you don’t have to have watched every episode of Dragon’s Den to know that investors will quickly push for the old business to die and the focus to shift entirely to where their interests are.

I love indirect network builders

Some businesses produce a product, sell it to an audience and reap the rewards. Others provide a service, often nearly for free, that fulfils a need and disrupts an industry — but crucially, builds a valuable network of connections at the same time.

Tradeshift was such a business. Facebook did this with photos to establish social connections. Whenever I hear a similar mission, my eyes light up. It’s hard. But it’s valuable.

 

5 workflows that make Augur run

We work with plenty of companies who find (or invent) ways to do things faster and better – therefore, it’s quite natural that we do the same. Augur is an engineering operation as much as anything, constantly looking for better ways to work.

That means we’re nearly email free via Asana + Slack, we hack together improved intel and deliver it to ourselves and clients, the acronyms that matter to us are OKRs and KPIs, not AVE.

We work differently.

Here are five small examples of how we do that – all easy to set up and try out today.

1. IFTTT + Slack: The ‘travel’ button

IFTTT Do

IFTTT has long held promise to streamline the way you work. Set up a simple formula of IF x THEN y. So, IF I tweet a link, THEN save it to an Evernote note. Or, IF it’s going to rain today, THEN email me at 9am.

The catch is, until now it has been pretty hard to find many ways for it to make your day to day better. Until they released an iOS app: “Do Note”.

Using Do, we’ve set up a trigger so you can press a button and it sends an automated message to your team Comms platform (in our case, Slack) with your current location, saying “Max is on the move.”

It’s the benefits of presence without the invasiveness. It’s 2x taps away on mobile. It’s communication distilled into a status update so people know who they can contact and when.

2. Followup.cc

Having tried Boomerang, Signals, Yesware, I love the features of being able to see when people open your emails, click links and remind you to follow up messages that go unanswered. However, I don’t love the fact it’s pretty invasive, unreliable, and may affect your deliverability.

Followup.cc lets you receive a reminder on any email simply by CC-ing the time period you want. So you can CC “3hours@followup.cc” or “nextweek@followup.cc”. Because of how it’s built, you can use it on any platform, in any browser and with intuitive flexibility.

Never let an email become a dead end again.

3. Asana eats email

Expect this one to be controversial. If any client or important contact emails us, it immediately creates a new task in our management platform Asana, and archives the original message. If email ends up often being an informal to do list, created by someone else, this makes that formal.

So if a client emails, we’ll reply in the comments thread on the Asana task. For internal conversation, we simply don’t use email – or might, to literally delegate a task into someone’s to do list.

This requires discipline to kill any emails you are subscribed to that don’t come with clear tasks (which may be better simply aimed into a shared Slack channel anyway). But in another way, it turns them into tasks, so reading a newsletter becomes something you decide to do and schedule – or delete.

Communicate via calendar (or Calendly)

When they arrive at the pearly gates and St.Peter asks them if they have any regrets, there isn’t a single person that is likely to say they wish they spent more time scheduling meetings.

Calendar invites are simply a form of email. If you’re arranging a meeting, recommend a couple of specific times and send a placeholder calendar invite, which can then be juggled around. 80%+ of the time, that appointment will fit and they other person can simply accept it.

The rest of the time, you can simply alter the invite based on feedback and get the job done. Half of you will be shocked at how obvious this is and are already doing it — for the other half, you’re about to make everyone you arrange a schedule with a lot lot happier.

Alternatively, if you don’t feel weird about referring people to a kind of robot assistant, tools like Calendly let you ID potential meeting times and share a link for people to book their own time with you. It will only show times you don’t have a clashing appointment and is great for things like coffees.

Alfred for launching

How do you find a document, contact details or launch an app? For me, the answer is the same simple keyboard shortcut: CMD+ spacebar.

This launches Alfred, an app like OS X’s default Spotlight but on steroids. The vanilla functionality helps you find anything on your mac and can quicklaunch URLs. But it’s the extensions that make it simple.

  • The Google Drive extensions turns it into a real time instant search of your files
Alfred screen 1
  • Timezone immediately displays clocks from around the world
Alfred shot 2
  • Spotifious lets you find or control Spotify
Alfred screen 3

There are many many more for everything from currency conversion to creating Asana tasks to Fantastical calendar entries to adding reminders to writing emails. The sky’s the limit.

What’s next?

Even since I started drafting this piece, the number of little tools and finds we have moved onto is expanding. And we’re always looking for new toys.

If you find any of these useful or have tips of your own, let us know…

Techstars Fintech Demo Day: Challenges of the startup story

Having spent time in the thriving, frothing, exhilarating, exhausting, terrifying, illuminating world of tech startups myself at Tradeshift, I think Augur is lucky to have insight and a perspective that many agencies don’t.

Because it’s a world full of people doing the next wave of interesting, important work, Augur proudly dedicates time to mentor programmes for both TechStars Barclays Accelerator and the Canary Wharf based Level 39. It sometimes feels about as close as you can get to being a VC without being a millionaire.

Today’s Techstars demo day demonstrated a complex side to this world that particularly leaps out at us: the difficulty of telling a distinct and compelling story.

Here’s what we noticed from the ten presentations.

1. Where’s the depth to your story?

My guilty habit is trying to find the thing a founder doesn’t want to tell you. In real life, it can make me seem like a cold bastard — but as a mentor, I think that’s one of the most valuable things we can provide.

In practice, what this also means is if you don’t tell me the very serious things, I’ll suspect there’s a reason you aren’t. God knows, your story and communications are going to be scrutinised from every angle at this stage of the company. We can help plug those holes (even if it’s possibly by bashing at chinks in the armour.)

This also extends to how you construct that story. It’s all too easy to fall into the generic — size of market, challenge being solved, team and experience. Sitting ten presentations back to back really reveals the underlying genre. Naturally, fitting a model helps and often works. But maybe there’s an opportunity to lay the icing on the cake and gain a memorable advantage. Don’t miss it.

2. Differentiator difficulty

Is it enough to be so close to existing, great companies but be on mobile or on the blockchain? In the latter case especially, there’s a weird chasm where what you’re describing can be so so simple (a marketplace for Bitcoin) that it seems both a bit meek — and curiously impossible. I.e. If such basic things haven’t been done yet, what’s the big looming challenge I don’t know about?

One of the most interesting companies that spoke today let its advantage via blockchain remain almost entirely implicit. This is because there was a match between the concept of the company and blockchain as the tool to solve it. That makes a big difference vs saying you’re simply building a tool/ service for that platform.

3. Is technology the solution?

When you have to set up a challenge and solution for slides, you can easily set up a straw man and knock it down. In the real world, resistance to technology is an everyday and sometimes near insurmountable nightmare.

There’s no doubt buyers are more advanced than they were in years gone by but this journey still feels work in progress. There’s also something intriguing in how technology can become a panacea for those with a mildly entrepreneurial mindset, sitting in their job and wondering “why is this harder to use than Facebook”?

Having just the right balance of understanding how technology businesses are different and also having spent years in a particular vertical where you see a specific and non-obvious problem is rare.

Both today and from speaking with her previously, Everledger co-founder Leanne Kemp was a remarkable demonstration of this. Market specific experience advantage in her background, already working to the bone to get the work done, already working with the right kind of people, history of previous companies. A definite one to watch.

In a world where you hear confident setup slides, market value etc you start to rely on these kinds of things as indicators of the real ones to watch.

The Game of B2B

Despite all these challenges,the companies really demonstrate why unsexy B2B tech, including fintech, retail tech and more, is thriving right now.

Even with the potentially weakest of these concepts, they are speaking an ultra clear language. It’s not about getting 100m consumers to download an app or buy a fizzy drink, it’s about targeting a clear and specific group of valuable companies and helping them make or save 100s of millions of dollars.

That’s a game of value we’re really delighted to see continue to thrive and play our own small part in.

Search, and the commercial clash of the information age

People are looking for things. You want them to find you.

But not just when looking for you, of course, that’s a given. Really, you want them to find you when they are looking for other things. Or, best of all, when they’re looking to buy other things.

And so the clash emerges. Because of how search works, if you want to be found, you have to essentially become that thing online.  You have to equate yourself with what your audience is looking for as they hope to buy.

Exceptions and expectations

But what happens if there’s a dissonance between what people are currently looking for and what you think they really should be looking for? It’s a classic issue in something like tech PR. Or communications. Or whatever you want to call the big converging soup of media and marketing.

How do you join the dots between the ‘wrong’ search and the right ideas?

If you can explain the difference, that should be a relevant, shareable, memorable way to tackle the challenge. That should be a good fight in the battle, not for some mysterious search blackhattery — but because you’re genuinely moving the subject forwards.

And even better, play your cards right and it should become a relevant source for the subject you think people should be searching for too. Because you’ve actually created value.

Twitter Cards: in the right place at the right time to create a new kind of web

What’s the difference between a tweet and a blog post? What about a collection of tweets and a website?

You may start with a description of 140 characters, but while this famous limit still applies, it’s hardly the point anymore.

Twitter Cards (RIP ‘tweets’), are best thought of as ‘action+caption’ and may quickly become the smallest meaningful and shareable unit of the web.

Read the rest at Econsultancy