LFP043 – Reality vs Hype in UK Fintech Startups with Ruzbeh Bacha CEO CityFalcon

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On London Fintech Podcast episode 43 I am delighted to have Ruzbeh Bacha CEO and founder of CityFalcon on the show.

CityFalcon’s mission is to democratise access to financial news thereby creating a level-playing field for all investors whether retail or institutional. They provide comprehensive real-time and relevant financial news which is free for consumers and at a modest fee for business.

They were recently described by Twitter as: “One of the 10 most industry-disrupting and innovative solutions in 2015“.

Ruzbeh BachaRuzbeh founded the company in an archetypal way, in his bedroom just over two years ago and it has now grown to over a dozen staff.

Those of you who listened to the previous show, LFP042, the 2016 New Years Special will have heard me taking a deep dive into media distortions – in essence for a whole bunch of reasons there is what one might call a War on Truth. This applies whether it’s the mainstream media on War, the Euro or health all the way down to the well-known phenomenon that people post only the sunny side of their coin of life on Facebook.

And this is as true in Fintech as any sector. In fact its probably more hyped than any other sector.

So we are here to talk about real “primary journalism” – interviewing a coal miner who has been at the coalface long enough, and is honest enough, to share what it’s really like.

Topics discussed include:

– Startup-scene hat-tips to Google Campus and Silicon Drinkabout

– Ruzbeh’s motivation to launch his own startup after many years working for well-known organisations, his passion for trading

– A discussion of the hot-topic of immigration – “good”, “bad” or more complex?

– Ruzbeh’s angle that both the country and the individual benefit when the UK admits those with skills in under-staffed sectors like developers

– The tech company journey from solving a problem, being about user experience to numbers and metrics and being run by accountants

– Ruzbeh’s initial perception that there was a lot of money flowing into the startup scene – this turns out to be untrue “Europe is still a very risk-averse space”

– “There are three categories where you will get funding very easily”:

  1.  “if you are a Rockstar product manager or serial entrepreneur”
  2. “if you have worked in the City for a long time and can raise millions with a few phone calls”
  3. “anything which is popular” [eg blockchain right now]

– VC’s and the “fast second” phenomenon; many VCs will not give you funds if you are innovative

The reality – quite different from what one reads in media and stats – is that is very difficult to raise money in London for Fintech startups – see Ruzbeh’s blog articles here and here

The unreality of “Big Picture” numbers of tens of billions flooding into Fintech

– the knock-on effect on government policy as they believe there is a huge flow of funds into the sector

– Ruzbeh has spoken to 50 potential investors all of whom don’t invest in startups but only at Series A when the company has users and traction;

– how to get to Series A if one can’t hire the talent to build a great product in the first place? This alone confounds any idea of a democratic Fintech marketplace

– The awful asymmetry of standard VC term-sheets which aim at giving the VC the upside of equity but downside protection of debt

– in Fintech there is no such thing as a minimum viable product – it needs to be super-hot from day one in order for potential users to try it out

– the preference for service companies (early cashflow) over product companies

– the difficulty (and hence price) of getting folks who understand Fin and Tech

– London is a great place for Fintech despite the challenges being far greater than advertised and a long way behind San Francisco/Silicon Valley

– the realpolitik of Silicon Valley racial/gender/background composition (I don’t recall the link to a recent study of unicorns in re but this is reported passim eg here) and the massive impact of the “trickle down” from ~$1trn military/secret state spend per annum

– plenty of Fintechs have already folded having found how long it takes to sell into a bank

– three advantages of valley/US tech scene:

  1. you can raise a decent amount of money in the first place
  2. the startup ecosystem – investors helping you to scale
  3. far fewer time-wasters in the US compared to the UK [where folks will ask for more and more info even if they have no real interest]

– CityFalcon’s current business state – “free” is very disruptive compared to paying thousands per month to existing FS information providers

– Aggregation and smart filtering of key news on the stocks/sectors you are following

– Good traction, good product – current consumer stats: 5,000 monthly uniques, 2,000 registered users and 40% email open rate

– their growth direction is to aim for 100,000 people on the platform

– they run a meetup in London on investing

– Ruzbeh’s full (15) lessons-learned on his journey blog article

– final three takeaways:

  1. there are no rules, only experiences (be sceptical about advice)
  2. assume you get no funding, get customers to fund the business asap
  3. you can’t motivate employees with just moeny/stock options – you have to live through to learn

And much much more 🙂