Our Small Business Star this week is Conrad Ford, founder and chief executive of Funding Options, an award winning online finance intermediary. Funding Options helps UK businesses access the funding they need by using unique technology to individually analyse the funding needs of each small business and connect them with their finance options.
With a background as a chartered management accountant at a leading global bank, Conrad created this fast-growing technology funding business. He wanted to create the go-to service that any business could use when they need to access finance, removing one of the major barriers in the UK economy. After noticing the lack of access to finance for UK businesses, particularly smaller ones, Funding Options officially launched their service in 2012.
Here’s what Conrad has to say about his experience starting his own venture.
We’re like match.com, but for businesses
Our SME finance matchmaking tool is our most popular service. I say “matchmaking” because it’s set up a bit like an online dating site. As a business owner, you simply let the tool know a bit about your business and what you’re looking for, and the algorithms match the user to the best possible funding options. A friend described it quite succinctly when we launched: “like match.com, but for businesses.”
Our greatest successes come from making sure our service helps viable businesses and start-ups get the funding they need. Last year, we helped to save a hotel business from the plunge by securing vital finance for its survival and taking it out of administration. The process ended up saving a viable business and more than 100 jobs. Helping more challenging cases like this will show the value of the Funding Options service.
A great service can be a launch pad to success
Given there’s so much technology that underpins Funding Options, we delayed the launch of our service in an attempt to get the product right, to the very last detail.
Since then we’ve garnered national press and awards, built the most advanced SME finance finder tool in the UK and I’ve been invited to the HM Treasury working group to help pull together Government measures to support business finance in the long term. This work now forms part of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill currently going through Parliament.
The landscape of your market can change drastically
The large fall in bank lending to UK SMEs after the last credit crisis left small businesses in urgent need of advice and direction. Working in the sector, I understood the importance of a healthy lending market for a productive economy and many people’s livelihoods.
There has since been a boom in the UK alternative finance market so we’ve evolved to use market insight and technology to help businesses navigate this fast-changing landscape. With the choices now available, the finance market is somewhat congested. The problem we address helps business owners to understand what their best funding options are.
Extend your reach with good PR and great partnerships
Since our initial launch, we’ve had great PR from our innovative service, featuring in national press for deals and awards for our service.
We’ve also established many partnerships with accountants, trade federations and national bodies designed to help UK firms like the Forum for Private Businesses. This has given us tremendous reach to business owners and helped to drive quality leads towards Funding Options.
Be compatible for businesses, but tailored to individuals
At first, we thought the market could be successfully served with a simple comparison tool for all of the products. A lot of business owners want to compare rates for instance, without considering the other features of finance products, and this makes simple comparisons near impossible. This is why many alternative finance providers will never have the “one size fits all” product, nor should we want them to.
This meant we had to build not only the most sophisticated SME Finance Finder tool but also an excellent customer facing team which could structure more tailored finance solutions.
We’ve managed to integrate with business accounts and analyse a business within minutes, and also understand the more challenging situations, such as those cases that require a more nuanced approach and tailored solutions. This means it won’t ever just be a simple case of “computer says no”.
Get out there and try, fail, and learn
While we’ve experienced success in the market, when I look back I think we spent too long building the perfect product from the off. In reality, you just need to get it in front of real customers as soon as possible and adapt from there. Trust your instincts but learn to trust customer feedback even more.
Find out more about Conrad and Funding Options by visiting: https://www.fundingoptions.com/
For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.
Oh, and one last thing – if you are, or know, a small business star, share with us below.