At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community.
This week, we spoke to Christoph Rieche, CEO and co-founder of iwoca, a lending platform for SMEs.
He talked about the company’s progress to date and the struggle he faces when it comes to achieving the right work/life balance.
Tech vertical: FinTech
Funding: £38m equity
Staff count: 130
Q: Where did the idea for iwoca come from?
We came up with the idea for iwoca in 2011. The UK was coming out of recession but banks were still not lending enough to small businesses, the backbone of our economy. The government recognised the problem and ploughed money into initiatives to encourage bank lending but nothing seemed to work.
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It turns out it’s much more of a process and technology problem rather than one driven by the recession. Traditional lenders relied on outdated systems that weren’t able to understand the complexity of small businesses at a reasonable cost. At iwoca, we’ve built technology that allows us to fairly assess the risk of a small business at a much lower cost which means we can unlock the funding they need to do great things and drive sustainable growth.
Q: What’s your background? What were you doing before?`
Before iwoca, I was a VP at Goldman Sachs, advising corporate and institutional investors on risk management. I have always wanted to start my own business, so after leaving Goldman I spent some time looking for the right opportunity. Launching iwoca combined my finance experience with the excitement of a tech startup and a cause I truly believe in.
Q: How is iwoca going? How many companies have you helped so far?
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We’ve had an amazing journey so far having lent over £150m to about 8,000 small businesses. That said, our target is to support a million small businesses within a decade so we’ve still got a long way to go.
Q: What advice can you give other founders looking to raise VC funding?
Most important is to understand your market and know your USPs. Then you should engage with investors as early as possible and keep them up to date on your business and performance. This regular dialogue is critical – investors may not be interested now but you might be perfect for them in the future. Finally, be yourself at all times and don’t pretend to be something you’re not.
Q: What has been the most challenging part about setting up your company?
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In hindsight, it’s a bit insane to set up a business from scratch. It’s a very intense experience that comes with huge sacrifices and takes over your life.
Probably the biggest challenge for any growth business is convincing investors to believe in you. This is hugely stressful, time consuming and not very user friendly. Coincidentally, enabling businesses to access funding is exactly the problem that iwoca is trying to solve for the millions of other small businesses!
Q: What has been the most enjoyable part about setting up your company?
The most satisfying part is knowing that we’re enabling thousands of business owners to pursue their dreams. We work with every type of business you can imagine, from cafés to car dealers and online retailers to golf clubs, and we’ve heard some amazing stories of the things they’ve achieved.
The other incredibly satisfying part of launching a business is seeing your team grow. We’re now 120 smart, humble and motivated people who are all working for a common cause and who all have a huge growth mindset.
Q: What does a typical day in the office look like for you? How do you manage to achieve a good work/life balance?
As iwoca has grown, I’ve brought more structure into my day to keep me focussed on our core priorities. That means I try to keep the morning exclusively for meetings with people from within the team so I stay close to all projects and initiatives across the company – and there are many! In the afternoons I spend a lot of time on the phone, interviewing or meeting partners and investors.
Emails usually come in the evenings and achieving a good work / life balance is a major challenge. To some extent, it’s one of the sad sacrifices that come with running a startup but I am getting better.