Caxton founder: A ‘strong numbers person’ is a startup’s best early hire

Caxton founder Rupert Lee-Browne

Rupert Lee-Browne is the founder and CEO of Caxton, a payments company that provides tools for businesses and individuals to move money.

Lee-Browne founded Caxton in 2002 – making it one of the UK’s early fintechs – with £25,000 in capital and a “borrowed office and telephone line”. Caxton’s platform, which is powered by open banking, processes 8.6 million transactions every year.

Its API enables every payment type, including payroll, international money transfers and foreign exchange.

The London-headquartered business, which is regulated by the FCA, acquired pre-paid pocket-money card and app Nimbl in early 2023 from ParentPay.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Lee-Browne explains why it’s risky for startups to take funding early, why company diversity can’t be achieved without its leaders promoting it, and reveals the best early hire he made.

1. What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?

Rupert Lee-Browne: Bootstrap, bootstrap, bootstrap. The funding model of taking investment early on opens you up to all sorts of risks. Control is everything in a business, be it financial or managerial – and selling equity means that you are ceding control to some extent or other.

Don’t forget that investors are demanding. They have very fixed and sometimes strong views about what you should be doing, and about the future of the business. However, as a founder you should be the one deciding exactly what the future of the business is. You are best placed to make all of these decisions.

If you take investment early, you are selling the most valuable asset you have which is equity.

2. Which role was the most important early hire you made?

Without a doubt, the financial controller. Of all things, you need to start and run a business, you need a strong numbers person, be that a CFO, a finance director, a financial controller, a bookkeeper – that someone to look after numbers.

Most businesses go under in the early days because they run out of cash than for any other reason. Strong financial control is an absolute requirement to ensure a long-lived successful future.

3. Tell us about a time you screwed up?

RLB: I have never learnt anything from my successes. I’ve only ever learned through my failures and my desire to change the outcomes of things. Success and failure are all relative and it doesn’t matter how many times I may have messed up or how big a mistake it was.

Life is peppered with failures and we really should just celebrate those failures – it’s a real opportunity to learn. I find when you fail, it pushes you to do better.

4. Excluding your sector, which nascent technology holds the most promise?

RLB: It’s not nascent, but one that is rapidly evolving, and that’s MedTech and Healthtech – both are areas of greatest importance to the world. In addition to these, technology that enables things such as clean water for everyone, and climate technology that helps mitigate the harmful effects of climate change to help us achieve net zero and save our planet is vital.

5. What’s the best way to promote diversity in the workplace?

RLB: The only way to promote diversity in a workplace is to live it. If the chief executive or the leader is not promoting diversity in their own business, then it cannot be achieved. Don’t pay lip service to it.

Understand what diversity really means before claiming to be diverse. The coming together of people of different backgrounds, varying abilities, and sundry ideas and perspectives is what drives innovation and creativity. It is crucial for growth.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.