What’s Your Story, [Fintech] Founder?
Funding. The African startup’s biggest challenge and the determining factor between growing up or going bust. And while access continues to be a barrier, it’s not impossible to achieve if you have managed to convey your startups’ “Why” in a way that adds investor confidence, is easily communicable to customers and sets the foundation to build on a company culture that future employees (and consumers) can buy into and entrench.
As a fintech enthusiast and advocate, I keep tabs on the moves all my favourite companies make on their journies to startup success, the impact made on the markets they operate in and how they positively change the lives of the users they serve. What really draws me to them are the stories they tell. From the founder’s personal journey to the reason why their startups exist and to the testimonials from the users for solving the challenges they’ve faced prior to their product or service. I believe most entrepreneurs start companies with well-meaning intentions — it’s not always about the potential of making money, but they fail to communicate this to their customers and investors, which could seriously hamper their efforts.
I stumbled on a tweet (below) from the entrepreneurial consultancy Brillianaire ZA founder @MorolongZA, reaching out to @Mashstartup on the challenge faced by founders to craft a story to accompany their startup’s pitch to raise capital.
As a result, this question fueled this piece to offer some insights I have gleaned on my journey to raise funds. Understanding that reading and writing are some of my (stronger) hobbies, story-telling comes easier to me, than it would for most entrepreneurs. However, not having a good grasp on the above is not a deterrent or determining factor in conveying your startup story — it’s literally based on you, what, why you do what you do. Let’s expand on this process:
1. Who are you?
Based on my personal experience, interactions with other founders and connections to investors, there seems to be one overriding theme that always appears: Investors fund the founder. People are more willing to buy into you as a person, rather than the solution you’re looking for funding for — and if they weren’t before, this is the approach they should always take. The reason is simple: Because of the dynamics in startups (particularly early-stage startups), they’re always in constant change. The feedback gathered from their users, product traction/adaptability stats and market conditions may always require the startup to pivot. Because of this, it is important that investors do not place the entrepreneur's product/service offering as the penultimate funding determining factor, but rather focus on the persona of the entrepreneur themself. Before an entrepreneur seeks funding, they need to, as @MorolongZA states, “have their story right”, and this is done by:
- Having absolute clarity on your ability as an entrepreneur. Why have you gone through the (painful) process of entrepreneurship? Were there any events in your past that assisted in your startup journey? Where do your passions/energies lie in ensuring the startup’s success? What future do you do dream of building?
- Being genuine and authentic in recounting and telling your story cannot be emphasised enough. Again, who are you? This question helps set a base that you can build on by answering the subsequent questions
- Being truthful about yourself not only helps with crafting the startup's overall story but also allows you to ringfence investor conversations better, concentrating the attention and focus on the message you wish to convey.
This approach is only advised for entrepreneurs that are solution-driven to solve problems or identify potential opportunities that they’re passionate about. As an entrepreneur, if you’re only focused on making money, this article may not be for you.
2. What do you do?
Now that we’ve established who you are, we can build onto it further with the “What”. So, what is the product or service you’re offering? Ideally, this should be explained in an elevator pitch format. Remember, “If you can’t explain a concept to a 5-year-old, then you don’t know what it all”. The same rule applies to founders wishing to craft a compelling story.
You may be asked to elaborate further, on which we’ll build onto our storytelling foundation by entrenching the aforementioned principles of being “genuine and authentic” in deducing who you actually are.
That said, blend in the two next points:
- What was the spark that set off your desire to build this product or service? Preferably, the more personal the problem you’re solving for, the better for the story. This not only adds credibility to the startup for clients and stakeholders, that you actually care about the problem you’re and determined to see it through, but also creates further trust from investors that you’re capable to start, grow and maintain a startup they can invest in
- Although it’s not always required (depending on the nature of the startup or industry you’re operating in), having a product/service “edge” or also known as the “secret sauce” is highly beneficial to your startup founder story. What is it about what you offer that makes it better than your competitors? Whether it’s simplicity, speed, lower costs, etc. be sure to include this factor because it can go a long way.
3. Why do you do it?
Why. Why. Why.
Why you decided to build your startup is such an important factor that it cannot be stressed enough. Usually, the reason for having started is driven by a purpose. Your purpose is your why. Startups are hard work, have a high failure rate and could take many years to even begin to generate revenue — if ever. For these reasons, it’s important that founders are grounded and led by a purpose-driven mission and desire to make a meaningful impact, for their clients and stakeholders alike.
Like the previous two questions, the question of “why” is not something that can be half-assed. Critical introspection is needed here so give it thorough thought and time.
What’s the next move?
To tell your tale, you need to own it, wholly. To did this, you need to allow for a certain measure of vulnerability. Thereafter, you need to be able to tell it at a moment’s notice. And lastly, you need to be able to record it — either in a written form or visual, for all the world to see.
Share your story with all that are willing to listen. Be truthful about your intentions. Align with individuals or entities that embody and believe in your story. And finally, partner with investors that won’t compromise the same tenets of your founder’s story.
This piece was written by the Editor of PaySpective, Ayakha Moloko. Having been involved in the fintech industry from 2013, by first building a payments solution and now currently working for a leading payments processor, Ayakha’s passion revolves around the ever-changing fintech landscape. PaySpective was formed from a need to address societal payments issues and inspired by the Creators who build interesting platforms to solve them. Happy to connect on Twitter or LinkedIn, where I share further information insights, opinions and current affairs around the exciting fintech space. For more personal thoughts and musings on African current affairs, family and friends, as well as navigating the journey on fatherhood, be sure to check out the Medium blog too :)