Fintech businesses typically go through a whole range of ages and stages on their path to success, one of the most interesting of those is the one that could be referred to as the ‘awkward teenager’ phase.
This is the stage where you’re no longer pre-revenue, no longer a start-up chasing those early funding rounds, but not yet at a level where you could feasibly claim to be one of the bigger brands in your space. When you reach this stage depends upon what sector you are in, but typically your business would have a turnover of between £1 million and £49 million.
More important than your revenue is whether you can identify with any of the traits common in teenagers: unpredictable growth spurts; occasional breakouts; sometimes not very communicative; thinks no one understands them; and they have started to ‘sleep in’.
Here we look at each trait and how to deal with it, so it works for you not against you.
Unpredictable growth spurts
We’d all love to surf the gentle wave of a predictable growth curve, but the reality is that most mid-sized fintech brands don’t always have that luxury. That said, teenage fintech businesses are ideally positioned to manage and capitalise on this. They have more resources and structure to them than smaller start-ups but are still agile enough to respond to dramatic shifts effectively, unlike their larger corporate siblings.
Don’t wait for the wave. Create a simple, easy to execute scale-up plan ahead of time that’ll allow you to quickly respond to and make use of demand spikes. Then try and anticipate when the next one will come, based on analysis of past data to identify where demand spikes have occurred. What were the characteristics that triggered each one? Are there any trends?
You can also use this data to pinpoint when on the uptick you ran out of marketing or delivery resources and had to back off. This information will be a reporting marker that triggers your scale up plan in just enough time to avoid this peak going forward.
A teenager fintech brand has generally outgrown the crazy “oh wow, everything is leaking and there’s not enough duct tape in the world” reality of a start-up. But they’re not so far out of the woods that the wheels don’t come off in some areas, some of the time. Losing a bunch of key people, having a competitor steal a march on a new tech development, legal challenges from larger rivals, there are a tonne of things that can upset your equilibrium.
We like to call these breakouts, because much like teenage spots they can make your mid-sized fintech brand look a little less perfect for a while but, effectively treated, they’re unlikely to cause any long-term damage.
Create a method of triaging your breakouts. Something simple that will enable you to quickly assess the potential damage to your brand. Some of the things you might want to look at include:
- Scale: How big is the actual problem in its subject/nature?
- Scope: How far does the effect of the problem continue? A team, the whole business, your whole customer base?
- Duration: How long is it likely to be an issue for if we respond appropriately?
Often, we see mid-sized fintech brands that haven’t shaken off their start-up mentality and it usually hampers their growth. They’re still in that bootstrap mindset where cheapest is best; marketing is conducted as a reactive and often improperly measured shoot from the hip-type activity. It’s worth noting that this is rarely the fault of the marketer in post, they are usually fighting for autonomy against a founding senior leadership figure or group.
Check that your marketing budget is appropriate to your size and market situation. Then check that you have a marketer of sufficient skill and seniority to be entrusted with this budget. Finally, get out of their way and reduce your input to holding them accountable for delivering measurable results that help the brand to prosper and grow market share.
We’ve all heard that immortal line from older kids and teens “you just don’t understand!” And teenager fintech brands can feel a bit like that too. They’re not tiny, excited nippers bouncing atop brightly coloured beanbags bought with their latest round of funding cash, nor are they yet big enough not to feel a little intimidated going toe-to-toe with the large corporate grown-ups. It’s an awkward phase and one best managed by spending time with people who really get your brand.
Find partners and customers who really understand the stage you’re at right now. Other businesses who work with businesses like yours will have better responses. They are well-placed to support you through the inevitable growing pains typical of your journey towards the big leagues. And you’re more likely to retain customers whose expectations match what you’re currently able to offer rather than chasing the dream business you’re just not ready for, only to crash and burn on the delivery.
We’re frequently speak about how mid-sized fintech brands should use their relative agility to pivot round their bigger rivals. And it’s true that they both can and should. But they need to guard against the inroads that scaling up tends to make in this dynamism. The bigger your brand gets and the more like a big company you become, you’ll necessarily add more layers of people, processes and systems to help you run effectively as you scale. The danger is that when not properly implemented and managed, these things can slow you down and lead to your business ‘sleeping in’ whilst your smaller start-up rivals are already up and cracking.
Make it work for you
Most fintech brands put a huge amount of time and effort into evaluating and planning a change before they implement it, whether that’s a process, tech or people change. What far fewer do is evaluate whether the expected benefits of the change are fully realised and even fewer than that actually go on to reverse changes that don’t live up to expectations. Those who do all three stay far nimbler for far longer than their similarly sized rivals.
How many of those traits did you recognise in your own brand?
By Emma Humphrey, managing director of creative agency, Genius.