Former Start-Up Series winner discusses his next growth stage – Matthew Oldham, Unizest

By securing equity investment from The Start-Up Series competition, Matthew Oldham has created an app-based current account designed for people coming to the UK to work or study

Following winning The Start-Up Series competition, Matthew Oldham from Unizest discusses how the business has shifted since winning the competition, the biggest growth challenges the business experienced, how to focus on the next funding round and provides his advice for entrepreneurs on the beginning of the start-up funding journeys.

Can you remind us what your company does and how the business has grown since you won the Start-Up Series and first received investment?

Unizest is an app-based current account designed for people coming to the UK to work or study. Without residential history it is very difficult to get a UK bank account. We work with recruitment and educational agencies to solve that problem for their candidates.

When we won the Start-Up Series we had a smart idea on a page! We are now a business with a product, partners and customers. We are live on both Apple Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android) as a downloadable app. Since going live with the iOS app in July, we have had over 1000 downloads. The investment has really helped us accelerate that development.

Our proposition is B2B2C: our partners – mainly recruitment agencies – promote Unizest through their channels to their customers. We have had to develop those partnerships through old fashioned sales work and by getting ourselves known in a sector that we did not know, through PR and social media. We have now got over 30 partners onboarded and actively promoting Unizest.

What has been your biggest challenge during the early stages of your venture and how has the support from Worth Capital helped the business grow?

One of the first sessions we had with Worth Capital was to work on our priorities. We had so many ideas of things we could do we had lost focus on what we should do. Matthew was able to challenge us really hard on what the most important things were to spend our time and money on. We had to be brutal as we only have limited resources.

I imagine that is fairly common in early-stage businesses – we were running ahead of ourselves and needed to anchor ourselves to some core deliverables. Having a trusted external voice leading us through that was incredibly useful.

All the sessions we have had as a team with Worth have been enjoyable and challenging in equal measure. On some occasions we have been questioned hard and prompted to act. On other occasions we have just been encouraged – sometimes you don’t see your own success milestones because you are too close to them.

You’re now in a position where your business requires more funding. Tell us about how you’ve prepared for this funding round and how you are going to approach it.

The “special sauce” in our business model is the promise of acquiring costumers for low or no costs by utilising partner channels: solving a problem for the partner as well as the end customer. That is great on paper, but can we evidence that?

That has been our primary focus in preparing for more funding – proving the model. To do this we have spent as much, if not more time developing the acquisition partnerships as we have building the product. Any investor looking to invest in us this time around will be asking whether the business model works. We have made sure we have plenty of evidence to show that it does.

Our long-term objective is to develop a loved brand. That takes years, but we have worked hard on developing a presence through target PR and social media. Since May we have had over 150,000 page views of articles and related posts and we have well over 15,000 social media followers. In doing this we have aimed to evidence in the short term what we will achieve over time.

We believe that Unizest is a considered solution to a scaled problem. We have a good “story so far” in evidencing our business model and showing strong momentum for future growth. Our approach will be to tell that story clearly and concisely with a view to finding a partner who shares our ambition.

What have you learned since your first funding round and what advice would you give to other founders embarking on their start-up funding journeys?

I wouldn’t want to give advice as I feel I am still driving with “L” plates. I could maybe give myself some advice for our next growth phase based on the experiences since our first funding round:

1. Things take longer than you planned – don’t be too reliant on other people’s promises

2. Money goes quicker than you think! – be sensible and realistic

3. Speak less and listen more: we have great advisors – ask for help!

4. #Startuplife can be all consuming – make sure you have time out for yourself and your [family/wife/partner/dog]

5. Don’t be scared to ask “what does that mean?” when faced with new investment terminology – they won’t think you are stupid

6. Chose every employee with care – just because they are prepared to work for your crazy start-up doesn’t mean they will help!

7. It is sometimes hard to realise when you have achieved something – celebrate small steps with gusto!

8. Be careful making hasty decisions about things that could save money or time – they could backfire

9. Get your Data story sorted early – how you are going to collect it and how you are going to use it

10. Make sure you enjoy it – this is the most fun you will have in your career!

Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor of Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber...

Related Topics

The Start-Up Series