In our new pre-revenue series, we take a look at the businesses with minimal sales histories that nevertheless have potential to fly. Here, we speak to Josh Greenway of BIZL about the birth and development of his business finance comparison site.
What is the business, when was it started and what were you doing beforehand?
BIZL is a business finance comparison platform that enables businesses to compare finance fast, free and easily. We launched in November 2017, and prior to that I was a business banking director for NatWest, running the business lending team in Central London.
How did you get the idea?
The idea started from the 2015 Deloitte Young Banker of the Year competition. The competition was to highlight game-changing innovations that would benefit banking customers, and so I entered with a proposal to democratise business lending criteria by offering businesses the ability to self-assess their credit-worthiness by using an affordability calculator which was loaded with the Bank’s lending score cards. The idea struck a chord and ended up being the winning proposal. From there I developed the proposal into a commercial model which enables businesses to compare finance options from across the market. It’s free for businesses, we’re transparent with the offers we present and we greatly improve the customer’s ability to get a competitive deal.
In terms of opportunity, there are plenty of lenders but it is difficult for small businesses to navigate the market and compare options. Around 2 million businesses use external finance at any one time, so it’s a pretty big market to aim at. We don’t charge businesses for our service, and so based on earning commission from lenders alone we foresee potential turnover to be between £10-20 million per annum within the next three years.
How did you finance it?
In the pre-revenue stage BIZL was funded by myself and family investors, and as we moved into revenue territory at the beginning of 2018 we were able to raise seed investment from angel investors to fund further tech investment and scaling up of the team.
What were your key marketing strategies?
Our key marketing strategy has been to use business development managers (sales reps) to build relationships with key business advisers, such as accountants. Accountants love working with us as we can provide their clients with much-needed expert advice and find them competitive finance. We have trialled direct marketing and online marketing on a small scale with mixed results, so a core strategy for us will be building strong partnerships and referral relationships.
What is/are the revenue stream(s)?
We earn revenue solely from introductory commissions from lenders. Unlike most brokerages we don’t charge the customer a fee.
How far along are you in the business? EG, beta-testing, proof of concept?
We are currently trading and generating revenues using a minimum viable product. Our tech team are currently developing a unique algorithm which will enable businesses to immediately view what lenders they could apply to, and later in the year we will develop Open Banking capabilities which will allow applicants to connect their bank accounts making the application processes even easier.
What have been the main challenges so far?
Raising seed investment from 10+ angel investors took a considerable amount of time and effort, with many twists and turns along the way as some dropped out, while others came onboard.
Landing our first deal or two was also a challenge – as expected! There are so many unknowns with starting a business – factors that you cannot possibly know, but having pushed through that stage we are now much better equipped and are building momentum.
What advice would you give to early-stage business owners?
My main highlight of founding BIZL has been building a varied network of fantastic advisers, mentors and supporters. I’ve been struck by how many senior people with amazing levels of experience have been willing to advise, support and even invest some cash. The introductions I have had to other key people has been invaluable, so if I’d recommend any course of action it would be to go and meet experts and key people in your field. Buy them a coffee, listen to their advice, and ask for some introductions.