Former Start-Up Series winner talks about his next growth phase – Matthew Oldham, Unizest

After winning the Start-Up Series competition, Unizest’s Matthew Oldham explains how the company has changed since winning the competition, the company’s biggest growth challenges, how to focus on the next round of funding, and advises entrepreneurs Start of the year the start-up financing trips.

Can you remind us what your company is doing and how the business has grown since you won the Start-Up Series and received initial investments?

Unizest is an app-based checking account for people coming to the UK to work or study. With no history of living, it is very difficult to get a UK bank account. We work with recruitment and education agencies to solve this problem for their candidates.

When we won the Start-Up Series, we had a smart idea on one side! We are now a company with one product, partners and customers. We are live in the Apple Store (iOS) and on Google Play (Android) as a downloadable app. We have had over 1000 downloads since the iOS app went live in July. The investment really helped us accelerate this development.

Our offer is B2B2C: Our partners – mainly recruitment agencies – advertise Uniset to their customers through their channels. We had to build these partnerships through old fashioned sales work and get known in an industry we didn’t know through PR and social media. We now have over 30 partners on board and are actively promoting Uniset.

What was your biggest challenge in the early stages of your business and how has Worth Capital’s support helped the company grow?

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

I can imagine that this is quite common in companies in the early stages – we were ahead of ourselves and had to anchor ourselves to some core services. It was incredibly useful to have a trustworthy external voice to guide us through this.

All of the sessions we had as a team with Worth were both enjoyable and challenging. Sometimes we were questioned hard and asked to act. On other occasions we’ve just been encouraged – sometimes you don’t see your own milestones of success because you are too close to them.

You are now in a position where your company needs more funding. Tell us how you prepared for this funding round and how you will approach it.

The “sauce” of our business model is the promise to win customers at little or no cost by using partner channels: solving a problem for the partner as well as for the end customer. This is great on paper, but can we prove it?

That was our main focus in preparing for further financing – testing the model. To achieve this, we have invested as much, if not more, time in developing the acquisition partnerships as we have in developing the product. Any investor who wants to invest in us this time around will wonder if the business model works. We made sure we have plenty of evidence that this is the case.

Our long-term goal is to develop a beloved brand. It takes years, but we’ve worked hard to build a presence through targeted PR and social media. As of May, we’ve had over 150,000 article and related post views, and we have well over 15,000 social media followers. With this we want to prove in the short term what we will achieve over time.

We believe Uniset is a well thought out solution to a problem that scale. We have a good “story so far” in proving our business model and showing strong momentum for future growth. Our approach is to tell this story clearly and concisely in order to find a partner who shares our ambitions.

What have you learned since your first round of financing and what would you advise other founders to give when promoting start-ups?

I don’t want to give advice as I feel like I’m still driving with “L” plates. From the experiences since our first round of financing, I could perhaps give myself some advice for our next phase of growth:

1. Things are taking longer than planned – don’t rely too much on other people’s promises

2. Money is going faster than you think! – be reasonable and realistic

3. Talk less and listen more: We have great advisors – ask for help!

4. #Startuplife can be very exhausting – take some time out for yourself and yours [family/wife/partner/dog]

5. Don’t be afraid to ask “What does this mean?” When faced with new investment terminology – they won’t think you’re stupid

6. Choose each employee wisely – just because they’re ready to work for your crazy start-up doesn’t mean they’ll help you!

7. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’ve achieved something – celebrate small steps with enthusiasm!

8. Use caution when making hasty decisions about things that could save you money or time – they could backfire

9. Sort your data history early on – how will you collect it and how you will use it

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

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