Lessons learned from launching in a pandemic
As we approach the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown here in the UK, it’s fair to say that the last year has been a bruising one for the fintech space, and the people in it. It has been a challenge like nothing else we’ve ever faced, and it’s a challenge we at Vyne had to wrestle with while officially launching our business – a difficult enough task even in normal times.
But difficult times breed innovation, and as such there has been no shortage of innovation in the fintech space in the last twelve months. Whether it’s staff adapting to working from home, companies dramatically shifting focus to adapt to the (temporary) new reality, or playing the longer game focused on life after the pandemic, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the last year that will affect how we handle crises of all shapes and sizes in the future.
We invested in the right team to accelerate growth
Perhaps the most important change we’ve weathered as part of the pandemic is the change to how we work. Specifically, how we work from home. This change certainly isn’t limited to fintech or start-ups, but there is no denying the fact that it was a complete disruption of day-to-day operations, focused on the most important part of every business – its staff.
The ability to respond effectively to a crisis depends entirely on having the right people. We needed to expand and invest in people to reach our growth goals, but the level of uncertainty in the job market left many people nervous about exploring new opportunities. This was something we overcame by focusing on the quality of our connections, the frequency of meeting online, and the speed of conversations and decision making. While other fintechs cut staff, or began a hiring freeze, we were able to grow from seven to 20 people in the last 12 months, recruiting exclusively remotely.
Remote working is the beginning of a cultural change in the way businesses and their employees operate. A lot of companies will continue with remote working for the immediate future (in fact many employees are calling for it) but it isn’t a substitute for quick quips over the water coolers that help build personal connections. It is equally important to keep in mind that working from home does not suit everyone, and even without additional burdens (like homeschooling children in lockdown) a lot of people miss parts of office life – the social aspects of it in particular.
Some of us will inevitably return to the office, but hopefully with lessons learned around remote working combining the best of both worlds by encouraging collaboration while giving employees the freedom to manage their work and home life to ensure they are happy, motivated, and don’t burn out.
To re-strategise successfully, stay true to the core of your business
The right people make it possible to adapt to quickly changing circumstances, but you still need to work to make that change happen. While many businesses paused working during the pandemic, others pivoted to continue pursuing their goals. The very definition of “pivot” centres around a singular point. For businesses this is the goal that drives us. Through transparent, open and fair relationships open banking payments are the best way to pay and get paid. Staying focused on this goal is what allowed us to quickly see which of our existing plans would still work, and where we had to re-strategise.
For the first three-months of lock-down, there was an air of optimism in the payments space. At first, payments companies seemed to be in a good position, as the need for digital engagement increased online shopping demand. But while some e-commerce merchants thrived, other sectors that we had been targeting in early 2020 as part of our launch were sadly disproportionately affected by lockdowns such as travel, entertainment and hospitality.
This meant we had to refocus on the industries and verticals unaffected by the change in consumer habits, pausing our work in our original target verticals, while adapting to the new buying cycle. This too was hindered by the macro level economic fallout of the pandemic and lockdown. Layoffs, furlough schemes, payment holiday requests, cancellations and refunds combined to show us that even though we had handled our internal staff issues well, we couldn’t rely on every other organisation to be in the same position.
But in the sectors that had remained untouched or that were expanding business over the course of the pandemic – remittance, retail, gaming and account top-ups – we found organisations keen to streamline their payments systems and reduce overhead. Areas that we were well positioned to help with. Speaking more broadly, many fintechs are well positioned not only to survive the crisis, but also to contribute to the industry and to society in meaningful ways. From what we’ve seen in the last year, those focused on areas like advancing financial inclusion, supporting the gig economy, or directly reducing overheads for merchants will be well positioned to thrive both in the future months of the pandemic and beyond.
The challenges we overcome today, mould the future of the market tomorrow
E-commerce has had a transformative twelve months. While it has largely benefitted from the global shift to online, this shift has highlighted where some underlying issues are. Friction, cost and complexity are problems that can and should be solved, and the recent uptick in digital adoption has made it all the more important that we do so.
With the focus squarely on the consumer, enterprise businesses will seek to do this by increasing efficiency through automation, invest in user experience, and increase their conversion rates through easily accessible online services. On the other end of the scale, smaller businesses establishing themselves online now have more choice, more affordable, and higher performance solutions as they would previously, reducing the pain of clunky checkout user experience (UX) and high abandon rates.
While our first 18 months have certainly been rocky, the speed at which we’ve learned to respond to the market and grow as a business is invaluable. Looking back at this period in the future, I’ll be proud to say that it didn’t beat us down. We made it through stronger, more focused and more aligned as a business, and hopefully the lessons we’ve learned in this time will help guide the fintechs of the future when they face crises of their own.