Ben Waterman, 2021 Said Business School alumnus, is the co-founder of Strabo, a personal finance platform for internationals. Strabo allows users to manage their bank accounts, investments, property, cryptocurrency and alternatives across jurisdictions. Forward-looking analytics, tax planning tools and in-app FX allow them to plan and execute financial decisions in seconds, rather than hours.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I am originally a professional athlete: after undergraduate studies, I competed on the track for England and Great Britain before deciding to move into the City. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting private clients and making investment decisions across asset classes, but felt that an elevated level of service could be provided at a reduced cost by digitisation. This is incredibly important at a time when private markets and alternative asset classes are becoming available for retail investors, and it has never been more important to have the tools necessary to build a responsible portfolio for the long term, often in several countries at once.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
The term tends to be bandied around often these days, and I often find myself hesitating before using it myself. Which is a shame, because I have an incredible amount of respect for anyone who builds something from scratch, no matter the field: it seems like the closest thing the business world has to professional sport. As crude as it sounds, I think you’re not really an entrepreneur until the first penny of revenue from something you’ve built drops into your account. Which would rule many of us out! It does however, make room to include small business owners, who are probably the truest entrepreneurs of all.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
We were very careful to spend a considerable amount of time conducting user interviews and focus groups before starting work on a prototype. We must have interviewed more than 100 people before starting to accept that people not only faced problems managing their finances abroad, but were willing to pay to alleviate their problem.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
When I become one, I’ll let you know! In all honesty I think the only thing that truly matters is resilience. I once read a (likely apocryphal) quote that running a startup is like being punched in the face repeatedly and getting up every day to do it again. The more time I spend doing it, the more that seems to resonate. A healthy dose of resilience, and maybe a willingness to be wrong and learn from your mistakes are doing us ok so far.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I enjoy seeing people using things that I’ve helped build, I think that’s incredibly fulfilling. Personal finance is an incredibly sensitive topic, and building a platform that makes people feel excited about investing for the long term is pretty rewarding.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I recently listened to an interview with Anne Boden, the founder of Starling bank, which reminded me just how great she is. Quit her job in her mid-fifties with the crazy notion of building the first ever digital bank, overcame a whole load of stereotypes to raise the capital to get it off the ground and then rebuilt it when an entire team left to leave her as the only employee. She’s certainly faced more difficulty than most.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
Her book actually goes into great depth on the story of Starling and how the company scaled, but I’d love to talk to her about the very early days. How did the first ever digital bank get its first 1000 customers and keep them?
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
I wouldn’t say I’ve had any great successes yet, although launching to our first users was pretty great. Seeing something you’ve worked on come to life.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
This is a great question. I think we probably tried to raise money a little too early – European investors in particular like to see not only an MVP, but also traction. In this day you can spin up a landing page, collect signups and even build a basic product without writing a line of code, so proving that people want what you’re building is first port of call, and is accessible to everyone! Far more accomplished founders than I have said similar, but I think it takes living it out to really understand it.
How have you funded your ideas?
We started off self-funded, before collecting a small friends & family round to expand on our MVP and have just raised our first round of investment to iterate and scale. We were also fortunate enough to take part in a fintech accelerator in Switzerland, who provided some funding and mentorship.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
No, although we will probably be claiming R&D tax credits on product development in the new year. We have also used SEIS allowance, which is a great initiative.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
It’s incredibly valuable in that you have some of the best academic and business resources in the world crammed into a tiny ecosystem. I’m sure almost every great business in the world is connected to Oxford through not more than one degree of separation, so no matter what you do you’re likely to encounter success stories in your field to take inspiration and advice from.
One thing to improve would be the links between the business side of the university and the academic side. There are a great deal of smart people in Oxford whose ideas could no doubt be brought to life much faster with the help of other departments.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Oxford wise, I’d probably send them to Enterprising Oxford, The Foundry and then perhaps the Oxford Seed Fund if it’s a capital intensive project. Elsewhere, the Y Combinator online content bank provides many of the same resources as the accelerator programme for free, so that’s incredibly useful.
Any last words of advice?
Try and have fun!
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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