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The first 18 months of a Fintech Startup

In 1995, a dozen wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent for decades....

As you would expect, we often get questions about our company from clients, ex-colleagues and peers in the industry, as well as family and friends. Since the idea came about almost 18 months ago, we have crossed many bridges and our path ahead is getting wider and wider. It is indeed exciting times for the team and clients at Investment Control Systems (ICS).

Transparency has always been key to our philosophy, so here are a few insights into the Why and How ICS came about.

The idea Back in late 2015 our director, Mike, came up with the idea of providing the investment management industry with a solution based on concepts from a product he had built together with co-founder James at a past employer.

That started a long process of research and investigation in the market to establish if there was a need for the product. Attending conferences, visiting super funds and fund managers as well as understanding the current offerings, it became clear to us that there was a gap in the market.

Once the need had been established, it was time to establish a team to crystallise the idea.

The Hipster, Hacker and Hustler ++ These 3 personas have been talked about since 2012 as the essential ‘Dream Team’ of a startup.

Why? Codeavengers boils it down neatly to the following:

  • The Hipster is the one who makes the product cool and fashionable.

  • The Hacker is the one who knows how to actually build the product.

  • The Hustler is the one who finds a way to sell the product to the world.

This has very much been the case for ICS as well. The core leadership team was purposefully put together, as the 3 of us in essence represent the Hipster, Hacker or Hustler.

Finding 3 people that match these criteria was not enough though. Being a small company, there was no room for spillage. We had to work well together.

For us, this meant we quickly needed to identify each other’s strengths and weaknesses outside our core skills. That allowed us to understand how to communicate more efficiently, delegate tasks that are ‘non-core’ to each other and, importantly, quickly identify if other skills are needed in the business.

As an example, this meant we quickly understood the need for a developer with a specific skill set. We feel extremely lucky having found one with an extraordinary set of skills as well as commitment and devotion to deliver a high-quality product.

Further, it helped that our core team had ‘supplementing skills’ that could support other ‘must-do’ tasks of the business, at least in the beginning. For example, general accounting/bookkeeping skills were good to have. Legal knowledge was beneficial too, so you don’t have to call your legal team for every contractual adjustment you need to make. All these skills can help save your business thousands every year.

But most importantly, we have fun doing what we love.

The social aspect of ICS is critical to our success, both internally but also with our clients and industry community. If at the end of the day, you can’t have a laugh together with the people you spend so much time with, why would do it?

Humble beginnings When people have heard about your idea, there have been occasions where investment into the business has been offered.

To this we have taken a cautious and conservative approach.

There are many ways to fund a business, including investment partners, business loans or perhaps the pockets of family and friends.

Our approach has been to leverage our industry skills in the early stages of the business. During the early development of the solution, consulting revenue has been beneficial in multiple ways:

  • It has supported the business with revenue from day one

  • It has enabled us to be flexible, scaling down consulting as number of clients on the IC Platform are growing

  • It keeps us close to the industry, increasing our knowledge, which is a big part of our core solution

Despite revenue coming in, it has been important to us to stay focused on our business plan and model, keeping tight control on spending.

For example, it became clear to us very early that an office was needed. Having a developer at home, with a family around him during school holidays for 3 months of the year just wouldn’t make him as effective as we needed him to be.

So, with limited funds, we went looking for something suitable. There are many options available in the market, and it definitely pays to spend the time to shop around. We have been lucky to find a ‘humble office’ in a great location.

Adapting to our environment As we have progressed with our business, new ideas have emerged. This is an exciting aspect of running your own business and creates great motivation within the team.

These ideas can be small or large and will no doubt affect your planning for your business and solution(s).

We have been fortunate to acquire clients that are innovative in their thinking and very engaged with us. This has already spawned new ideas that have been added to our roadmap. Ideas which we are quite excited about. However, it is crucial to our success that we stay focused on the key deliverables and milestones. This focus has helped us launch our core product on schedule.

We are now set up to leverage our core solution to expand the capabilities based on feedback from the market, clients as well as our own research.

Other factors affecting our business, that have evolved dramatically since our inception, are the platforms and partner products that we utilise. For example, our solution utilises Microsoft’s Power BI visualisation tool for graphical representation of the investment data on the IC Platform. When we first spawned the idea of the company, Power BI was a very immature product, only having launched 6 months earlier. However, with the huge effort and investment made by Microsoft, Power BI has become a fantastic product that seamlessly embeds within our web-enabled platform. So, as we have been adapting to our environment, it seems the environment has adapted around us as well.

We will be writing more about our experience with Microsoft Power BI in a later blog.

The product launch We must admit, it is indeed exciting to see the fruits of our labour materialise from initial wire-frame designs to actual production ready user-interfaces.

Presenting it the first time to a prospect is a fantastic feeling. This is especially enhanced because you have been part of the whole process from start to finish.

It is by no means a perfect product at your first presentation. For us, it was like taking Cinderella to the ball without her magnificent dress. She was a very functional Cinderella, and the audience was well aware the dress was in the making.

We are presently entering the next phase of the business, which is the operational management of our business and clients.

Implementing client management and support models have been our focus. From the onset of our company, it has been extremely important to us that we maintain a very close relationship with our clients. Our support model together with our managed services reflects this.

Meanwhile, our developers stay on course to deliver ongoing releases in an agile manner and the business continues to invest time and resources in R&D.

Now what? You might have asked yourself, why the picture of the wolf?

Many people who start a new business dream of being the unicorn, and there are many good examples of these. However, these unicorns are predominantly in the ‘consumer market’ and we operate in a very different space. The investment industry is big, with many opportunities available for smaller companies. But it also has its challenges as described by LiquidityCube.

So why the wolf?

In 1995, a dozen wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent for decades.

Although the wolves were few in number, they had the most remarkable effect. Because animals such as deer and coyotes which had reduced in number, this caused the eco-system to flourish in the areas where they had lived. It spawned re-growth of vegetation and other animals (beavers, otters, eagles, bears etc.) came back into these areas and began to re-populate.

Most remarkably, as the vegetation grew back and stabilised river banks, the rivers in the park changed behaviour in response to the wolves. So, starting small, this little group of wolves had the ability to change the geography of their local ecosystem.

In our industry, this is definitely a healthy mindset to have.

Start small, be in it for the long run and support your eco-system.

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