Shahirah Gardiner, with husband and Finch cofounder Toby, were back in Perth to talk about their journey so far…
Many //SN readers would have come across Shahirah Gardiner, in her previous PR work with startups at the TechHub in Northbridge, her presentations at Founder Institute, and her help bringing startups to market.
In the couple of years since she has left Perth, with husband Toby (ex KPMG, Energise), they cofounded Finch, a fintech startup that recently raised A$2.5M. She and Toby were back in town this week, and spoke with Andy Lamb at Startup Grind …
It’s all in the story
When Shahirah and Toby saw the idea that was to become Finch, they were all in. They quit their jobs, sold their house and moved from Perth.
“In PR, you need to be able to take a tech idea and explain why it matters, how it fits. I suppose you develop a natural curiosity for things,” said Shahirah, “I’ve seen startups that may have a great product, but no marketing in place. People don’t buy products, they buy stories.”
Originally both from Perth, they had met while travelling and lived for a while in San Francisco. Back in Perth for a few years, and after helping so many startups in their various roles, they knew they wanted to do something.
“It was always going to be in the B2C space and probably in fintech.” said Shahirah. “We looked at Europe, the US, and analysed what was happening,”
“We felt the financial experience for millennials was poor. We’re millennials. A lot of bank offers were not very relevant, so we felt this was a space we could enter.”
Finch is marketed as ‘an app for your financial social life’. It aims to help people with their finances where they are. Using the app, people can share bills and pay for things.
The original idea in 2014 was different however. It was robo advice for women.
“Once we thought through this idea, we didn’t think it was going to be defendable,” said Shaihrah, “We used the lean canvas method, threw it all out on one page, and it told us social payments was going to be far better business.”
Shahirah and Toby spent quite a bit of money with lawyers in order to develop a product that would be low risk. They had to work their way through anti-money laundering and other regulations to get approval. But this was crucial, as it meant they could develop a product that was easy to use, without putting up long forms for their customers to fill in.
“We wanted a product and brand that resonated with our target market – millennials,” said Shahirah, “Incredibly, when we launched we already have a 20K Instagram following.”
Instagram was always going to be the favoured platform. As soon as they saw what the product would be, they started to reach out to potential clients.
“Instagram can make products look great, pitch a lifestyle and values better than other channels like Facebook,” said Shahirah, “Now we have customers, we can follow our customers and retarget them.”
A key moment came when they were accepted onto the Yodlee, a large fintech accelerator headquartered in California. They applied and were the first international acceptee ever and went on to win best product at the demo day.
“Toby did a great pitch,” said Shahirah, “People were pulling out their phones but could not download the app. We were still pre-launch, the only team to be so.”
This was May 2017. Immediately, they went looking for $1.5M in funding, ending up raising $2.5M, all from Australia. The capital raise was all done and dusted in 6 weeks.
“Nothing else happens when you raising capital, so you need to have a timeline, an execution plan.” said Shahirah. “You need a good story to tell and you need to tell it well. You want more than money. You want people who can help you scale.”
With money raised, it was time to build and launch the first product, which they duly did in July last year.
“We realised we would always be building Finch over east,” said Shahirah, “As we needed to be exposed to the right relationships. Sydney is a larger fintech place, but Melbourne reminded us more of San Francisco, so that’s where we’ve based ourselves.”
Married to the business
“Working with your husband is a lot of fun.” said Shahirah. “Our relationship started as a long distance relationship. Toby is the finance, strategy, legal guy. I’m the creative, brand, comms person. There are days we may not interact much during a day, as he’s with a different team. We keep business as business, social as social.”
Back in Melbourne, they worked on a 6-week Innovator program at Melbourne Uni, where they could run innovation workshops with students. This helped them refine their idea, as they were interacting directly with their target audience.
Building the Future
Nine months on since launch, the team is building out features like being able to use multiple currencies, and helping customers set and fulfil their financial goals.
“We want to reimagine consumer finance.” said Shahirah. “In five years’ time, we’d like to be a trusted financial brand.”
“If I could go back and talk to myself 18 months ago, I’d say … look after yourself, it’s so easy to get caught up in the fast moving nature of things.
“Elite athletes take time and get away, so they can perform when needed. Anyone can work like a dog. It takes courage to get away and relax. But you need to be fit to be able to perform well.
“A lot of people will tell you how to build your business, some of it is warranted, some of it is not.”