Early this week, I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Christoph Rieche, the CEO and co-founder of iwoca, a start-up offering fast-growing ecommerce businesses access to the working capital needed to invest in stock, staff, infrastructure or technology.
Hi Christoph, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Very well thank you.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m co-founder and CEO of iwoca, a technology startup lending to small businesses based on their online sales. I oversee operations, finance and strategy, always with an eye on the long-term vision. Before iwoca, I was a VP at Goldman Sachs, advising corporate and institutional investors on risk management.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I have always wanted to launch my own business, so after leaving Goldman I was looking around for the right opportunity. I saw how small business struggled to access external finance, even in high-growth markets such as ecommerce, so iwoca was born to help. It combines my finance experience with the excitement of a tech startup.
How did the idea for iwoca come about?
Ecommerce is a young market seeing double digit growth. Despite that traditional finance providers lack the understanding required to offer funding to the hundreds of thousands of businesses selling online. We spotted an opportunity to take a data-driven approach to assessing their creditworthiness, analysing sales data, customer feedback and more.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
It was scary. We were lending out hundreds of thousands of pounds to retailers we had never met in person, building out infrastructure as we went. But that’s the excitement of launching a business – you learn as you go and you take risks. I hope we have maintained that culture even as we have grown.
How did you initially get traction?
There was a lot of excitement in the market when we launched – no one had ever come across our model before – so PR was our biggest channel. A few weeks in we launched our first marketing campaign and that’s when things really took off.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
We have raised several rounds of funding from private equity and venture capital firms.
What is iwoca? And what are you trying to solve with it?
iwoca offer fast-growing ecommerce businesses access to the working capital needed to invest in stock, staff, infrastructure or technology. A retailer will sign up on our website and link their selling accounts (eBay, Amazon, PayPal and more) to iwoca. This allows us to analyse their sales history and customer feedback so we can understand their business and lend retailers up to £50,000 within a matter of hours.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Building a great team is tough (and time-consuming) but one of the most important things you can do. It’s about creating a culture where everyone is driven by the needs of the business. The other thing is to be flexible. Some ideas won’t work, you need to be ready to adapt fast. If you can do those things then you are a long-way towards success.
They are so many challenges that entrepreneurs go through trying to build a company or making it successful, can you share a challenge you faced and how you overcame it?
You need to find the right balance between keeping focus and trying lots of ideas. It’s easy to come up with twenty ideas, all of which you want to try right away, but the challenge is making a judgement call on what to pursue. There’s no silver bullet - you just have to keep reminding yourself of the long-term vision.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
It’s all about being able to come up with an idea one day, test it the next day and see the results come in immediately. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t, but it’s always exciting to give them a shot.
How do you define success?
It might sound cheesy but one of the biggest ways we measure success is customer feedback. Of course we look at numbers of customers, revenues and so on but the fact that we have become the highest rated business lender in the UK (trustpilot.co.uk/review/iwoca.co.uk) really matters most.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the iwoca team in the coming months?
You should be expecting to hear a lot more about iwoca. We have announced plans to fund at least 5000 businesses in the UK and expand into Europe.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Be ambitious. Do your research. Then just make sure to execute (that’s the hard part).