18 April 2024 Business Client News Digital STARTUPS

STARTUP SPOTLIGHT: WHAT MAKES A GREAT FOUNDER?

As a leading PR agency for startups, Cherish PR has worked with the world’s best-known founders as they built, scaled, listed or exited their businesses. We’re proud to have done scaleup PR for brands like Wix.com, eHarmony, Airtasker, Vimeo, Indiegogo and many more. 

So what makes a great Founder? What inspires them? What challenges them and what advice would they give to others in their position? To mark the year of our inaugural Communications Accelerator, we’re launching a series of interviews with some of the most exciting young founders both here in the UK and internationally.

We start our series by interviewing this year’s Accelerator cohort, starting with Tom Barltrop, the co-founder and CEO of SuperFi, our chosen startup partner for 2024. 

 

male head and shoulders

Tom, what inspired you to start the business?

I spent three years previously in HealthTech where I discovered my passion for social impact whilst Nick Spiller, my Co Founder, had dedicated his career to building products for the financially vulnerable.  

We met during the pandemic and had both seen close friends and family struggle with debt. This included seeing a best friend turned away by a debt charity for not having ‘enough debt’, so we decided to address the lack of support for those in the early stages of financial distress with SuperFi.

Tell us more about the business

SuperFi is a social impact Fintech. We partner with bill providers (like councils, housing associations and banks) to help their customers stay on top of their bills and out of problem debt. It’s an easy-to-use mobile app that provides a comprehensive range of tools to help people in multiple ways including how to:  

…Understand their financial situation – with a live overview of their bank accounts and credit cards 

…Maximise their income (e.g. through access to government benefits)  

…Reduce their outgoings (e.g through cashback and access to social tariffs) 

…Better manage their bills (including learning where they are at risk of being unable to pay them and what to do) 

…Receive proactive support as soon as help is needed (e.g. signposting to debt charities, food banks, employment schemes, etc). 

How did you come up with the name?  

We wanted a name that was positive and empowering to challenge the stigma around debt and money worries. The app’s appeal is not limited to those struggling with debts; it’s looking set to be equally as popular amongst those who just want to manage their money better – so we didn’t want the name to limit our perceived focus.  

What was your previous job / role?  

I’ve spent nearly 15 years scaling early stage, high-growth startups. My most recent role was as Head of the UK for one of Europe’s largest HealthTech companies.  

At the time I thought I was joining another ‘rocketship’ but my part of the business was actually projected to decline. So I spent nearly three years refining our strategy, developing new services and launching major partnerships which resulted in over 300% growth. After that, I knew I was ready to launch my own business.  

Looking into the future, what award would you love SuperFi to win?  

I think Nick and I are both much more excited about the impact we can have on our customers’ lives over any award. So we are very much focused on building the best product possible to help people survive the cost of living crisis.  

What has been your biggest challenge working in startups? 

We know we are building something that is urgently needed by the 20M people in the UK who are struggling to pay bills but who do not have enough debt to qualify for formal debt support. However, this scale and urgency creates its own problems such as:

…Mindset shift from reactive to proactive. Bill providers have historically focused their resources on collecting debts – rather than providing support to prevent people from falling behind on their payments in the first place.  

…Managing demand. With record numbers of people struggling to pay their monthly bills, many industries are desperately seeking solutions, from councils and housing associations to banks and lenders.  

What’s the best advice you have ever received?   

During our time on the Antler accelerator they constantly emphasised the importance of focusing on solving a problem you are deeply passionate about.  Launching a startup is tough – but even in our darkest times I have never lost motivation – because we are working to address one of the biggest challenges of our time.  

What is your favourite book?  

I love travelling (but don’t get much time these days) however ‘Running With The Moon’ by Jonny Bealby is still one of my favourite books, as it charts his adventurous journey overland by bike from London to South Africa and back in the 80s.  

Which entrepreneur / leader or role model has inspired you the most?  

I think what Carol and Paddy Henderson have achieved through their work in setting up The Trussell Trust is pretty remarkable. Over the course of 20 years their work has led to the creation of a network of food banks across the UK, which have undoubtedly been a lifesaver for many thousands of people over the years  

 I would also like to give a ‘shout-out’ to my first boss, Maria Raga. I joined her team as an inexperienced intern, just as Groupon was undergoing absolutely phenomenal growth. She was a formidable leader (who went on to become CEO of Depop) and who I learned a lot from.  

What anthem would represent the business? 

We’ll go with “One Love” by Bob Marley for some guaranteed good vibes, which are always important to recognise as our mission is to instil positive change.  

What’s your best tip for those currently seeking funding? 

I can’t narrow it down to one tip, so here are a few:  

Be resilient – it’s likely to be even tougher and take even longer than you think.  

Be vigilant and empathetic – do whatever is necessary to keep your bank accounts from emptying  – whilst also keeping your team happy. You never know how long the raise will take but you can’t jeopardise your founding team in the process.  

Be organised – do your research to find the most suitable investors and be methodical in approaching them.  

Be shameless – use every connection and meetings you have to raise awareness of your mission (and therefore to attract investment). You never know where a conversation could lead.  

Be resourceful – look to exploit every opportunity, whether it’s applying for niche grants or finding the most effective software to help with your raise.  

Find angels – getting those first cheques in will really help with your round’s momentum. Despite their smaller cheque sizes, angels often provide a disproportionate amount of value-add. 

As a leading PR agency for startups, we’re proud to support the most exciting global innovators. If you are interested in PR that helps you scale, our 2025 Communications Accelerator programme will open for entries in September 2024.

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