Young tech entrepreneur Ishaan Malhi, 28, was recently named as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 for his ‘groundbreaking’ work. His startup aims to revolutionise the mortgage market through technology and when Trussle launched in December 2015 it was the UK’s first online mortgage broker.
Three years later and the company has tripled in size, secured £20m worth of investment (including backing from Goldman Sachs) and holds more than £1.2bn worth of mortgages under management. It has also launched an innovative industry first in its free lifetime mortgage monitoring service, which uses algorithms to continuously monitor customers’ mortgages, and notify them if a better rate becomes available.
So, what did this former Merrill Lynch mortgage advisor, now CEO of Trussle, learn about startups from taking on an antiquated marketplace – where relationships ruled – through the transparent use of technology?
RSNG Why did you decide to take on and disrupt the mortgage market? ISHAAN MALHI, FOUNDER ‘Trussle was borne out of my own frustrations when trying to get a mortgage. Like so many people, I was excited by the prospect of owning my own home but was let down by the painful and complex mortgage process. I couldn’t believe that there was so little support available for such an important and life-changing decision. I felt there had to be a better way, so I set up Trussle to solve a problem that I and millions of others have faced. We’re a completely free, online mortgage broker that uses technology to find, secure and manage the right mortgage of you.
RSNG What costs do customers face in the traditional low-tech, relationship driven market? IM ‘The average high-street mortgage broker will charge around £500 ($632) to help you get a mortgage, which is on top of the fee they – like all mortgage brokers – receive from the lender once your mortgage completes. Then there are time costs to take into consideration, from taking time off work to attend a face-to-face meeting, to filling out reams of paperwork. By utilising tech and providing a digital offering, Trussle is not only able to offer a free service, but also a faster and more convenient one.’
RSNG What was the biggest challenge when setting up Trussle and how did you overcome it? IM ‘We were the first online broker to launch, so earning the trust of customers was our number one challenge. We’ve focused on delivering the best possible service since day one, and today stand as the best-rated online mortgage broker with a Trustpilot score of 9.6/10 from over 1,000 reviews.’
Empathy starts from within, so you must build a team that empathises with the problem you’re solving
RSNG What four bits of advice would you give to anyone looking to bring technology into a traditional financial market, with a startup? IM
1. Be patient ‘Opportunities in FinTech usually appear when established financial services companies are too big and slow-moving to adapt to the ever-changing landscape. Part of the reason that these companies move so slowly is because they’re dealing with money and personal data which is sensitive and highly regulated. When you’re cooperating with the regulator or some of the bigger financial institutions, you’ll also be dependent on the pace that they move at, so this process will require a lot of patience. Don’t lose hope and stay passionate about your vision.’
2. Build empathy in your teams ‘The rationales behind people making financial decisions are often just as emotional as they are practical, so people can be particularly sensitive to them. It’s important to show empathy in every interaction you have with your customers, from the product to communications and marketing. Empathy starts from within, so you must build a team that truly empathises with the problem you’re looking to solve so that this flows through all parts of your service.’
3. Be open to partnerships ‘More often than not, when founders look to solve a problem, they want to build everything internally from scratch. Startups typically have tech expertise, agility and ambition, whereas bigger business have scale, experience and resource, so be open to partnering with the right companies, networks and people. Strategic alliances can help you reach a wider audience more quickly and affordably than going it alone.’
4. Default to customer obsession, not intellectual curiosity ‘Keep your customers at the heart of everything you do. It’s easy to be tempted by the latest flavour of the month when it comes to technology, but the coolest tech might not be the best solution for your customers. At Trussle, our customers don’t want to speak to an artificial intelligence chatbot, they want to find the best deal suited to their needs as quickly as possible. Listen to your customers and keep their pain points at the front of your mind as you develop your product.’
RSNG What strategies did you use to convince your investors? IM ‘As consumers themselves, our investors can easily relate to the problem we’re solving. We’ve raised c.£20m in venture capital over a few rounds of funding and I’ve found keeping it personal has always helped when pitching for investment. For venture investors, it’s also important to emphasise the role that technology plays in helping you win over a big market. For Trussle, showing the scope and progress for digitising an offline, inefficient, and antiquated industry with £240 billion ($303 billion) in annual mortgage lending is something a lot of investors can get behind.’
RSNG What’s more important, product or vision? IM ‘The product. It’s what you design to solve a problem, and hope the product will ultimately achieve your vision. While you’ll always iterate on the product, you should remain stubborn on the vision in order to progress, grow, and achieve.’
RSNG What’s been the most personally satisfying moment in the Trussle journey? IM ‘There are too many to choose from! Certainly one of the best has to be when our first ever customer, Dexter, came back to use Trussle to refinance his home two years later. Loyalty is a great measure of customer satisfaction, and Dexter was not only willing to use our service but also come into the office to help us design the optimal journey for a repeat customer. That level of satisfaction and engagement with our customers is exactly why we work so hard to achieve our mission of making homeownership accessible for everyone.’
When you don’t take risks, you don’t learn and if you’re not learning, you’re not improving
RSNG How do you go from having the big idea to execution? IM ‘You just have to stop thinking and start doing. You’ll never get it right first time, but the faster you learn, the faster you can iterate and improve. On a company level, it’s important to cultivate a culture of embracing failure. When people are afraid to get things wrong, they don’t take risks. When they don’t take risks, you don’t learn. And if you’re not learning, you’re not improving.’
RSNG What are the three things people do wrong when starting up? IM
1. Chase shiny things ‘Founders, by definition, are problem-solvers. So it can be tempting to pursue an opportunity when one arises, albeit a distraction to the original mission of a company. Startups are resource constrained environments, so staying focused is one of the most valuable things you can do.’
2. Hire fast & fire slow ‘Your people are your greatest asset, and hiring the right candidates is really hard. As well as being able to do the job well, you’re looking for someone who aligns with your mission and values. In the long run, you’re better off taking your time to find the right people. In the same vein, it’s never good to delay the inevitable if things aren’t working out. Holding on to the wrong person for too long can unintentionally set a new standard, which can be difficult to shake off.’
3. Not talking to customers ‘Whether you’re B2C or B2B, you’re building a product for users whose feedback should shape the direction of the product. There’s nothing quite like the insight gained from speaking to users and understanding their behaviours, frustrations, and motivations when interacting with your product. When carried out well, user research can be the unfair advantage you have over your competitors.’
**RSNG What’s been the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? ‘Be yourself and spend your time on the things you enjoy the most.’
WHAT NEXT? Want to know how to pitch your startup to investors? Then read RSNG’s guide here…
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