What do Kayne West and Mondo have in common?

How Kanye West and Tom Blomfield are disrupting music and banking by applying lean start-up principles (as first predicted by Bowie 20 years ago…).

Before I start I would like to clarify that I’m not a huge Kanye West fan, but I am fascinated by the open approach he has taken to building his latest album ‘The Life of Pablo’; with TechCrunch describing it as the ‘the first SaaS album’. There is an unlikely comparison to be drawn here with Mondo, the UK start-up bank that has taken a radically open approach to building their product and business that feels more like a SaaS company or game developer than a bank.

In many ways the transformation taking place in financial services is reminiscent of the music industry over the last 20 years. Previously products (songs) were bundled and sold to customers in an album. The artist enhanced the experience of the product with artwork and packaging, and customers proudly displayed these around their homes. Digital made it viable to distribute a single song, and soon customers were able to pick and choose the songs they bought or streamed. Artists lost control of the experience, and software companies like Apple and Spotify took over. 20 years ago David Bowie predicted that music products would become a utility and the business model for music would have to change, focusing less on the product and putting the customers (fans) at the centre. His thinking was (as in many other ways), ahead of its time.

As an artist, I like to see what the new construction is between artist and audience. There is a breakdown, personified by the rave culture of the last few years where the audience is at least as important as who is playing at the rave. It’s almost like the artist is to accompany the audience and what the audience is doing, and that feeling is very much permitting music and permitting the internet.

The shift away from thinking about the attributes of a product to thinking about the needs of the crowd has many parallels with the transformation that is going on in Financial Services at the moment.

  • Products are being unbundled. It’s now viable for start-ups and small players to manufacturer and distribute products quickly and cheaply, addressing smaller segments previously underserved by mass market
  • Products are becoming a utility, and will be delivered through experiences controlled by software companies unconnected to the manufacturing of the product
  • Business models will be challenged and companies will have to focus more on the experience and less on the product (Kayne has proclaimed that CDs are dead, and ‘The Life of Pablo’ will be streaming only)
  • Creating new products services will be an open process that customers can contribute to

It’s this final point that I want to focus on to draw an unlikely comparison between Kayne West and Mondo. Both are looking to disrupt the industry they operate in and are doing so in a way more akin to a Silicon Valley software company than a Rapper or a Bank.

  1. They are engaging a group of early adopters

Reddit has thousands of threads with people discussing the ’The Life of Pablo’, individual tracks and new updates. Pretty remarkable for an album that isn’t finished and hasn’t been widely distributed or played on radio/music channels.

The hype around Mondo’s alpha program has been incredible. The few thousand that have cards are active on social media talking about it, and the waitlist for new people is (as of 8am on March 19th) up to 59,172.

I didn’t get in on the crowdfunding round within 96 seconds but, yeah, it still feels awesome to be part of their success as an Alpha user…”

2. They have launched ‘un-finished’ MVP versions of their product and are iterating based on customer feedback

Since first publishing ‘The Life of Pablo’ online, Kanye has made changed to a number of tracks and has shared the process of doing so with his fans.

Mondo launched with a very simple first version of the app, and continues to roll out new features based on feedback gather from alpha users.

3. They have an open approach allowing 3rd parties to develop on and improve their core product

Since the first version of ‘The Life of Pablo’ was posted online, Kayne has collaborated with a number of high profile artists on updated tracks, including Drake, Bjork, Frank Ocean. These changes could well have been planned anyway behind closed studio doors, but it’s a unique opportunity for fans to see how the initial product gets built on by 3rd parties over time.

Mondo have made their API publicly available and have cultivated a community of developers to build on and enhance their core product. For many other companies, ‘open-innovation’ and ‘hackathons’ feel like PR stunts, with little influence over the product roadmap or direction of the business, but with Mondo this open approach to engaging a community and building the product with them feels core to the strategy of the firm. You only have to look on their open Slack channel to see how actively their engineers, senior team and CEO collaborate with people who have no extrinsic motivation to help make Mondo a success.


The idea of collaborating with your customers to create a product or service is not new; service design practitioners have adopted the approach for years, but there are few examples of it being executed really really well. Co-creation and open innovation is more than just running focus groups and user testing sessions. Mondo have been successful because they have tapped into people’s intrinsic motivations to be creative and be part of something. Not only have they created a movement of people who believe that banking needs to change, they have given them a seat at the table to help shape and define what Mondo becomes.

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