Fintech Stories #1: Ivo Weevers, CEO of Albert
Fintech Stories is a series of in-depth interviews with fintech founders, CEOs other doers and makers curated by Tomas Vysny, co-founder of an innovation studio Booster Labs.
In the first edition of Fintech Stories, I sat down with Ivo Weevers, CEO and co-founder of Albert — www.getalbert.com — the UK’s highest rated finance app for freelancers (with over 800 five star ratings in Apple app store).
It is a fast-growing, London-based startup aiming to crack freelance finances, and is currently being used by 25,000 freelancers in the UK on the iPhone alone. The company has raised money led by Mangrove Capital (early backers of Skype and Wix) and from leading fintech entrepreneurs earlier this year.
Ivo shares his story, talks about Albert and its vision, shares valuable lessons learned along the way on raising money and partnering with banks. Invention of the printing press in 1440 makes an appearance too.
Ivo, you are a co-founder of Albert, how would you describe your business briefly? What is Albert about?
Albert is the best app freelancers hardly need to use. It is a new platform for freelancers that changes how freelance finances is done. Most freelancers are stressed about their finances and we take that feeling out of the equation for their daily tasks such as invoicing, expensing and handling payments.
How did you personally become involved in FinTech? How did you become a CEO of a quickly growing fintech startup in London?
Dan, my co-founder, and myself both designed and built the mobile banking apps for RBS and Natwest. If you’re using these apps than you’re probably looking at our work.
Together we built some ground-breaking stuff such as the first peer-to-peer payments and an award-winning feature called “Get Cash” inside the banks’ applications. We revamped their Android application which then got featured by Google’s Play Store as the first UK mobile banking app.
How did the idea for Albert come about?
Once when Dan and I were sitting on Los Angeles Airport, we found ourselves completely in awe of the fact that we were unable to check the status of our own freelance finances on our mobile phones.
We were big fans of successful productivity apps like Mailbox, Sunrise or Wunderlist and we were surprised that something like this did not exist for freelance finances.
On one of the trips back across the Atlantic, we built a prototype of how we thought finances should work on a mobile, which we showed to self-employed friends. These friends asked if they could have it the same day, and that’s when we quit our jobs to start Albert.
Who is Albert’s target customer? Are freelancers your main focus?
We often use the term freelancers; Albert really is built for every solo self-employed person across the world. Although I must admit it is already being picked up by small business teams too.
What are the main value propositions of Albert? What do people love about Albert?
Albert is the best app freelancers hardly need to use. This means that Albert actually works for you and dramatically simplifies everything else.
It tracks, manages and organises invoices and expenses for you — and will notify you of anything important. It is the highest rated UK finance for freelancers because users love its simplicity.
Albert is currently used by over 25 thousand customers in the UK. Can you tell us how did you crack the distribution?
We are quite good at connecting with high-potential users in a cost-effective way by using a smart marketing system we developed and we call Dynamic Channel Activation.
We know where and when they start, how we can onboard them, convert them into users, get them to do their first action and ultimately turn them into engaged users.
Our core focus is engagement. You only know you’re building a valuable platform if people love it. Our dedication to building the best product in the market is paying of now with a rapidly growing and highly engaged group of fans.
Can you tell us what is your vision for Albert?
Recently I read an interesting piece of history. In 1440 Gutenberg invented the printing press. Over the next few centuries violence saw a downfall in Europe, especially in economies such as the UK and the Netherlands that had the money to start printing books at large scale.
Literacy wasn’t the only reason for the decline in violence and fear, but it is believed to have played an important role. Reading creates empathy. Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. And with that it dramatically improved understanding and changed people’s behaviours.
That’s how we see Albert. With a whole new technological approach, it gives our users a real-time understanding of their finances in their pocket. And they don’t need to do anything for that. This is significant as suddenly freelancers know where they are, know that they will be informed, and can act immediately if needed. This will change people’s behaviours towards finances completely and will take the stress away.
Albert can become the best new invention for each freelancer’s pocket across the world.
How does your daily grind look like? How about the team?
We have a bit unique set up since my co-founder Dan is the CTO and still codes everyday, and I am the CEO, and still hold a pencil to design everyday.
We have a small but super talented team. Albert would not have been here without the passion of every single member in our gang. One of the secrets is that everyone is smart, very hands-on, and gets s*** done. That how we started and that’s how we still do it.
Did being a professional designer help you in any way to set up a tech start-up?
If you want to be successful in mobile, the user experience must be your ultimate focus. If the experience is not good, people will drop you.
The reason most companies in this area fail is that building exceptional mobile user experiences is really hard — it requires expertise, dedication from the whole team, perseverance and empathy.
You were part of Wayra, raised financing from London-based fintech angels and most recently raised a round from Mangrove Capital Partners. What were the lessons learned for you when it comes to securing financing for a fintech startup?
It becomes much more rewarding when you view it as connecting with the smartest people who can help you and your company. We are very fortunate that our investors are incredibly helpful with expertise, experience and insights. The moment you meet the right people, you suddenly realise raising investment is about much more than a bag of money.
On Fintech, Banks and Fintech Partnerships
Are there any FinTech startups which you admire in particular? Which of them would we find installed on your iPhone at the moment?
I have a couple. I admire Robinhood as their first focus has always been to build a great product for their users and with that create a highly engaged platform. They understood that building true, sustainable and high value relates to having an engaged user base. That’s exactly what Albert is aiming at.
What is your take on cooperation between fintech startups and incumbents such as banks and telcos?
Fintech really is an industry of change. It does not mean banks will go away entirely; but their role will change. When you look at it from a macro-level, banks will become wholesalers, because they don’t really have a strong understanding of the end customers. They are simply too big for that.
Somebody else has to understand the end-customer much better and distribute what the banks have, such as credit facilities, accounts and trust in the best way for these end customers. This is what fintech startups can do.
Fintech is so exciting because it helps people to re-engage again with financial services in a way they actually want. In my view, banks and startups will work together to achieve this.
Where can fintech startups add value in this new setup?
I think that start-ups are in much better position to address specific user needs. Are the banks in the best position to address the needs of teenagers in Devon or dock workers in Wales? I don’t think so — the banks are too far removed from these worlds. That is where start-ups can shine in a flexible and a cost-effective way.
Albert was involved in a partnership with O2 UK are they any lessons learned?
If you want to work with a big corporation as a startup, it’s important to show how you can help them and have a champion inside their organisation. The reason why our cooperation with O2 was super valuable for O2; their customers and Albert, was because we had the support of Ben Dowd, who is one of the top directors at O2 UK.
Coming back to your work, what do you love the most about your work?
Building a fantastic new product that people love, with a fantastic team. Receiving a reply from user on Friday thanking our team for how Albert changes his life is a good start of the weekend.
Was there any special moment in your journey that was truly special for you?
Probably our last team event because it was a culmination of everything — some of our users and accounting friends were there, our whole team was present, along with many of the super smart people who we’ve met throughout our journey, including our advisers, investors and friends.
It was a special evening to have everyone together in the heart of the city where we started.
Do you have any advice for fellow fintech entrepreneurs you would like to share?
Stay true to what you believe in. There are moments where you will go through ups and downs, when you’re in a down moment you might get advice from somebody that conflicts with what you really believe in. Listen, learn and respond to the people around you. But don’t forget the reasons that got you in the game in the first place.
Thanks a lot for the interview Ivo!
Thanks for reading — Got feedback? Interested in fintech? Know anyone to interview? Don’t be shy and please say hi :)