Meet Vivi Friedgut, Founder of Blackbullion, a London based, financial education company on a mission to make the world money smarter. Here, she shares with EdTechX the inspiration behind starting the company, why FinTech is so important and more education is needed to help students manage finances…
Why did you start Blackbullion?
I was really lucky to be raised financially literate. It was really important to my mum that we understood the power of money early and so products, investment and saving talk was regular dinner conversation. I worked in wealth management throughout the financial crisis and only after the world imploded did anyone really start to look at peoples levels of financial capability so I decided the time was right to try and turn my passion into a business. I started by delivering workshops and Realised quite quickly that my ambition to help every person in the world get money smart was not going to happen by delivering face to face to 50 students at a time so the Blackbullion platform was born. It’s been a winding journey creating a brand new space and market but it’s been a lot of fun and I think we’re only really now getting started!
Tell us a little bit more about the tech behind the product:
We are lucky to have a fantastic CTO who as far as I am concerned is the tech behind the platform. I can’t even code and that’s part of the magic of Blackbullion I believe — that everyone has deep expertise and passion for their role.
What are you looking to achieve next?
We are in the midst of rolling out a new workflow solution for universities. Universities deal with a lot of paperwork and complicated over manual workflows which are incredibly frustrating for staff who have to faff around with paperwork and emails and check things manually (leading to a next to impossible task of measuring impact and fairness etc) but also for students for whom the process isn’t always clear, or transparent and can be majorly stress-inducing. The new solution we have released underpins the process with education so it’s good for students and staff. We have a few university partners who’ve been using the tool since its launch on Nov 1 and one has gone from wholely paperwork based to completely automated on our system in 3 weeks. That’s a huge win for the student experience and also better allocates the time of university staff who can spend that time supporting students instead of checking spreadsheets!
What has been the biggest obstacle in creating Blackbullion?
The biggest obstacle was the fact that we were creating a market. Even a few years ago the term “financial wellness” didn’t exist, people didn’t have the vocabulary and there were no budget lines for institutions to invest in financial literacy. Being ahead of our time could have also been a death knell, instead, we are now in a leading position in the higher education space with unlimited opportunity for expansion which is really exciting. Seeing that obstacle as an opportunity has taken years!
Looking back to the day you started Blackbullion, what would you have done differently?
About a million things but then any changes would have led down a different path so you have to be sanguine about “mistakes… I think I would have brought a CTO on earlier — the amount of tech debt we accumulated was significant. I also would have been more thoughtful on hiring, a number of people joined the team in the early days who I should have seen were not a good fit — but that comes with practice and experience of what you need and how to bind a team
What has the response been like since recently winning the UK semi-finals of the GESA Awards?
It would be a lie to not admit to enjoying some of the kudos and recognition — we spend so much of our time heads down building and selling and trying to outrun the competition that I don’t feel we take enough time to stop and admire how far we’ve come. Winning the semi-final has given us a great opportunity to do just that. We’ve fielded some interesting calls from investors which is always nice and it’s given us a great platform from which to tell our story.
How has starting your company in the UK helped you? What separates this ecosystem from others?
When you are working within the education sector, the UK is a perfect market. Big enough to matter and small enough that the main players are collegiate and generous with their time and feedback. London is a fantastic place to run a business (despite the expense) because of the access to talent, support and funding — it feels as though the ecosystem is really coming into its own. You can feel it in the air — there’s a buzz of energy. I remember the first time I really understood what an ecosystem was when I was in SF and at the next table someone was pitching their business and at another, a couple of lawyers were talking about some board meeting — that’s how it’s starting to feel in London. I’m just happy to be a part of it!
How has tech helped you advance our product and reach?
With workshops I was getting 50 or so people in the room — it’s terrific but it’s not scalable when there are 2m students in the U.K. and we aren’t stopping at the UK so doing workshops for 400m students isn’t practical at all! At least as important as the scale is our imperative to measure impact and efficacy and that’s basically impossible without tech. Finally, it is also a safe space (and way) for people to learn — face to face people are embarrassed to ask questions. Everyone is under the mistaken impression that they are the only one who doesn’t understand APR or how the student fee system works.
Finally, What piece of advice would you give to other entrepreneurs? Figure out the road to revenue early. The so-called-unicorn is taking a beating and a startup that has no way of making money means you will forever be beholden to investors and the market. Some people love that but for me being able to pay your own bills and keep the lights on is a very powerful milestone. There is a time for bootstrapping and sometimes a time for raising, it’s all about the opportunity cost.
You can continue to follow Blackbullion’s story on twitter @blackbullion and Linkedin.
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