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Some of the startups doing smart things to help their customers be better with money. Illustration by the immensely talented Thomas Dowdell

31 lessons from startups doing it better than you

Nic Gray
Nic Gray
Dec 19, 2018 · 15 min read

Faster to market, loved by their customers, envied by competitors.

Startups focused on helping people make better financial decisions and their money go further are — thankfully — bossing it right now. They’re pulling in significant investment, hiring much of the next generation of top talent, creating cultures conducive to sustainable innovation, designing amazing products that they’re constantly improving, gaining traction with customers fast and getting loads of great press in the process.

Given this, at Fluxx we took an in-depth look at over 100 of them to find out what they’re doing so right. Here are our favourites, categorised across four key themes.

If you’re in the business of running a tech or innovation capability, or are designing, building or managing products, or even if you’re investing in startups, you’re in the right place.

First theme: Diverse sources of inspiration lead to better products and services

1) Joy: Hire a non-traditional team

Joy is a money app that helps its users be better with money by asking them to decide which transactions make them happy and which don’t. They say this results in their users making better, happier financial decisions and gets them saving money too. This novel approach is only possible because their product team is made up of clinical psychologists, data scientists, neuroscientists, tech experts and financial services professionals, each with their unique perspective on how to solve this complex challenge. The skills your team and business needs in order to be successful in the future are different to what you have today —so get ahead of the curve by getting those diverse perspectives in right away. Joy (US)

2) FreeTrade: Look abroad to know what good looks like

Freetrade is an app that enables its users to invest in the stock market easily and for free. It’s a great idea, and one that’s already been proven very successful in the U.S with another FinTech - Robinhood - which has brought low-cost investing to the US masses with 4 million customers signed up and rising by 140,000 per month, meaning their value has rocketed to over $5b. The Freetrade app could do something similar here, creating a cost effective way for people in the UK and EU to get the potential benefits of investing in the stock market. Might the smartest money be on investing in Freetrade? Whatever your view, being aware of the best ideas from around the world will help inspire your ideas and benchmark your endeavours. FreeTrade (UK) / RobinHood (US)

3) Marshmallow: Think about the everyday needs created by global trends

The ever increasing movement of people presents some interesting opportunities. If you’ve built up a ‘no claims discount’ on your vehicle insurance policy abroad and have now moved to the UK, you can lose that benefit when trying to buy insurance here. Marshmallow is able to take any discount you’ve build up into account so you don’t lose out. Marshmallow (UK)

4) NewDay: Tap into growing consumer concerns to differentiate

Cheaper, faster, better are usually the levers to pull to stand out. But, NewDay’s way is all about meeting a growing desire for values based products and services, in this case investing. Gender equality, animal welfare, ocean health and more. You choose what you care about and NewDay will match you to a portfolio of businesses that make a positive contribution towards these issues, or have policies to limit their impact, for example on things like ocean plastic, coral reef preservation and coastal cleanliness. NewDay (US)

5) Trezeo: Find an under-served and growing customer group and fix their problems

One in three workers in the US is a freelancer. In the UK, it’s 6% but growing FAST. Trezeo is a business bank account that has created a potentially valuable first-mover advantage by spotting a growing group with shared challenges and creating a very smart solution that helps freelancers with fluctuating incomes avoid payday loans, hooray! (Good riddance Wonga “the crack cocaine of debt”). Trezeo holds back a bit of your pay in good weeks to top up your pay during dry spells. And, if there’s not enough cash in reserve to make ends meet, they’ll offer a 0% interest mini loan to see you through to payday. Trezeo (UK)

6) Airsorted: Piggyback on the successes of others

If someone else is nailing their service, think about how you can piggyback rather than compete. Everyone knows of airbnb, but with airsorted you can outsource all of the work of renting your space to them, and they say you’ll achieve better income too. So you can go on holiday and come home to a clean and tidy home and with a bag of cash left for you on the kitchen table (or in your bank, if you prefer). airsorted (UK)

Second theme: There is no such thing as “that’s just the way it is”

7) Earnin: Use digital to upend antiquated norms

The admin involved in human bookkeeping and manual payroll has meant that being paid monthly is the norm. But why does this need to be the case today when it’s possible to automate time-consuming tasks? Earnin is a money app that lets you take pay you’ve already earned as and when you need it, allowing users to better balance the peaks and troughs of inconsistent income and unexpected outgoings rather than having to wait for payday. earnin (US)

8) Squirrel: Don’t be afraid to ignore business trends if you can fulfill real customer needs

“Customers want control,” says just about every trend report since 2015. Sure, most of the time. But, we’re also all fallible to our foibles from time to time and just sometimes relinquishing a bit of control is no bad thing. Squirrel is a money app that links to your existing bank account and intercepts your pay putting money aside to make sure bills get paid and that you’re always saving something (nice!). It then divides the rest into weekly allowances that it pays you back into your bank account. Some people want full control, others want boundaries — this cleverly helps those in the latter camp. Squirrel (UK)

9) Chip: Automating tasks customers struggle to do themselves can profoundly change the status quo

According to the Royal Society for the Arts, 70% of the UK’s working population are “chronically broke.” A lack of a savings safety net exacerbates this problem. Chip shows that it doesn’t have to be that way. Download the Chip app, link it to your bank account and using their fancy algorithm they’ll work out how much you can safely save and will squirrel it away into your Chip savings account — with an interest rate of up to 5% too. Without realising it you’ll be saving money and avoiding ever having to use short-term, high-cost credit. Chip (UK)

10) MoneyBox and FareWill: Help your customers do ‘adult’ things

Do you ever feel like you’re a proper adult? There’s always something that you know you should be doing but haven’t done yet. Investing for the long term and planning what happens if we pass away are two such things that are just too easy to put off to another day and are therefore great candidates for disruption. Step in MoneyBox and FareWill, two startups making tough tasks doable and adulting easier.

The MoneyBox app — like the Acorns app in the US — links to your bank account and rounds up card transactions to the nearest pound investing that spare change into an investment fund. They’ve managed to get people that wouldn’t otherwise be saving or investing over the long term to do so regularly and on the stock market too. And, they’ve now added interesting partnerships into their offering, including one with FareWill that makes writing a will online really easy and cost effective. MoneyBox (UK) and FareWill (UK)

11) SoFi: A bank that’ll help you get promoted… wait what?

“We’re all about helping our members get ahead and find success.” Sounds like every bank’s marketing spiel, right? Except SoFi doesn’t just offer loans, a bank account and an investing platform. They also run education events, networking nights and all their members get free CV writing help, career advice and one-on-one career coaching. They’ve clearly thought much more holistically about the role they can play in improving their customer’s lives beyond their ‘core business,’ and it’s a perfect example of the saying “look after your customers and profit will follow”, amazing work. SoFi (US)

12) Curve: Providing the service layer on top of other businesses is a smart place to be

In the digital age having a wallet full of cards is avoidable and I’m not talking about Apple or Android pay. Sometimes, you just need a physical card and with Curve that one card can in fact be ALL your cards. In the accompanying Curve app you can choose which of your other bank cards you want your Curve card to emulate. Meaning, you’ll have a super slim purse or wallet and can make payments (or withdrawals from cash machines aboard for free) and charge it to whichever of your other cards you want. And, if you accidentally put a transaction through onto the wrong card, you can use their clever ‘go back in time’ feature to change which card gets charged or even —coming soon— retrospectively convert any transaction you’ve made into a monthly repayment plan.

Sign up to Curve using code XCPZG and you’ll get £5 added to your account, and I’ll donate — in your name — the £5 referral reward I get to the charity Crisis, to help get homeless people in the UK off the streets over Christmas. Curve UK

13) By Miles: Let your customers pay for what they use

Insurance appears somewhat based on working out how groups of similar people have behaved in the past and extrapolating what that means for how people applying for insurance will behave in the future. It’s smart stuff, but digital increasingly gives us opportunities to make it much more about the individual and how they actually behave. It’s still early days for truly personal insurance, but by taking out car insurance with By Miles, you pay an amount to cover your car whilst it’s parked up, then a per mile rate on top of that. The device they send you to track miles also monitors the health of your car telling you what’s actually up when your dashboard lights come on. That sense of only paying for what’s used gives customer a feeling of control and potentially greater value.By Miles. (UK) (Tip: I hear it works out cheapest to get your car insurance quote 21 days before your current policy expires…)

14) Hopper: Help your customers beat the system

Flight prices fluctuate all the time and trying to get the best deal is complicated and time consuming. Hopper is an app that helps its customers beat the system as once they tell it where you want to go, Hopper will keep an eye on the prices, track trends and tell them when it’s identified a good time to snaffle a bargain fare to their ideal destination. Hopper (global)

15) Dinghy: If you can’t change the system, at least help your customers navigate it

In a freelancer’s world there so much to think about, getting work, getting paid, paying tax, protecting you, your stuff and your business. Dinghy has been build to help make freelancer’s lives easier. Sign up and they will provide business equipment cover, professional indemnity and public liability protection as well as expert tax advice and even pay you for jury service so you don’t lose out financially. Plus, with their Freelancer Assist service they say they will “help you chase clients for any unpaid invoices” (probably less Liam Neeson in Taken and more automated emailing, but still). Dinghy (US)

16) ForestCar: Make your customers feel good about themselves in a low-effort way

Disrupting car hire and airport parking in one fell swoop is ForestCar. ForestCar, lets you make money and do your bit for the planet, nicely hitting two emotional sweet-spots at once. Sign up online with them and you get free airport parking and can earn money by having your car rented out whilst you’re away. ForestCar will then plant a tree for every day your car is rented and invest 10% of their profits or 1% of their income (whichever is greater) to rainforest reforestation. Ethical earnings and Charlie — one of the co-founders — is a former Fluxxer too! ForestCar (UK)

Third theme: Invest in brilliant design. It takes time but it’s what will make you stand out

17) Moven: Change customer behaviour (for the better) through super smart design

Moven’s managed to do the near-impossible: design a bank account that makes people actually want to save. Their smart-watch app encourages ‘impulse saving’ by identifying when a customer has surplus money and nudges them to lock it away into a savings account — Brett King (the founder) says that 80% say yes and with no interest rate mentioned at all! Their ‘break the glass’ feature also adds a psychological barrier to dissuade users from accessing their savings — Incredible work! Moven (US, but licensed globally)

18) MoneyLion: Break down complex challenges into specific, actionable tasks

Whatever your project management methodology, no doubt it’ll feature the above mantra. But it’s far less common in financial services product design. The MoneyLion app aggregates your bank accounts into one view and rewards users in cash and points for small, steady steps towards financial wellbeing, like logging in, monitoring credit scores, and increasing surplus income over time. They also send personalised nudges that use events (like overdraft charges) to suggest changes in behaviour. It’s all very Fogg method, and very smart. MoneyLion (US)

19) Coconut: Display data for your customers in a way that doesn’t force them to do the legwork

You know when you get your energy bill and there are numbers everywhere and you’re not really sure what the debits and credits means and it’s all a big mess? That’s what it looks like when companies expect customers to do the legwork. Challenger business banks are all generally designing their services so customers don’t have to do this; they all offer integrated bookkeeping, invoicing and everyday banking based on lower fees. But, what Coconut adds that’s smart is that it calculates your tax bill in real-time so that you always know what you owe HMRC. Coconut (UK)

20) Ubank: Let customers customise

And I don’t mean changing the colour of their profile or adding a picture. This is about helping people shape your services so they work in just the way they like it. APIs enable incredible personalisation opportunities and Ubank is taking full advantage of that. Ubank has created a savings account that integrates with external data sources like Google Maps, Spotify, Uber, Instagram, weather, ESPN and more, as well as personal data sources like the Apple Health kit. This means, that you can set it to sweep money from your bank account into your savings account based on highly personalised criteria such as whenever your football team scores, whenever you go for a run and whenever you get to the office. Ubank (Brazil)

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You make the rules at Ubank

21) Lemonade: Your customers are comparing you to the digital giants, not your competitors

Expectations of services have changed. Your customers use services like Uber, Amazon, and Deliveroo and expect many of their experiences to be just like them. In terms of insurance, Lemonade is the new benchmark. Get cover in 90 seconds and payouts even faster — including a world record 3 seconds — all powered by artificial intelligence, of course. Lemonade (US)

22) Labrador: Help customers outsource chores

11 million Brits overpay for energy by £360 a year on average. Those savings are real and easy to get, but switching can be a chore and you’re never sure whether you’ve actually saved money. Labrador says it’ll save households £537 a year by regularly switching you to the best energy deals without you ever having to do anything. And because they do this by sending you their ‘Labrador Retriever’, a little box that links into your energy smart meter, all switches are based on actual real-time use and not estimates or year old annual statements. Labrador (UK)

23) Pouch / Honey: Make things really easy for your customers

Download their web browser extensions — go for both — and next time you get to the payment screen at an online retailer, Pouch and Honey will spam the voucher/discount code box until either they find you a discount code or they reassure you that you’ve got the best price. All automatic and all very satisfying — no buyers remorse again! Pouch (UK) & Honey (US/UK)

Forth theme: Fast to market isn’t just about speed, it’s actually the best way to build brilliant solutions that your customers will love

24) Trussle: Nail customer desirability first, the rest can often wait

Trussle caught our eye as they launched with a conversational interface (like Hi Oscar’s) and used a technique called ‘the fake door’ to test whether people wanted what they were offering even though the full service probably wasn’t ready yet — a very smart move! Like other mortgage brokers, Trussle will find you the best mortgage but unlike others they will keep a constant track of rates and better deals so that as soon as one comes up that’ll save you money — even if you’re still in a fixed rate period — they’ll let you know so you can switch. Their process is brilliantly designed too, as they’ve made it so easy to upload all the info lenders need and all conversations can be had over chat and email. We’re big fans. Trussle (UK)

25) Train Reeclaim: Build businesses faster with publicly available APIs

Train Reeclaim is a free online service that you connect to your TFL Oyster/Contactless account. I’ll track your journeys and if you’re delayed it’ll automatically get your fare refunded. They’ve cleverly created a service that’s an absolute no-brainer if you commute in London and it’s all made possible as they use readily accessible data and existing refund services to create an amazing automated service. Free cash from a task that you know full well you’ll never bother to do yourself. Train Reeclaim (UK)

26) Jack’s Flight Club: Use existing platforms and channels to deliver value fast

If you’re less about planning and more about spontaneity, then Jack’s Flight Club will be right up your street. Jack hasn’t spend time and money building a platform or fancy website, they hunt for crazy low priced flights using Google fight search and let their members know by email. At time of writing they’ve found return flights to Hawaii for £289, LA for £199 and Tokyo for £248. The catch is that when Jack tells you about the deal you’ve probably got less than 24 hours to secure the price — trigger finger at the ready! Jack’s Flight Club (UK)

27) Cooperative Capital: Tap into existing communities

Creating and sustaining customer communities that can drive a member get member strategy is challenging. So, Cooperative Capital chose an existing community — Detroit — and created what’s basically community Kickstarter, a platform to let people club together to fund local entrepreneurs, helping get their businesses up and running so they can turn that empty shop into a burrito bar and make money when it succeeds — muy rico! Cooperative Capital (US)

28) Zebra Fuel: Start small to launch fast

Sign up with Zebra Fuel, let them know where your car is parked (train station, car park, supermarket, at your house…) leave your fuel cap unlocked and they will come round and fill you up with fuel that costs the same or less than your local petrol station, saving you time and money. Unlike that imploded after trying to launch in multiple countries at once, Zebra is focusing on meeting the needs of diesel car owners in London first before expanding out, meeting a specific need for a small group of people. Zebra Fuel (UK)

29) Neos: Refine the offering quickly with live prototyping

Conceived at Fluxx and with a proposition that was developed and fine-tuned through rapid experimentation, multi award winning Neos combines top of the range insurance cover, an application process that pulls in loads of external data about your home so you don’t have to answer all those questions and a bunch of smart homes devices that’ll alert you if something goes wrong before it causes loads of damage — the future of home insurance starts here. Neos (UK)

30) Onedox: Build as you go, there’s no need to launch everything at once

Onedox is the ultimate home admin hub that started with a few integrations at launch but are rapidly adding more and more. Sign up online or in app and Onedox will link together all your utilities accounts, entertainment subscriptions, insurances policies, vehicle info (including all past MOT certificates), council tax and TFL account, and with no doubt more to come. It’ll also let you know what you latest bills are, if those bills have increased and whether any of your contracts are expiring. A dashboard definitely worth having that’s getting better all the time. Onedox (UK)

31) Yolt: Learn from your customers and keep pushing what’s possible

Yolt is an app that allows you to see all your different bank account balances and transactions in one place as well as giving you useful information about what those balances mean for you. Aggregating bank accounts is not a new idea, but Yolt is invested in constantly and consistently making the experience better. So whenever they show information about a type of spending, be it energy, investing, or transfers, they look to supplement that information with an easy to use service — often from a partner — that can deliver actionable improvements. Yolt (UK)

That’s all folks.

If you’d like a personalised 31 startup lessons to supercharge your business, just get in touch. At Fluxx we’re known for turning big businesses into ‘super-startups’ that combine the best of both startups and established businesses and we can do the same for you.

Nic Gray is senior consultant at Fluxx. He is also a qualified Barrister, a former Financial Ombudsman and worked in Thailand as a Scuba Divemaster.

To find out more about Fluxx check out and for more articles like this, follow Fluxx on Medium and subscribe to our newsletter! You might also like to know that we’ve written a book on innovation: The Plan Sucks. You can download a free copy here.

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