Connect Spotlight: Emma
Launched in the U.K. in early 2018 by co-founders Edoardo Moreni and Antonio Marino, Emma impressed us with its mission to educate and empower people to lead a healthier, more fulfilling financial life. We met them early, saw them expand to the U.S. and Canada last summer, and led their $2.5 million seed round earlier this year. Now, they are helping hundreds of thousands of people budget, track, and save their money.
In this Connect Spotlight, Rory sat down with Emma co-founder & CEO, Edoardo Moreni. They got straight into the good stuff, like how Emma is a consumer’s financial therapist, how it has some of the best user engagement and retention we’ve seen in this market, and how they’ve upped the ante on what a finance app can provide. Enjoy the full interview below to learn more about Emma’s journey to becoming the world’s most personal and beloved financial app.
Edoardo, how would you describe Emma to somebody who doesn’t know it? What problem are you trying to solve?
Emma is your financial therapist. It’s an app that helps people control their money, in a stress-free way. The problem we’re trying to solve is one of the biggest of our generation: we live in a world where so often, people don’t look at their bank account. They end up not paying their bills, they forget about recurring payments, and they’re not used to budgeting. It’s one of the basic things every human being should know how to do, and yet it’s not even taught in schools.
Even if you have a natural tendency to check your accounts, like me, you’re still at risk of missing something. I’ve had accounts go into overdraft because I forgot to transfer money to them and a bill was due. One summer, when I was at uni, I realised I’d been paying for Netflix for seven months, untouched. My father, who was also on the account, called and asked “What is this Netflix.com?” I’d completely forgotten about the free trial and back then, Netflix wasn’t as good as it is today. [laughs]
That’s where Emma was born. It was created out of necessity for a tool that actually helps us — a new, more tech-savvy generation — with our finances on a day-to-day basis. It’s a super friendly product, with a super friendly brand, that targets a specific audience between 25–35 years old first — that’s our sweet spot — and 18–25 years old second — to better arm the next generation.
Tell us more about your origin story. How did you and Antonio meet? What made you decide to start this journey together?
I’m originally from Rome, and I studied Computer Science at the University of Manchester. I knew from the beginning that in my course of 200 people, there was going to be at least one other Italian — Antonio. At first, I was determined to avoid him. I was escaping the country, and I wanted to be surrounded by native speakers, not stuck speaking more Italian. So the first week, I completely ignored him; I wasn’t even getting close. The second week, I said “ciao, ciao.” Then it turned out we were basically reading the same things and looking at the same topics. So after four years, having worked on many projects together, building lots of software, it just felt natural to team up.
We weren’t really sure what the future looked like. We started from a few concepts, like peer-to-peer lending, and looked at a bunch of different apps, which sparked a strong interest in financial data and fintech. We actually moved to Berlin for one year to try launching a peer-to-peer lending platform, as well as a few other things — all from savings we had accumulated while working during university. All this evolved into Emma, which by the way was a name we had already shortlisted, because it comes from our initials.
Right before we ran out of money, we moved back to Italy. I was in Rome, Antonio was in Treviso, and we spent the first six months of Emma working remotely, without even seeing each other. After seven months, we met up in London because we were fundraising for our first round. That’s when things really started to look real.
Brilliant, I love that Emma is a combination of your initials! Let’s shift over to the product side: you’ve built an incredible product with a very lean team. What is your secret, how have you been able to do this at such a fast pace?
Well, the secret is that the founding team — Antonio and I — are engineers. We were super focused on founding a strong tech company, and we knew what we were talking about. In the early days, I was building the app, and Antonio was building the back end. We didn’t really need anyone else. We were live with thousands of users before we had even raised any funds. Emma was completely bootstrapped.
Our main goal for the first few years was to find product market fit. If you are slow, you don’t find product market fit. It’s as simple as that. You need great intuition, but you also need to try many things. See which ones work, and which ones don’t. Our other biggest advantage was that we were able and willing to do anything.
While I was coding, I was also providing customer support to twenty thousand users. Many of our early features were driven by feedback — our customers and yours — and that turned out to be a key factor on the product today. That’s how it started. Now it’s about maintaining that culture, keeping the momentum, and hiring the right people who can actually fill our space.
You also have some of the best user engagement and retention we’ve seen in this market. How do you do it?
We started organically. We just listened to what people needed and executed on that basis, while keeping a broader vision on the product and how we could turn it into something you wanted to use every day. We built a number of our initial features to create this engine of engagement. For example, the daily balances, where every morning, we send you the balance of your bank account. Or the weekly reports we send every Tuesday, with the breakdown of what you did the previous week. Or the Emma Quiz, which you can play every weekend to win an actual prize. You’ll find Emma has a number of features designed to create this sort of daily pattern of checking the product and making sure all your money is on track. That’s what led to such strong activity and engagement long-term.
It’s impressive. You’re one of the few high-growth consumer fintechs that doesn’t rely on performance marketing. Has that always been the case, and why are you different?
While we managed our first few years without it, the truth is that nowadays we do spend some money on performance marketing; the opportunity is too big not to and the monetisation is now proven. Early on, we were laser-focused on the product, and because we weren’t yet earning any revenue, it didn’t make sense to spend money on marketing. We needed to find other ways to grow, so we built sharing elements directly into the product — like those mentioned above.
The Emma Quiz incentivises you to invite friends. The weekly reports have a high sharing factor, and people often take screenshots and share them on social media. One of our earliest features is a fun one called Scramble Mode, where just by pushing a button, all your numbers get randomised and turned into Japanese Yen. This makes it super easy to show the app to your friends without them seeing your actual balance or transactions.
This organic growth is the foundation of Emma, and while we are now growing our user and revenue base through different streams, including performance marketing, we still have a healthy level of organic growth. In fact, I don’t ever see Emma as not being an organic company.
On that topic… How do you make money, both today and in the future?
Today, we make money three different ways. The first track is a subscription, called Emma Pro, which is an extension of the current product. It has been live for the past year and a half and comprises about 15% of Emma’s monthly active users. The adoption and retention is great, and it is aimed at people who actually want to use Emma in a deeper way. They want to budget more granularly. They want to better track where their money goes. We call it Emma Pro because it’s for our power users.
The second track is called Save Money. It’s a tab inside the app where we offer you the chance to save money on various services, for example by switching your energy bill or your broadband. You can open investment accounts or check for loans you might be eligible for within the market. We give you easy access to all of these financial products.
The third revenue stream is Emma Rewards. Emma has partnered with a number of companies, and whenever you sign up or use them, we give you some money back. This goes from different brands like Fiit — which is a Connect portfolio company — to Vitl, to Pact Coffee — again Connect! — and so on. So it’s not strictly related to finance, and covers a wide range of industries.
In addition, we’re actively working on a second subscription, which will probably launch next year. So this is just the beginning.
We love that there are inter-family partnerships! Speaking of the future, with Open Banking still so new, where do you still see the potential for new use cases and customer value?
For the first time, I think we have the opportunity to help people by providing mortgages and loans in a much faster way. These are financial products that in the past required hundreds and hundreds of pages of documentation, and which we can process and ship very quickly today. I think that’s the real potential from a consumer perspective, and that’s what we are focused on. It’s great to witness this sort of revolution, not just in the UK, but all across Europe. Soon, it will land in Australia, and the rest of the world. For us, it means we have many more countries in which to expand. In a couple of years, we’ll be all over Europe, Australia, South America… Emma should be, and will be, live across the world.
Amen to that! If you could summarise it, what is your long-term vision for Emma?
We want to be your go-to app for your finances. Whether you want to get a loan, save money, invest, you’ll refer to Emma, and we’ll be your financial therapist. That’s not just a catchphrase either:
70% of mental health problems are related to money, and many people with mental health issues have money issues. We want to be there for everyone.
And we believe you can do it. Thanks for your time, Edoardo. We look forward to seeing Emma continue to help people with their finances all around the world.