Founder Visibility is an interview series that highlights founders that inspire us and share how they found their firsts: co-founder, customer, capital, and confidence.
Meet Limahl Mills and John Mendy, co-founders of Fortrese. Fortrese is a mobile app that helps underrepresented people in the UK gain access to capital. Read about the inspiration for Fortrese and the journey these founders are on to making their ideas a reality.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tell us a little bit about your journey leading up to starting your company, and what that looked like as co-founders?
John: Our ideas came from challenges that we saw firsthand growing up within Black communities in the UK. Essentially, the same challenges seen in our community are seen worldwide. In Black communities, there are a plethora of people who have difficulty gaining access to credit due to being financially excluded. Having traveled abroad a bit, I saw different environments and recognized the extent of these challenges in the UK. Limahl and I have been friends for over 15 years, and we decided to come together and collaborate. We took some of our own experiences and developed something that will benefit the communities that we know.
Limahl: When I moved back to the UK after living abroad, I started seeing that these problems were far more prevalent than in some developed environments. John and I want to provide a platform that gives people access to affordable capital while limiting the obstacles that usually come with that. Our solution, Fortrese, is not just another app. It’s an intelligent system that helps us determine if the customer is viable to access capital. We’re trying to be as broad as possible, while still being very diligent in the risk management algorithm.
How did you first identify the problem and find your customer base?
Limahl: Having grown up in these communities and understanding the financial challenges, we recognized that the existing systems in place lacked trust and reliability. Our Fortrese system helps us identify people who will be able to make payments on time. We have been building trust with customers during the past seven months of our MVP.
We built a risk management system into Fortrese that resolves any prior trust issues. This solution extends the customer base past the previous model that was very limited due to the reliance on mutual connections to access capital. Coming from the communities of our customer base, we had direct access to our early customers.
What was the biggest challenge you faced early in your startup journey?
Limahl: I didn’t come from a highly wealthy background. There is no rich uncle, cousin, or friend in Silicon Valley. Nobody I know works at Google or Facebook. It’s that kind of environment in the United Kingdom for many Black people and people of African descent. Having had the experience of raising capital in the past, there is an understanding of how long the process takes. We use the magic ‘B-word’ — bootstrapping — by putting our own money and sweat equity at stake.
There is not enough focus on Black male founders in the UK, and it’s portrayed as a very niche audience. The “Big” funds, the VCs and angel networks, are usually in the States. Securing capital is always a challenge and comes down to the right connections.
What is a piece of advice you would give to your past self 18 months ago?
John: I think we’ve learned a lot within the last 18 months.
In anything you do, hindsight is 20/20. You could have always done things differently. However, if I’m honest, I think that is also part of the journey.
The good thing about Limahl and myself is that we are both very humble and are willing to acknowledge when we could have done something differently.
Notably, we learned that since our target audience has a trust element challenge, we couldn’t rush getting the basics right at first. It takes time.
Limahl: Additionally, I would have restructured the amount of finance we had in place before starting development. I would have also begun the MVP sooner from a tech side. That’s something I would have looked at differently.
What’s one way that our team, our community can support you on your next step. Our next goal or milestone for your company?
Limahl: One thing that would massively help us is getting visibility to investors who would invest in a FinTech platform outside of the US. So much of the money for FinTech is in the States, and we can’t always get access to it. We don’t want to put a limit on our pool of potential capital to just Europe.
More about the Co-Founders
Limahl Mills, CEO & Co-Founder of Fortrese is an entrepreneur and has over 12 years of international professional experience, working across Europe, North America, and the Middle East in the areas of Entertainment, Financial Markets, Precious Stones/Metals, Residential and Commercial Real Estate. He is also a 3x author, a member of The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (The CISI), and Alumni of the (GIA) Gemological Institute of America.
John Mendy COO & Co-Founder is an entrepreneur with an extensive and diverse background, in sales and the financial services industry. John started his career in sales, working for firms such as British Gas, Ventura, and HSBC. Having completed his education with a Masters in Law from the University of Manchester, John moved to Geneva Switzerland, where he has worked for various large financial services firms, in sales and risk management.