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Steve's ITK: Banking on it

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Steve's ITK

March 19 · Issue #19 · View online
Steve's In The Know: Everything I published recently, commentary you won't find elsewhere, write-ups of events I attended or spoke at, and industry rumours.

Challenger bank Starling's debit card and welcome letter
Opening thought: Banking on it
This week almost ran the full gamut of tech startup coverage. I wrote about several launches, Series A and Series B funding rounds, a ’down round’ I scooped (sorry Helpling!), and a company sadly entering the deadpool. 
But the story that undoubtedly got the most attention was the long awaited outing of Starling Bank, which has finally launched a beta of its app and current account.
As far as I know (Ok, I do know for sure), I was the first journalist to be given a Starling account and I’ve now had a chance to spend some money via the accompanying MasterCard-powered debit card.
Sign up and verification was straightforward enough and because it’s a fully-fledged bank account you can do things like set up Direct Debits and send money through the Faster Payments network. I’ve also been authorised for a £1,000 overdraft. Wahoo!
With that said, in terms of the UI, such as realtime updates of your spending, it’s hard to see much differentiation yet, if any, compared with other fintech products that offer a current account experience.
This includes startups that are working through the regulatory and technical process to be an actual bank (hello Monzo!) and so-called ‘neobanks’ that offer many of the same features of a bank account without taking on the extra capital or regulatory burden required to be a bank.
What was most striking, however, was the way some Monzo users reacted to Starling Bank’s launch, suggesting that there is already a lot of brand loyalty (and some zealotry) amongst its 100,000 or so users. That’s testament to the way Monzo has courted users and developers with a very open product roadmap and development process. Once the company does finally launch its own current account it will be really interesting to see how much its carefully cultivated community supercharges the startup’s full launch.
“We decided to go straight to build the full current account rather than go on a side trip to build a pre-paid card first,” Starling Bank founder Anne Boden told me when I made the obvious comparison to Monzo, which launched its pre-paid card and app in public beta last March but won’t launch a current account till later this summer.
“We wanted to put all our energies and creativity into producing something that provides all the services you need, not just a card,” she said. “Plus lots more things we can do because we built our technology ourselves.”
This is definitely one to keep a close eye on.
Bonus: As fun as it was to break the news of Starling Bank’s launch, it was even more fun to remember that I was the first person to write about rival Monzo (then Mondo), too. My original report was sourced almost entirely on noisy tweets by Eileen Burbidge, a partner at Passion Capital, an early backer of the company. I’m told that it also led to the challenger bank’s first thousand or more users.
Things I wrote
Rock Pamper Scissors, the hairdresser booking app backed by Seedcamp and 500 Startups, shutters
Helpling, Rocket Internet’s home services company, raises further €10M as on-demand space cools
Starling Bank, a digital-only UK challenger bank, launches beta
Germany’s Optionspace wants to be an ‘Airbnb for office space’
Silverfin, a ‘connected accounting platform,’ raises $4.5M Series A led by Index
Engie, the car diagnostics app and mechanic marketplace, launches in UK
Closing thought: Fear and self-loathing
The tech press tends to write a lot about success. Failure, not so much. We can argue the merits of whether or not a startup going out of business is actually news (since most startups fail), but I do tend to think it is important to close the loop on a story, even if the end is a company entering the deadpool.
That was certainly the case this week when I scooped the news that Seedcamp and 500 Startups-backed Rock Pamper Scissors had closed its doors.
However, a deadpool story is something I always try to handle with sensitivity and a lot of empathy. And yet, despite being in this game for a very long time, I still find it quite awkward when having to reach out to founders and investors for immediate comment. In some ways, it feels like the journalist equivalent to lawyers who go ambulance chasing.
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Till next time,
Steve
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