Steve's ITK

By Steve O'Hear

Steve's ITK: Step down to step up





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Steve's ITK

May 24 · Issue #60 · View online

Steve's In The Know: Thoughts from a European tech insider.

Me interviewing Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield at London's Startup Grind
Me interviewing Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield at London's Startup Grind
Opening thought: 'Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching' - Thomas Jefferson
The two biggest fintech stories of the last couple of weeks have both featured Monzo.
The first, broken by the FT but since confirmed by my own sources, is that the UK challenger bank is closing in on £70-80 million in top up funding, to help extend its coronavirus crisis runaway. The headline, however, is that due to investors playing hardball, Monzo has had to accept a 40% reduction in its previous £2 billion valuation, with a new ‘down round’ valuation of £1.25 billion.
The second, a story that I did break (adding to a decent run the last couple of months) is that Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield is moving from CEO to take up the newly created role of president. His shoes are being filled by current U.S. CEO, TS Anil, who is to become the new ‘Monzo UK Bank CEO,’ subject to regulatory approval, and for now will hold both UK and U.S. roles.
As I wrote for TechCrunch, the thinking behind Blomfield’s move to president is a startup cliché but also likely holds water; he’ll be able to spend more time doing the things he enjoys most (and is arguably best at), such as focusing on the longer-term vision, product and how Monzo can stay close to and best serve customers. Meanwhile, Anil — and, in the future, other country-specific CEOs — can do the day to day, more regulated aspects of running a bank.
I interviewed Blomfield on the day the news broke and he told me he’s been thinking about a transition into a different role for about 18 months, but it wasn’t until much more recently that a formal decision was taken.
“I went through all the stuff I love about my job, and it was all the stuff I did in the first two or three years,” he said. “And I went through all the stuff that drains me, and it’s all the stuff I’ve done in the last two years, honestly. Things I think TS is awesome at.”
Naturally, all the usual news outlets followed my story (and, I’m pleased to say, gave credit). However, whilst my headline was very specific - ‘Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield moves from UK CEO role to president’ - others used the phrase ‘steps down,’ leading to a slightly bizarre twitter spat between David Brear of 11:FS and Sifted’s editor Michael Stothard.
It all began with this tweet from Brear, followed by a rebuttal from Stothard and then a quote retweet retaliation from Brear. “Now you’ve only gone and created a public fintech fight,” one newspaper journalist messaged me shortly afterwards. Although, to be fair, 11:FS and Sifted have previous form after a story by Sifted’s Isabel Woodford was critical of 11:FS and its involvement in Mettle, the business banking upstart from RBS. Woodford, a rising star in fintech reporting, didn’t hold back, leaving the 11:FS CEO more than a little unhappy.
The same day Monzo’s news broke, Brear and his 11:FS co-founder Jason Bates held an ‘ask me anything’-styled video podcast and, along with riveting questions like, is a hotdog a sandwich (answer: no, of course not), the topic of discussion turned to Blomfield’s move to Monzo president. The normally pretty zen Bates gave a perfectly reasonable answer before launching into a monologue about ‘media and news outlets trying to twist stories for clicks’. Furlough me already, will ya!
Meanwhile, twitter spats aside, what do I really think of Blomfield’s move to president? As the only journalist to hear straight from the horse’s mouth, I’m inclined to believe the narrative that this is largely about enabling him to focus on the things he’s arguably best at.
It’s also worth remembering that Blomfield’s new title is founder-president of Monzo, so still very much in a leadership position. Furthermore, the ‘CEO’ title has a very specific and legal meaning in a regulated UK bank and comes with a lot of mandated responsibilities. My understanding is that he couldn’t relinquish some of those responsibilities in a legal sense without also de-registering as CEO with the regulators.
More broadly, sources close to the challenger bank tell me that, rather than investors pressurising Blomfield to change roles, as has been speculated, it was actually the other way round. Despite his desire to find a different role away from some of the more regulated aspects of running a bank, investors were initially nervous about the signal a change in title could send to the market.
Am I being sold a line? It’s quite possible, of course. However, to answer that question, I’m going to set a simple test: Is Blomfield still in post in ~3 years time? And, if so, how much further along is Monzo in its stated mission to create a bank that is 10x better than what previously existed. From the many conversations I’ve had with Blomfield over the last 5 years, anything less will be deemed by him as somewhat having failed.
Fun fact: Monzo’s new acting head of PR is no other than ex-TechCrunch journalist-turned-flack Drew Olanoff. I guess that’s one way of trying to stop me in my tracks! 🤫
This UX specialist was CRAZY enough to open 12 UK bank accounts and ‘log everything’
Related, I published a fascinating interview on Extra Crunch (please take out a subscription if you want to help support journalism) with Peter Ramsey, the founder of Built for Mars, a U.K.-based UX advisory.
He has spent the last three months documenting and analysing the user experience of a dozen leading British banks — both incumbents and challengers — including Barclays, HSBC, Santander, Monzo, Starling and Revolut.
The resulting analysis — covering opening an account, making a first payment and freezing your card — supported by individual bank case studies, is being published on the Built for Mars website over the month with a new interactive chapter released weekly. It’s compulsive reading for anyone in a product role or who follows fintech, and I invite you to read what turned out to be a really interesting discussion.
Bonus: Which fintech founder met his current girlfriend after she recognised him from a TechCrunch article? (Yes, really).
An investigation into furloughs and layoffs
One story that I spent far more time than I wanted, was an investigation into layoffs and furloughs at Pollen, the buzzy travel and experiences scale-up based in the UK and L.A.
It involved multiple original sourcing, including leaked internal documents, and tells the story of a company grappling with the fast-moving coronavirus crisis from a HR perspective, including potential discrepancies in what was communicated internally and what is being maintained publicly.
Things I wrote recently
This UX specialist opened 12 UK bank accounts and ‘logged everything’
Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield moves from UK CEO role to president
Contentsquare, the digital experience analytics platform, scores $190M Series D
Experience marketplace Pollen lays off 69 North America staff, furloughs 34 in UK
Former Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans joins EF as Venture Partner
Arculus raises €16M to upgrade assembly lines with its ‘modular production platform’
Anyfin raises $30M Series B to let consumers refinance their existing loans
Modulr raises £18.9M for its ‘Payments as a Service’
PlayPlay raises €10M to help brands easily produce ‘high quality’ video content
Construyo scores €2M to connect the architecture, engineering and construction industry
Balderton Capital backs Primer, a fintech helping merchants consolidate the payments stack
Vochi, the ‘computer vision’-based video editing and effects app, raises $1.5M seed
Deep Render raises £1.6M for image compression tech that mimics ‘neural processes of the human eye’
Countingup scores £4M bridge round for its small business banking and accounting app
Banked picks up £2.35M seed to use open banking for account-to-account payments
Estonian fintech askRobin scores $1.7M to bring ‘fair credit’ to emerging markets
Omilia raises $20M to use conversational AI for customer support
In conversation with Icebreaker, Finland’s most active pre-seed VC
Customer journey hijacking prevention tool Namogoo acquires Personali for its behavioural analytics
Closing thought: Another newsletter, another podcast!
You wait all year to be invited on a podcast and three invitations arrive at once. This time I want to point you to Steve P. Young’s Games with Entrepreneurs, where we talked about my career and side projects, my take on the creative process, and why perfect can be the enemy of good, thereby stopping you from actually shipping things.
I’ve been interviewed by Steve before and it made for a really relaxed, fun and unguarded chat.
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