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Change is the only constant

In Inspiration, Planning growth - 3 years ago - 5 min

Change is the only constant

Anil Stocker turned his back on corporate banking to set up MarketInvoice, a peer-to-peer finance platform that has facilitated over $1 billion in business lending. We spoke to him about disrupting banks and why he believes change is the only constant.

It is a well-trodden path. Cambridge graduate goes into private equity and works at Lehmann Brothers. But when Anil Stocker witnessed the difficulties faced by small businesses in raising capital, he changed from a corporate banker to an entrepreneur. Embracing London’s financial technology revolution, his business restructures business funding, doing away with outdated banking practices to make it easier for companies to access finance.

Today, MarketInvoice is a respected peer-to-peer finance platform that has facilitated over $1 billion in business lending. Go back five years, and the company’s founders – Anil Stocker, Charles Delingpole and Ilya Kondrashov – were faced with a major quandary. ‘Will people be comfortable running their cash flow online from a website where they might not necessarily meet anyone?’

It was, recalls Anil, a step into the unknown. ‘Another big bet we were taking was, would there be people on the other side who would put money in and invest in these invoices…without meeting the companies and trusting our diligence processes before they invested?’

In other words, could people be encouraged to pursue the opportunity that changing technology created for simplifying business financing and investment? In retrospect, the question seems quaint, yet Anil recalls the very real uncertainty the MarketInvoice founders faced in driving consumer demand for their service. A digital platform, he says, ‘really was a big bet because, in the old world, everyone would go to a bank branch and see someone and shake their hand’. And indeed it was some months before the first customer was finally secured. Now over 10,000 invoices have been traded over the platform.

Why, then, did three twenty-something financial professionals give up their careers to pursue a business with so much inherent risk? The idea, Anil says, was born from his experience in the private equity world, where he saw first-hand the difficulties posed for small businesses by ‘complicated to the point of opaque’ traditional financial products.

I thought with the advent of technology and data all going online, there had to be an easier way for companies to raise finance.

Increasingly it dawned on him that the opportunity to meet this latent demand represented something more fundamentally disruptive within financial services. ‘It seemed like a great opportunity because banks had retrenched a lot after the crash. We got thinking that actually this is not just a cyclical thing, this is potentially a huge structural change in the industry.’

The opportunity for disruption, therefore, was one that MarketInvoice’s founders clearly saw from the start. Taking advantage of such an opportunity, Anil believes, requires a cautious rather than a cavalier approach: ‘We looked at other industries that had gone through similar disruptions, like the music industry and online retail,’ he says, recalling the extensive research process he and his co-founders undertook. ‘For the first two years we were very careful,’ Anil says. ‘We wanted to learn a lot before we became bolder and allowed businesses to take larger amounts.’

Still, the initial period of prototyping, developing and fine-tuning the platform was challenging, and Anil remembers times when the co-founders questioned whether the model was truly viable. What provided the impetus to keep going, he says, was feedback from early customers, who ‘would tell me of their experience with our platform and I could see that our product was having a real, tangible impact on their business. They were hiring more people, and doing that big project that they couldn’t do before’.

In the difficult early stages of building a challenger model, Anil believes it is essential to have ‘confidence in yourself, the product and the value that it brings the end customer’.

Ensuring that a disruptive business continues to innovate is essential, he says. “We have a motto that change is the only constant. If you stop changing, if you stop evolving, that’s when you’re no longer going to be around.’ Recruitment has become a key priority, and one whose nature has changed. ‘Certain kinds of people will be good for different parts of your journey and you will have to recalibrate as you face different challenges.”

This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on Strategies for growth.

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