A female founder in fintech - Autopaid

Nicola Weedall, Founder and CEO, Autopaid

In a male-dominated industry, its rare yet refreshing to see a female entrepreneur heading a budding fintech.

With a strong background in finance and lending, Nicola Weedall, independent Founder and CEO of Autopaid, was driven to form an automated payments platform to alleviate the constant cash flow problems of SMEs that wait to receive invoice payments.

Learning from the failure of previous employer DueCourse, and bringing an intuitive approach to cultivating a start-up has earned her a waiting list of SMEs ready to on-board to the payments platform, as well as a place on Pro Manchester’s Financier of the Year shortlist at the 2020 Made in Manchester Awards.  

Speaking at the Robert Walters Tech Forum, Nicola discussed the need for finance experience in building a successful lending platform, her approach to growth and seeking investment as a female in fintech and how we should perceive UK fintech as an integrated, collaborative industry.

About Autopaid

SME owners are not in business to chase invoices or worry about cash flow. For businesses without the time or dedicated finance resource, Autopaid™ provides payment of invoices instantaneously.

Autopaid™ takes care of all the credit control and take 90% of the credit risk so SMEs really are protected in the event their customer doesn’t pay.

autopaid logo

The need for finance experience in fintech

Soft-launching in 2019, Nicola took her learnings from previous venture DueCourse before creating Autopaid’s development roadmap.

“DueCourse was a similar type of product to Autopaid – a single invoice finance offering for small businesses. Unfortunately, it was built by tech people and tech people only. I came into the business about 5 months before the business went into administration due to substantial deficit and debt. At that stage, I was the only employee with any invoicing or finance background.”

“We talk a lot about the age demographic of fintechs. I don’t think it's age that’s essential, it’s having experience in finance fundamentals that’s a prerequisite. Without any financial input, DueCourse’s product didn’t consider that small businesses don’t necessarily keep on top of all their cash receipts that come into their bank accounts – so they would be double funded by the automatic payment from the platform as well as the customer payment. This essentially caused the venture to go into administration.”

One of the things that has been prevalent in the whole fintech arena or any tech space is that it’s all about scale and it’s all about growth trajectories. I don’t necessarily like to buy-in to the female stereotype, but personally, I take things a little bit slower, making sure our offering is watertight before I go out to push the business forward.

When forming Autopaid, Nicola and her team built the processes and identified what the product would replicate as an automated system, ahead of bringing on any customers or investing in technology.

“We brought on a very small portfolio of customers to lend to and we did everything manually, continuously testing before we invested any money in technology. We needed to make sure the idea of the product worked before actually investing in building the product and making the same mistake that had been made at DueCourse.”

Seeking investment intelligently

Rarer still than being a female in fintech, Nicola has turned down investment approaches, stringently sticking to her beliefs to seek it out as and when the business requires it.

“Autopaid has its own roadmap so I don’t want to accept investment until the business is ready for it. It’s about timing as well as creating a funding relationship with the right investor. Now that we’ve manually tested and refined the concept, we’re looking for £750k which will be dedicated towards technology and building our team.”

“We have a waiting list of customers to come on board to the platform, but we need to build some of the technology to automate the process. On top of the tech requirement, we understand the businesses can’t solely invest in automation as when things go wrong, customers need the ability to access human interaction, so we’re investing in hiring customer service professionals as well as tech talent.”

“Now the time is right, I do dedicate the time to attend several pitches a day, and I travel to London regularly to perform pitches. It comes part-and-parcel of being an entrepreneur. There are a lot of knock-backs being a start-up but you have to keep going – part of the relentless journey of growing your businesses is pitching for funds.”

A female voice in fintech

Of the 35 pure fintechs in Manchester, few are female founders, but do women in fintech offer something different to men?

“One of the things that has been prevalent in the whole fintech arena or any tech space is that it’s all about scale and it’s all about growth trajectories. I don’t necessarily like to buy-in to the female stereotype, but personally, I take things a little bit slower, making sure our offering is watertight before I go out to push the business forward.”

“I’ve also found it quite easy to say ‘no’ to people. For example, when investors tell me I need to grow, I tell them I don’t at this stage, and explain why. I find things are much easier when you can speak your mind and be completely transparent.”

Looking beyond isolated fintech hubs

With the majority of investors and opportunities to network found in London, stationing a fintech outside of capital can perceived as a disadvantage in the quest for funding and customer generation. Should we be looking at Manchester’s fintech sector in isolation?

“I struggle with the idea that Manchester is a remote unit when the UK is so well connected - we should look at the UK fintech sector as a whole. I’m on the train to London 3 or 4 times a month – I believe the UK is integrated enough for fintechs to thrive irrelevant of location.”

“What I’ve taken from Manchester’s thriving financial services community is plenty of opportunity for collaboration. Autopaid has a unique product as we switch lending on its head - we offer underwriting based on debtor performance rather than the small businesses. Because this is a real niche, I’ve been approached by a number of independent lenders and some mainstream banks in regards to building my product for them.”

“Further proof that Manchester’s fintech presence is propelling forward is regularly cross paths with other fintechs. For example, I rent an office at WeWork sitting across from other lenders and we collaborate regularly over potential customers and customer profiles – it’s a supportive industry and we all try and help one another.”

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