Meet CEO of Capify, John De Bree imparts his knowledge on growing your start-up business.
John, can you please tell the TBS audience a little about your background – how did you get to the point of being Managing Director for Capify?
I took a redundancy at MasterCard in 2009 during the GFC and ran a restaurant with my daughter for a year.
I researched senior global roles, with little success which were very rare in those tough times and decided it would be better to look for a start-up role, thinking post GFC where there would be gaps particularly in finance since the Banks were not lending at that time and possibly in the foreseeable future given the climate.
The perfect opportunity arose to start up AUSvance (now Capify) in Australia. The Head Office in New York (Amerimerchant) was an alternative lender to SME’s founded by David Goldin an entrepreneur who had the vision to create and expand to other countries (UK 2008 and Canada 2007) when others were contracting.
AUSvance had a contractor doing deals from ‘the boot of his car’ but David wanted to open an office in Australia and recognised my experience and my passion to be successful. We immediately hit it off and we started with zero to 50.
In the early days, I did absolutely everything from sales to collections to buying fax paper at the local newsagent. There were, of course many ups and downs but my belief never wavered, stressful yet exciting.
You have worked across many well established financial companies over 25 years, what do you think is the one thing the public misunderstands about the finance industry?
That the Banks are the be all and end all. As a previous SME myself I found it difficult to get funding from the Banks. Two years in business, security, tax returns for two years, P&L forecasts, business plans, cash flow forecasts…you name it they wanted it.
Banks do not like risk or reputational risk. I knew there was more to it but until I met David did not understand how to overcome that to the SME‘s benefit. We were the pioneers of the alternative lending industry to SME’s in Australia. Our first competitor followed us and copied us several years later. At first the market was sceptical. Who is this Company, what is a Merchant Cash Advance?
When I first approached the Banks in 2010 to offer our innovative product their response was “you are ahead of your time.” They simply did not understand the product nor wanted to take the risk and reputational risk to partner with an Innovator/disruptor like us.
We identified a gap in the market that was under serviced , the Banks knew that but had no answer they acknowledged that.
I am proud of the fact that Capify has opened up the market for the benefit of SME’s. We offer unsecured finance up to $ 400 K to SME’s and have built our own proprietary credit model based on seven years of experience and historical data to lend responsibly to SME’s.
12 months ago we introduced a 60 seconds decision real time on line application product which has revolutionised the industry. SME ‘s love the fact that we can give on the spot decisions. 46% of our loan applications are applied for outside of business hours. This is a huge benefit to SME’s who do not work 9 to 5. We even respond to our customers on the weekend, as that’s what they want! Banks can’t do that so we believe we are greatly assisting them to help grow their business when others can’t.
In addition we are about to launch a 24 hour customer service to our global customers. That is if an SME in Australia calls after hours they will be assisted by one of our global customer service team at any hour since we have global offices in USA, UK and Canada who understand SME’s needs.
We now have several products including a Business Loan and Line of Credit that we can customise to any business customer’s needs.
How do you manage your own schedule, do you have any daily rituals you could share with us?
Being a Global Company I have to be available at call .This is a fast growing global industry so urgency and communication is key. I set the alarm for 6am and immediately review head office emails and respond, sometimes while lying in bed.
Before I go to bed I review emails, send instructions and respond so that I have a clear mind when I wake up. Our customers are 24/ 7 so I must be too! My notepad and pen are always at my bedside for ideas that come to me through the night – sad but true.
Pen and paper in the bathroom as some great ideas come when you are showering.
The key is to plan your day before others are at work. I plan everything and am a stickler for preparation whether it be for internal or external meetings, I insist on action plans after every key meeting with each action accountable and with a deadline.
I work around 12 hours a day but try to get break time in between to address issues, plan and strategise and take a personal break as needed. You must have block out time to review issues, opportunities and plan.
I deliberately go out of the office for a couple of hours alone in the afternoons to respond, plan and think how I can grow the business. That is my time, always available but most of my meetings are in the morning. You can talk to staff all day but it’s not always productive. I strategise and the staff implement and execute. Weekends are a great time for strategy and block out time as well as of course some personal time. Set aside time for work but also value family time and get buy in from the family. Set expectations. To be successful you have to do what others don’t do. If you are a start-up be prepared to do what you have never done before e.g I have had one holiday for a week in four years.
If you believe in what you do then don’t give up and be prepared to sacrifice.
What has been the toughest obstacle so far in 2015 for Capify, and how did you tackle it?
A large increase in competitors forced me to rethink the Business Plan we put in place late 2014. A business plan for 12 months is not sustainable, it needs to be reviewed quarterly or as needed. I changed our value proposition, reviewed pricing, introduced new products, (our Apply on Line product is the only product in the market that is a real time online application decision in 60 seconds ) introduced new policies and procedures , a new culture , restructured the organisation to ensure long-term growth and set definite goals to win strategic partners. In fact almost everything!
This year we signed agreements with two global companies Alibaba.com and Xero and expect more to come.
The lead generation channels that worked for us so well a year ago were not working as well so we addressed that with new channels and partners and hired experienced staff to ensure we achieved our new goals.
We also rebranded from AUSvance (in Australia) to Capify globally as we also have offices in the USA, UK and Canada to capitalise on the fact that we are the only true Global Lender in our alternative lending space.
As the pioneer in alternative lending here I also had a goal to become the spokesperson for the industry given my extensive experience and the Company’s long history here and globally, so I employed a PR Agency to assist in achieving that following our global rebrand. This was more about setting the industry standard for best practice and responsible lending I believe that has assisted our brand, reputation and growth.
What would be your main piece of advice for aspiring CEO’s/Entrepreneurs?
It’s an oldie but a goodie – simply hard work!
Also hire quality trustworthy staff that have your passion and will follow you, mentor them and let them execute while you strategise and plan for growth. You cannot do it all! Be prepared to do what you haven’t done before, sacrifice and listen and learn from others, even your junior staff who also have ideas.
Be a visionary, plan and prepare. In the early stages its simply 24/7. If you are asleep at the wheel your competitors are driving past you. The difference between running a successful Company or not is acute.
Take time out to look at market trends and identify gaps in the market and be prepared to reinvent as these days everything is so fast and competitors will copy you and chase you. And of course if you truly believe in what you are doing, never give up!