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Fintech: A Startup By Any Other Name

Fintech: A Startup By Any Other Name

Fintech is crazy hot right now. Just ask Oscar Williams-Grut. Or Anna Irrerra.

With London Technology Week behind us, and the UK’s first fintech unicorns (companies valued at over £1bn) announced, fintech’s popularity is scorching headlines. In fact, it’s burning through the business world.

However, you might also have noticed the latest fintech startups becoming more and more creative with their branding. In particular: brand names that now range from the artfully misspelt to the completely baffling.

This creativity seems to stem from the desire to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. It’s beginning to resemble the rush hour train from London to Aylesbury with everyone crammed into a single sweltering, economy carriage. And they all want the much-coveted upgrade to Business Class.

So then what’s in a name? Does creative naming help or hinder a fintech startup? Can it help you get the golden ticket?


Finding the right name for a product, or even for the small business that makes it, is notoriously tricky.

The general understanding is that there are different ‘genres’ of fintech startup – banking fintech, consumer finance fintech, wealth management fintech, payments fintech, investor or incubator fintech. However, like any other set of definitions, there is a great deal of overlap – ie. between consumer finance and payments.

This presents a unique challenge.

How to make something meaningful and memorable whilst working within the relatively narrow parameters laid out by trailblazers and recognised by the target audience? An audience, I might add, that is more digitally and financially aware than ever before.

In a recent article in City A.M., they looked at five tech startups seeking to disrupt the financial industry that have caught the eye of some of the world’s leading firms in the sector.

All winners of a search for startups creating new technology by RBS, Lloyds and American Express, and the Department for Business (amongst others), include a savings app, a company using visual cryptography to create secure passwords and a money laundering detection service.

But if you look at this list of the five winning names, can you pick out which three I’ve described? Here are your options:

Swave. Tento. Bubbal. Squirrel. Mentat.

As it turned out, when I first read the article, I was surprised at how little I understood what they did.

The only name I instantly connected with was Squirrel, which turned out to be what I expected: a platform to help you ‘squirrel away’ some savings.  Bubbal too I figured out eventually (it connects people to small local retailers via an app). Mainly because it reminded me of

The others, however, left me stumped.

Let’s consider Swave:

Is it a misspelled ‘suave’, chosen for the domain name? An allusion to a Secondary Wave because fintech 2.0 is like the follow-up to an earthquake? Perhaps simply a twist on ‘swathe’? Or maybe they snapped it up from Urban Dictionary, where it’s defined as a phrase coined by Brooklyn rappers H Squared to mean ‘a level above swag or swagger’?

Do any of these tell me what it does though?

Not really.

Turns out though that Swave is a personal savings platform. Winning the consumer financial literacy category, the app monitors spending and encourages users to save.  Looking again, the name suddenly makes more sense. Take out the ‘w’ and it’s ‘save’, put in the ‘w’ and it alludes to a plethora of different ideas. It’s clever. It’s unexpectedly dynamic.

Swave PHA

‘Image courtesy of Frankielion on Flickr

Yet when I asked the office the question: ‘what do you think a fintech app called Swave’ does, the replies varied between ‘an app to help people find suave clothes’ to ‘a surfing guide’.

For a young company with even younger technology, the initial ambiguity could be problematic. It is, perhaps, too clever for its own good.

Moreover, whilst it has won an award for its innovation and been lauded for its ability to provide great user experience, it’s possible to see why some investors might be deterred as early as the brand name.

The same could be said of Mentat – which, incidentally, my phone continually autocorrects but which is apparently a reference to the fictional Dune universe. Like Swave, it’s a clever name. The platform provides amazing innovation. In context, it’s easy to see why it’s a winner in the eyes of some big players… but without googling, can you really see what either is for?


Compare them to TransferWiseLendInvestFunding Circle. These are brands with simple, obvious names and also three of our UK fintech unicorns.

That’s not to say that none of the more creative names haven’t taken off. Seedrs works brilliantly. TrillionFund includes a fantastic story about how much it will cost to undo environmental damage. Cake, the new restaurant payment app, has garnered great attention because it ‘lets you pay with Cake’, makes paying ‘a piece of cake’, gives users a ‘taste of the sweet life’ etc. Sometimes the humour in the story or in the name can work.


City A.M.’s article admittedly does not go into great detail on the brands in their article, nor their creators. Indubitably, a huge amount of thought went into them.

Having asked what startup investors and venture capitalists think is important,  perhaps these top tips might help:

  1. It’s great to have a name that means something, not just something that sounds quirky.
  2. There needs to be a link between name and the activity or product. Or alternatively, a really strong story behind the name that is memorable, amusing or informative.
  3. The name needs to appeal to the audience – not just to geeks.
  4. Avoid the all-too-common trend to name it something with -ly, -me, or -fy. And without dropping vowels because that’s also a thing. It’s not original anymore.
  5. And it really needs to be original enough not to compete with other, better-established brands.  Do your research beforehand.

Investors think it’s best to avoid names that need a lot of explanation or marketing to remember. It’s important to not be too clever by half. And even more imperative that the name not disappear beneath the waves of someone else’s mojo.

For many fintech startups wanting to be the next billion-dollar unicorn, it’s vital to disrupt – not just slightly wobble – the boat. The need to stand out is paramount.

So whilst the hope is to do this with a stellar product, why start at a disadvantage with a weak name, or a name so clever no one understands it?

It’s the first sticky point, the first idea that customer engage with.

Perhaps those fintech roses really could smell sweeter.

Crowdfunding Books and Innovation in Publishing

Pha crowdfunding

‘Image courtesy of Light Reading on Flickr’

In the upstart world of social media, crowdfunding has already established itself as one of the most disruptive and creative forces at work.

The best-known crowdfunding website, Kickstarter, first launched back in 2009 with the aim to find a ‘new way to fund and follow creativity’. Since then, over $1.4billion has been pledged to its projects. In 2014 alone, the platform brought 22,252 projects to fruition, and 3.3. million people from almost every country donated over half a billion dollars. That’s $1,000 pledged per minute.

Now, the curious meme of crowdfunding is innovating the world of books.

If anything, the only thing that should come as a surprise it that it’s taken this long for such platforms to take off.

Writers were some of the first transients to embrace the Internet as a home for their creativity. It gave them new ways to share and distribute their work.   From the outset of crowdfunding, indie authors have flocked to sites allowing them to create fundraising pages for their projects. Some have done terrifically well – Frank Chimero’s The Shape of Design and Robin Sloan’s ‘Robin writes a book project’ come to mind.  

Crowdfunding books is a beautiful idea. Even more so because of its simplicity.

The author-focused Unbound was one of the first to make such a model the foundation of a publishing house.  

Led by Dan Kieran, their platform emphasises its straightforwardness, characterising the route to publication as an almost ludicrously simple three-step system of authors pitching, readers pledging and publishers, well, publishing.  

As Sam Rennie, founder of the more recent publishing start-up, Readership, eloquently put it, ‘[Crowdfunding] gives readers the ultimate say in what gets published.’  

With Readership and Unbound, authors can publish any book they find funding for. They write and their supporters get the opportunity to interact with the author as the book is being published. By asking the reader to judge the value of the writing, aspiring authors put their faith in a peer-to-peer funding model that promises transparency and a sense of community for both funder and fundee.  

‘Stories only exist for the two people: the one telling the story and the one hearing it,’ explained Rennie, ‘So all of our activities and promotion is geared towards helping both [writers and readers].’  

This emphasis on the link between writers and readers, as opposed to publishers and publishing trends, is something clearly visible in both Unbound and Readership’s models.

Though Unbound’s focus is demonstrably focused on authors and writers-group style conversation, rather than on readers and their tastes like Readership, the creation of community through the transferal of power – back to authors and readers – is precisely what makes crowdfunding so attractive to the innovative literary mind.  

It does not only appeal to aspiring writers who have exhausted traditional routes to publication. It calls out to the readers who struggle to find what they want in the bookstore.

Yet, what is interesting about Readership is that whilst it is using crowdfunding to innovate publishing, it is also using this style of monetary backing to innovate the experience delivered by the platform.

Rennie wants to truly embed Readership in online culture, expressing concern of the fact that any investment in the digital world or internet culture seems very temporary and just a brief exploration of a trend for many publishers.

He says, for example, that he loves that publishers are engaging and collaborating with bloggers and vloggers now, ‘But I’m a bit concerned that the publishing industry is just using the community for its numbers instead of taking the time to actually become a part the community themselves. The purpose behind Readership is to allow those types of beautiful, online communities the opportunity to support writers and readers alike.’

Part of this is a vast plan for community engagement over a plethora of social media channels: Twitter, Pinterest, Soundcloud and Facebook, to name a few.

Further steps include the use of completely unique online methods to spread the word. One such method includes using MineCraft to create a book world online; whilst another hopes to form a Reddit-like voting system for site users.

‘In the future, we’ll be adding awards for the most active users, so I see in that the potential for certain users to become a trusted voice in the community. For example, we can build a system that pairs you up with a particular user on the site, should you have similar tastes, so when they post a comment on a new story, the people paired with them can see what they think of it and decide to check it out or not.’

The Internet’s collective power and crowdfunding technology mean innovation can be constant in platforms like Readership.

The passion for development, palpable in Rennie’s vision and already witnessed in the early success of Kieran’s Unbound, is much needed in publishing.

Of course, there remain challenges when it comes to creating and establishing new platforms in an industry renown for its reactive approach to technological developments.

However, it is exciting to see writers and readers taking their own proactive stance with crowdfunded, community-driven options like these.

Publishers cannot extricate the literary from the digital. People like Rennie, or Kieran, are finally encouraging the book world to catch up with everyone else.


Crowdfunding: how to get your project noticed

Crowdfunding has attracted a lot of attention recently, with thousands of brands, established companies and startups launching campaigns to fund their ideas or product, from films to smartphone printers and everything in between. Over $1.4 billion has been pledged to Kickstarter projects since the pioneering site launched in 2009, an astounding figure that demonstrates just how popular crowdfunding has become.

For many people, crowdfunding is a fantastic and inexpensive way to get their product or idea to market whilst avoiding complicated bank loans. The dilemma, however, is that with so many thousands of projects seeking funding, how do you get your idea to stand out from the crowd?  Here are our top six tips on getting  your project noticed:

  1. Know your audience. Who are you ‘selling’ to? You wouldn’t try to buy a mobile phone from a dry cleaners and the same concept goes for your project. Make sure that you quickly establish what you’re offering and where you want to be seen.
  1. Exploit your social media. This sounds simple, and might be obvious, but the potential power of social media is huge and messages can travel quickly. Furthermore, make sure you actively seek out your audience too, particularly if they are active online, perhaps on forums or industry related websites. Getting an influential blogger on your side could help to significantly grow your awareness
  1. Although this would, of course, be an extra cost, it is minimal and you can choose where you want your advert to feature. Consider who might be interested in your project – they may have visited your page but were not quite convinced about donating – and engage with them.
  1. Some of the most successful projects regularly keep their supporters updated with any new developments. Not only is this important to keep those who have donated happy, as these people are now your shareholders, it is also essential for those considering funding the project so they can see it is constantly evolving and that the money being donated is of genuine use. This is particularly true for a physical project, where prototypes can be shown as they go through the development process. Chipolo, a Bluetooth item finder, did exactly this and their goal of $15,000 was surpassed to reach $293,014.
  1. You need to bring the idea or project to life and a good way to do this is by having a launch party. Quite simply, it creates a buzz and allows potential backers to see that you are serious about the project and the money they might invest. As long as you have a strong and well-developed (future) brand image, and have invited your target audience influencers, the party is likely to be a success.
  1. Ensure that you have sufficient price points and appropriate bonuses or giveaways for each level. If someone donates less than £10 it’s fair that they receive a tweet or a thank you. As the ‘investment steadily increases, the value, sentiment and esteem of these ‘rewards’ need to grow also. An example on the popular crowdfunding site Zequs is a band who offer to play private gigs in return for significant donations to fund their first album. Personalisation is a key element to ensure the public buy into your cause and given the level of competition now, it is a battle to get your project noticed and ultimately a success.