Richard Hayes is an award-winning tech entrepreneur, and we recently had the privilege of hearing his fascinating story in our podcast.
His company, Mojo Mortgages, is one of the top online mortgage brokers in the UK. It was launched in 2016 and is now a multimillion-pound fintech business.
Richard explained to us what it takes to grow a successful tech business in an intensely competitive arena and we reflect on his biggest takeaways for self-starters in this blog. Learn how to secure funding as a tech startup, grow as an entrepreneur and build high-performance teams.
Learning how to pivot
At 21, Richard started his own car finance business during the 2008 economic crisis, and as you can expect, it was tough. The experience taught him how making drastic business decisions is often necessary in order to survive. As he put it: “knowing how to pivot is one of the most important lessons for an entrepreneur.”
So he moved on to a new venture: a traditional financial advice business selling home and life insurance as well as mortgages. The mortgage side of the business really took off and Richard decided to specialise in that area.
However, he soon discovered that being a mortgage broker “was arduous, you can spend hours working with a customer and not get anywhere.” He wanted to fix this to improve the customer and employee experience. The solution lay in technology.
In 2017, building on his mortgage broker business, Richard launched Life’s Great - an intelligent platform that helped customers compare and buy financial products.
However, creating better experiences for customers across many different verticals was hugely challenging. There were far too many problems to solve without a massive budget and a large team.
Richard concluded that more focus was necessary to thrive. So in 2018, he transformed Life’s Great into Mojo Mortgages: a new and improved platform aimed solely at managing mortgages.
Responding to intense competition
On face value, Mojo was competing in the search market against the likes of Halifax, Money Supermarket and Nationwide. To come out on top, Richard had to play smart. This meant:
Becoming fee-free (unlike 70% of mortgage brokers)
Offering more flexibility
Increasing transparency and speed
It was a strategy to make the business highly customer-centric rather than focusing purely on the product. And it worked. The team pushed themselves to deliver a service that “continually delighted customers”. This put customer satisfaction through the roof but it wasn’t the only component of Mojo’s past and current success.
To attract new customers, Richard and his team developed a platform to help business partners improve their own home-buying experiences natively in their apps or business systems.
These new relationships benefitted Mojo massively. Its partners could also use the tech to unearth mortgage customers and send them to Richard to complete a sale. The business now gets 15-20% of its revenue through this strategy.
Raising funds (and tips for self-starters)
“We never would have gotten this far without funding,” Richard told us. “Without capital as a tech business, it makes it impossible to achieve the things we want to achieve.”
When Mojo launched, Richard set out to get seed investment. To be successful, he said: “Know your space. You want to be able to go into that first session and say: I’m an expert and I know what I’m talking about.”
He continues: “Investors love evidence. You need to back up your vision with hard facts. This is hard to do in startup mode, so you need to improvise. For example, you could show them how economic data suggests a trend is going to happen at a specific time.”
Series A is the next stage of fundraising. At this point, investors will ask: “How far away are you from achieving your original goals?”
“You’ll probably miss every single one,” said Richard. “But you can still frame it. Tell the story of how your team has evolved and how you’ve overcome specific challenges to make an impact.”
Mojo has recently secured Series B funding. Success lay in coming up with big impressive solutions to problems: whole new features and ideas that change the state of play. This proves that you can seize opportunities, nail execution as a team and pivot when needed.
Let them “tear you apart”
A huge part of Richard’s self-development over the past ten years has been from investors scrutinising his ideas.
As he explains: “Instead of letting it get to me, I asked them: why? What’s the problem? Understanding their reservations about your idea can help you change direction to match their feedback.”
This has been integral to the success of Mojo and Richard’s entrepreneurial journey. It has helped him develop a thick skin and learn how to adapt.
Getting feedback from the people you employ is also integral to growing as a business owner. However, “it’s extremely hard to convince your employees to give you constructive criticism,” said Richard.
“You have to create a layer of trust to get them to a place where they can speak truthfully. But it’s worth the effort. Learning about the things that I can work on as a leader has been invaluable for my self-development.”
Building powerhouse teams
Richard attributes Mojo’s success to the high-performing teams within the business. But it hasn’t been easy building these squads. Recruitment is a massive challenge as technology experts are extremely sought-after.
Mojo has an internal recruiter to help the business find the best talent. But success lies in “having an impact,” explains Richard.
“It has to go beyond free breakfast and pool tables. Candidates want to make meaningful contributions and work with people who are 100% passionate about what they do. You need to be able to prove the impact of your work and be consistently authentic to attract disruptors.”
Richard’s top piece of advice for self-starters
“Take the leap. If you don’t, you’ll never know how far you can go. But don’t just launch a business for the sake of doing it. You have to find something you’re passionate about. Investors will sniff you out if they think you don’t care.”
To learn more about Richard’s fascinating business story, we recommend listening to our podcast in full.