Business Growth: Insights from Finstro
Work| By Kate Barracosa | February 19, 2021
Tom Whitworth, chief product officer at Finstro, talks about business growth, leadership and the business tips he’s learnt from his time at the company.
Tom Whitworth has been on the ground with credit and payment solutions provider Finstro since 2013, when he helped develop the original platform. In the eight years since, he has grown along with the company to become its Chief Product Officer, while Finstro has helped more than 7000 Australian small businesses with finance and funding. Here, he reflects on the business growth, the top strategies he’s learnt and why keeping your customer at the forefront is crucial to success.
Make Life Easier for Your Customer
Time and concentration are in very, very short supply for a small business owner. We originally had a single product which was essentially a factory product for small businesses so they could get paid early on their invoices. But once we started talking to these customers, we realised they were using those funds to pay a supplier or for wages, while they were waiting to get paid for a job they had done a month ago. They were sitting in the middle, effectively acting like a bank for their customer. We wanted to create a solution that would not only help them with managing this payment or cash-flow gap, but also save them some time. We packaged up a lot of the tech that we had built to help us manage our loans, and we made that available to our client base to handle their outstanding invoices.
Embrace Out-There Ideas: You Never Know How They’ll Pay Off
Brad [Prout, CEO of Finstro] is always willing to try new ideas, to hear them out and give it a crack. When we first conceived of this idea, we put it in front of a bunch of different partners who worked with small businesses and we got some really positive feedback from them and from existing clients, which gave us the confidence to put a little more flesh around it. But really, it was a bit of a punt!
Get Your Product in Front of Customers as Soon as Possible
We spent too much time building a system before we onboarded our first client and in the end we rebuilt the entire platform and many further Finstro products. When we went out and started offering it to SMEs, we found the flexibility of the platform was key. Being able to connect the platform to their existing accounts with [other platforms such as] Xero or MYOB really resonated with clients and since then we've been developing the platform more and more to accentuate that flexibility – giving the control back to the customer, rather than telling them how they should use the product. They know their business better than us, and they’ll know how it will work in their business better than us.
Take Control of Your Customer Relationships
We found a lot of our effort was going into managing our partners, who then managed our clients. Even though our partners were doing an excellent job, not having that control of the customer relationship meant we were always hearing everything second-hand; we didn't have enough information about our own clients. We wanted to understand them better so we could service them better. [So], we built up a sales team internally and having that control over the messaging to our customers, understanding them and being able to incorporate that back into the product more quickly, all of those things transformed what was a steadily growing business into a much faster growing and more exciting business.
Push Yourself, Even if It Makes You Uncomfortable
Getting in front of the customer was something I was always hesitant to do. I didn’t see myself as an account manager or someone in sales. I started as a financial analyst and I’m a pretty introverted person, so that was something that was definitely out of my comfort zone. But it’s been invaluable in getting us to where we are today.
Hire a Team That Can Change With Your Business
Adaptability is what we look for. We know from experience that things change quickly: a business strategy [from] one year might not be the same three months later; a new opportunity might come up; a new threat might come up. Adaptability within the team is [something] we’ve fostered and grown. This past year, we’ve seen that play out as a real strength of the company. We’ve had our sales team move off sales and become customer relationship managers. Seeing [them] protecting existing clients and trying to help them has been really important.
Tough Conversations Can Reveal the Best in People
It was really dire out there for many of our customers due to COVID-19, but most of the conversations we have with businesses are positive ones, about what they’re going to do, what they’re going to change, what their next plan is. There’s a harsh reality that they’ll let you know and they’re not going to pull any punches, but the optimism that sits underneath a lot of those conversations is really quite inspiring. Having that relationship where they feel they can tell you the truth and they’re not just going to bulls**t you is really, really important.
Hire People Smarter Than You – and Trust Them
I [still] have much to learn. I know I don’t have all the answers and I have people in my team who are much smarter than me and know their area of expertise more than I ever could; I trust those people to do their job.
Appreciate the Whole Process of Business Growth
The most rewarding part of Finstro so far is definitely taking a crazy concept idea, one that we thought could help our own business, and seeing it go from whiteboard to product delivery to actually helping a business trade and grow.
Remember: Business Growth Is Not a Sprint
Nothing is an overnight success; every time it’s an “overnight success”, consider the 20 years that went into it in the background. It feels like a sprint every day, especially this past year, but you have to remember that it’s a marathon distance – you have to pace yourself. Make sure you take a break and never feel guilty for needing rest. Sometimes it can feel like you need to martyr yourself, especially if it’s your business, but getting rest and making sure that you are the best you can be will be far more important to your company and your staff than being at your desk every night until 10pm.