It’s the funding option I wish existed when I was trying to run my business
From school entrepreneurship to advising CEO’s of Skype and MoneySuperMarket Asher’s experiences all had one problem in common – funding. This is what led to Uncapped.
Asher Ismail’s first enterprise was selling pirated copies of video games to his friends. It was quickly shut down by a teacher who suggested his energies might be channelled in a more productive direction, but the entrepreneurial bug stuck and while studying at the University of Toronto, he started Make it Matter.
The social enterprise focused on funding social projects by creating an online marketplace that linked those with an idea to improve their community with local people who wanted to help. Some people would offer funds and some people would offer time. Asher also brought in corporate partners to match donations. L’Oreal, for example, became the group’s ‘partner in creativity’ and co-funded all projects connected to the arts.
Asher went on to work for BCG as a consultant, before moving on to advise the CEOs of Skype and MoneySuperMarket.com on strategy and business development. He then became CEO of Midrive, a startup that disrupted the sleepy market for new drivers by connecting learners and instructors. Next he launched Anytime, an app selling car insurance by the hour.
However, with all of these experiences, Asher kept coming up against the same problem – funding. It was difficult to access, the fundraising process was slow and time-consuming, and the decision-making process that led to getting investment was opaque: “The hardest part was always raising the money I needed to grow. That’s what led me to Uncapped. It’s the funding option I wish existed when I was trying to run my business”, he says.
The key was finding a different way to underwrite businesses. He says: “Banks use personal guarantees and credit checks to drive their decisions. We’re a technology company. We’re looking at a company’s actual performance by connecting to the data they already use to run their businesses. Their payment processor, their accounting software, their bank account. We use that live data to make better and faster decisions.” And to make repayments fairer for entrepreneurs, Uncapped uses a flat fee model instead of charging interest or taking equity.
Asher believes Uncapped’s opportunity to transform fundraising is vast as online businesses make up a greater share of the economy. If ever he had doubted there was an unmet need, the day that he announced Uncapped’s launch in TechCrunch, he had 400 applications from businesses looking for funding. He adds: “The options are so limited for founders who want to raise capital. Venture capital is a common route, but less than 1% of companies will raise this type of funding. So much of that goes to specific types of businesses that are in a specific place. We’ve been able to level the playing field.”
“It’s not about who you know or whether you’ve shaken hands or sat down for coffee. It’s about how your business is performing.” That means businesses don’t have to be based in major centres such as London to raise funds.
At first, Asher and his partners tried to build Uncapped without the technology, and underwrote all the loans themselves. Only then did he raise his first funding round to bring in engineers to make it “a beautiful fast process”.
The pandemic accelerated demand. “In three months of the pandemic, we saw 10 years of ecommerce growth.” At the same time, funding from banks and other traditional sources started to dry up. While government programmes filled the gap temporarily, this is coming to an end. Another knock-on effect from the pandemic has been a huge rise in entrepreneurship.
Asher adds: “We’ve been scaling exponentially. We’ve just raised another £80m and that funding Is taking us to the next level. That will enable us to expand in the banking space and build a wider financial ecosystem…Traditional banking isn’t great for entrepreneurs because it offers terrible service at expensive rates. Neo-banks have closed some of the gaps, but lack a deep vertical focus. They don’t have the right credit offerings or tools to help digital entrepreneurs grow. That’s the gap we want to fill.”
In less than two years, the company has expanded into 13 countries. However, if anything, Asher says, the company was too cautious during the pandemic. He naturally slowed down because everyone else did, when in reality, the need for funding was increasing: “We did waste some time. However, once we look at the live data and the reality of companies’ trading positions, we made quick decisions and continued to issue credit. Eventually, we doubled down and that risk paid off.”
Asher is also trying to reshape the working environment. Uncapped is a fully remote company. Having had an office before the pandemic, they decided to go fully remote across its workforces in the UK, Poland and Germany. “This helps us access talent from anywhere in the world and ensures that our business reflects the diversity of our customer base.”
He is also an advocate for change in the industry. He is the co-founder of InterTech, a professional network promoting LGBT+ diversity and inclusion in the UK technology sector, supported by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Skype, and Microsoft.
Asher’s vision is to build Silicon Valley Bank 2.0 – a modern banking service for digital entrepreneurs: “The reality is that legacy banks don’t really understand the needs of digital entrepreneurs, and their dated infrastructure is not up to the standards required to help their business grow. So it’s no surprise that 82% of business owners say they are unhappy with their bank. This is a huge problem and, as digital entrepreneurs ourselves, we’re best placed to solve it.”
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