I used to work in an office in the Fruit and Wool Exchange on Brushfield Street in London back before Spitalfields Market was done over in the midst of the dot.com booming late 90s. A client dropped by the office to look at the space. They were a financial
technology (as it was called back then) storta startup who was looking for office space. They brought their main investor with them to assess the building.
The investor turned up his nose at the less than pristine walls and the view of a crumbling market selling pre-hipster tat from an address that was on the wrong side of Bishopsgate. The Fruit and Wool Exchange didn't project the right image - not successful
enough, not hip enough ("Shoreditch" as a concept had not yet taken over East London). The startup went elsewhere. I have no idea whether this startup is still around in some form or another, nor does it matter. The scene stayed with me.
I have written before about my immense hatred of the word
'unicorn' and all it implies and promises in the startup world. As if, as a founder, your road to Davos billionaire is but one seamless journey from middle class poverty in a suburban garage to the cover of Wired and a Hollywood bio-pic written by Aaron
Sorkin. As if all any founder needs is a great idea and the will to make it happen and your billion pound startup unicorn dream emerges fully formed from the head of a Silicon Valley god.
The startup world helps fuel this myth, a myth itself knows isn't true. My first introduction to startup education was to be told, over and over again by multiple people, that entrepreneurs are both naive and arrogant. Blissfully ploughing forward with their
'disruptive' idea oblivious to the risks and the challenges which would hamper their progress.
But that is all bollocks. A successful startup, or any company, has a product that solves a real personal or business problem. That company has gone through weeks and months of validating their assumptions, iterations, sometimes pivoting, refocusing their
core products and executing - over and over again.
One of Startupbootcamp FinTech's hardest working startups from the 2015 class, WoraPay sit on two desks in the middle of the Rainmaking Loft (not even by the window) Check their tweets, they are in the middle of a massive pilot in the UK.
The rehearsed, the polished, the cuff linked and coiffed have always rubbed me the wrong way. And I don't think it is because I used to be a journalist.
No startup drives a Bentley. No startup can afford two floors of the Heron Tower in the heart of the City. All of those things should signal alarm bells, not success.
Nine times out of 10 arrogance masks lack of experience and deception (two things that should always ensure failure in financial services).
Let me leave you with this. The death of Powa is not a signal of the decline of FinTech startups or investments (the catch up and acquisition by big banks is more likely to do that - but that's another blog). Powa is a soap opera. And Dan Wagner is a pantomime
villain. Holding him up a representative of a FinTech startup founder is an insult to every single man and woman who sits at a little desk (not even by a window) and works their heart out to make their company successful every day.
(and if you are an investor and you have ever refused a female founder or turned up your nose at the decor of a startup office, only to hand over cash to someone like Dan Wagner - you deserve to lose your shirt over a 1000 Powas).