Empowering FinTech entrepreneurs – an interview with FinLeap Venture Partner Nasir Zubairi

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FinTech is an economic industry composed of companies that use technology to make financial systems more efficient. The speed with which FinTech innovation is impacting financial services is gathering momentum. Globally, FinTech financing has jumped six-fold over the past three years with over US$20 billion estimated to be reached in 2015. Many good FinTech companies are being built in Europe. A few weeks ago, I attended the DataNatives conference in Berlin where I met Nasir Zubairi from the Berlin-based FinTech company builder FinLeap. FinLeap is building several FinTech companies. Founders of its portfolio companies appreciate the hands-on approach, where partners and mentors are closely involved. Here is my interview with Nasir:

What is FinLeap: Incubator, company builder, investor? Who is it for?

FinLeap is a company builder based here in Berlin. We build and seed our own ventures in the Fintech industry. In order to do that, we focus on three pillars.

One is of course, financing; providing capital. We invest between €0.5-5 million in the ventures we decide to move forward as well as provide access to a very large network of investors, venture capitalists, funds, or angel investors.

The second pillar is talent and entrepreneurial knowhow. We receive around a thousand applications per month for various roles within portfolio companies and FinLeap itself, and we also actively go out to market leveraging our networks to find the best and brightest talent to run the businesses we put together. We support these young entrepreneurs with our internal network of serial entrepreneurs like Hitfox-founder Jan Beckers, former Wimdu-CEO Christopher Oster or Casacanda-founder Christian Tiessen.

The final pillar of our business model is access to a robust technology development platform and framework to drive successful business building.

What makes you different to FinFech incubators backed by major banks?

I think it is pretty straightforward. Bank incubators tend to work with 3rd party startups – startups apply and look for support in financing, access to customers and mentoring from those bank incubators.

We extend much deeper: We see our ventures as our children; we bring them to life, nurture them, provide them with an education and the right resources to help them grow (rapidly!). As they mature they spread their wings and leave the nest becoming independent from our company builder. We are much more involved in the the foundation and growth of our ventures than an incubator.

What kind of companies do you have in your portfolio?

We have six core companies in our portfolio that we have launched during the past 12 months and have more in development which are targeted to launch through Q1 2016.

Last December (2014) we launched our first business, Savedo, which is an European marketplace for interest rate. It provides a service to investors and savers enabling them to extract the best possible yield from fixed term deposits by providing easy access to deposit accounts outside of their home country. So, for example, Germans are typically getting around 0.5 percent on fixed term maturities. Through Savedo they can easily invest in fixed term deposits from banks from the Czech Republic, Portugal and other countries who are offering high interest rates to their customers. Savedo tops the comparison charts for savings accounts in Germany.

The second business we launched was Billfront. Billfront is a working capital solutions provider specifically targeting the advertising technology market where it enables cash flow financing and growth for businesses operating in this exciting and fast growing $80 billion dollar industry.

Finreach is a solution provider to enable digitalization for banks. Its first product offering is an easy customer account switching kit which drives profitability and customer acquisition for banks. We are very excited about this business and its rapid scale in a short period of time.

Clark is in the insurance vertical, offering smart comparable solutions for insurance products to German retail customers.

Valendo is an online asset based lending platform targeting high net worths (HNWs) as well as businesses enabling them to extract more value from illiquid assets.

Finally there is FinanceAds, a customer acquisition platform for financial services, that has been growing very fast due to its intelligent and highly effective lead generation model and the team’s drive on customer acquisition.

What is the next big thing in Fintech?

We are constantly analyzing markets and business models, speaking with influencers and stakeholders to keep up to speed with interesting opportunities.

I feel there are still huge problems to be solved around the world in relation to access to banking and access to credit and some very interesting solutions that are developing.
Obviously, there has been a lot going on in peer to peer lending and I think there are some interesting developments to come in adding sophistication to this kind of solution over the course of the next one to two years – P2P 2.0 essentially.

It is hard to ignore blockchain although I do feel it is a little like putting the cart before the horse – a solution looking for a problem. I think there are some problems beginning to be identified where blockchain has pertinence in terms of being the right kind of technology to provide the best solution.