In the three years since launch, Justin Basini has established ClearScore not only as the first, but the leading UK company to offer a credit score and report for free.
ClearScore provides for 5.6 million customers across the UK and South Africa; growth which has secured its position in the marketplace as the Britain’s number one credit-checking service.
Justin’s entrepreneurial story saw him bag the ‘Scale-Up Entrepreneur of the Year’ award, and later the overall prize for London and the South East.
Justin went on to continue his success at the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards National Winners’ Evening, winning the ‘Innovation’ award for the whole of the UK.
Before that, we caught up with Justin to talk a bit more about the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards and his success.
Congratulations again on your success at the Awards in November. How does it feel having won the Scale-Up award, but also the overall Great British Entrepreneur of the Year prize for your region?
It feels incredible, I was amazingly surprised that we won. We bought a table so I had nine of my closest colleagues with me, and normally when we win awards they’re for the ‘company’ or the ‘team’. So, this was quite unusual in that it was all for me. But, actually, what I believe is that my win is on the shoulders of the team and the hard work that they’ve put in, so it was wonderful to share it with them.
You mention there the focus on you – the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards is all about the entrepreneur’s story, rather than the balance sheet. So how important do you think it is to give recognition to entrepreneurial stories?
I think that’s incredibly important, because being an entrepreneur is quite fashionable at the moment with Dragon’s Den and things like that giving it focus. That’s fantastic for the economy and Britain in general. What sometimes gets missed is the personal stories of entrepreneurs; why entrepreneurs do what they do. So it’s really important to focus on that, rather than just the business aspect. The reality is that many of us may create successful businesses, but very few people I meet do it for the money. We all do it for lots of different reasons.
Entrepreneurial spirit is crucial to any great entrepreneurial story. Where do you get yours from?
I definitely think that being the son of immigrants; Italian on my father’s side and my mother’s side were refugees from Poland after World War II – Having to build everything up from scratch, relying on your wits to be able to create a life for your family and create value comes from that.
So other than your family, who inspires you in your work?
I have a few! The person I take most inspiration from is Steve Jobs. I also admire Josiah Wedgwood, who created the Wedgwood dynasty as a scientist and business philosopher in the 1700s.
…Two people who achieved a great deal. What would you say is your biggest business achievement to date?
Without a doubt, that is the 5.6 million people in the UK and South Africa who use ClearScore, 2.5 million of which use it every month. In 30 months, to have got as many people as that using our product is a huge achievement and we’re very humbled by it.
With a large portion of your customers in the UK, why is Britain a great place to do business?
I think generally we are quite an open and entrepreneurial place. The British consumer is open to trying new things, so they will use new technologies and respond to things on the internet. Also, our infrastructure is actually pretty good, even though we may not think it’s that great, especially in the cities. There’s a lot of talent here, which is homegrown and from immigration, particularly in places like London, Manchester and Edinburgh which are seen as great places to do business.
You’ve launched ClearScore 30 months ago, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt as an entrepreneur in that time?
There are several; the first is that the art of being entrepreneur is to solve a problem at the right time. I think of it like playing a computer game; they’re often in levels with a boss at the end of each one and you go onto the next level. There’s no point thinking about level 10 when you’re at level one. You need to put the work in to get through levels one to nine before you get to level 10.
I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur is that whilst you might think about the future and when we’re a big company, the day-to-day is thinking ‘what do I need to solve today to move forward?’. If you try to get ahead of yourself, you can fall into traps.
It takes a great deal of leadership to achieve such growth in just a few years. How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style is very much based on the quote ‘Nothing great is achieved without enthusiasm’. I tend to be very mission-led and enthusiastic, focused on our users. I try to lead from the front in that sense. People have used ‘inspirational’, I don’t like using that to describe myself, but I am inspired by the mission that we’re on to help people grow to financial wellbeing.
You mentioned there about ‘leading from the front’, presumably that mindset is embedded into the company’s working culture. What makes ClearScore a great place to work, in your mind?
We really focus on trying to create an environment where people can achieve peak performance. We spend a lot of time talking about a culture where people can be the best they can be in all aspects of their lives, which is the theme that influences how we approach flexible working, maternity pay, paternity pay and how we work day-to-day. I really believe that if people feel ClearScore is a place they can achieve that, they’ll deliver more to the business, they’ll be happier and the business will benefit.
What are your hopes for the future?
I’ve always said that my goal is to get the product into the hands of tens of millions of people around the world, so that’s what we’re trying to do. This year, we’ll further internationalise the business and hopefully gets tens of millions more users, allowing the team and organisation to grow.
Speaking of the future, what advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
The first thing I’d say is to take a step back and try to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing, think about your attitude to risk, because that will determine how far you go. It’s not so much about the idea, it’s execution and sticking with something. If you’ve thought about those things, when you come across those difficult times where things aren’t working or it looks like it’s going to fail, you’ll keep at it and the chances are you’ll succeed.
And finally, look ahead to the National Winners Evening, what would it mean to be crowned ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ for the whole the UK?
That would be an incredibly honour. Firstly, I’d be amazed and surprised, but definitely an honour. It would be a testament to all the hard work that we all put in to building the product.
Applications for the 2018 NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards open in March. You can register your interest here.