I’d been excited to get stuck into Anne Boden’s new book Banking On It ever since I placed my pre-order. Anne is an entrepreneur I admire greatly and one that I have the privilege of working with.
As many of you will know, Starling Bank is the headline partner for the Great British Entrepreneur Awards & Community. It’s a partnership we were excited about from the get-go. Not only because Starling is passionate about supporting entrepreneurs, but because it also has an incredible entrepreneurial story behind it.
Founder Anne Boden is someone who saw so many problems with traditional banking and decided to do something about it, disrupting an entire industry in the process. After a lengthy career at the top of leading banks, Anne was disillusioned with the status quo. She decided to shake things up herself by doing something incredibly bold and brave – setting up her own bank.
I was an early adopter of Starling – both for personal and business accounts – and was a happy customer long before we’d even entered into discussions about working together. I’m a huge fan of the mobile app banking experience they afford us as a small business and I’m not alone; Starling have been the winner of Best British Bank at the British Bank Awards in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and they’ve undoubtedly triggered a new movement that is revolutionising the entire banking industry.
I’m always in awe reading the stories of the entrepreneurs who apply for GBEA. They’re so important to share. Like many, I often take inspiration from listening to podcasts, reading entrepreneurial books and studying other people’s experiences to help me on my own journey. So getting the opportunity to read the start-up story of a brand and founder behind that brand that I admire, was something I’d eagerly awaited.
I started and finished Banking On It over a weekend. It is an incredible page turner with powerful and honest stories, lessons and many-a tale of caution too. Anne reveals how she broke through bureaucracy, tackled prejudice and successfully countered widespread suspicion to realise her vision for the future of banking.
I wanted to take a moment to share some of my favourite moments from the book. They offer real value and real insight that can be utilised by any entrepreneur.
While we now know the ending (or rather, current chapter), Banking On It reveals that the journey has been fraught, involved near bankrupting herself, two unexplained burglaries and a big fall out with the core team about strategy.
For entrepreneurs facing set-backs and challenges, it might encourage you to know that, despite Starling’s phenomenal success today, in 2015 an investment deal Anne believed to be ‘close to fruition’ fell through. This set-back, coupled with other challenges Anne was battling including a failing relationship with her business partner, forced Anne to admit there were fears over Starling’s future existence:
“In 2015 Monday, February 2, kicked off a week I will never forget. The atmosphere in the office was subdued when I arrived: it was no secret that we were fighting for our existence. Then Tom abruptly announced that he was leaving. He gave few reasons other than that he could not work with my “reckless” behaviour”.
“The enormity of this turn of events was almost too big to contemplate. Without Tom, or rather without a CTO, all hope of funding would be a non-starter. There was no chance of finding a suitable replacement CTO in the time we had. Starling would cease to exist.”
Barely six years on and Starling is a bank that in the last 12 months has grown account numbers from one to two million, has expanded its loan book to more than £1.9 billion, has seen their deposit base grow from £1bn to £4.8bn, has recently taken their employee headcount past 1,000, raised £100 million more in funding and became profitable on a monthly basis.
Entrepreneurs are truly a diverse bunch
Entrepreneurs really are incredibly diverse. Anne Boden knows she is not who you imagine when you think of a fintech entrepreneur. But here she is, a powerhouse behind one of Britain’s fastest-growing fintech start-ups and the only woman in this country ever to have founded a bank. Banking On It is perhaps more inspiring for this reason:
“I’m a woman. I’m 5ft tall. I’m Welsh. I’m middle-aged. I’m from a very ordinary background.”
Anne says that she became “used to the look of utter confusion when each new recruit first arrived at the office seeing this fifty-year-old woman in charge of a banking startup.”
It’s not always about the ‘big idea’
Anne writes that “entrepreneurial success is far more dependent on the character and determination of the individual driving the start-up”, than a big and brilliant unique idea. She writes that “most of the world’s largest, most profitable digital firms were not built upon the back of unique, brilliant ideas that led the market. No, they were built on the dogged persistence of their founders”.
Near death experiences
Banking on It is a rollercoaster ride, there are so many ups and downs and twists and turns in Anne’s entrepreneurial journey. And while we know that many business start-ups fail, Anne writes that “what is less widely known is that even the most successful start-ups go through at least one near-death experience and they get to an absolute rock bottom where they have one of two options. They can watch everything they have worked for collapse and walk away, or they can find a way to make it work”. Anne’s journey certainly portrays some of those rock bottoms, which makes it more inspiring and relatable to other entrepreneurs given Starling Bank’s position today. The journey to success is not always as rosy as social media might often lead you to believe.
In Anne’s most recent blog post reflecting on Starling’s past year and the publication of her book, she writes:
“I have for years leaned heavily for inspiration and support on books by other business owners to guide me. I hope, in turn, that others will find my story of interest”.
I can say unequivocally that she had succeeded there.. Anne has recently dismissed those calling the book a memoir, saying ‘people at the end of their career write memoirs. I’m at the beginning’ – and as someone keenly interested in following her journey further, I’m already excited about the next chapter.