"We’re gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make “me, too” products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it’s always the next dream"
Steve Jobs, Apple product event for the first Macintosh computer, January 24, 1984
This time the story is about the first victories and defeats … (and some gambling too!) Simone was on board and the team knew the right direction to take. Excited for the times to come, the Oval Money team started to apply for some Italian Startup Competitions as well as International Incubators to see if their idea was something that was interesting to the tech community, thus looking to get their first feedback.
Some interviews were hard and with no product yet to show, many of the incubators who were initially impressed decided not to select Oval in the last rounds. A couple of those that invited the team to last round, were turned down, as the founders realised they were not ready for them yet. They instead focused on the pitching and were selected as the winner of the Italian Fintech Awards 2016, with a €25,000 cash prize.
With this initial validation, they decided that it was time to set down the product initial functionalities and the target users. The founders decided to focus on the UK first, a market where many fintech companies were educating customers on new financial solutions creating inclusion, and where digital payments were increasing penetration.
The initial prize was followed by another one from b-ventures, the corporate VC arm of Docomo Digital that launched a 25days x 25K application challenge and decided to give Oval Money the 25,000€ reward. With this initial money in the bank, the team started to set up in a tiny room in Torino, actually transforming an unused meeting room and storage into their office (it is not a garage as Silicon Valley startups love to talk about, but it gives you the idea!).
With their trips to London, the team was lucky to meet some of the members of Balderton team, that offered a desk in their coworking space, an area where seed-stage startups can work, network and collaborate with each other, and with the Balderton extended team, without a direct investment from Balderton VC.
By October 2016 the team was fixing the last parts of the product to release the first beta version to a small group of initial users in the UK. Oval Money had also been accepted to the first batch of the FCA Sandbox and was excited to test out its product through the program. Late October was initial launch, as well as the first big tech conference in Vegas where the team got to showcase their technology for the first time, to a huge fintech audience.
Without blowing away the budget in gambling frenzy, the co-founders returned full of big ideas on how to move forward but they realised they needed a team. Hiring great people is one of the hardest things to do for any company, but for a tiny unknown startup is even harder. It requires, an extra level of trust to convince talent in moving into a new uncertain job, with a tiny company that is still not funded and with no product on the market to speak for. So how can it be done?
The founders first started by contacting their network; if people could not trust the brand hopefully they could trust them as people! :) This is how they found Gas, the first hired employee of the team, a highly skilled, backend developer with a passion for biking and python. Whilst with Gas the right decision was made, not every initial employee hired worked out.
The founders spent a lot of time figuring out how to get recruiting right and decided that the traditional way did not work, they needed to add some more of a personal touch. This is why the perks and culture page was born. Highlighting the real values that would glue the team together, and making sure the foodie side was very much out there, started to attract the right kind of people to apply. With a bit more pipeline, the founders set up a process of tests and cross interviews that have brought the team to grow very rapidly… but more on this next time!