As part of the early team at Revolut, Veronique Barbosa and her co-founders at Flux found themselves right at the front of a surge in fintech.

But equally, they seem to have absorbed the importance of clarity of mission — a power which has driven their success even in the difficult times of Coronavirus.

I think in times of crisis, which all of us are in, you have to go back to foundations and your  core vision and something that has really got us through this time is that we are an extremely mission-driven business.

We are crystal clear on the problem we want to solve and the mission we are on. So that actually makes it a lot easier when you’re thinking about strategy and ways forward. 

Read on for our full conversation.

Starting the business and initial challenges

We three founders met at Revolut as the first, second and fourth employees there. We had been building a mobile consumer financial app from scratch that was processing millions of transactions around the world in real time. We knew how exciting it could be to liberate this transaction data, but we recognised that we needed the infrastructure in place first.

It came to a point when we asked why we’re able to have this extremely sophisticated infrastructure yet when Matty went to a supermarket and just grabbed a snack, the till spits out a mile long paper receipt.

That was the beginning of the question: why isn’t this data available digitally? 

When you start digging under the surface, there is no data source and therefore no way to capture it, make it useful for a consumer or you know, even as a bank or financial app. 

So we set out on that mission to liberate the world’s receipt data and enriched trillions of experiences along the way. That is a very nerdy mission, but the idea that we have is if we can create the infrastructure and the network needed to liberate this data. 

In order to do that, we have to connect the source of transaction data. We have to connect the payment data and the retailers data together accurately in real time. So all of a sudden processes that are extremely manual could become automated, and also more useful for those involved.

We’ve made a hell of a lot of progress over the last few years towards that vision. And, when you have that network, you can start to do things like automated expensing. You could even automate nutritional tracking. 

You can do even more boring, but important things like product recalls because retailers could for the first time say: “Hey Max, you bought that dodgy chicken from my store but you probably shouldn’t eat it.” This could be through a push notification or another method that is respectful towards consumers and privacy, always with the consumer having control over what they see. The point being the possibilities are endless when this data is liberated – but you need to build the infrastructure first to liberate it in the first place. 

So we had that big vision when we started practically working backwards, but how do we get there? Well first we had to build a network of infrastructure, then get banks and retailers on board. We now have a huge amount of bank coverage, and have recently brought H&M onto our platform.

We are a marketplace product so we have to effectively combine two sides of the marketplace in order to exist and to provide our service. 

There is also a third layer which is we have to have consumers’ permission and awareness to be doing this because this is personal data. It’s sensitive. We have to be respectful of that.

The evolution of Flux

So not a lot of people know this, but we actually were a mobile app for about three weeks in 2017.

We killed the app very quickly after realizing we would never get to sufficient scale to even get a meeting with some of the bigger retailers – we had to find a way to get engaged with mass consumers faster.

I think we got quite lucky that we started the company in the era of open banking, which I believe has created a shift at big banks to open their minds to data sharing, working with FinTech, working with third parties and even allowing third parties within their own apps. I think this would have been unheard of a few years ago.

This creates a win-win-win situation as the bank gets incredible innovation for their customer and increased mobile app engagement. Customers get a convenient way of seeing and accessing that payment receipt without having to download another app or do something external. Retailers get to drive that contact-free experience for customers.

The path to success

First we were running a pilot with Monzo as a demo. It was a closed pilot but with a few hundred people within it.  

We brought a Monzo card and a payment terminal so we could show an end-to-end working product and really bring to life that experience for the customer at checkout. With one tap they could within seconds receive not only a receipt within their app, but all of the other products that we can offer on top of that, such as a card linked loyalty or with an automated cash back offer as well. It was so slick and so automated.

The CEO at EAT. was really impressed by that and it really brought to life for him. He was looking for lots of different ways of bringing innovation into that business.

I think that that pivotal moment was getting Monzo to give us that pilot and believe in that vision showing that to our first retail client and then it really took off from there.

We were very lucky to be part of Techstars and we met Tom Blomfield at a founder’s event hosted by Techstars during the program. My co-founder and our CEO Matty approached him at the end of that event and pitched him the idea of having an automated experience, tracking the items that you were able to buy straight into your Monzo app and sold him that vision. 

We had already done some thinking about how it could work technically in a really light touch way. So all he had to do was say yes or no to the proposal, because we pitched the vision and we said “this is how we can make it work”. 

It was like a three or four minute pitch and he said he was open to try it, but in a limited way. He also wanted to see how many retailers we could get on board before rolling it out to further customers. 

The importance of timing (and open banking)

At the time we were focussing on banks that had open APIs. Monzo had the developer API easily accessible. 

Open APIs have been critical to our success.We got lucky that we got that face time with Tom Blomfield, but if it wasn’t that meeting, we would have found another way to speak with him or another decision maker at Monzo – we are extremely persistent here at Flux, which you have to be when building out a network and technology like ours. We had conviction we were a logical next step to enhancing the app and that customer experience. 

Operating in Coronavirus

This pandemic is keeping me up at night. All of the ramifications are having an effect on the economy and a really core part of our business, which is retail. The face of retail is fundamentally shifting overnight.

What’s keeping me up is thinking through not only how we can help our existing partners through this difficult time in any way that we can, but also, making sure our retail strategy is rapidly adapting to be able to serve more and more e-commerce only partners in addition to our existing partners. 

We set up a kind of war room the minute that was allowed after the first lockdown and the three founders all cleared our schedules. For a week and a half and we rotated between each other’s houses to work on and re-focused our strategy. 

We did a lot of great stuff during the first  lockdown. One example is Marvin, which we built as an automated retailer onboarding tool and now has retailers already onboarded including Honest Mobile and Zevvle. 

Our future vision became much more present, but that was ideal for an agile infrastructure business like Flux. Marvin is a huge step in that direction of automated retail onboarding.

Coronavirus has accelerated Flux’s progression?

Yeah, exactly. So a lot of the vision we had for the much longer term has been brought forward. We’re bringing forward a lot of that automation. 

Retailers that are open to do that can actually create a merchant account test and create mock receipts in a couple of hours.  Then we have the challenge of the next step, which is kind of switching it on and making it active across the bank partners. 

I think in times of crisis, which all of us are in, you have to go back to foundations and your  core vision and something that has really got us through this time is that we are an extremely mission-driven business.

We are crystal clear on the problem we want to solve and the mission we are on. So that actually makes it a lot easier when you’re thinking about strategy and ways forward. 

Is Coronavirus accelerating big brands adoption of “unsexy” tech?

Yes. We’ve launched a lot of small, but important features such as a barcode functionality now within the function across banks. You can now click your H&M receipt in your banking app and return an item easily.

There’s a huge amount of functionality that we are launching. I do think within chaos, there is opportunity and you have to think like that as an entrepreneur. 

Waiting for society to catch up to your mission

I really feel we’re on that cusp of having sufficient coverage and accessibility for the feature to be used by huge amounts of customers across the country. As soon as this happens it will become part of a wider mass consumer conversation, much like it did with contactless technology. 

The Consumer Rights Act relies on proof of purchase, and we really think Flux offers a long term substitute for what is currently available.

It is an uphill battle, but we believe we are at the tipping point of mass adoption to the point where this technology becomes a standard.

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About the Author

MaxTB

Max Tatton-Brown is founder and MD of Augur, the entrepreneurial communications partner for "unsexy" tech.

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