Experiences of the Barclays Accelerator
We chatted with Ann Juliano, CEO of Muse, and Robert Hoban, CEO of Offr, about their experiences of the 2020 London Barclays Accelerator.
Tell us a little about Muse and Offr
Ann: Muse appreciates that business owners can spend too much time on financial management rather than growing the business and letting them focus on the reasons they went into business in the first place. The Muse app gives them back financial control with cash management tools and access to funding, allowing you to regain financial control.
Robert: Offr believes there’s a better way to buy and sell property – one that’s faster, more transparent and with less uncertainty and stress. We’ve set out to disrupt the outdated system by developing one end-to-end, open solution that supports agents, buyers, sellers and solicitors.
Did the Barclays Accelerator meet your expectations?
R: It surpassed them. I was expecting an accelerator for early-stage companies who wanted to flesh out their ideas and learn about funding. Offr had actually passed that early stage of development when we joined, but it was clear that there was more to the Barclays Accelerator than I’d imagined. For a start, any early stage company can apply whatever stage of funding they’re at – whether they’re still bootstrapping, they’ve raised capital or already have strong annual revenue – so the range of other companies in the cohort was quite wide. It also quickly became apparent that the quality of mentoring and networking was high.
A: When I was accepted onto the programme, I knew it would be game-changing for the business and it was. It was a phenomenal experience to participate in the 2020 London Barclays Accelerator. The learning and mentoring was a major success for us and especially critical with everything happening in the environment around us (with COVID) at such a fast pace. The calibre of individuals we were exposed to was incredible, and the quality of thinking and suggestions from them was extremely high. We found the mentoring side of the programme worked extremely well for us and have created relationships that will last a long time. We were continually impressed by the high quality and sophistication of the Barclays team and various groups within Barclays that we met. The desire and willingness of the Bank to want to work with us is impressive. A lot of the Barclays team continually go above and beyond to work with Muse and find the teams within the Bank where Muse would have a good fit. The fact that graduation is just a start of the relationship is a fantastic feeling as we look forward to working with them in the future.
Tell us about that - the mentoring you received
A: The first four weeks of the Accelerator, ‘Mentor Madness’, was like speed meeting on steroids. You meet 10 different experts in half a day, three times a week. It pays off, but you’re challenged because everyone has an opinion of what you should do, so you need to assimilate the information fast and then reflect on it to develop a response. Do I agree with that idea? What do I do with it? For us, this level of networking was unprecedented, and instrumental in helping to shape our strategy.
R: Building relationships with and getting solid business advice from high-calibre mentors were important to us, especially regarding discussions about investments in the UK property market, which was key to our plans. We were conscious of not wanting to ‘go it alone’ without first networking closely with mentors on the programme. Mentor Madness was impressive. And the fact that Offr is in ‘PropTech’ not FinTech was no hurdle. It was obvious that our mentors could easily apply their FinTech knowledge to the property domain. The expertise and networking potential on the Barclays Accelerator really paid off for us.
How did you interact with the Barclays Accelerator team?
R: The structured modules during the 13 weeks provide ample opportunity to work closely with and learn from the team. The content in each module is rich and informative. You can also talk honestly about problem-solving with the Barclays Accelerator team, and the networking opportunities with them were invaluable. They were always on hand to help. One thing stands out – you might think your business problems are unique but, whatever the question or dilemma, the experienced team of Rise, Barclays, Techstars and industry experts have worked with hundreds of companies so they’ve probably heard it before, and have a solution or a new way of thinking about the issue. That, for me, was truly invaluable.
A: We got an unbelievable amount of support and great introductions from the team. The effort on their part was immense! The interactions, ideas and suggestions were so insightful, and this in turn drove innovative thinking around our propositions. For example, when they helped us identify new types of client organisations to approach, I know our team would never have come up with that solution ourselves.
Tell us more about your learnings and other highlights
R: There’s a full calendar on the Barclays Accelerator. Specific modules will appeal to different companies because of the growth stage they’re at and because of their team’s differing needs. We learned lots about marketing, sales and resource-planning. Going back to mentoring, Offr really responded to that and the many networking opportunities the Barclays Accelerator presented. Building relationships, both formal and informal, was the most important thing for us. The experts we worked with were very often on site at Rise, so it was easy to catch them for an unplanned coffee and chat, which really helped in terms of immediate and ad-hoc contact. Hearing the stories of alumni, founders who had graduated from the programme, was really insightful too.
Finally, how’s your funding journey been, especially since lockdown?
A: The Accelerator was literally the best place in the world for my team when lockdown happened. We were surrounded by respected experts and advisors that we’d grown to know over the previous weeks, and they continued to provide valuable advice and resources for us to learn even during those awkward times. COVID-19 hit halfway through the programme but the business advice we continued to receive even as the meltdown happened remained targeted and valuable. It helped us develop strategies to reduce our overheads quickly – overnight – and therefore survive as a business. We put a pause on additional fundraising activity after mid-March so that we could focus on the business and make sure we were available for our client base of business owners who are impacted by COVID-19. We learned a lot through the programme on how to better organise a fund-raise and plan to put it in motion in the next few months. Thanks in part to the experiences we developed during the 13 weeks, including the purely virtual second half of the programme, we’re getting traction now with several new clients. Opportunities are coming our way.
R: We were halfway through the 2020 London Barclays Accelerator when lockdown hit everyone. (The programme completed thanks to the Barclays and Techstars team evolving the Barclays Accelerator into a great digital experience overnight!) Funding as a whole dried up but there have been routes through this for many startups and scaleups. Luckily, our fund-raising had already started with our existing investors, and we’d met new ones on the programme who remained interested, even in lockdown. We’ve also been lucky with our product, which proved to be timely for our users. They were heavily reliant on face-to-face meetings and exchanges – so common in the traditional property market but impossible in the new normal. Investors saw the potential of our solution, and quickly became interested in it. We were even able to complete the execution phase of our new investment entirely online, which is quite unusual and a testament to how technology is also revolutionising legal transactions, not just financial services or the property market. Recently, we also completed a £2.7 million seed funding round led by Barclays.
COVID-19 and lockdown were and are horrible in many respects, but they demonstrate how vital it is to digitise services, how FinTechs are ideally placed to play a central part in that, and how deals are still there to be done with investors even in these unprecedented times. The Barclays Accelerator certainly helped us hone our skills, position us in our target market and make the most of new opportunities.
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