We sat down to catch up with Robert Pasco, co-founder of Plend and Alumni from Cohort 3 of the SeedReady Pre-Accelerator.
Who are you and what does your company do?
I’m the COO and one of the Founders at Plend – the UK’s first social crowdlending marketplace.
We allow people to lend to each other (at interest rates fixed between 10% – 25%) based on what they can afford to repay right now and not punish them for past mistakes or inaccurate information.
Unlike existing lenders, we are harnessing the power of open-banking data to provide our users with a fairer and more accurate alternative to the credit score.
What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
I grew up in a very entrepreneurial environment, with the both my parents and grandparents running their own businesses.
I used to work with them during most summers and from an early age appreciated some of the rewarding aspects of being your own boss – but also many of the pitfalls and challenges!
To be completely honest, I left home not being interested in running my own business after seeing the stress it caused my family and I can appreciate getting the balance right is especially difficult for entrepreneurs in an age where there are almost no barriers to market and unlimited things to do!
How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
While my professional career is focused on structuring alternative credit arrangements, the concept for Plend actually came from my own (bad) experiences with credit. Like many graduates and expatriates who move to cities in order to fulfil their career ambitions, I had to borrow money to cover some of my initial costs.
Unfortunately I had virtually no credit record and less than three years address history, which began a spiral of various short-term lending ‘stop-gaps’, such as high interest credit cards and overdrafts in order to cover my initial costs and later service the bad debt that I had taken out. As my career and disposal income progressed, my credit score didn’t – and my debt burden that I had amassed soon became unsustainable, leading to me in late 2017 entering into a Debt Management Plan with Stepchange. Thankfully 2 years and no missed payments later, I am now debt free, but have a 6 year ‘blackmark’ on my score, which effectively forbids me from taking out any credit.
This journey has given me a passion for changing how we view and apply for credit in the UK. On multiple occasions there could have been an opportunity for me to borrow (or even consolidate) at lower rates due to my secure income and career progression opportunities – however, archaic and backward looking credit scoring is heavily focused on ‘instant’ decisions, without giving the borrower the opportunity to tell their story and/or prove their actual affordability.
Since these experiences, I have started my own investment journey, only to be shocked by the meagre returns on offer, or for those with a larger risk appetite, this decision normally comes hand in hand with market volatility. I still scratch my head over how I was borrowing at a 30% – 50% APR and am now only now receiving a 2% – 5% p.a. return from existing platforms?
How did you come up with the name for the business?
People Lend or Project Lend (I don’t actually remember to be honest!)
What is the most significant hurdle that you have overcome with your company so far?
There has been so many!
However, I would say communicating our story effectively has always been difficult – whether it be during a pitch, speaking to a potential customer or via email – our messaging has changed a lot since we first started and thanks to Robot Mascot I would like to think that we are almost there!
What is the biggest challenge facing you and your business at the moment?
Funding – kind of goes hand and hand with the communication piece, however convincing and showing real value in what you are do is very difficult. Traction is always the word everyone asks, but their expectations do differ dramatically when you ask them what they actually mean by that word.
We are lucky to have secured some key early team members who are building some of the more technical and risky parts of our proposition – coupled with our current beta testing of the platform, we hope to showcase enough ‘traction’ to close our Pre-Seed round early next year.
How will you measure your success?
For Plend – 50,000 borrowers in 5 years is our main goal.
Personally, I want to dramatically decrease the costs of borrowing in the UK and provide a real long-term low-cost solution to help people achieve key life goals. The lending market in my opinion (and many others!) has become dominated by quick ‘stop-gap’ solutions, such as ‘buy now pay later’ providers, credit cards and overdrafts.
Credit is a wonderful tool if used correctly and if you have a long-term goal/plan that you are using it for (i.e. Car, Wedding, Debt Consolidation, Home Improvement/Repair, etc.) – where it falls down I find, is when using it gets linked to consumption and short-term solutions that can quickly spiral into long-term problems.
Success for me is trying to be part of solving this problem in the UK credit market.
Having just graduated from Cohort 3 of the SeedReady Pre-Accelerator, we had to get Robert’s thoughts and feedback on the experience.
What problem(s) did you face before joining the SeedReady Community?
Validation, communication and user research/engagement
What are three benefits you’ve experienced as a result of joining the SeedReady Community?
Responsiveness – people actually engage with you!
Expertise – the Founder Friends in particular have been great and we have since worked with three of them following the end of the program.
Focused – the sessions, readings and homework provide real structure behind the validation of your concept and have tangible next steps that you can action.
If you were to recommend the SeedReady Community to another founder, what would you say?
Its free haha!
But honestly, the Community is very active and there are ton’s of helpful sessions and people that you can engage with – also super friendly and supportive which is a massive bonus!