Christer Holloman started his career as an Anders Wall Scholar at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK, and after ten years of working in the media industry he co-founded financial service company Divido, of which he is now the CEO. Holloman didn’t choose to become an entrepreneur to be master of his own time. Rather, he saw a business opportunity to fill a white space due to changing consumer habits.
Interestingly enough, the idea of starting Divido rose as a consequence of Holloman’s job within media. While working in the newspaper industry, his job was to take new products and services to market. Due to consumers’ changing media habits, helping his employers to remain relevant got increasingly difficult with time.
“It’s clear that the modern consumer doesn’t like to wait around for anything, they want everything on demand; think Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime and so on,” Holloman tells The LINK.
Changing consumer habits is not, and were not, limited to only media; the desire of flexibility and on demand could be found in almost any sector. Holloman recognised that another industry facing the same consumer expectations of immediacy was financial services. He saw an opportunity in the changing financial sector, and co-founded Divido, a credit provision service for partial payments, together with Anders Hallsten and Fredrik Borgquist.
In short, Divido allows consumers to spread the cost of any purchase over a period of time, while the merchant gets paid in full right away.
“If you want to make a big ticket purchase or get hit by a large unexpected bill you have to max out your credit card, paying a high APR, or run around to source a new credit solution – perhaps compare new credit cards online, apply and wait several days for it to arrive, maybe call your bank to arrange an overdraft facility or, worst case, fill in long application forms or visit a bank branch in person with supportive documentation, such as utility bills and ID documents,” Holloman explains.
“Divido, on the other hand, provides a new line of credit in the exact moment the need for it arises, at the point of sale, completely paperless and instant. Nothing to print, sign or post. In other words, credit on demand – which is just what the modern consumer expects,” he continues.
Changing from a corporate life to being an entrepreneur, and from media to finance could potentially be challenging. Holloman made up for this by pursuing a can-do attitude and surrounded himself with strong co-founders with differing skills and experiences to make this venture a success.
He found complementary expertise in Anders Hallsten and Fredrik Borgquist, two fellow Swedish expats in London, both with backgrounds within IT from retail and banking. The three co-founders started off with putting together a strong advisory board with seasoned industry experts such as Carsten Egeriis, the Chief Risk Officer at Barclays plc, and Kevin Dallas, the Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Product Officer at Worldpay - Europe’s largest payment processor. Contacts within financial services proved to be a foot in the door for building the venture.
“When Divido was still just an idea on paper, we found our first investor in Seedcamp, which was also the first investor in TransferWise, the first British tech startup within financial services to achieve a $1bn+ valuation, which is great for us to be affiliated with. High profile investors with a great track record open doors for us, something that is particularly critical at the start,” Holloman tells The LINK.
One might think that gaining the necessary knowledge and resources would prove a challenge when changing industries from media to financial services, but Holloman didn’t feel restricted by his previous skills. The situation was rather the opposite.
“I believe in transferrable skills, intellect and can-do attitude. If you’re good at something it doesn’t matter where you work or move, you will do well”
Call him a businessman or an entrepreneur, Holloman sees clear benefits from having started his career as an employee.
“Employers provide great educational services for an aspiring entrepreneur. It’s great to work for someone else at the start of your career to learn a skill and develop the network which will help you to become a more successful entrepreneur,” he tells The LINK.
With the safety net from a large corporation, learning from the mistakes you make early in your career is a good school for building confidence and skills. Holloman’s not the first to propose this; “fail fast” is an advice often given by advisors or serial entrepreneurs to the young and aspiring.
“When you’re working for yourself, failure can’t be blamed on anyone else - if you don’t deliver you might be out of business. As an employee within a large company it might be easier to coast along and still get paid.”
Holloman has other important advice for aspiring entrepreneurs; to ensure customer validation from start.
“Startups don’t go under because of a lack of good ideas, but a lack of paying customers. Therefore, before you do a business plan, before you build an MVP, find out who will be paying for your service/product (e.g. not your dad or a friend, but an actual paying consumer) and get in front of them, pitch to them. I got four merchants to sign up to pay for using Divido before we were even done building the platform. That’s customer validation”.
With experience from both the corporate and the start-up world, Holloman has his own views on what entrepreneurship consists of.
“Entrepreneurship to me is the ability to take initiatives and to take the route that others do not take. And very importantly, it’s not just to talk about doing something, but to actually get on doing it,” Holloman tells The LINK.
He also sees entrepreneurship as something applying to all areas of society, not just new business ventures. Despite the width of entrepreneurial opportunities available, he does not believe that entrepreneurship is for everyone and that anyone could become an entrepreneur.
“No, not everyone can become an entrepreneur. Everyone can try, but not everyone has the motivation and commitment it takes to become one” he tells The LINK.
“It’s like wanting to get fit, anyone can sign up to a gym and pay for a Personal Trainer, but not everyone has the motivation to see it through with enough commitment to actually get a ripped body”.
And self-motivation is, according to Holloman, essential for entrepreneurs.
“Motivation is the fuel that will keep the entrepreneur going when no one else sees the world in the same way you do, when things are not going your way. It’s the currency you trade in when you must make sacrifices to further your business prospects,” he tells The LINK.
He uses his own experience to exemplify how motivation defines whether you could be a successful entrepreneur or not.
“I tried learning French for five years in a row; five different courses, methods, study buddies, etc. I didn’t learn French, and I accepted that I simply didn’t want it enough,” Holloman tells The LINK.
Clearly some food for thought illustrating that, according to Holloman, motivation not only as a personal trait but also for the actual business idea is crucial to succeed as an entrepreneur.