Breaking records and disrupting finance: A look inside GoHenry
“I wasn’t taught money management at school.” This is a long-held frustration by almost everyone who’s attended formal education. But one company has taken matters into its own hands, with the mission to “make every kid smart with money” and become a household name in the process.
The entrepreneur behind GoHenry, the financial technology company founded in 2012, is Louise Hill. Targeted at 6- to 18-year-olds, the fintech was born out of frustration after realising that there was nothing in society that could help teach her children how to be good with money in an increasingly digital world. The company now boasts over two million members and continues to from strength to strength.
We spoke to Louise about creating a new market, the importance of getting out of the way as a good leader, being on both sides of an acquisition, and much more.
Watch our exclusive interview with Louise Hill
Could you give us an overview of your career before you set up GoHenry?
I started my career in retail. Coming out of university, I got a placement with House of Fraser on what they call a Graduate Fast Track course. I went to Cardiff and spent two years working at Howells in Cardiff, moving around all the different departments, and getting whisked off to London to do various training courses and it was a fantastic grounding in all things retail. This experience then led to doing a very large project for an American consultancy, who was helping to launch Next Directory for Next plc.
I managed that project, which led me into e-commerce. I was lucky enough to be around at the time when the retail industry was transitioning to digital and I was involved in launching the first wave of e-commerce websites and setting up the operations behind the websites for some very familiar names to people in the UK, such as John Lewis and Debenhams.
You’d imagine GoHenry to be set up by someone who has a background in the banking sector, which you don’t. What made you take the step to start the business?
I think various things in my background have given me a good basis on which to launch GoHenry. Even though I don’t have a background in banking at all, having worked in retail and e-commerce operations for around 20 years, it does mean that I have a lot of experience in the online world. It also means leading large-scale, cross-functional projects and teams, both of which are hugely transferable skills. I also launched an e-commerce business in 1998, which we managed to sell four years later to a large retail group. I learnt from that process that you needed to build for scale from day one.
Being in operations, you learn to stitch a supply chain together, build processes and figure out how things work. You also learn a lot about building and leading big teams. All these things led me to the point where when I saw the gap in the market that was causing me pain as a parent, it gave me the skillset to believe that I could go out there and do it.
Could you tell us about your early funding journey?
One thing I’d certainly learnt from the previous company I’d founded was that you need to make sure you raise enough money to start with to give yourself enough headspace to be able to get that next round of funding without having to close or sell the business. So, we went out to angel investors, did an awful lot of pitches, and people often ask me if it’s like Dragons’ Den, and I say that in various ways, the last 11 years have been like Dragons’ Den.
As an entrepreneur, as a start-up, as a scale-up, you’re constantly going back to investors and pitching the business and finding funds to take your next stage of growth through. We raised just under £700,000 to start the company, and that allowed us to build the product, create all the relationships with the banking partners that we needed to get to market and do the first year of marketing.
Fast forward to 2016 and you broke the record for the largest equity crowdfunding on Crowdcube, raising £4m. Crowdfunding was in its infancy at the time, were you drawn to it as it was a disruptor like your company?
Yes, very much so. We looked at crowdfunding, and GoHenry seemed to tick all the key boxes: we had an established customer base, we were a B2C proposition, and we had a mission-led business where people could easily grasp what we were trying to do and buy into that. We fully expected to see what we could raise by crowdfunding and then go to VCs, but as you said, it was a runaway success.
At that point in time, you couldn’t raise over €5m (which equated to around £4m) so we actually had to turn the crowdfunding off, and we didn’t need to go to venture capital funds to top up. We then went back in 2018 to do a second crowdfunding round and raised £6.2m, without the need to go to venture capital funds. Don’t think that crowdfunding is easy. You have to treat it as an intense marketing campaign, but it is a fantastic route to funds.
GoHenry can be regarded as a loud disruptor because most parents are aware of the brand. Were you nervous that established financial companies and traditional banks were going to squash your proposition in the early days?
I didn’t expect negative pressure from big financial service players and banks, but I did fear, in the early days, that as we were gaining traction, some of the big high street banks, with very deep pockets, might see what we were doing think this is a great idea and just blow us out of the water because they would be able to offer it free of charge. However, it just didn’t happen.
A few times some of those big names did come to speak to us about either the possibility of us building something for them or partnering with them in some way, but those didn’t go ahead. We effectively created a new market, which has shifted over time and there are more players in the space, particularly in the UK. We need to make sure we continue to stay relevant and keep our leadership position. My favourite stat is that one in five children in the UK between the ages of 10 and 12 have got a GoHenry card.
How did you find the experience of hiring the right people to grow and scale the business?
I think for any business, the hiring process and the people you pick to join the team are a critical part of whether you’re successful or not. One of the things I learned, many, many years ago is not to be scared of hiring people that are better than you or know more than you. I think what that does is put a requirement on to me as a leader to let them do their thing. If you hire somebody who’s incredibly skilled or an expert in a particular area, the worst thing you can possibly do is try and micromanage them. You need to give them the sight of the goals that you’re working towards, but then get out of their way and let them let them deliver.
Around five or six years ago, we were growing incredibly quickly, and we hired over 200 people within a very short timeframe. I realised I’d become a roadblock, not because I was deliberately getting in people’s way and stopping their expertise, but because so much of what we did and why we did things was in my head or buried on my laptop somewhere. That was creating a risk for the business and stopping us from growing as quickly as we could.
So, I started a campaign across the business, to identify what we call ‘single points of failure.’ Rather embarrassingly, I appeared in it quite a lot. We spent more than six months making sure that we disseminated the knowledge around the business, that responsibilities were clearly delegated, and that more than one person knew how to do things or where things were. That’s a discipline that we’ve maintained today because it’s a way to make sure that your business is as resilient as it possibly can be, but it also means no one individual has a roadblock.
You’ve been on both sides of an acquisition – when you acquired Pixpay in 2022 and were acquired by Acorns in 2023. Do you have any tips for people going through the process?
We acquired Pixpay in July 2022, closed our Series B round in November, and then went through the Acorns acquisition. At one point, they were all happening at the same time, and I don’t think I’ve spoken to so many lawyers in my entire life. We’d join a Zoom or Google Meet call and there would be a sea of lawyers on screen.
My top tip would be to remember why you’re doing it in the first place. Remember why you want to go into this acquisition or this merger or whatever it is because you can get caught up in the due diligence of the conversations between lawyers. Just keep remembering why you want to do this because I think that steers your decisions and your answers, it steers the risks you’re prepared to take, or not take, the whole way through the process.