Meet the fintech start-up that’s grown from 0-50 employees without meeting

Anthony Drury

Anthony Drury

Business Leader recently spoke to Anthony Drury, Managing Director of Zip – a Buy Now, Pay Later firm rapidly growing in the UK. The team is forging partnerships with major online and high street brands including Boohoo, Homebase and The Fragrance Shop, as well as a host of SME retailers. Drury shares his learning on building a fintech through the pandemic, including how to recruit and inspire a team of 50 – all virtually.

Firstly Anthony, can you explain what Zip does?

We’re a pioneering Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) provider offering consumers more flexibility and fairness in how they pay. Zip allows shoppers to buy items and spread the payment over four interest-free instalments.

We’re working with merchants large and small across a range of sectors – from homeware and entertainment to fashion, sport, health & beauty, groceries and travel. Our partners include names like Homebase, Boohoo, and The Fragrance Shop, plus sports clubs including Crystal Palace and Celtic FC. We work with many specialist retailers too – Alternative Airlines, The Game Collection, Hype, JTF Mega Discount Warehouse, Marks Electrical, Never Fully Dressed, Oh Polly, and Wave Direct, to name a few.

Following success in Australia, where the company started in 2013, we recently founded Zip in the UK. We built our ‘start-up within a scale-up’ during the pandemic and I’m proud to say we’re now 50 strong and growing.

How did you recruit a whole team virtually – and what learning can you share?

Like the rest of the business world, we had to learn through trial and error what works for us as we pivoted to operate remotely. Of course, we had the added challenge of having to start from scratch, meaning I have yet to meet most of our team in person – not many growth businesses of this size can say they’ve experienced that.

The uncertainty caused by the pandemic brought with it recruitment challenges we hadn’t planned for – from people reluctant to move away from the security of their current jobs to interviewing via video and not having a base from which to meet and operate.

With recruitment conducted online, we gave applicants preparatory work such as presentations to deliver virtually. An unexpected bonus was that it allowed many to practise and perfect their sales pitches! The big learning here was to give people the time and opportunity to show what they’re made of and in an environment where they feel comfortable. Generally speaking, the same judgement about a candidate’s ability and fit for our company apply when meeting virtually compared to in-person. We now have confidence to continue our recruitment process with virtual meetings going forward.

What are the advantages of looking at talent UK-wide in your recruitment strategy?

For all its challenges, the pandemic has normalised home and remote working, which widened the pool of talent we could recruit from. So, our team includes people from right across the UK from Belfast to Scotland, from the Welsh Borders to Manchester and London – as well as talent we’ve sponsored from the EU, Australia, New Zealand and Russia. It’s a little easier to take advantage of sponsorship opportunities when you’re in start-up mode and despite the pandemic and Brexit the UK remains very attractive to global talent in fintech and ecommerce.

Location and proximity to an office isn’t a barrier to working with us. It also means we have a spread of perspectives and experiences to draw from, which helps shape the business to be one that is inclusive, in touch and less susceptible to ‘groupthink’. Our merchants, ecommerce platform partners, and ultimately our consumers who choose to pay with Zip, are all nationwide – so it’s significant that our team is too. We’re pooling expertise and knowhow from not only a nationally diverse group of people, but internationally too – we believe it sets us apart and gives us a competitive advantage.

How do you manage and inspire a remote team?

We adapted our model and leaned heavily on digital solutions, but also went the extra mile to create the feeling of a tight knit team. We’ve been flexible to the different needs of teams and individuals – while operating safely within the context of Covid rules. For example, operations teams thrive on bouncing ideas off one another while salespeople are used to working more remotely – and younger employees living in shared accommodation preferred to work in the office while others were better set up to work comfortably from home.

Once safe and possible, we opened our London office to give our team in the area that choice and flexibility – with a maximum 30% occupancy. As a company there is a real duty of care here and we ensured that employees were safely spaced and that sufficient hygiene stations were set up.

What are your top tips on building a strong culture in a virtual environment?

Given our focus on growing the business at pace – and on an international scale – we must build that ethos into the DNA of everyone we hire along the way, even in a remote working environment. Our people operate locally but think globally – taking into account the bigger picture, which is crucial as we scale. It’s an exciting prospect for the team, and many are poised and eager to be wherever they’re needed across our network.

To facilitate this in a tech sense, we have standardised our tools and systems to make it clear we’re one company and one team, operating on a global scale.

While our structure adapts to suit the business, we have created a strong culture because we hire talented people who share our vision and passion to do something different, at pace and scale.

To build and maintain this on a day-to-day basis during lockdown, we set up a ‘coffee with the founders’ Q&A session once a month, which helped cohesion, team bonding, visibility and the sharing of ideas. We also have weekly catch-ups for the team as well as weekly educational seminars with guest speakers.

We didn’t want to lose the social side, especially with a new team, so we introduced Thirsty Thursdays, with virtual gin and wine tasting and quizzes. We also sent employees a Christmas hamper basket to coincide with a virtual Christmas party to try and maintain as much normality and the ‘fun’ side of things as possible before we can do the real thing. The offer of virtual yoga sessions also proved popular!

How is Zip challenging the fast-growth ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ market?

It’s about giving consumers the choice and flexibility they want.

Globally, more than 6.4 million people choose to pay with Zip online and in-store. We’ll be one of the first to offer an omnichannel BNPL solution in the UK meaning this type of payment will be available online as well as in-store anywhere that accepts Visa. This will help the high street compete with online retailers, especially after having to close for long periods over the past year. Our ‘Pay in Four’ offering allows customers to pay for products up to £1,000 through four interest-free instalments and we intend to introduce further flexible payment methods this year.

Our global network also offers major growth opportunities for UK retailers looking to grow into new markets as we help them access customers worldwide.

The last 12 months have shown you can’t always predict what’s around the corner – but with talented recruits and investment in team culture, we’ve learned to adapt and grow regardless.