"I realised how much more satisfying it is when you are able to pursue something you are truly passionate about."

Founded in London in 2011, Payumi is an online service that makes it easier and more efficient to collect money from friends or colleagues for a wide variety of social situations where people need to share the cost. Khurram Farooq, Founder & CEO of Payumi talks to us about the different challenges entrepreneurs face during the startup process and why he believes Payumi will change the way we manage our social financial relationships.

How did you come up with the idea behind Payumi?

Given my background in technology and digital media, I was pretty set on doing something in the consumer internet space, and I had a stack of ideas that I was considering. Payumi won over the others because it is a very simple proposition that addresses a real need. People immediately got what I was talking about and so it passed the elevator pitch test 100% of the time. Thinking back to my time as a student, I remember falling out quite dramatically with a good friend over a gas bill and it occurred to me that building a solution to prevent this problem was obvious and long overdue. (Alex, if you’re reading this, you still owe me £27.50!)

Everyone I spoke to about the idea immediately shared with me some of their own furstrationsfrustrations about the process of collecting money from a group and in particular how painful and awkward it can be often leading to stress and even arguments. Through this process of talking to potential customers, we developed the product so that it could work for a wide variety of potential social situations where friends need to share the cost. It was very quickly clear that our solution needed to be flexible enough that it could be applied to just about anything.

I definitely think that the need is there. If you have lived in this city long enough, you know that sharing bills and paying for things as a group is part of everyday life, but do you think this need is big enough to facilitate the behavioural change needed for Payumi to succeed?

As people are increasingly maintaining their social relationships online, it’s astonishing that we still continue to organise group finances by emailing round bank details or worse still collecting cash and cheques. Almost all social activities involve shared expenditure and so the piece that is missing from the equation is how money fits into people’s online social life and this is where Payumi comes in. People are always looking for new, easier and better ways to do things and so I think Payumi will solve a lot of problems for a lot of people.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in the process leading up to the launch of Payumi?

There were a number of different challenges. I think the first big challenge for me was to find a good technical lead as I am not a technical guy myself, a problem which a lot of founders that are not technical often encounter. The second challenge was of course to get some funding. As a result of my background in investment banking, I had a pretty good network of founders, investors and other people that I could speak to, many of whom I had enjoyed working with before or knew through other connections, so that is how we managed to secure our initial funding. The third challenge is building the right team and I think the idea helped a lot here as some really cool and talented people were as passionate about it as me and wanted to get involved.

How has the product been received by consumers so far?

Everyone loves it! Like any new consumer internet start up our biggest challenge is to just make people aware that it exists. Pretty much everyone coming on to the site ends up ‘liking’ us or saying good things about us, so the initial reaction is thankfully a good one.. We are still building new features in response to feedback and iterating the product rapidly so the product will get better with time and soon move onto mobile as well. We are launching to the public fully next week so these are exciting times for the team. We’re confident people will finally say goodbye to using email, bank transfers, text messaging, phone calls, spreadsheets or notes on the fridge to track and manage payments from friends.

How do you view the market for this type of service and have you identified any potential competitors?

I don’t think there is anybody in the UK market that is providing this kind of service in the same way that we are. There are a couple of companies in the US, such as WePay and Paydivvy who have tried to address the problem by becoming deposit account providers which let you create group bank accounts where one individual administers that account on behalf of the group rather than providing a direct money transfer service between friends. In fact, WePay is now much more focused it seems on pursuing smaller merchants and trying to win business off PayPal.

There are some other players in France (Leetchi) and Germany (Friendfund) but both of these work quite differently to Payumi so I think there is a real gap in the UK market where we can establish ourselves as the leading market player for direct, many-to-one peer to peer social payments. We have a unique model and while we are focused on the UK market for now, we will look to deploy it internationally in due course.

Being located at Hoxton Square, arguably the heart of Tech City, what is your experience of the east London start-up community? Do you feel like a start-up community exists here and if so, have you felt any support from it?

There is definitely a great community here, even though we didn’t locate to East London because of that reason, it was more a matter of convenience for us as we all live in the area and we were lucky to find some great office space nearby. Being part of the community is cool though as being a founder can sometimes be quite a lonely experience unless you have other founders around who you can talk to and who you know understand some of the challenges you face because they have experienced similar things themselves. Having said that, we probably haven’t leveraged the community as much as we should have because we have been very focused on building the product and the team and already had funding in place, but the community is great for keeping up to date on what’s going on in tech in Europe and for the opportunities to network, work with other start ups and share knowledge and experience.
How did you make the decision to leave your job and pursue a career as an entrepreneur?

As a corporate finance advisor focused on technology and media businesses, I used to advise entrepreneurs on strategy, raising finance and mergers and acqusitions so I was curious about doing something for myself – something which I really considered to be fun. I was always so inspired by the entrepreneurs I met who had started from scratch and turned their companies into really valuable businesses but also into great places to work, while having a lot of fun doing it. I felt that I also wanted to build something from the ground up.

So, finally I guess I just took the plunge – luck and serendipity played a part in that I was forced to take a career break to allow my wife to pursue her career in Psychiatry with a 6 month secondment in New Zealand. While I was there, I learned to fly a plane – something I had always wanted to do – and I realised just how much more satisfying it is when you are able to pursue something you are truly passionate about. When we returned to London, I was very focused on building a company and have never looked back.

Do you think there are any specific skills entrepreneurs need in order to be successful?

Persistence, passion and a belief in what you are doing. You also need to be a bit of an all rounder and be able to lead and motivate a diverse team to achieve success. No matter how stressful my day is or however complicated the situation I am dealing with, I still relish getting out of bed in the morning whereas in my corporate job I always felt a bit stifled and often wished I was doing something else.

As Steve Jobs once said in a letter to new Apple employees, There is work and then there is your life’s work – this feels like my life’s work and I am enjoying every minute of it.

Interview by Philip Gasslander