In this episode of the #GoFarFast show, Vivi Friedgut from Blackbullion talks all about finance for students and real benefits a good financial understanding can have in the world of entrepreneurship and small business!
Whether you want to watch the show, read the transcript or listen to the podcast, you can access all of that right here. So grab a cuppa, and a notebook, and get ready to #GoFarFast!
Merlie: Hello and welcome to our latest episode of the GoFarFast Show, our small business talk show that aims to get you, our amazing small business viewers, the answers to the burning questions of the moment as fast as possible.
Boy, have we got another treat for you this morning! Aaron, this is another amazing guest isn't it?
Aaron: It certainly is! We are really going to dive deep into some great little topics today. We're going to talk about nailing financial freedom, what does that mean? We're going to find out more. We're also going to find out, and this is a really curious one, how we can turn finance into fun. That one will definitely be worth staying around for. We'll have a little talk about some awards and some advice on setting up in business, so I can't wait for today's show!
Merlie: Yeah, it is a really really big one! Don't forget, as always folks, do like, comment and subscribe. This is your show! Our job, Aaron, is to get those questions answered for you. So, get in touch if there's anything that you would like to know or people you'd like us to interview and we will jump to it. Talking about jumping to, Aaron, shall we jump straight in? Can you introduce today's guest?
Aaron: Certainly! Hello Vivi, how are you today? Thank you for joining.
Vivi: Thanks so much for having me, it's a pleasure!
Aaron: We're going to jump straight into the questions if you don't mind, and we've got some really good questions to begin with.
Our first question's a bit of a long one, so bear with me: As the founder of Blackbullion you've picked up many awards over the years and it was recently named one of Europe's most promising EdTech companies. It would be great to get your initial reflections on this year so far. Separately, can we please ask you what's your winning strategy when it comes to getting all these awards?
Vivi: We try to not get too excited by awards, but there is a real ego trip obviously that comes with them and it's a real recognition from the big names in the sector. They are important and, obviously, we do love a good pat on the back, don't we! What it's meant for us really is that it's given us exposure. It goes out on social media, it's something that we're able to put into our website and into our blogs. People do like the idea of being attached to a winning team, so that is always fabulous!
The strategy really is to just try to be the best business that you can be, but also to talk about what you're doing. And doing great things but doing them behind closed doors means that nobody knows that you're doing great things. So, you need to do good, but you need to be seen to be doing good!
For us, 2020 was about entering these awards and saying 'you know we're here, in case you don't know us'. It was a good year for us to get noticed and we're really proud of some of the awards that we've picked up.
Merlie: Oh my goodness, I think you absolutely should be, Vivi! There was a pretty big collection of awards last year weren't there, Aaron? We were looking at it going 'how does she do this?' I'm sure there'll be some questions on that later as well.
So I've got a question and it comes from one of the quotes on your site, which we absolutely love, and I'm going to read it. Forgive me guys, I'm going to look at my notes for this because I want to get it right – "At Blackbullion we believe that if you will it and you work for it, you can achieve your dream". I think that's something that we so passionately believe in at Farilio and at Boffix too, Aaron right? – that there shouldn't be barriers, that you should be able to go and achieve what you envisage, without being held back.
I know Blackbullion is all about financial freedom, so how important would you say that having a good grounding in financial planning is, for students both as they go through their student life but also in the careers that they take after university? Perhaps even setting up their own businesses and becoming entrepreneurs like you?
Vivi: It's a great question and I think it's absolutely fundamental. One of the things that's really clear to all of us as we set up our businesses, is that your cash flow and your ability to make the payments is vital. Whether it's your personal rent or mortgage when you're first starting, or whether it's keeping your team running and being able to pay bills, there is nothing more important than being able to pay for what needs to be paid for.
The more financially secure you are, whether as a business or as an individual, the more able you are to pursue opportunity and the more able you are to withstand things that go wrong. This for me is why financial freedom and the idea of financial resilience is fundamental.
COVID really showed us just how precarious a lot of people's financial positions are. This is why we are always saying to students that money isn't about the stuff that you can buy, it's about the opportunities that it presents you. Whether those opportunities are bad opportunities like you lose a job or you've had your hours cut, which happened to literally millions of people during the COVID situation. Or whether it’s house prices suddenly have a depressed period and it means that you can put down a deposit on your dream home.
If you're seeing money as a way of buying stuff, you're looking at your money wrong. To me, that's really fundamental from the age of six all the way through to retirement.
Aaron: Definitely, and I love that quote where you're talking about how money is not about the stuff you can buy, it's the opportunities it can bring. When you have such great advice, you want to give that to as many people as possible. I assume then, from your point of view, one of your big things is trying to get the platform out there to as many as possible and trying to drum up interest in it.
I noticed, and this brings me on to the next question, that your platform loves a bit of a competition. It must have helped grow it to where it is, and we love seeing the different competitions you're running for the community. Why did you pick lots of competition as a strategy in getting that recognition and spreading the word?
Vivi: It's a really good question! I'm fascinated by the evolution of my business. I'm fascinated by the evolution of business in general but, every once in a while, I take a step back and look at some of the things that we do.
I feel like, as founders, we should always be questioning the things that we do to make sure they're still relevant because macro conditions change all the time. Also, your business becomes a very different business. The things and the ways that you did things at the beginning are not necessarily right two years later, for example.
Competitions are part of a thing that I created when I ran Blackbullion by myself, I was the only team member, which has become our campaign's playbook. In the early days, it was a way of giving the institutions that we were working with an excuse to do something fun around money. The people that we work with on-campus are so busy doing their own job that, if we wanted them to love and get engaged with what we were doing, we almost had to give them a way to do that. Competitions were great because, first of all, everybody loves a freebie and everybody loves to be in it to win it, but it also gave universities a ready-made way of engaging with their students. Those were the early days and actually, it's one of the few things that is exactly today as it was five years ago. It's much better
designed because I have brilliant designers and much better thought out because I have a marketing team, but the fundamental concept behind it is the same, everybody wants to try and win something!
There is a competition between universities and in 2021 our Uni Battle, which is our largest campaign of the year, will actually be an international competition. So you just know that Australia and the UK are going to be up against it and talking smack on Twitter, I mean it's just what happens! It has been a great excuse to keep these going and students do love it. Engagement is key with money because it is not the sexiest topic in the world, so you've got to make it fun.
Merlie: I think that's quite right. It might not be the sexiest topic in the world, but it really is absolutely vital! Vivi, can you tell us how Blackbullion is actually helping students as well? These are pretty uncertain times, even as we leave the pandemic behind us, hopefully forever and we never have to experience this ever again! What kind of questions are students asking you? What is the reliance that they have on you and how are you helping them?
Vivi: We always think of Blackbullion as if Netflix, Wall Street and Sesame Street had a baby – then you'd have Blackbullion! This really summarises what we do. We're an online learning platform with video content and tools. We have all sorts of different activities and ways of engaging people with their finances. When we first started, we were really looking at the fundamentals of university and study, like money while you were studying. We were looking a lot at how student fees were working, which a staggering number of people still don't understand the fee system. We were looking at debt, looking at savings, and the foundational elements of finance. Over time we've obviously increased the amount of content and increased the type of content, and students are just as interested in mortgages, investing and cryptocurrency. We just released some new content on cryptocurrency last week, so really, it's about being where students are – which is online and on their phone – and providing them with a mix of what they need and what they want.
There's no point talking about investing, as a lot of students discover when they come into our platform. They go straight to investing and then they quickly go to budgeting, or they go to debt, or they go to saving – because you can't invest if you don't have your foundations right. So, it's trying to use some behavioural thinking around guiding people through topics. Having money is the sexiest thing in the world. Learning about money is potentially one of the dullest things you'll do, so how do you counter that?
It's obviously a challenge every day, but we think we're getting there.
Aaron: That's brilliant! You've been doing the online training for a lot longer than most and it is an expert field isn't it? Online training isn't just taking your physical training and talking to a camera, there's a lot more to it, isn't there? You can't just take a course that you gave to two thousand people in an auditorium, record it and press go.
I think that's a big presence in what you're offering and I think that's going to be something that people are going to see has a lot more value to going forward, when they’ve seen their universities and colleges really struggle to adapt to an online ecosystem.
So, when we're talking about online ecosystems, we're trying to bring in the price of EdTech platforms. As the price of university education is becoming more expensive, do you feel that EdTech platforms are starting to play a larger role in access to higher education? Are they being seen as a gateway for younger people who perhaps didn't consider university before?
Vivi: The whole education sector obviously has gone through a bit of a shakeup. One of the positives perhaps of 2020, one of the silver linings, has been this acceleration of technology adoption in education, which has been one of the slowest sectors to latch onto the power of technology.
I always think of EdTech as really being two different types of spaces. The one is education companies that are using technology to scale, to be available more broadly, and to measure learning – things like that. Then you've got technology companies that have found a home in the education space. Those are very different approaches to EdTech, which I think is part of the confusion for institutions. Unlike businesses, who will field all sorts of calls about all sorts of solutions, education actually is a little bit behind. Their procurement systems are not really set up for it, so it has been a really interesting year for that.
Where technology really comes into its own in education is in adding capacity to, for example, admin issues. So, exactly the sort of things we see in business. The back office that has hundreds of people data entering, doesn’t happen anymore because you have the ability to scan documents straight in. Universities are the same, they're trying to do more with less. I don't know if fees can go up any further in the UK. I think that we're going to hit a natural level where people will no longer go to university because of the pricing, which would be a tragedy. University is a gateway to a lot of very highly paid work, so they're going to have to look at where they can make efficiency cuts and where they can spend money smarter. A lot of that will be through using technology and then redeploying people into the things that computers and technology can't do. COVID has been a positive way of moving that forward.
Merlie: I think that's such an important point. The one thing that's been so marvellous about EdTech platforms in the period that we've all come through, is that it's levelled the playing field and it's created a better sense of diversity and inclusion. It's been easier to access resources and learning – at least if you've got the tech. I know there's a whole community of people out there that don't have access to the tech and are being left behind. That is something that I think the government very seriously needs to address, but I do love this whole concept don't you, Aaron? We've talked about this before, about EdTech really leading the charge on innovative teaching and learning going forward.
Anyway, it is time to turn to the community's questions. Thank you as always folks for sending in your questions. The first question, Vivi, comes from one of our viewers who says: I'm going to start looking for investments soon to grow my business. Should I believe that investors are not interested in female founders or that it's harder for them? There's so much written on this and I want to go into this experience feeling prepared and knowing realistically what to expect.
Vivi: Isn't that a great question for our age! Right off the bat, you should expect that nobody wants to invest in you – it makes life a lot easier, it really really does! I had about 70 rejections before I got my first investor. So, assume that no one wants to talk to you and life gets a lot easier!
Look, being a woman in this game is harder. I think we do ourselves a disservice pretending like that's not the reality on the ground. The latest statistics around this, which I think are now about six or eight months old, is that women get two cents in every venture capital dollar. The statistics prove it. That said, there are a lot more female investors, not that I necessarily think that changes the game – I've had some very bad experiences with female investors. However, changing how that world looks will naturally change what kind of companies and what kind of founders that world invests in.
The best way to be prepared is to assume that you're going to get an awful lot of no's. I spoke with a founder recently who said said 'I've had four rejections', and I was like 'you're nowhere near feeling rejected yet, carry on!'. Put yourself in the best possible position for success. Know your numbers, know your business, tell a good story. Investing is very much a storytelling exercise, as all of us have experienced. Being prepared mentally, emotionally and in terms of your business is the best way to prepare yourself for success, but assume that it is going to be difficult, and being a woman is a compounded difficulty. But that's what startup life is all about, so put it behind you and move forward. You will get there, the journey could be a little bit longer and could be a little bit more stressful, but you will get there in the end.
Merlie: Yeah, I think that’s good advice.
Aaron: I think that's wonderful advice, especially that point that you're going to be told 'no' and there's going to be rejections. You've just got to accept it, and we do say a lot on this show that at some point you're going to find the right investor that works for you. You're going to find the right investor who is going to bring more to the table. So, even though you've been told no time and time again, the idea is that you're going to find the right investor for you. You're going to find someone who's going to propel your business forward and we've got two wonderful examples here of female entrepreneurs who got that investment. So, it can be done, and it is out there – we just hope that you get yours too.
We've got another question in from our wonderful community here. These questions just keep getting better and better. I think this question is really important because everything you’ve been talking about so far is great advice and it's something that I think a lot of people are going to want to get involved in. So, the question from the community is: I've come across Blackbullion and would like to know if you're planning to diversify beyond students and support others? Can I use Blackbullion even though I'm not a student?
Vivi: Unfortunately, the answer right now is no, but stay tuned, we're definitely heading in that direction. As a founder, you love to hear that there's more demand for what you're doing than you're currently able to service. It is something we've been looking at. University students are not the only people who we believe can benefit from financial guidance. So really, the idea, and our company's mission, is to make the world money smarter. We don't see any borders and we don't see any age restriction, we're just not the world's biggest team so we can only move so fast! But it is very much our ambition to speak with people in their 20s and their 30s and their 40s – those age groups that can really make a huge difference to their finances earlier on. Of course, the older you get, the harder it is to catch up. The whole point is that you hit people as early as possible, when they actually are making financial decisions, to help them make the best financial decisions for them. Stay tuned, we're not quite there yet, but thank you for the confidence!
Merlie: As you say, demand is what you want to see proven, and there's plenty of demand even beyond the student community for Blackbullion that's for sure!
So the next question for you, Vivi, is an interesting one: I've had some negative reviews about my company recently. Do you have any advice on what to do about a rubbish review?
Vivi: Don't worry, you're not alone! We've all been there, which I think is always really comforting. You're not the only one.
A few years back, we had a not great review on Glassdoor. It was really upsetting, and it was personally very upsetting because it was a bit of an attack on me. What somebody very wise said to me was, if you're getting a lot of them, then you need to look inwards and see if actually there is something that you are doing wrong. As a founder, you always have to be open to the idea that you might be doing something wrong, or the company might be doing something bad, and you have to be honest about that. If it is a random negative thing that has come through and everything else is going well, which was the case with us and I'm hoping was the case with you, there are sometimes people out there who are either nasty, or vindictive, or just bored. This is how they get their kicks and I'd say ignore it.
On Glassdoor, I wrote a response. I said I'm really sorry you feel like this and addressed the points that were there. Because my concern isn't that person, my concern is everybody else that's reading it. I wanted anybody else who went on there to think that this person is clearly an outlier because all the other reviews are great. I also wanted them to think that Vivi has handled it in a way that is professional, calm and relaxed. Unfortunately, what that means is that person just looks a little bit like they're not doing it for the right reasons, let’s say. It's a family and show and I'm trying to respect that!
Take it on the chin but, if there are a lot, then you do have to be honest and address that maybe there is something that you could have done better or that the business didn't do well, which is a thread that runs through. You're not the only one though, so don't let it get you down. Shake it off.
Aaron: Yeah, great advice there, and it's not going to stop at the beginning. You're going to get this throughout the whole history of your business and it's always going to be there. It's great advice, especially that whole aspect of that at the end of the day they're probably just bored. They're probably not going to be giving you any meaningful content, but if they are giving any meaningful content, or they’re giving you something that you can look to improve on, then that can be a positive you can take away from and use that and grow from it, and then hopefully you're going to get better experiences going forward.
We've got one more question from me, and this one's really good! This goes back to the whole aspect of trying to find the right investor, the right fit for you and your business. It's that constant battle, isn't it? So, one of our community asked the question: recently I've been through a couple of bad investor experiences. It would be great to get some advice on how to pick yourself up after this, and how to keep believing in yourself and your product. Also, how do you find a good investor?
Vivi: Oh good, a nice simple question! What is the meaning of life?!
Let's address how to find a good investor first. You have to slog through a lot! I think that the only comparison to finding an investor is dating. Great investors may be terrible investors for you. The question is, what is it that you need? What is it that you're looking for? What is it that they're looking for? Then it's trying to match it up and that's part of the reason it's so difficult.
There are a million forums, there are a zillion people, and there's LinkedIn, in terms of finding people. With events, with connections and with social media – finding investors is not the hard bit. Connecting with them can be tricky. Connecting them with your business and with your passion, that’s really hard. The only thing you can do is keep slogging at it. There is no magic bullet unless you are a second-time entrepreneur, in which case it looks a lot easier than for a first-timer. Speak to other founders, get their guidance, get their advice, get their referrals. As much as you can go in cold, warm is better. So really tap your networks and get your networks to tap their networks.
The way to shake off negativity and bad experiences is to recognise you're going to have more bad experiences when fundraising than good ones. If you go into it recognising that, life gets a hell of a lot easier, and you'll shake it off however you shake it off. Different people do different things. You can go for a run, have chocolate, watch television or take the day off. The more rejection you have, the faster you get over that rejection. I'm a salesperson from way back and you have to learn how to deal with rejection early, otherwise, you never get anything done.
For me, it's a hot shower if it's a really, really bad rejection. If it's a minor rejection, then it's five minutes with the television and a cup of coffee. It's whatever works for you. Talk to other people, perk yourself up – your mood will directly translate into your success. So, if you're down about your business, no one's going to believe in it if you don't. So again, expect it to be hard, it makes life easier.
Merlie: I would echo that personally as well. If you get a negative experience, it isn't that you've failed, or you're not good enough, or your idea isn't good enough. Sometimes, whether you get a rejection or whether you even get put through to the next conversation can literally depend on what your target investor, reading your pitch or reading your email, had for breakfast or how they're feeling on that particular day, whether they’re in a grump about something. I mean it is that fine sometimes. I'm being a bit extreme here but, as another founder on this show, to all of you out there who are in this position, and Vivi and I have been there multiple times, and Aaron has too. It doesn't mean you're not good enough or your idea isn't great.
You are often going to be the only person in the room who believes and that's fine. That's what founders do. They spot the opportunity. They are the believers, and they have to go out there and make it happen. Keep slogging away. Make sure your profile is good and make sure that your media is good. If you can win some awards like Vivi it really helps because it's validation. But the most important thing you can do is prove that there's demand, as Vivi said earlier. Prove that people want it and prove enough people want it at a price that will enable you to make a profit. If you're on that route and you can prove these things, then you're getting far closer to having a better and more positive experience with investors, right Vivi?
Vivi: Absolutely. I would say there's also no dishonour in quitting if it gets too much. The truth is that this journey is not for everyone and some people simply cannot handle the mental exhaustion and the constant defeat of it. Carry on going as long as you believe in yourself and your business, but there is no dishonour or shame in saying this actually isn't for me. I think we have to be really honest about the fact that being a founder and founding a business is mentally draining and exhausting. It's not for everyone so be careful. This really does push you to the limits, especially in the early days when you are the least prepared for it and things can often be the hardest.
Get your support system. Merlie and I used to meet up when we had more time! We used to meet up for coffee once every couple of weeks just to share war stories. Find people you can count on and they'll perk you up when you can't
Merlie: Yeah, it's absolutely vital that you do share. As you said earlier, don't hide away building stuff and trying to do it all on your own. No entrepreneur is an island. You need that network and the ability to say 'Did this happen to you? Am I completely crazy? Is this insane? Is this normal?' Asking those questions and knowing that actually, you are completely normal and this is just the world of startups, it really powers you through. That's a cracking answer Vivi, thank you.
Well folks, we are at the end of time! Not the end of questions, sadly for us, because we could interrogate Vivi all day, couldn't we Aaron?
Aaron: Certainty can!
Merlie: Aaron's nodding away. He's looking at all the questions that we haven't got through and thinking 'damn'!
Thank you so much for tuning in and for sending your questions for Vivi. Aaron, this has been a whirlwind of info and a lot of fun hasn't it?
Aaron: Yeah, we can't thank you enough Vivi! Some of the nuggets of information we've got out today – I'm going to go away learning more than I ever thought possible from this, so thank you very much.
Merlie: If you are a student do go and check out Blackbullion if, for some magical reason, you haven't found it already! Vivi, how easy is it to get hold of Blackbullion and to sign up to get going? Can you tell the guys what they need to do?
Vivi: Oh dead easy! You can go to blackbullion.com and you'll also find us on Twitter and Instagram under Blackbullion, you will find us somewhere somehow. We're pretty easy to find! Thank you so much for having me.
Merlie: No, thank you! It's been an absolute pleasure. As always folks. don't forget to like, comment and subscribe. If you have more questions, I'm sure we can always torture Vivi again for you at some point soon.
Meanwhile, from Aaron and myself, massive thanks to you Vivi for coming on the show. Guys, have a good couple of weeks and we'll see you again very shortly. Don't forget, as always, to #GoFarFast.
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