Anil Stocker's start-up that threatens the banks

Anil Stocker and co-founder Charles Delingpole decided to shake up the industry of lending money to small businesses.


Anil Stocker: gaining inspiration from a road trip

Road trips are usually associated with debauchery and wild tales think Hunter S Thompson driving to Las Vegas in a drug- and alcohol-fuelled haze. But for Anil Stocker, now 31, they provided the inspiration for a new financial technology company. After graduating from Cambridge in 2006, Stocker worked in private equity at investment bank Lehman Brothers, then moved to private-equity specialist Cogent Partners in 2008.

However, he felt that the banking system was changing, with technology turning a cyclical decline in the industry into a permanent one. So in 2010 he quit his job and travelled around the UK looking at firms that were up for sale.

His conversations with small businesses led him to realise that many firms found the traditional ways of raising money "opaque" and "difficult to use". At the same time, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending sites, linking up savers and borrowers directly, were starting to appear. So Stocker and co-founder Charles Delingpole came up with the idea for MarketInvoice, a website that applied P2P principles to the business of lending money against business invoices. They tapped business angels for seed capital and took the website live in 2011.

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While Stocker agrees that "every entrepreneur is worried at the beginning", any doubts about the wisdom of setting up on his own were assuaged by the circumstances. He had always wanted to set up his own firm and the financial crisis reduced the opportunity cost of quitting the City to do so. He was also convinced that the collapse of the banking sector that had just taken place was not just a short-term issue; instead, technology had broken the banks' monopoly forever.

Just because Stocker had a clear view of the future didn't mean potential clients felt the same way. The challenge was "changing perceptions" about how firms could raise money and winning the customers. But enthusiasm helped: "all entrepreneurs are natural salespeople", he says.

The company received a major boost two years ago when the government chose to distribute support to small businesses through a number of P2P sites, including MarketInvoice. Manchester Council has followed suit, and the firm now has a partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers, under which the accountancy giant will refer clients to MarketInvoice.

It took an "eternity" for the site to lend out the first £50m, says Stocker. But business has grown rapidly since and the site has helped firms receive a cumulative total of £400m in funding. This figure is growing by £25m a month, making Stocker's next target of £1bn look plausible. While so far the focus has been on the UK, he is considering expanding into Ireland. Overall, he thinks the firm "has lots of space to grow", given the industry is in its infancy. In the long term, Stocker predicts that P2P could account for half of total business finance.

Stocker is dismissive of those who think setting up their business is a quick road to riches, saying it should be "a ten-year project". That means entrepreneurs should do something "you feel passionate about". Such long-term thinking is important in order to hire and retain staff, since "people want to work for a business with a clear mission".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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