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The birth of a business – Knowledge Bank

by: Nicola Firth, Knowledge Bank, chief executive
  • 30/01/2018
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The birth of a business – Knowledge Bank
What leads someone to give up a successful job and start a new business? Asking other entrepreneurs, the two prevailing reasons seem to be either to have more control over their lives or to make a difference. In the case of Knowledge Bank, it was definitely the latter.

I already had a successful business as a mortgage broker running Firth Financial Services. In fact, it was this that drove the birth of Knowledge Bank.

The experience of 13 years as a broker, with the frustration of finding the best rate for a client but then discovering the lender wouldn’t accept the criteria – and neither would the next lender on the list or even the one after that at times.

As every broker knows, placing more complex, or even less usual, cases can take hours – on the phone to the network or mortgage club help desk, and then to the lender or its BDM.

Initially Knowledge Bank was to be part of a larger Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. A knowledge sharing platform for brokers.

Originally called Compass, its aim was to point brokers in the right direction for their criteria requirements.

Having compared notes and shared frustrations with other brokers across the two networks I’d been part of, the idea was to have a system where brokers ‘bank their knowledge’.

We would all input information when we discovered a specific lender accepted a certain set of criteria, CCJs or a one-year self-employed case, for example. Everyone who input would have access to what others had shared.


The technical build

We started building this and telling people about it, but then lender BDMs saw it and wanted to be a part of it too.

This snowballed as almost every lender who heard about it wanted their criteria included and so Knowledge Bank was born – but we had no idea just how popular it was to become.

We originally thought it would be a small project. I advertised for an IT developer in May 2015, with an advert that read, “I’ve got a little project for a developer of a few hours per week.”

The head of my IT team often reminds me of this, as it turned into an all-encompassing project for up to nine IT staff at a time.

By August 2015 we could see this was going somewhere.

The increasing number of lenders led to more broker interest, and vice versa so Compass Systems was registered at Companies House.


Keep It Simple

The objective behind Knowledge Bank is to make it as simple as possible.

We know every mortgage broker is pushed for time, so we wanted it to be completely intuitive so searches could be done in seconds and no training was required to use it.

The design brief was “Fisher Price”. As with the toy brand, no instructions are necessary and the same ideology was important to us.

We knew it would save brokers hours but also wanted it to be simple for the lenders.

We have always been driven by the maxim ‘good for brokers, good for lenders and good for the client’ in every decision made.

So what did we learn in these early stages?

We learned that from a legal perspective, we couldn’t protect our idea and felt sure it would only be a matter of time before someone else saw what we were doing and entered the same space.

Key advice I was given was ‘be fast, be first’ so that’s exactly what we did, but to do that you have to recognise your strengths and weaknesses plus what others do best rather than trying to do everything yourself, so this was the bedrock Knowledge Bank was formed on.

Every day is a school day when you haven’t done it before.

You have to wear every hat in the business, be it product development, finance, marketing and IT, so I was quick to surround myself with experts in the various fields, from IT to accountancy, marketing to legal to help take the business forward.

Watch out for the next part from Firth detailing the birth of a criteria-driven sourcing system next week.

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