Posted: Wed 1st Feb 2023
Xelda is an Irish, female and sibling-founded Dublin-based fintech start-up. It enables businesses to connect all of their bank accounts in one place and gain insights into their operations.
As part of Enterprise Nation's Access to Finance programme, we asked business founders to tell us about their experiences of getting funding. Here India Healy O'Connor shares the funding story of Xelda, the fintech app she founded with her sister Portia, in conversation with Fiona Alston.
What is Xelda?
Xelda is a payments and finance management engine for SMEs. We're basically making payments faster, cheaper and more insightful for businesses.
We're automating reconciliation and we're helping businesses get paid on time and trying to really reduce their administrative and operational burden, while also meaningfully reducing their costs for processing transactions.
On the insights piece, we're giving them a certain level of analytical insight into how their business is performing based on the transactions that we're seeing.
The nice thing about the app is that you can connect any bank account to it, and as many as you need.
Since I spoke to you last, the app is offering more than the original 'ease of digital tipping'. How did the move into payments come about?
When we initially built the product, it was really for tipping donations and payments. We didn't actually want to silo it too much towards tipping, largely because it's not exactly a massive market.
But, also, it's microtransactions so can be quite difficult to make any kind of margin on them. The fee hurts the payments a bit more when it's smaller than it does when it's when it's larger – it’s just how card payment processors have things structured at the moment.
We saw that there's a big issue with people needing a way to manage slightly larger payments, and for people who work in industries that are a little bit more dominated by bank transfers and invoicing to have a more consumer-like experience when it comes to making payments. They don't want to always be tied down to a card transaction. And so that's really where we saw things going.
We still have the app running, so people can continue to use it for tips and donations. But this product is separate from that – it's definitely more targeted at payments.
What was your initial port of call for investment? Did you bootstrap?
At the very beginning, we did a bit of bootstrapping – maybe more when it came to the research side of things and trying to get certain prototypes done. We put our own money into it.
And then we got some angel investment, which we used to really develop the app, get merchandise and sell the product around Dublin. After that, we realised we wanted to make this change, so we were going to need to raise finance from somewhere.
We applied to all the different kinds of incubators and accelerators for start-ups. This is typically the time when a lot of things open up, so it's worth keeping an eye out for them at this time of year.
It's also worth applying for them because they tend to give you funds in exchange for being on a programme – and those programmes are actually quite helpful.
We had also just started to speak with some Irish VCs, but then we were accepted onto Sequoia's Arc accelerator programme. Once we got onto that, we stopped speaking with the other VCs, just because Sequoia provided us with some finance and we knew we had enough to get going from there.
Then we wanted to put ourselves in a better position when it came to actually raising a round so we'd have more of our product, our proof of concept or market traction before we had to go and negotiate more terms.
Where did the angel investment come from?
We weren't really looking for it, to be honest. We were researching the restaurant industry and we were put in contact, through a friend, with these two brothers who were developing a restaurant software start-up. We wanted to speak with them about tipping and get their view on it, and find out what they thought of our idea, etc.
Speaking with them was very interesting and we took a lot from the call. We thought we might chat to them again, if they ever wanted to use us. Three days later, they told us they wanted to invest in us, so that was brilliant.
We didn't really have anything at that point, other than a bit of an idea of what it was we were hoping to build. So I guess we were lucky that it fell together.
It just goes to show the importance of your network and just reaching out to people and talking. And never turning down that opportunity, because you just don't know where that initial step towards success is going to come from. If we'd turned down that introduction, we probably wouldn't be where we are today.
I guess I know who those brothers are, right?
Yes, Conor and James McCarthy from Flipdish. They went on obviously to become a unicorn, although this was before then. They're very passionate about what they're doing.
And how easy or difficult was getting onto the accelerator? Talk us through the process.
I saw one of the partners had posted it on their LinkedIn – this was the first time they were doing the Arc program. There was a form online I clicked through and to see what the questions were and what was required.
My sister and I just prepped all the answers for it. And I think we spent maybe two weeks doing that – we used the whole run-up, we had until the deadline for submitting, and then we submitted on the day of the deadline.
We heard back maybe two weeks later, then did a call with the partner. They asked us about ourselves and the product. I suppose it was a pitch, but a more friendly version. Just because you're not speaking to a whole board of people – it's number-specific in some ways, but you're not pulling up a balance sheet or anything.
A couple of days later I got another email asking for another call and that was when they invited us on to the programme. We just had to decide if we wanted to, or not, which obviously we did.
It was a very quick process, and less than two weeks later we were in London starting the programme. So it was pretty efficient from start to end.
What would you say were the main takeaways from it? What did you get out of them?
To be more confident in myself – I think it was great from that perspective. It was really good learning the foundational blocks of how to build a business and what you should focus on first before you even go near sales, marketing, etc.
It was also great for networking. We met other amazing start-ups and amazing employees in Sequoia. They all had interesting insights and things to share with you. And people were from different parts of Europe so they had different cultural views and ways of doing things.
Have you started another funding round yet?
No, we're waiting until the summer because we just launched the new version of Xelda this week in a very alpha-phase trial. We have a lot of runway, so we're more keen to get the product up and running before we go to raise.
What's the dream?
I don't think there's been a female-founded Irish unicorn, so it'd be great to achieve that. And being a sister-founded unicorn. That'd be the dream.
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