The co-founder of GoHenry has heard plenty of horror stories from parents of children let loose online and buying at free will. A friend’s child, Louise Hill recalls, once purchased a £600 ‘wreck of a car’ instead of a toy model and had found it delivered to their home by lorry.
“There had to be something out there that helped parents, not just the logins but some kind of control,” mulled Hill at the time.
Thus, the concept of a prepaid debit card, as well as a financial education app, for children was conceived in 2012, the idea having also come from her own kids who were given iPods, logins and were spending money on downloads. Today, after US expansion, there are now two million customers, GoHenry already established as the standout UK fintech company aimed at children and teens.
Hill’s problems had initially been two-fold. “I had embraced online shopping and contactless and never had any cash," she recalls. "I was also trying to figure out how to give pocket money week to week and on top of that it was how to teach them that every time they clicked 'buy now', they were spending money and it had to come from somewhere.”
Being one of a cohort of parents on the sidelines of the football pitch, she tested the water. The stories soon came flooding out. “The more people we spoke to, the more obvious it was that there was this gap,” says Hill, a finalist at the upcoming 51st Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman Awards.
“If you were talking to people who didn’t have kids, the response was, ‘Why on earth would you want to give a kid a card?’ The minute you spoke to parents it was clear that things were changing swiftly.
“The whole concept was to teach your kids to be smart with money and learn by doing, giving them money with boundaries around it, and letting them make the decisions.”
It took 14 months to raise over an initial £650,000 before promised finance fell through in a last-minute renege. As Hill says, it took "lots of shoe leather” to accrue the necessary funds to launch. A decade on, GoHenry's annual turnover, in 2021, was £34m. Having partnered with US investing app Acorns this year, the company now has 700 employees globally.
When GoHenry launched in 2012 — it has since raised £101m — the business did so with a contactless card when none of the high street banks issued them as mainstream. Little wonder that GoHenry says it “pioneered” the category: at the time only Tesco, WHSmith and McDonald's were the only big players accepting them.
Hill knows all about working with big hitters. With over two decades’ experience running large-scale operations, she was at the forefront of digital transitions with the likes of Next Directory, John Lewis and Debenhams.
However, prior to GoHenry, Hill had no financial background and was constantly curious as the business got off the ground.
“It is a key life skill and because of my operations background it's who I am and how I like to work,” she admits. “I enjoy piecing a process, supply chain and people together so I needed to keep asking the why or how questions.
Watch: COO Louise Hill on child and teen banking debit cards
“In the early days, there were a lot of assumptions and habits formed. When I first tried to find an issuing bank partner, they said this wouldn’t work and I told them we could do it, as the parent was the legal holder and the child is linked to the parent.”
Prospective partners still kept harking back to financial regulations, yet Hill kept probing. “Many of the hurdles put up on day one, they weren’t real barriers when you challenged them,” she says.
Now, one in five kids in the UK aged between 10 and 12 have a GoHenry card, while parents are also being educated. “It tells me that our products and services are meaningful and customers want what we do,” she adds.
“And also that we are really reaching the younger generation and changing the way they and their families think about money and see confidence in those children as they grow up. That’s exactly what we set out to do.”
Behind the brand: COO and co-founder Louise Hill
On scaling up
Hill had founded a previous business in 1998 but was “bootstrapped into a corner”. Her business grew and built a profit, but running it leanly meant that she couldn’t step away into fundraising. “At the time I was curious as I couldn’t believe I couldn’t see it coming,” she says. “I sold it and walked away but a huge learning for me was if you want to grow a business to scale, do so from day one and always make sure you have enough resources, space and money in the bank to step away for what if you are a fast growing company can be a constant fundraising journey.”
On being a co-founder
“We divided up the work between the three of us. We called one ‘the belief creator’, a character who filled the room, excited people, was a great storyteller and to inspire angels and high net worth individuals and wheel us two in to talk numbers and delivery. One of the other roles was the tech infrastructure and my background was operations, coming from e-commerce and building teams and business processes. If you are a sole founder you have to do all that yourself. In the early stages it was really helpful to have other people to bounce ideas off and challenge points of view.”
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