Interview: Michael Fotis on growing a startup in the North East
Jamie Hardesty catches up with Michael Fotis, Founder and CEO of Smart Money People, six months after launching his business in the North East.
In an age where talented people are increasingly leaving the North East to pursue working opportunities further south, Michael Fotis is a guy who subverts the norm.
Indeed, Michael’s case as an entrepreneur migrating from south to north to start a company is both interesting and unusual. Launching his own business last year, Michael chose to base the operation in Middlesbrough, Teesside.
Here he launched Smart Money People, an online review system ranking financial services, organisations and products, including credit cards, bank loans and mortgages, based on customer experience.
Like Michael himself, a North Londoner of Greek-Cypriot parentage with an adopted love for the North East, the company is something of a rarity.
In fact, the business is the first of its kind. Created to throw a spotlight on the financial services sector and make it more customer friendly, Smart Money People uses a similar model to TripAdvisor.
In essence, the online review system helps the public break down, what Michael describes as, “a difficult to understand and sometimes overtly complex industry.”
Users are invited to log into the review site, which can also be accessed through Facebook, to share their customer experiences - ultimately helping to remedy the downturn in consumer confidence surrounding the financial industry.
“We aren’t just another review site. We’ve built something that’s beneficial to both sellers and consumers in the market, where we can make things easier for everybody”, explains Michael.
“The important thing for us is that we’re emphasising quality. We’re providing a platform for honest reviews of financial services, where we can use customer experiences to help change financial services for the better.”
The company was initially funded using seed capital from Teesside fund TwentyThreeMiles, although further investment is now expected to follow as Smart Money People grows its usership. Having had little exposure to the North East prior to meeting TwentyThreeMiles, Michael is delighted with his decision of moving to the region.
“I’ve really enjoyed living in Middlesbrough since moving up here last September. It’s definitely proved to be a great place to start a business,” said Michael.
“The talent available is immense, especially in terms of the tech pools associated with Teesside Uni - we’re actually based just a stone’s throw away.
“I’ve been impressed by the local talent and despite us working nationally and in Europe, our development team hails from the region. There’s definitely potential for Teesside to flourish as a hub for tech-based businesses, we’re one example of that!”
Now, it seems momentum is quickly gaining pace for Smart Money People as over 360 brands have been reviewed on the site already. Companies then pay to subscribe to the site to access the data and work with Smart Money People to improve their services.
Indeed for Michael there is a mixture of both excitement and pride in seeing his idea become a reality.
“The key thing for us is the relationships we’re establishing. We’re constantly gaining a reputation as an information source to be trusted and it’s really pleasing to see the ever-increasing interest we’re receiving”, he reveals.
However, the vision doesn’t stop there. Michael, only 26 years of age, now wants to expand the businesses reviewed on the site and targets building the brand with more signups.
He said: “There are over 1500 individual reviews on the site now. We’ve found that big, household names like HSBC may have 100 views - which is great. We’re now wanting to gather reviews of new digital businesses in abundance, shedding more light on parts of the market that are maybe not as well known and understood.
“I’m passionate about the site being a trusted source, there’s so many different facets of the industry to be reviewed and here the sector now has a place that brings everything together.
“We’re going to continue to build the brand and ultimately better the industry for it.”
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