Distinction Partnered With Obu to Build and Launch a Fintech MVP to Close the Gender Investment Gap at Scale
Distinction has partnered with fintech startup Obu to build and launch the first-of-its-kind UK angel investment platform that’s been designed to empower women, tackle inequality and close the gender investment gap, for good.
Obu is on a mission to close the investment gap at scale; disrupting the financial services sector by launching an investment platform specifically designed to bring together women founders, women angels and innovative allies – and make investment happen.
This is the story of building and launching their MVP and the beginning of creating an equitable startup ecosystem that’s worth £250bn to the UK economy.
When Obu approached Distinction to build a fintech platform, “a bit like Bumble”, to match women founders with women and ally angel investors and create a fairer investment culture, they sat up and listened.
Today in the UK, there’s a staggering inequality between men and women when it comes to raising and making investment. Women founders get just 2% of funding, Black women founders get just 0.02% of funding, and women make up just 14% of angel investors.
Not only is this broken system a huge barrier to equality which Obu is determined to break down, it’s also prohibiting the UK reaching its economic growth and sustainability potential.
And, at a macro level, the Obu angel investment platform will play a part in achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals, as what we’re seeing in the UK is replicated globally. Because when it comes to ensuring economic growth and sustainability, equality is the main driver, and empowering women to build businesses at the same rate as men is worth £250bn to the UK economy.
The Obu angel investment platform is the first of its kind and just the sort of innovative and groundbreaking project Distinction gets excited about – disrupting the status quo and serving an underserved market. This is the kind of digital product that will beat giants and make monsters.
It was when entrepreneurs and cofounders, Sarah King and Claire Dunn, sought their first round of funding through the government’s SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) during pandemic lockdowns and the home-schooling/work struggle that they realised just how underserved women are in the UK’s male-dominated investment landscape.
And so the #OverBeingUnderFunded campaign was born which saw Obu (then named We are Radikl) successfully lobby Parliament to extend the SEIS business age limit from two to three years, which came into force in April 2023. These real-life experiences were a watershed moment for Sarah and Claire as they saw a gaping hole in the market which led them to pivot to purpose-led fintech founders.
The team’s hypothesis was that adopting an inclusive design approach would enable them to deliver what this underserved audience needed, driving their participation in financial services. They wanted to create a first-to-market, inclusively designed fintech platform that would empower women to come together, invest and be invested in.
Distinction’s mission? To get the platform to market before any competitors which meant an MVP launch date in Q2 2023, backed up by a product release roadmap adaptable to improvements and iterations learned from users’ data and insights.
Obu needed a trusted technical partner that could not only bring their concept to life but get their product to market quickly and then support them throughout the first 18-24 months if its lifecycle. This allowed them time to grow their business whilst considering whether to bring a product design and development team inhouse or not.
Just as Distinction had bought into their mission of closing the gender investment gap and making the startup ecosystem fairer for women, Obu bought into Distinction’s beliefs and their agile approach to digital product development.
Aligned in their values from the get-go, Distinction and Obu started with a period of discovery in the form of three workshops to make sure requirements gathering, user and technical research and platform architecture were covered.
Distinction kicked off discovery with setting the scene with Obu’s brand vision, mission and value proposition to align the whole project team behind one north star goal. Doing so cements purpose and underpins Distinction’s belief that the project team must go all in to achieve a successful outcome.
Then it was time to look at the business’ process flow maps which were separated into the angel and entrepreneur journeys for registration and login, and the raise lifecycle.
Distinction brought all these into one end-to-end userflow diagram to bring clarity for the whole team and help map the user journey. Now it was clear what was done on and off-platform, where third party integrations were involved and what messaging via which channel the user would experience.
This in turn allowed Distinction to write the epics and user stories to prioritise and estimate what was in scope for the MVP, what could go in the backlog, and validate (or adjust) the technical recommendations given previously.
At the end of discovery, Distinction and Obu agreed the MVP scope and the must-haves for release one.
Agile and Design Thinking Approach
Moving into the build phase, Distinction adopted a phased approach that would deliver maximum value for both angels and entrepreneurs – and Obu itself. Breaking the project down into releases, starting with an MVP, means getting to market quickly with a product that meets users’ needs from the off. It also avoids a big upfront investment in features and functionality that aren’t actually needed, plus getting the product quickly in users’ hands means the product team learns directly from their feedback which influences future phases.
Distinction progressed quickly through each phase, using a customer-centric, agile development process underpinned by design thinking methodology.
Right from the start, Obu knew that a product aimed at bringing equality to a manmade system needs to be designed inclusively for the women it serves.
In the UK, 86% of angel investors are men. 84% of financial advisers are men. And 94% of financial services CEOs are men. In sectors like financial services where there is a dominant male narrative, other customer groups can get overlooked.
It’s lazy design to assume products will serve women, without a genuine understanding of how their needs are different. Determined to disrupt this single-mindedness and the inequality of financial products, Obu wanted to design their platform with empathy for the women it serves.
As CEO and Cofounder, Sarah King, says,
At Obu, we flip the design question. Instead of asking ‘how might we help you fit an existing product?’, we ask ‘how might we design our product for you?’. Inclusive design means understanding an audience’s life experience, aspirations and needs. We know a woman’s experience of money and wealth is very different to a man’s – and that difference presents an exciting opportunity to serve her better.
In fact, during the first round of UAT, it became clear to Obu that parts of the onboarding experience were clunky for angels – there were too many on and off-platform handovers. Designing with women in mind is core to the angel and founder experience on this platform and not to be compromised, even when it meant pushing back the MVP launch date a little.
The original MVP scope was desktop-friendly only as that was where Obu’s audience would likely be when creating a raise as a founder or applying to be an angel investor. But as the UAT was underway and with Obu talking to more founders and angels in their community, it became apparent that the messaging function was likely to be used on mobile. It was a change that made absolute sense to accommodate so Distinction moved quickly to design a mobile-friendly UX that would be part of the MVP when it launched.
Technical & Data Capture Requirements
For the build, Distinction took a microservices (sometimes known as a composable) approach to the tech stack underpinned by a cloud architecture to support the product roadmap. Each microservice addresses a single concern such as a data search, log in function or content management function. This approach increases flexibility, makes it easier to scale up or down, makes the code base straightforward to understand, allows updates to be released independently and increases the scope for isolated testing and innovation.
A huge driver in effecting change is gathering the data to evidence the need for that change – and to understand the progress being made. Data and insights are one of the key catalysts to innovation, because knowledge brings the power to disrupt the status quo – which is exactly what trailblazing is all about.
As well as being designed to fit the needs of women, the Obu investment platform (and the collective that sits alongside it) is designed to continually collect data and insights to support its evolution and keep improving the landscape for women entrepreneurs.
Obu are signatories of the Investing in Women Code (IIWC) – which stemmed from the first Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, published in 2019 by Alison Rose, now CEO of NatWest, who’d been commissioned by the Treasury to look at the barriers to entrepreneurship that women face, and how to overcome them.
In signing the code, Obu is committed to increasing transparency in their own data on the support provided to women entrepreneurs.
The startup journey is a fast-paced and changeable with stretched but passionate founders hellbent on their mission for equality in the investment and entrepreneurial landscape. That passion and entrepreneurial spirit is infectious and one of the reasons why the Distinction team loves working in the startup space.
But every project has its challenges, especially in a regulated environment, and the journey to releasing an FCA-regulated investment platform isn’t a smooth one. Compliance is there to protect customers but it doesn’t always match the speed and agility needed in the startup world. Distinction and Obu learnt quickly that it was a god idea to keep a contingency budget for necessary changes to scope due to FCA regulation that were not negotiable.
Obu was also going through a complete rebrand (including name) and their original prototype was in their old name – We are Radikl – and branding. Although it wasn’t in scope for discovery, Distinction brought their prototype on brand and added new pages to reflect the userflow as it stood now. Obu would be using their prototype as part of their go-to-market strategy by showing it to founders and angels in their distribution network to drum up interest in the product. Distinction is invested in the success of Obu’s mission just as much as they are, and it felt like the right thing to do to go the extra mile.
Third party integrations can cause headaches as you’re at the mercy of vendor product roadmaps and development. When it became clear that the community tool selected was still in beta version and its messaging functionality wouldn’t work for the Obu platform, Distinction quickly put together a proof of concept for an alternative messaging service. A 48-hour turnaround time from identifying the problem to providing an alternative solution to client sign-off and implementation.
The journey to releasing the MVP for a ground-breaking, regulated fintech product was a bumpy one at times. Distinction was learning about the sector and customers Obu serves, and Obu were learning about software testing, epics, user stories, design systems and prototypes, there were difficult conversations to be had. But Distinction and Obu didn’t shy away from them, and together they’ve learned the best way to work together in terms of cadence and method.
The magic truly happens when both parties are aligned behind one purpose, everything is done with positive, respectful intent and true collaboration and transparency prevails.
The MVP launched on 21 June 2023, meeting its Q2 target, and with that the Obu angel investment platform is live! Challenging expectations, blazing a trail and well on the way to creating meaningful change in a gender-imbalanced sector.
The Obu x Distinction team is now working on Release Two of the platform so watch this space!
Distinction is a digital product studio that partners with high-potential startups and high-growth scaleups to turn them into market leaders. They work with clients to disrupt their sector, challenge the competition and capture market share. Beating giants. Making monsters.