Spotlight on Will Billingsley
At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to talk to the Co-founder and CCO of ApTap. We chatted about the truth about starting a business, the highs and lows and what it means to be successful.
I was never going to be the banker or scientist a lot of Imperial students go on to be. Nor have I ever been particularly interested in working for a company without any real vision. “Work” for me needs to be about something bigger; usually this revolves around helping people. I have strong family ties to medicine and education but being in London meant I all but fell into the financial technology space. From then on it has been about rolling up my sleeves and trying to make a name for myself, while helping others through improved financial awareness and the ability to take control or by paying it forward to other founders who are just getting started with their journey.
I grew up in a small town in Scotland before moving to Rockville, Maryland. Going through high school there, I realized that I needed to get out of my comfort zone, so I took a year out to work with Sanaria Inc. in Tanzania, to help set up stage 1 clinical trials for their malaria vaccine (and to get some skiing done in Vail, CO). I then dove back into education, attending Imperial College London for a degree in Biology. It was not my cup of tea and I felt like I was on autopilot, heading for a career I didn’t really care for.
I made the decision to stick it out at Imperial as I had a great group of friends and was close to getting the university stamped on my CV for life. The real takeaway I got from University was the ability to teach myself: nobody there was going to help me, so I had no choice but to get it done.
Through that process (and by playing a lot of football) I met my co-founders, who were equally as inspired not to work for someone else, both with a desire to do something bigger than be a cog in the wheel. As we delved into the concept of open banking, we ideated around how we could help people improve environmentally based on their financial trends. A couple of pivots later and here we are…
ApTap builds white-labelled financial management API's that allow banks to offer bill management tools to their customers. We are a next-generation affiliate marketplace, housing end-to-end user journeys that allow users to cancel, compare, switch or sign up to services within their banking app. ApTap automatically recognises recurring payments and tailors suggestions to customers while comparing content across various industries. ApTap drives engagement and new revenue for banks and brands while simplifying the customer experience.
We have just signed a pilot agreement with TSB and are lining up a number of integrations over the next 6-12 months that will see us start to scale.
Challenges and setbacks
There are probably too many to count - they felt like they were the end of the world. But you either win or you learn (Nelson Mandela), and for the most part, the ups and downs are never as drastic as they feel at the time.
I failed 2 exams in my first year of university, the only one of my friend group to do so, which was utterly miserable. I’ve been rejected for job roles, from accelerator programs, by investors, by potential clients, and anything in between really. One of the biggest challenges was from the offset – I walk in and pitch to a room full of bankers, as a (now) 25-year-old who has never worked in banking, consultancy or really anything relevant at all. Credibility is a game-changer.
The one way to get over setbacks is simply resilience. I’m fortunate to have a great support network in my family and fellow co-founders but you’re often left in the deep end, seemingly alone. You have to toe a fine line between listening to advice and ignoring it, knowing that in pushing yourself you risk going over the edge. The anxiety that comes with desperately trying to make something succeed is a double-edged sword. I revert to my point on failure and nothing being as bad as it seems: try and find the humour in whatever crappy situation you might be in and realize that if you keep doing the right things you will progress and move past the rough patches that are bound to arise.
Probably pretty clear at this point but working on ApTap has been big in terms of opening my eyes to both the psychological impacts that founding a company and managing personal finances can have. These are two separate points fundamentally, but they tie in under mental health. If my work helps walk people through their bills and subscriptions or shed light on the entrepreneurial journey and helps make those processes easier, then I’m happy.
I’ve never been big on role models, but I have hard-working people around me. Hard-working, smart and successful people. If that doesn’t inspire you then I’m not sure what will. I’ve also failed at loads of things, or not been as good as I wanted to be, which I think has always fueled me to do better, because I know I can.
Advice for those getting started
Think very carefully before doing so! Some self-reflection before doing so is crucial. I recently released a Founder’s Start Pack that walks entrepreneurs through the early stages of starting and running a business. Spoiler: it’s no walk in the park!
You make your own luck. If you work hard to put yourself in the position where you end up meeting the right people or learn the right things, you’ll only increase your chances of success. Focus on controlling what you can control. Give back. Try to add value to others – be it your employer, another founder or maybe some volunteer work. This goes such a long way and you’ll be remembered for it. Plus, it feels great! Some of the best advice I have been given is:
Not to take life too seriously. It’s much easier said than done but you need to be able to have some fun with what you do.
Ultimately, be aware of what is happening around you but focus on what you can control.
Treat everyone with respect, regardless.
Highs and lows
Without a doubt, the best part of my job is the people. The role I’m in means I have to be constantly communicating, networking and meeting people. Since ApTap’s business model spans across various industries, I get so many different insights and meet so many different people every day. That also means liaising with my own team as well – who of course, I love! Beyond that: I love how different every day can be, I love the feeling of hitting a company or personal milestone, I love the challenge, and I love the pressure.
The worst part is definitely the stress (and paperwork)! The inability to switch off is what fundamentally differentiates our jobs as founders to those with ‘normal’ jobs. You could be in a bar on a Saturday night, sitting down for dinner or anything in between and get an email that just has to be dealt with.
My strategy has been just to push on! We’re in the fortunate position that our business suits the climate – people need to save money and banks are looking to help them do so (you make your own luck remember). It’s almost been easier to get stuff done virtually, without having to travel and physically meet people.
Communication is key. We’ve made a point of having a daily stand up, with written stand-ups at the beginning and end of the week, to stay on top of what everyone’s doing. That being said, it’s important to still have social time with each other!
If you enjoyed this blog check out more just like it here. Check out Will’s Founder’s Start Pack: Helping shed light on the journey and the structure and to show people it’s not all glamourous but it’s also not all stress. Find out more about ApTap here.