James Varga currently leads the ID Co., a firm acting as custodian of people’s financial data, but as he explains – this was far from his first rodeo…
What is it the company does?
The ID Co. was founded in 2011 with a mission to hand financial control back to consumers using their bank identities and bank statement data. Rather than relying on a credit history, we enable businesses to make lending decisions using live financial data from consumers bank accounts. This means decisions can be made based on spending behaviour in literally minutes, rather than a credit risk assessment, which is long-winded, protracted, and requires physical documents for verification which puts people off.
Our service DirectID leverages banks as a strong proxy for trust and the custodians of consumers’ financial data, we have improved the lending and applicant experience by reducing fraud, creating better compliance and more accurate decisions.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
It's almost impossible to describe my role other than to say that I'm here to set the direction of where we want to go as a business and then help us all get there. Without a clear vision, we don't have direction, without the right team we don't have the resource. Externally, it’s all about engaging with the industry and financial technology community through organisations such as Innovate Finance, Trust in Digital Life, Fintech Delivery Panel and others in our quest to bring convenience to financial services. And I make the coffee.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
After spending a few years studying marketing and business in Canada, I ended up becoming a start-up junkie. I just love what I do - the challenge and the opportunity to do something different, to challenge the status quo. This has always involved technology and the internet which is a natural path to where I am today - living in a world of online Identity and personal data.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Leadership is about being adaptable to a constantly changing environment in a constantly changing business which is always growing and develop. As well as the obligatory level of passion needed to drive you through the many, many hurdles any start-up has, you also need a good dose of faith and perseverance, especially when you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before.
Communication is critical; listening and clearly articulating what's in your head, the vision of what you want to achieve with the team around you - empowering them and giving them what you can so they can achieve what as a team we set as our goals. The ability to iterate, iterate and iterate again is essential as is the ability to spin as many plates as you can - constantly managing the many things that need to be done on the long road to success. But its communication, something core to our culture, with transparency, openness and directness that I always come back to.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
My biggest challenge has been managing growth and continuing to build on and support the fantastic team that we have. It used to be educating the market but now with the value of Open Bank Data recognised by the industry and the importance of protecting personal data through General Data Protection Regulation, it’s about growing quickly enough to benefit from the last seven years of pioneering.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Besides taking time out once in a while, even if on a flight or during the weekend, or doing something you love (as a bit of a foodie that's cooking), it’s all about compartmentalising. Being and organised so as not to become overwhelmed but at the same time, also embracing the chaos of a start-up. You have to realise you’re going to fail many times before you get something right and it’s okay that you fail; just fail quickly and move on. If you take two steps forward and one back - that's okay...you've still moved forward.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
From a very young age, coming from a sea faring family, I always wanted to design boats and submersibles. There aren’t many options for that and I quickly realised there are lots of things you can do to make the world a different place. I'm passionate about what I do and about doing something different, something better. I find the creative process around what I do fascinating.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
The biggest thing is assumptions for me - they are the devil’s work. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn't mean it is the best or the right way. Chances are your way is wrong as well which is why I've ended up both in business and personally living by the rule try, try, and try again.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We are truly on the verge of a fundamental shift in the world. Often referred to as the next revolution in the connected world we live in today, our identity and personal data is at the heart of everything we do, which is why establishing trust is so important. Our mission is to make that a reality and not just here in the UK but globally. We want to empower ourselves as consumers, to make our lives easier. We want to be able to take out a loan, open a bank account or sign up for a service in seconds rather than days.
We want people that have never had a credit card or a loan to be able to get credit based on their spending behaviour rather than a credit history they may not have (or want!). We want people to own and manage their identity and data. In five years, we will have achieved this.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Don't assume. Don't be blinded by your ambition and passion whatever it is you want to do. Sometimes you have to take a step back to figure out what make sense and what people want. We spent the first four years doing this. Then take it one step at a time and embrace the iterative nature of the lean start-up. Finally, always focus, focus and focus on revenue. Money makes the business world go around and someone willing to pay for something is one of the truest tests of value.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
One of the things I've come to realise is that when you think about the same thing, day and night for months on end, you naturally end up in a good place. What is important to remember is that you have to take everyone with you on this journey, let them catch up and take time out to reflect where you really are on your journey. There is a reason why successful start-ups are all about timing!
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