Pickl was the winner of our latest Seed Grant competition, taking home $5,000 to help boost their business. The Auckland-based financial technology company is creating a low-cost, digitally accessible residential mortgage product. We asked Pickl Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, Ruwan Wickrama, a few questions about this exciting new start-up…

What is Pickl and how did you met?

Pickl is made up of myself, Alberto Martin (Chief Executive Officer), Nishita D’Silva (Head of Product) and Victor Rivera (Head of Treasury). We were all working together at a previous company and became very good friends. We quickly learnt that we were able to work well as a team, even under pressure, as well as sharing the same values, work ethic and humour!

How did the idea for Pickl come about?

The idea was born out of the frustration we all experienced first-hand when getting a mortgage. Owning a home is an exciting time but going through the mortgage process was often confusing, complex and, as a first-time buyer, even a little scary. This gave us the idea of developing a home loan product to demystify, simplify and optimise the mortgage experience and let homeowners focus on the fun elements of owning their own home.

When did you first start working on the business concept?

We started in September 2020. It was a time with a lot of uncertainty due to the pandemic, but we stuck to the mantra that there is ‘no time like the present’ and have not looked back since.

Tell me about Pickl...

Pickl will offer a mortgage product that seeks to disrupt the current market through a low-cost, digital service model via mobile and internet. The disruption extends to providing loan pre-approval in minutes including Anti Money Laundering, credit and property checks (as opposed to days with a traditional bank) and to provide on-going actionable engagement and insights (reduced term, mortgage holidays, cross selling etc).

What stage is your business currently at?

We have developed 80 per cent of an alpha product, have secured numerous third-party partnerships and, together with leading law firms, have defined an accelerated regulatory pathway. We plan to launch in early 2022.

What has been your biggest challenge so far in terms of building a new business?

Zero funding to bring the idea to life was our initial big challenge! Without any funds and limited savings, we questioned if we would be able to make meaningful traction.

How did you overcome this?

We assessed several options from offshore development to expanding the founding team.  We landed on being extremely frugal but equally creative on building a product by getting ‘freebies’ from strategic partners. We did this by negotiating, investing time, and building trust with our partners that buy into our vision which resulted in pro-bono work, access to technology environments and grants.

Have you had any professional support to help you along the way?

We have had support from legal firms on the regulatory roadmap and are a couple of months into a start-up accelerator programme that provides coaching on certain topics and networking opportunities.

What has been your biggest learning on this journey?

Be ready to take on advice and iterate as you get feedback. It’s important to test your product with the market and continually improve your approach, design and thinking. Lots of people believe they have a great idea so it’s key to validate your ideas and always keep the customer at front of mind. We have certainly evolved as a team and as a proposition along the journey and will continue to do so.

What advice would you give other start-ups?

The ‘team’ is a fundamental component to success, ensuring that you have the right balance of skills, experience and knowledge. The start-up journey is a growth and development opportunity for the entire team, but it is crucial to have the right mix of personalities to own and drive parts of the plans and support each other through some of the highs and lows.

What will you use Soda’s Seed Grant winnings for?

We will build a website to capture a waitlist for interested customers and drum up investor interest.

What is your goal for Pickl?

Within the next five years we hope that Pickl will be an established and trusted mortgage lender across New Zealand. We also plan to expand our footprint to a defined overseas market as well as offering a Software as a Service (SaaS) to markets that we will not have a presence in. Pickl will continue to innovate the mortgage product but also expand into other financial products to grow our revenue streams.