Startup franchises through the cloud

Startup loan referral company Refunds Direct has used cloud computing to get to market faster with its innovative method of connecting borrowers and lenders. The cloud is also making its foray into franchising easier.

Strachan Taylor wants you to borrow some money, and then wants to give some of it back to you.

That unusual combination is the modus operandi of his start-up company, Refunds Direct, which connects businesses and individuals to lenders.

“We put people looking for finance directly in touch with expert lenders at a broad range of loan providers,” he explains. “We can do business loans up to about $20 million, but are most comfortable with SMEs looking for half a million to five million dollars.”

The company connects businesses seeking a loan with three lenders, and if a deal is done “we get paid a commission that we share with the customer.” That portion of the commission is the “refund” in the company’s name.

Taylor says the whole idea of the company is to connect borrowers with lenders, and to make it plain to lenders that their competitors are courting borrowers.

“Borrowers get the mobile number and email address of the right person to talk to at the lender,” he explains. The ability to hook up with the right person is critical, as Taylor’s past experience working for one of the big four banks taught him that the sheer size of those organisations make it hard to know who to ask about a specialist loan.

“The lender has to hustle,” he adds. “They know there is competition because we refer each borrower to three lenders.”

Taylor started the business in 2010 and knew that he would need some IT to bring his ideas to life. He initially imagined he would need a server on which to store files and an application of some sort to track interactions between borrowers and lenders.

But Taylor is a finance specialist, not an IT guy, and didn’t quite know where to start.

“At the bank I worked for we had whole divisions for IT. I needed to get up to speed. My initial thoughts were that we would need a server. I looked at what was available and that was when the whole cloud thing popped up.”

The “whole cloud thing” led Taylor to and a customised version of its software-as-a-service customer relationship (CRM) management product that Taylor says he can now personally adapt when needed.

“I am not hugely technically capable with the IT stuff,” he admits. “So for a business owner as opposed to an IT specialist I found much easier to understand. I did some reading, got some coaching,” and also hired a consultant for some customisation.

Within weeks Refunds Direct had the application it needed to bring its business to life, a Taylor says that while the technology remains obscure to him, “the ability for me to change things myself” is immensely valuable. It’s also helping the business with its next step: franchising,

“I was on the Gold Coast with a franchisee and we took him through what it did. He was impressed and excited: he’s not IT savvy but the application made a lot of sense.”

Refunds Direct is now working on a marketing plan.

“Our next job is building the brand and getting the word out,” he says.

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