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7 Tips for a Startup Broker – ‘Starting a Brokerage is easy, running one is not…’

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Like any other business, Online Brokerage has particularities which are not obvious at the beginning of the journey. In this article I will draw your attention to some common pitfalls and save those intending to start a brokerage some money, time and nerves by shedding light on the challenges ahead of you.

0. Test Your Assumptions.

I marked this point as ‘Zero’ on purpose to highlight it’s importance as a foundation.

When we decide to start a business we are driven by our intuition and past experiences. What we are reluctant to acknowledge is just how much we are driven by emotions instead of calculations. I’m not here to discredit Intuition or ‘Gut Feeling’ as we call it. As a matter of fact most of successful entrepreneurs are known for being visionaries i.e. people with extraordinary intuition.

As Albert Einstein once said ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.’ My interpretation of this genius thought is simple – trust your gut, yet verify assumptions with data. In practice this means if you truly believe in your business idea, don’t let critics crash it because they are just as subjective as you are, instead find a way to test and validate it.

Test your MVP (Minimal Viable Product). You can test your idea without incurring large expenses e.g. build a prototype of your business and test it on the group of people you know and also strangers. Many providers will be willing to give you a functional demo platforms for you to run tests.

1. Legal setup

When approaching legal setup of your brokerage firm the main question is whether or not your country has relevant regulations for Online CFD Brokerage firms. If so, you must obtain the right type of license to run the business. Be prepared for a lengthy process and long hours billed by the lawyers. My recommendation here would be to go along with advisors with good track record.

On the other hand, not many jurisdictions have legislation in place to govern CFD Brokerage industry. In those jurisdictions you might be treated as any other online business/merchant. This saves you expenses on lawyers and consultants, and also removes statutory obligation to maintain minimal level of capital requirements. This obviously frees up a lot of cash to be utilised for the growth of your business. Nonetheless, even if you are not obliged to maintain minimal capital levels, I strongly recommend to implement similar rule as an internal policy.

Lastly on legal setup, if you are considering onshore vs offshore setups (run business from a local company or use an offshore one e.g. Vanuatu, St. Vincent and Grenadines, BVI etc.) you need to thoroughly investigate if you would be able to find a reliable banking partner to service your offshore company. Nine times out of ten I would advise to do business onshore, as it inspires trust and eases transactional friction.

2. Human Resources

We regularly fall into a pitfall of doing business with people we already know well, friends and even relatives. Even though we might have an advantage of an established trust, this doesn’t mean these people are right for the business and will be able to drive it to success.

PARTNERS. At the primary stage when you are thinking about starting up with a partner make sure your skillsets compliment each other. Also, understand whether or not your goals match e.g. if you are building your dream project and your partner is only after a ‘quick buck’, such partnership might collapse bringing more damage than good.

EMPLOYEES. My conviction is that the first person hired in the company, should be a professional HR manager (even if part-time). By doing so you will eventually save yourself a lot of time and money by getting the right people from the very beginning. The right people will identify issues and find solutions before they even become a problem.

MENTORS. Finding a few aspirational mentors can be very powerful to stimulate your vision. While experts within industry can give an in-depth insights on specific matters, I’d also recommend ‘getting outside the box’ and reaching out to people from other domains. My personal example is Buroka’s Freemium pricing model inspired by Spotify. The idea is that the basic service should be available to clients without high thresholds like a Setup Fee.

INVESTORS. Lastly, I am counting investors in HR section because at a startup stage you will most likely deal with an individual ‘angel’ investor who will support you. It’s crucially important that your ‘angel’ fully understands your plans and shares the vision. The 3 most important aspects here are:

(1.) Share the same long-term vision for the project and ensure understanding that patience is part of the process;

(2.) Create effective control and reporting mechanisms for your ‘angel’;

(3.) Be very clear and upfront about the total budget for the project and have funds locked down and available to you at all times.

Lack of either one of the above will hurt your business at some point, be it ‘angel’ wanting to see ROI (return on investment) prematurely or failing to deliver investment on time.

3. Banks and Payment Processors

Banks are notoriously bureaucratic institutions and the best guide to navigate you throughout layers and layers of red tape is your bank account manager. Make sure your business has a human face – meet and introduce yourself to your bank. Do not try to conceal or ‘sugarcoat’ your true business activity, bank will find out eventually (after the very first transaction most likely) and then, if you were not honest there’s no way to restore the relationship.

Apply certain amount of rigour to your accounts’ structure. I do recommend to operate a system of Segregated Accounts for clients’ funds even if you are not required to do so by your supervision authority.

On this, just a couple of basic rules which apply by definition to STP brokers and I strongly recommend all Market Makers (B-Book Brokers) should apply too:

(1.) Have a designated Client Funds Account.

(2.) Reconcile Weekly. This means to calculate the P&L and transfer profits into your Company Account.

(3.) Just like with personal savings – Save Up for tough times. In a B-Book model specifically, a broker has to maintain certain minimal capital to satisfy potential P&L drawdowns.

In case with a PSP (Payment Solution Provider) just like with banks I’d recommend to use local licensed payment processors. They would normally have lesser fees than large international processors and you’d find them more responsive to your needs especially at the start of the business when you cannot boast large turnover on your accounts.

4. Technology

Using IT world jargon ‘Define your MVP’, where MVP stands for Minimal Viable Product. This presupposes construction of a logical framework of your technology at the most basic level that would allow you to start doing business ASAP. Of course our natural instinct is to ‘roll out’ the best version of our product/service to the market, however the reality is counter-intuitive. You wouldn’t know exactly what your customers truly want unless you start testing and getting feedback from them. The core idea here is to start with a basic offering and once you have few clients on-board to start iterating and improving your business avoiding huge upfront costs and time wastes.

Once your MVP is defined you need to carefully scan the market and find the best Technolgy partners for your business model. There are countless great solutions but the reality is that you wouldn’t be able to afford them and most importantly you might not even need them upfront. Compare offers from providers with in-depth expertise and good customer support.

Own your domain and hosting. These are important assets which must be strictly in your possession. Do backups for everything. In internet business loss of data equals loss of business.

5. Managerial accounting

Know your budget. Whether you finance your project with your own means or attract investor capital, it is critically important to understand your present and future budgets to setup and sustain the project. I would strongly recommend to avoid the situation where you will be relying on a promise of financial commitment instead of funds being available upfront. Absolutely the last thing you’d want to happen is your investor to pull out of the project halfway leaving you with prospects of failure and potential liabilities.

Be pessimistic in your revenues calculation. It never goes smooth in the beginning, you’ll be making mistakes and winning the first clients will be a mission. Pace yourself for a marathon not the sprint and try to be as lean as possible financially. Build a cashflow which would be tailored to reinvest most of the profits back in the business development, marketing and customer support.

6. Marketing

A cliche saying ‘Think outside the box’ fits perfectly here. A startup project has no chance of competing for online clicks with the giants of the industry with deep pockets. My strongest advice here would be – think locally, be the best for a specific audience of clients in your target region to start with. Don’t worry about the rest of the world – become the best where it matters.

Part of thinking differently will push you to consider unorthodox marketing channels. Whilst building my first online business in Africa I discovered that the traditional Google and Facebook campaigns were not nearly as effective as communicating with the target audience via radio.

Get personally involved and build your business around your personal brand. Clients always want to know who is behind the business. A founder practicing transparency and integrity in his or her business will boost the customer confidence. Strong business oriented Social Media profiles are an absolute must for a founder.

Start off by carefully crafting your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles and move forward to building a solid online reputation in general. Hypothetically, if Elon Musk were to setup a brokerage firm, it would not struggle with customer acquisition simply because of the solid reputation of the founder. As the old saying goes ‘people buy from people’.

7. Customer Care

Focus on speed of deposits and withdrawals. This tip is worth an ‘ounce of gold’. Customers will judge you primarily by the way you handle their money. Make sure theses two operations are pitch-perfect beyond all else.

Without understanding of financial markets online trading may be akin to gambling. This is bad because it doesn’t create a bond of continuous interest and engagement. To be successful a broker must educate their customers and navigate their journey – teach them about risk management and market patterns, show opportunities and warn about the pitfalls. Most of our successful startup clients are educators and trainers who have customers’ best interest in mind.

The End

I have covered a few essentials in this article. Obviously, there’s plenty more you will discover along the way. I am happy to become a mentor to a serious and passionate entrepreneur and share my knowledge and experiences.

To conclude this article I would like to thank you for feedback which I’m looking forward to.

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