How to Build a Better Financial Product Faster

Updated on May 12, 2023

At a Glance: Product development is crucial for lending and credit startup founders. To expedite the process, implement strategies such as building an agile team, establishing core values, adopting iterative learning, planning for scalability, and fostering strong debt investor relationships. Assembling a team with a balance of experienced professionals and eager newcomers ensures the team has the requisite skills and fosters innovation. Establishing core values that create a culture of agility and reinforcing the bias towards action accelerates product development. Iterative learning enables rapid product development, gathering feedback and improving the product quickly. Planning for scalability with long-term growth in mind and maintaining strong debt investor relationships are essential for a successful product launch.

In this Golden Age of fintech lending, credit startup founders bear numerous responsibilities such as fundraising and product development. However, product development is a crucial aspect that needs attention before anything else. Without a product, the other responsibilities are rendered irrelevant.

To expedite the process of creating a remarkable financial product, founders can implement various strategies that aid in quicker iteration and development. Some of these strategies include:

  • Building an agile team
  • Establishing your values
  • Embracing iterative learning
  • Keeping scalability front-of-mind
  • Fostering strong relationships with your debt investors

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at each of these strategies. 

1. Assemble an Agile Team

The speed at which your financial product hits the market hinges on the capabilities of your team. Assembling a group of apathetic or inexperienced employees may impede the product’s release. On the other hand, building an agile team can help you achieve your goals faster.

To create an effective team, you need to strike a balance between experienced professionals and eager newcomers. This combination ensures the team has the requisite skills and knowledge, while also fostering a culture of enthusiasm that fuels innovation and iteration.

During the early stages of product development, it is advisable to keep the team small to avoid the overheads of keeping everyone informed. This allows employees to concentrate on their areas of expertise and responsibilities, while also keeping them motivated by the progress of their peers.

2. Define Your Values

Establishing the core values of a company is crucial for founders, either while building their team or once the core team is in place. These values define the fundamental characteristics that determine how the organization conducts itself and the principles that should be sought in future hires.

When Stilt was an early company with only a handful of employees, our team met in a office at our shared working space and collaborated to determine what it meant to be a Stilt employee. This was a democratic and iterative process, and it required effort, but we emerged from that meeting with a clear understanding of the kind of company we wanted to be. We established eight values that every Stilt employee should embody:

  • Customer-focused – Everything we do – from our products to our efforts – should be aimed at solving for the customer.
  • Proactive Owners – We should each strive to be the person with the most knowledge about our respective functions, complete our work to the best of our abilities, and own the results.
  • Binary Results-driven – We should execute when we have the minimum data to make an informed decision. A shipped feature or product is better than a perfect one, we can always iterate. 
  • Supportive – We should strive to reduce dependencies; if someone is dependent on our task, do it such that they are not dependent on you.
  • Resourceful Experts – If we can’t figure it out, we should seek help from someone who can or who can or can point us in the right direction
  • Thoughtful and Decisive – We should continue to update our knowledge to improve our judgment; we should use our knowledge to-date to make decisions if there is no direction
  • Open Without Ego – We should challenge ideas without ego; the right solution is more important than who suggested it

The eight values listed above highlight two key points. Firstly, there is a significant emphasis on an employee’s responsibility to self-improve and not impede the progress of their colleagues. Secondly, and more importantly, there is a bias towards action. This reinforces the team’s agility, which is crucial for rapid product development and updates.

Your company’s values may differ from Stilt’s, as every organization has its unique set of requirements, strengths, and objectives. However, it’s essential to note that if you aim to bring your product to market swiftly, your values must create a culture that fosters rapid development and iteration.

3. Adopt Iterative Learning

Iterative learning is a crucial aspect that Stilt values, and it’s equally important for bringing a product to market. As we mentioned in our Guide to Debt Lenders, the most effective way to evaluate the efficacy of your product and ideas is to put them in the hands of your target market, gather feedback, and iterate accordingly.

At Stilt, we provide personal loan products for immigrants and visa holders. Our founders realized that this market was underserved, and to prove this to investors, they personally funded the first loans disbursed by the company. This allowed us to gather feedback and improve the product quickly. By launching the MVP version of our product to the target market, we gained valuable insights that enabled us to be more customer-focused and enhance the product for our end users.

Iterative learning is an ongoing cycle of experimentation, testing, learning, and updating that should never stop. This process not only helps to bring a robust version of your product to market quickly but also ensures that the product is constantly improving.

4. Plan for Scalability

Scaling the company is critical for founders, but not many establish scalable infrastructure that can keep up with the growth of the business. Every system incorporated, whether built in-house or from a third party, should have the capability to scale with the company. If the platforms utilized cannot grow with the company, scaling up will cost time and money. Any time and money spent on switching or building new platforms to meet the current demand is time and money that should have been invested in rapidly developing a better product.

When building a tool or exploring a third-party platform, you must consider if it will scale. For example, if you plan to offer a credit or loan product and currently have a market of 100 potential borrowers, you need to assess if it will scale as you grow. What if the transactions increase to 1000, 1 million, or even 10 million? (The answer should be yes).

Founders must evaluate new processes and platforms with an eye toward long-term growth. Broken tools or ones that can no longer be used will cost valuable time and money that could have been invested in rapidly improving the product and making it available to the end-users.

5. Build Strong Debt Investor Relationships

For fintech companies that offer financial products such as loans or lines of credit, securing debt capital is crucial. Whether it’s a partnership with a bank or a debt lender, this relationship directly impacts the success or failure of the company.

Founders who do not prioritize their debt investor relationships are taking a significant risk. Our Guide to Debt Capital Term Sheets outlines the commitment and reporting requirements that startups must adhere to in debt deals. When these obligations are met, debt capital flows, but when they are neglected, it can lead to a delay in funding or, worse, trigger default events.

If the debt capital stops flowing, the financial product will also stall. With no loans disbursed, data collection halts, and iteration and improvement cease. However, if founders fulfill their reporting and commitment obligations and maintain regular communication with their partners, debt capital will continue to flow, allowing for the creation of newer and better versions of the product.

Final Thoughts

Building a successful fintech startup is a challenging endeavor that requires careful planning and execution. 

To bring your financial product to market quickly, you need to assemble an agile team that fosters a culture of enthusiasm and innovation. Establishing core values that prioritize self-improvement, collaborative decision-making, and bias towards action can help to reinforce the team’s agility and ensure rapid product development and updates. Embracing iterative learning, keeping scalability in mind, and fostering a strong relationship with your debt investor are also critical aspects of building a successful fintech company. 

By prioritizing these key factors, you can ensure that your product is always improving and your company is on the path to success.

Read Next: Product Expansion and Fintech Startups >>

Frank Gogol

A seasoned SEO expert, Frank has a long history of working with and for startups. Starting in mid-2018, Frank served as the SEO Strategist for Stilt, a fintech startup that provided fair loans for immigrants in the US and other underserved markets. While with the company, he scaled site traffic from zero to more than 1.5 million unique visits per month, driving the bulk of the company’s lead generation until it was acquired by J.G. Wentworth in December 2022. As employee #5 at Stilt, Frank was witness to, and part of, the successful building and sale of a fintech company, uniquely positioning him to create content for founders about all things startups.