Ryan Downes is the founder of Stash, an app that teaches people how to invest and manage personal finance via gamification. We’re proud to have supported Ryan through access to FFWD London, a renowned Pre-Accelerator programme. We caught up with Ryan on his entrepreneurial journey, why gamification is an untapped resource in terms of education and where his startup is headed next.
Where did the business idea come from?
It came from the need to teach my brothers and sister what I know. Growing up in East London, in a single-parent family, and not understanding money – I set out to find out what money is all about. What does it do for people? How do I get more of it? I spent years attending seminars on investing and trading.
I then thought how am I going to teach my brothers and sisters the important stuff? Young people need to understand it, but how do you communicate it in an engaging way?
“I want to focus on millennials. That’s my niche. People just like me, or anyone who needs that knowledge. Anyone willing to learn, with some kind of disposable income”
What is the target market for the app?
It’s almost everyone. Most people don’t know their credit score. Most people don’t know about APR. So everyone and anyone
But I want to focus on millennials. That’s my niche. People just like me, or anyone who needs that knowledge. Anyone willing to learn, with some kind of disposable income.
Why are you using gaming?
Gaming is an untapped resource. It’s hugely interactive and it’s growing massively. I can make a game and teach finance to all groups of people which was once very white and esoteric. The end result is going to be the creation of a game with an avatar of yourself. You play as yourself, with your own journey making and growing money.
What made you decide that entrepreneurship was right for you?
Entrepreneurship is something that I’ve always been interested in. Maybe it was growing up watching my mother as an Avon lady, but also I like the idea of a more unconventional working life.
What challenges have you faced so far?
The biggest challenge is working without knowing that what you are doing is going to get you a good result. I’ve got probably 8 versions of the app that I’m never going to use. Also, understanding workflow is a challenge. Structuring your days and weeks. Overworking can lead to you wasting your own time.
The learning curve is steep.
“It’s better for me to create my own environment. I feel that was instrumental in my choice to be an entrepreneur”
How has your culture influenced your path?
The environments where you get paid a decent wage are not always comfortable for people who come from my culture. In my previous jobs in the finance sector, being around these Oxford guys who work a certain way – number orientated – and I’m a creative guy from East London, it was difficult. I was often the only black guy there, and whilst it’s not the first time I’ve been in that situation it’s still not comfortable. It’s better for me to create my own environment. I feel that was instrumental in my choice to be an entrepreneur.
Do you think there’s anything in your background that’s been an advantage or disadvantage?
It’s two sides of the same coin to be honest. Not having a rich uncle to fund my project taught me to manage what I have well because I would have to make it work or risk losing everything.
“Not having a rich uncle to fund my project taught me to manage what I have well, because I would have to make it work or risk losing everything”
What is it like being a black man in tech/a black male entrepreneur?
Generally, you’re not the face. I don’t see many people who look like me in that space and I’m part of that change. I’ve realised that tech has the potential to level the playing field for all of us, users and creators.
Everyone looks at Silicon Valley. The media tends to focus on unicorns but not all tech businesses have to be high growth. You can find your niche.
What is your message to other underrepresented founders?
This sounds cliché but ‘you can do it.’ The opportunities are out there and people are willing to help. The internet has made the world a lot smaller. Also because of the internet, you can create anything you want. Apps can help you design, code or even make other apps.
You have to be hungry though because it won’t be given to you. Especially if you’re black or young or whatever discrimination you face, the tech world is just like everywhere else. So you have to push through.
How has Onetech supported you?
OneTech has been great. Just being around a network of other people who are doing the same thing as you, or going to app launch events and realising you’re not that far behind makes you feel better and more motivated.
What are your plans for the business in 1,2,5 years’ time?
Firstly I want to have a beta version of the app out in the next couple months. I want to prove that this idea works. Some people who are not used to investing think it’s some kind of alchemy or witchcraft, so to show people how it works and anyone can make money is my goal. After that, I just be able to manage the business evolution, as more people join and it scales up.