Three years ago today, Origin was born.
On 23rd March 2015, my Co-Founder Rob and I had our first day at the Barclays/Techstars accelerator, and started down the path that has led us here today. Our journey certainly hasn’t been easy, but it’s been immensely rewarding and educational. Here’s a look back at our story and some of the things we’ve learned along the way.
Rob and I met whilst working as credit traders at Nomura. That’s where we first started, way back in 2012, talking about the idea that would eventually become Origin. We soon learned that there’s a world of difference between having a good idea and turning it into reality.
The idea wouldn’t go away and we finally started working on the first iteration of Origin in the summer of 2014. As the fintech ecosystem in London started to simmer, we took our idea to an Aviva-sponsored hackathon in October that year. We didn’t win, but we did meet the MD of Techstars who was impressed with our pitch and encouraged us to apply to the program. With that, the fire was lit.
The accelerator programme began on 23rd March 2015 and we were by far the most premature company in the program. No product, no customers, no revenue. All we had was a vague idea about a platform that directly connected issuers and investors in the bond market. Speaking frankly, as two secondary traders (as opposed to two people from DCM or syndicate), we were pretty naive about how complicated it would be to solve the problem we’d identified.
But I do believe that was ultimately one of our assets. As traders we were close enough to be familiar with the process, but just far enough removed from the daily minutiae to have the perspective to see the opportunity. Combining that with our own experiences watching the secondary market go electronic, (and having both been trained as engineers with a strong natural urge to fix inefficiencies,) we followed our instincts and took the plunge. We were in the water – we just had to learn how to swim.
The Techstars program was a whirlwind, and moved so fast it didn’t give us much time to test our original thesis. It was only later that fall, after the dust settled and we raised some seed capital that we realised that our original idea was just not going to work.
The end of 2015 kicked off a frantic R&D period where we spoke to everyone in the market to figure out a model that would work. Through bloody mindedness and a willingness to listen, by early 2016 we realised that dealers actually wanted a solution like ours to streamline origination. The Origin of today was born.
We spent the rest of 2016 building Origin v1.0 and gathering a launch group of customers. We got our first dealer signed up in July 2016. Got our first revenue check in September 2016, (a full 18 months after starting out!) In January 2017, we launched our proof of concept with 6 banks and 22 borrowers, which began a 5-month testing period to see if we had got the product right.
With huge relief and excitement, our POC was a success. In June 2017, at the Euromoney Global Investors Forum, we launched the live version of Origin. Over the last year, we’ve grown our client base to 11 dealers and 51 borrowers, with many more in the pipeline. We’ve expanded our reach to include customers all over the world. In fact, I’m writing this from Dubai, as we see increasing demand for our product from both dealers and issuers in the Gulf region.
Above everything else, we have been constantly iterating and evolving our product, based on our customers’ feedback. Looking at screenshots of Origin from just one short year ago, we can see just how far we’ve come.
Today, Origin is a fully fledged origination platform, helping dealers solve 3 major pain points:
1 Growing their issuer base
Unlike any other software system or market data provider, Origin’s fundamental USP is that we have a growing network of issuers that are connected to our platform. This allows dealers to reach issuers they have not previously traded with, helping grow their DCM business, and helping issuers reach new pockets of investor capital. It’s incredibly rewarding for us every time one of our customers trades with a new counterparty, and as we grow, we are seeing it happen more and more.
2 Collaborate within their teams, across time zones
Every transaction occurs because of a carefully calibrated orchestra of players from DCM, syndicate, and sales, sitting in different offices and time zones all working together. Origin allows information to flow between those teams in one centralised and searchable environment. Previously lost nuggets of information are now captured and used to drive more business.
3 Conduct business with appropriate compliance and record keeping
Unlike homemade spreadsheets and tools that fall apart once the associate who built them leaves the company, Origin offers a robust system that records every action taken by its users. As a result, record keeping and compliance has never been easier, which is more important than ever given the heavily regulated environment in which we all work.
Our goal in 2018 is to fully realise these three core product offerings. New features that we’re building, such as our automated term sheet generator and our issuer and investor “deal walls”, will make our offering even more robust.
Looking back over the last three years gives me an immense sense of pride when I see how far we’ve come, especially when I remember how long it took us to get started. It’s not been easy – Rob and I look back at our younger selves and sometimes cringe when we remember how wide-eyed, bushy-tailed and naive we were. However, our story shows what is possible when you take smart, ambitious people with a mountain of energy, and throw them into a space ripe with opportunity.
When going through the hardest times of our business, we were constantly motivated by the knowledge that there is so much opportunity within the primary capital markets, and that as long as we kept persevering, we’d find a way. Once we did, it’s amazing to see not just how far we’ve come, but, looking ahead, how far we can still go.