By Matt Ayres, Fresh Business Thinking

Interview with Andrew Mullinger, Co-Founder and Global Head of Credit at Funding Circle

“Some entrepreneurs focus too much on themselves,” reckons Andrew Mullinger, Co-Founder and Global Head of Credit at Funding Circle. “Great businesses are about making other people’s lives better. They focus on customers and improve the way they live their lives, giving them meaning and value.”

Andrew founded Funding Circle with friends he met while studying at Oxford University, CEO Samir Desai and Chief Commercial Officer James Meekings. Having worked extensively in financial services and with particular expertise in risk management, Andrew and his peers felt that they could make a difference to the UK economy by offering a new peer-to-peer lending platform aimed at investors and SMEs in need of money. “The view was around banking, given that many banks during the financial crisis were misserving small businesses,” he explains. “There was an opportunity to build a business in this space.”

Making preparations for the new business alongside an executive role at Ernst & Young for the first 15 months, Andrew eventually left the professional services firm to focus on his new venture full time. With money raised from angel investors and seed investors, Funding Circle officially launched in August 2010, becoming the first site in the UK to use the process of peer-to-peer lending for business funding. To date, the platform has facilitated lending of over £500m to British businesses.

Professing to have always been “obsessed” with business, Andrew’s respect and passion for entrepreneurship was clearly channelled into Funding Circle’s innovative model. “My family always joked I’d set up a theme park and would be retired by time I was 18,” he says. “They thought I was obsessed with money, but I wasn’t - I was obsessed with businesses and how they operated. I wanted to know how they worked, and obviously knowing how much something costs was very important.

“The earliest entrepreneurial thing I did was in primary school, when me and my friend Rob bought collectible football stickers and sold rare ones to other people in our class. I also have fond memories of a school project where we had to bake cookies and sell them. We had to create the boxes ourselves by renting the use of scissors and glue. I loved that sort of thing: picking the best people in team for the best roles, working out the best way to get a good return on investment. I still think that is what businesses are fundamentally about.”

As well as helping entrepreneurs through Funding Circle, Andrew has become interested in fostering this kind of entrepreneurial excitement in young people; he is considering becoming the governor of a school in Stratford to help inspire a new generation of businesses. Believing that establishing close business networks early on is fundamental in helping to establish the right approach, Andrew hopes he can help to instil the relentless work ethic required to thrive as an entrepreneur.

“When we first started Funding Circle, we had to work extremely hard,” he says. “I’d work at my day job until 6 or 7, then continue to work on the business until around 11 o’clock at night, as well as on weekends when we’d work at James and Samir’s flat. But if you’re not prepared to do that, you’re not going to be successful.

“Having some great business partners around me really helped. We taught each other things which accelerated our speed of learning and helped us to succeed. Having a good peer group around is important. Mentors have their place, but more useful is talking to other people who are doing the same thing as you, or who are six months ahead of you. You need to have gone through it more recently to give valuable advice.”

Other than simply working hard and surrounding yourself with great people, Andrew stresses the importance of having an organised and well-informed approach to finance. This is ultimately what has helped the thousands of businesses that use Funding Circle to secure funding from investors and take their businesses to the next level.

“It sounds obvious, but you need to understand your business and to know what those funds are for if you want someone to invest in you,” he says. “Show that ultimately you can repay those funds. That’s what we at Funding Circle are focused on. We usually look at a business’ historical performance of paying debt, as well as their cash flow and track record for making sensible decisions. The other thing is making sure that gaps or differences are well explained, being transparent about those natural blemishes. Show that you are trustworthy, and you’re much more likely to succeed.”