DivideBuy founder Robert Flowers created the interest-free payments platform in 2014 to help consumers buy everyday items, from furniture to electronics, and spread the cost. Rivals in the marketplace were entirely focused on servicing a niche market: “You could get a sofa from a high-street furniture retailer but that was about it,” he explains. "You needed a certain credit profile and the application process was also time-consuming."
Flowers set about re-engineering the model from scratch. “I didn’t have a financial background so I wasn’t just going with the status quo,” he says. “For me, the technical solution had to be customer-centric.”
DivideBuy partners with over 500 UK retailers, including household brands such as Simba Sleep, offering interest-free credit on their behalf. "We’ve taken what was a complicated process and made it simple," says Flowers. "DivideBuy purchases the item, undertakes its own credit checks and manages the repayment options with the customer." This whole process is fully automated, and the credit decisions takes less than a second.
The business was started using an initial £130,000 of angel investment to build the prototype. In late 2014, DivideBuy raised £3.5m from Jon Moulton, through his family office. Last year, they closed a further £60m round: a mixture of equity funding and debt financing. Jon Moulton invested, alongside Souter Investments, the family investment office of Sir Brian Souter. This growth capital has helped DivideBuy to develop its technology and build up its network of retailers. According to Flowers, DivideBuy will deliver record sales in the final quarter of 2019.
The Stoke-on-Trent-based business now employs more than 50 people and has plans to become a major fintech player. “We have built and own the end-to-end platform, so pivoting into other marketplaces could be on the horizon, once we have achieved our goals for the UK market,” says Flowers.
Its proprietary platform will also be licensed out to other companies in complementary sectors to help diversify the business model. This will enable small and medium-sized businesses to offer interest-free credit for the first time, supporting their growth, explains Flowers.
Flowers has always displayed extraordinary tenacity. He convinced Stafford University to accept him on an aeronautical technology degree: “I was relentless when persuading the university and the course leader, with phone calls, emails and visits”. Flowers graduated with first-class honours, despite leaving school at 16.
His first e-commerce company, which sold end-of-line and discontinued sports equipment, failed but he still refused to quit. “I was offered a job working for someone else, but I couldn’t do it,” he says. “I was inspired by the likes of Amazon and eBay, which drive sales for retailers, making their margin from the combination of technology and customer experience."
What was the key to unlocking Flowers’ drive and ambition? “I left school at 16 and moved out of home when I was 18, moving to an underprivileged area of Stoke,” he says. “I’ve worked two jobs to pay the bills. That taught me the value of money. That has driven me to build this business.”