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Entrepreneurship 07 Jun 2019

Azlo set to build community hub for SMEs

After two years of fast growth, entrepreneurial banking specialist Azlo sets its sights on building a network-affect business community.

Less than two years after its 2017 launch, and with stellar growth that has seen it secure tens of thousands of customer, Azlo has today launched a new strategic ambition. The business banking for entrepreneur experts, one of BBVA’s New Digital Businesses portfolio companies, is now looking to add more value to its customers with a new ‘network affect’ approach to SME banking.

As well as centralising all the banking elements that businesses need to succeed and grow, Azlo is also founding a community program where entrepreneurs can connect, share ideas, best practice and tips that have worked for them.

The idea is that by connecting people who often work individually or in small teams, it reduces feelings of isolation as well as tangibly accelerating entrepreneurial success through a shared network affect.

“Reaching tens of thousands of customers justifies that we’re getting closer to finding a solution that has product-market fit,” said Leo Shapiro, Azlo’s head of growth. “These customers are giving us a lot of insight and data on what the market wants — and how we can serve them better.”

Finding a niche

For Azlo, which offers fee-free banking to businesses in the United States, part of the journey to this milestone has involved defining the company’s ideal customer persona — which the company has dubbed “new digital businesses.”

These small, often Internet-based businesses are largely cashless — a perfect fit for Azlo’s all-digital banking platform — and operated by young digital natives who rely on technology to conduct their day-to-day business. Now, Azlo wants to find ways to better serve those who fit this customer profile.

“Our customers are using an average of 7.7 apps to run their businesses — but these applications are still siloed, and customers are struggling to find a centralized place to run their business,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro envisions a “connected ledger,” where an Azlo bank account isn’t just a dumping ground for data about incoming and outgoing funds but a centralized resource for transactions, payments, invoicing, and more.

“We want to become a hub for how new digital businesses operate, run, and make decisions,” he said.

Going beyond banking

But as touched on above, the company also has a bigger goal in mind: a connected community of users.

“Companies that achieve hyper-growth typically find a network effect, which means the product gets better as more people join,” Shapiro said. In pursuit of this network effect, Azlo hopes to provide ways for founders and small businesses to experience a more holistic sense of well-being.

“Small business owners and freelancers have several things in common, including feelings of anxiety and isolation, and a tendency to sacrifice their own well-being for their business,” said Nick Angel, Azlo’s head of brand and design.

To alleviate these feelings, Azlo not only wants to help users keep their finances in order, but also offer ways for them to constantly improve on business skills and learn best practices, and create opportunities — both digital and in-person — for them to network with others who are struggling with the same everyday challenges.

“When people become freelancers, they think ‘it’s just me.’ It’s hard to build strong connections.” Angel said. “I want people coming to Azlo for the community.”

Shapiro sees this loftier calling as an important facet of Azlo’s growth.

“It’s easy to find yourself on a constant treadmill, where you’re just running and running to try to keep up,” he said. “Traditional banks can be everything to everyone, but we’re not trying to do that. This is how we see the workforce being transformed.”

Seeking innovative ways to increase its range

And finally, Azlo is also look at ways to broaden its range of products and services to meet the needs of its fast-growing base. Azlo has plans in the near future to start exploring its users’ appetite for credit lines, loans, and other more lucrative offerings as they continue to grow.

“A customer isn’t a customer until they actually pay you for their service — we think monetization comes from generating value and adding value to customers’ lives,” he said. “Our audience is telling us we’re heading in the right direction.”

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