Barclays Accelerator Taking Flight: Cutover One Year On
Cutover helps banks choreograph their most intricate moves. One year after graduating from the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars,* founder Ky Nichol explains how Barclays has helped the fintech start-up leap onto a bigger stage.
Ballet and banking might seem strange bedfellows, but for fintech start-up Cutover, the analogy makes perfect sense.
“Imagine you’re putting on the ballet Swan Lake, but instead of one show at a time, you’re doing seven at the same time across the globe, coordinating all the dancers throughout the rehearsals and live performances with only spreadsheets, phone calls and emails. Would it be very coordinated? No, it wouldn’t. This is how banks worldwide are forced to perform major IT systems changes,” says Ky Nichol, CEO of the software company, which provides high-tech ‘human orchestration’ tools.
It was this challenge that inspired Nichol to develop Cutover’s business model – and to become part of Barclays’ Accelerator programme. The idea behind Cutover’s software is to provide a specialised tool that orchestrates teams in ‘high-risk periods’ to reduce risk and cost. Its applications include the release of major projects, disaster recovery, service recovery, event management and product launches. To continue Nichol’s metaphor, Cutover acts as the choreographer who ensures the ballet receives a standing ovation.
Whether in finance or the arts, all projects need a patron. This is where the Accelerator came into play. “The programme is regarded as the top fintech accelerator, certainly in London,” says Nichol, who cut his teeth with a consultancy managing infrastructure preparations for the 2012 Olympics and operational planning for the International Space Station.
Nestled in London’s bustling multicultural district of Whitechapel, between fabric shops and an arthouse cinema, visitors to the start-up enter through a hip pizza restaurant and sign in via an iPad. At the top of the staircase is the London headquarters of Rise, a Barclays open innovation hub (and home to the Accelerator), which brings together start-ups and industry leaders, working to create the future of financial services.
With the Accelerator programme based across the hallway, Nichol says his team continues to benefit from the input of Barclays experts. “When seniors from the bank come over to the Accelerator, they’ll drop by and come over to us as a graduate of the programme,” says Nichol. “You’ve got technology experts from Barclays milling around the space and holding some of their meetings here. It’s been a great environment to learn in.”
Another incentive to join the Accelerator programme was the possibility that Barclays could become a client for Cutover’s software. “There was no deal up front that they’d use it,” explains Nichol, “but we knew they’d consider it.” By the end of the programme, Cutover counted Barclays as its major client applying its software to functions with lots of critical events. “We signed a 12-month software evaluation agreement to work with Barclays after just 66 days and a full global framework agreement a year later, and that’s not something we could have achieved so quickly without the support of the Accelerator programme, as well as great business sponsors, procurement and information security teams.”
Nichol adds: “We came in thinking it was all about big IT systems changes. But Barclays used it in ways that widened up our potential uses of the platform, which was fantastic. They gave us access to lots of key technology experts across the bank, opened themselves up as a sandbox and helped us prove where the best value from our solution was. We went from a couple of proofs of concept at the beginning of the process to maybe 20 at the end, on a wide variety of use cases.”
Since signing the deal with Barclays, Cutover has found more doors in the City are springing open. “A number of major banks tried our solution,” Nichol says, “and now other banks becoming aware of us.”
Cutover’s platform is currently being tested with Nationwide, as banks focus on reducing risks around their points of operational transition. As co-founder Marcus Wildsmith noted: “We’re focusing on fintech because of how high the risks are. An outage cost one major UK bank £125 million in fines. That’s not something to take lightly.”
Culture of ‘yes’
More than 550 companies applied for the 2015 Accelerator cohort in London and only 10 – including Cutover – were accepted. Nichol sees good reason for its popularity: “We were in the programme from March to mid-June. You meet a lot of mentors, a lot of people from throughout the bank. We also benefited from a great lead mentor in Mike Andrews, Programme Director at Barclays.
“The advice helped us professionalise. We realised that we had to conform to a lot of standards, which will help us a lot going forward. The tech experts trying it out and giving feedback was great.”
Nichol was also impressed with the flexibility of the City’s visitors to the east London hub: “In a big bank, when a start-up engages it can quickly run into huge enterprise grade processes that are not set up to consider early-stage companies, and it’s easy for the process to say ‘nope’. Generally, when I was working at large corporations, that’s what happened. However, there seemed to be a culture of a well-considered ‘yes’ at Barclays. It was about collaborating with disruptive technology. Not taking undue risks or anything, but people would try out interesting new things and give you engagement, which I haven’t seen in a lot of other places.”
Barclays also helped Cutover get on to the Fintech Innovation Lab, sponsored by a consortium of 16 banks. This new network has led to Cutover doing proof of value work with a wide range of partners.
“If you think of the Accelerator as a big stage-one rocket boost, this is the next stage,” says Nichol – and, having worked on space programmes, he should know.
Accelerate your start-up: find out more about Barclays Accelerator, an intensive 13-week programme that offers unprecedented access to our network and knowledge base, as well as invaluable insights from some of the smartest minds in the start-up and fintech worlds.
*Techstars is a global ecosystem that empowers entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market wherever they choose to live. With dozens of mentorship-driven accelerator programs and thousands of community programs worldwide, Techstars exists to support the world’s most promising entrepreneurs throughout their lifelong journey, from inspiration to IPO without the support of the Accelerator programme, as well as great business sponsors, procurement and information security teams.”