Just Started – Iris ten Teije, Richard Draper, Ben Riazy: Koia

Koia is an investment app with a difference. Its users buy shares of alternative assets, giving investment opportunities in everything from Rolex watches, to Pokémon cards.

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Name of founders: Iris ten Teije, Richard Draper, Ben Riazy
Ages of the founders: 27, 32, 35
Location: London
Date launched: August 2021
Number of employees: 4

What does your business do?

We enable anyone to invest in alternative assets, such as fine wine or watches. We fractionalise these high-value items so our users can get started from very small minimums.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

10 years ago, it was harder than it is today to get access to the stock market. Brokers took large commissions for every trade; minimum balances were higher and there was no such thing as buying fractional shares.
Fast-forward to today and new technology and zero-commission trading apps have made investing in the stock market easier and cheaper than ever. This has led to a massive increase in the amount of retail investors who now have the ability to make their money work harder for them. We plan to be the driving force behind a similar revolution that is just getting started in the alternative assets space. We want to enable investors to get started with small amounts of capital, take away the hassle of storage, insurance and authentication and deliver an intuitive user experience. We envision that in the future, buying and selling a fraction of a Rolex or case of fine wine will be as easy as buying a fractional share in Apple.

How did you know there was a market for it?

It's a mix of speaking to (potential) customers and conducting user research, building a waiting list, as well as looking at broader trends and market data: the rise of retail investors, the increased interest and awareness of alternative assets (think of crypto but also success of platforms like StockX for sneakers), are all working in our favour.

What were you doing before launching your business?

I (Iris) previously helped set up a digital bank in Hong Kong, as its first employee. Through that experience, I learned a lot about building and scaling startups in general, as well as marketing and business development, which was my main focus. My co-founder Richard has a background in finance and investment, and Ben has built large-scale applications for banks and fintechs, so we've got a perfect mix of experience to build an investment startup.

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

As a student, starting my own business was a path I definitely considered, alongside other potential career paths such as becoming a journalist, diplomat or consultant. What convinced me to go down the entrepreneurial path was my first-ever internship at a company providing leadership programs for successful entrepreneurs. I felt inspired by their passion, drive to push boundaries, and “dream big” mindset. Working on something I care about, directly seeing the impact of my work, and no limits to my ambitions was what really attracted me to the startup world.

How did you finance your business?

All of us had some savings which meant we were able to work on the business without a salary for a while. We found angel investors pretty quickly, which helped us pay for our initial business expenses. Moreover, finding a few strong private investors to start with – our angel investors include prominent entrepreneurs like co-founders of Monzo and Freetrade – then also helped us connect with the right VCs.

Explain your business model and how you make money.

Our main revenue stream comes from a commission paid by the seller. When a collector has an expensive watch they want to sell, they can sell it for example via an auction house, typically charging 15%+. We plan to be competitive with our commissions so that it's attractive for potential sellers to sell via our platform. Moreover, there is a small one-off fee of 1-3% for the buyer when they make the investment. This fee is used to cover costs such as storage and insurance.

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

When I decided about a year ago to quit my job, the biggest challenges were finding the right co-founders. It's such an important decision and big commitment. Finding people you get along with, who have complimentary skills and a similar vision for what you want the business to be is no easy task. I tried to tap into as many networks as I could to find the right people – my personal network and joining online networks – and ultimately ended up finding my co-founders via Work In Startups. Putting yourself out there and being pro-active is what helped me, as the more people you meet the more chance you'll find that right match.

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

Talk to as many people as possible about the idea(s) you have. You'll make progress and develop your ideas so much faster with tons of feedback.

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

We want to make investing in alternative investments as mainstream as investing in stocks and shares. Perhaps we need a little more than three years for this, but we've got big ambitions. Ultimately, we want to have over a million users and be the dominant player in the alternative asset space in Europe and beyond.

If you're a business owner with a startup that's less than six months old, apply now to feature as one of our Just Started business profiles.

Helena is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has previously written for a popular fintech startup covering everything from money-saving tips to cultural reviews.

She is particularly interested in project management software and the films of Peter Jackson.

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