By Aisling Finn on Tuesday 29 June 2021
Sitting down with Social Chain founder Steven Bartlett, Tom Blomfield discussed working at Starling Bank, leaving Monzo, and life after Monzo for the first time.
For the first time, the former Monzo CEO has opened up about the struggles he faced at the digital bank, his start at Starling and making the decision to step down on ‘The Diary Of A CEO’ podcast with newly-minted Dragon’s Den member Steven Bartlett.
It’s a well-known fintech fact that Tom Blomfield first stepped into the world of digital banking at Starling Bank after leaving GoCardless, which he founded alongside Hiroki Takeuchi and Matt Robinson.
In her book, ‘Banking on It’ Anne Boden spoke about the once very secretive feud that led to Blomfield hanging up his Starling had and set out on his own, with a bevvy of other employees, to start Monzo.
Blomfield admitted in the podcast that he hasn’t read Boden’s book (yet) and said: “I just didn’t want to work with Anne,” the working environment was fairly tumultuous from the start, with Blomfield even admitting that he got fired from Starling twice in six months.
It was only once Blomfield and the other 13 ex-Starling employees went for a drink—in a bar some of them still frequent to this day for reunions, called Ask For Janice in Smithfields if you were wondering— and decided, “We think we can do this ourselves.”
And thus Monzo was born.
Monzo quickly grew to be one of the biggest digital banks in the UK, now counting nearly 5.3m customers, with its hot coral colour scheme helping with its prominence.
However, at the beginning of the pandemic last year Monzo, the digital bank was hit hard.
Blomfield revealed that in roughly a week or so after the first lockdown was announced in the UK, Monzo’s revenues declined by nearly 50 per cent.
The digital bank was also due to close a £100m funding round right as the lockdown was announced.
“We had a £100m funding round lined up to close on the Monday and on the Friday before lockdown was announced and all the term sheets got pulled,” Blomfield said.
Monzo would go on to raise £120m across a double-headed funding round, with the first £60m landing in June 2020 and the remainder in December 2020, albeit at a 40 per cent discount on its previous round.
With the prospect of shutting up shop becoming ever more prevalent, Blomfield made the decision to step down.
“Covid-19 was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back. About six weeks into that I was working seven days a week, I wasn’t sleeping… I just needed to throw the towel in,” Blomfield admitted.
Running your own bank apparently doesn’t come without its own security issues.
Blomfield told Bartlett that disgruntled customers would often threaten to turn up to Monzo’s headquarters with nasty intentions.
“We had full-time security at our office because customers would turn up sometimes with weapons. They threatened to show up with a bottle of acid and throw acid in someone’s face,” he said.
Despite the threats, Blomfield said that a lot of them came from amateur criminals who had had their accounts blocked due to suspicious activity and he never felt in direct danger because of the threats.
By the time came round to leave Monzo, Blomfield had been in talks to step down from the top job for over a year.
When he eventually left, Blomfield himself admits that he was not happy: “I felt a deep, deep anxiety bordering on depression. I wouldn’t use the words rock bottom, but it wasn’t a happy time.”
“There was no other emotion in my life other than anxiety.”
On his departure from Monzo, Blomfield cited personal reason heightened by the pandemic, which he admits in the podcast was largely down to him not being able to sleep at night because he was wracked with anxiety about the future of his bank.
“When I did sleep a full night and wake up at 7, 8, 9 am, for about three or four seconds I’d forgotten what my life was. I’d forgotten what I was doing, what my job was, all the pressures and I was calm. Not stressed, not anxious and then three or four seconds later all the memories came back and it was just like a crushing weight.”
“Going to sleep knowing that you’ll inevitably wake up at 4 am is quite annoying.”
Like his fellow co-founder Paul Rippon, who left the bank to spend more time with his wife on their alpaca farm, Blomfield says he is now enjoying the finer things in life once more.
The serial entrepreneur has taken up sailing, learning to fly, gardening and looking after his godchildren and friend’s pets as well as kitesurfing and cycling.
Not one to stray too far from fintech, however, Blomfield has also made a number of angel investments: “I’ve made 7 or 8 angel investments in the first half of 2021 and I’ll probably make another 7 or 8 by the end of the year.”
Most recently, Blomfield took part in payroll startup Pento’s $15.6m Series A funding round.
Despite the ups and the downs of Monzo, it certainly seems like Blomfield hasn’t closed the door on fintech just yet.