Mark Ufland is the CTO of YouLend, the London-based fintech startup. The startup enables ecommerce platforms, technology companies and payment service providers with solutions to offer fast and flexible funding to their merchants.
Founded in 2016, YouLend today counts eBay, Shopify, Paymentsense, Allianz Global Investors and EQT among its partners. Today, YouLend is operating in the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland.
It has grown during a period of immense growth in the fintech industry. Data from GlobalData’s Technology Intelligence Centre shows that there were 2,319 deals worth a total of $84.7bn in 2021 in the financial services industry, up from 1,449 deals worth $17.85bn in 2015.
The growth of the sector continued in December with several fintech companies closing massive deals, according to GlobalData’s market intelligence. By taking a closer look at the 10 biggest fintech deals in the last month of 2021, we can gain insights as to the likely market trajectory in 2022.
In the latest Q&A in our weekly CTO Talk series, Ufland reveals what he thinks the biggest trends will be in the fintech industry in 2022, his secret for distinguishing hype from real opportunities and why he thinks Elon Musk’s different innovations ain’t all that.
Eric Johansson: How did you end up in your current role?
Prior to YouLend, I was a systems architect with over 15 years of experience creating applications in the financial sector at the likes of Envoy (now WorldPay) and Canada Life. Throughout this time, taking major roles in all areas of the product lifecycle and developing both small and large scale systems meant I developed a broad skillset in the earlier stages of my career.
By the time I came to YouLend, this meant I had an idea of how to build something of the highest quality, and from scratch. In fact, the YouLend platform was literally built in my bedroom – I like to think that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were onto something when they reportedly started Apple in their garage. Despite the fact that YouLend HQ is often referred to as Mark’s bedroom among colleagues, I always knew that I wanted to return to a startup environment.
What’s the biggest tech trend looking at fintech in 2022?
From AI and machine learning to blockchain, it can be easy to get swept up in the latest buzzwords on the fintech block. If there’s a use case for the technology and it will bring a significant benefit to the company, I’ll find a way to do it. But only then.
Embedded finance technology is pushing the boundaries of SME funding to new frontiers. Over the past year there’s been a significant rise in the number of retailers offering lending services to consumers via BNPL offerings. In the B2B space, a parallel trend is emerging rapidly with ecommerce platforms and PSPs from outside the traditional finance sector lending directly to their business customers. I believe this has the power to shape the future of borrowing as we know it.
How do you separate hype from reality?
Reading! And lots of it. I truly believe that the only way you can appreciate something is if you study it. And you have to get that information from multiple sources to create a holistic view before making a decision. Be sceptical until you can see enough evidence – a lesson for humanity, not just the fintech community!
Where did your interest in tech come from?
Truthfully – computer games! I’m old enough to have been there when PCs first came out and I remember that my friend’s Dad had one, with maybe 3k or 6k memory. As we moved through the 80s and I moved through school, by the end of the decade I was hooked enough that I decided to study computer programming at uni. Beyond education, I love the creative element of being a developer. At the very heart of it, it’s all about helping people to solve problems.
What piece of advice would you give to other CTOs?
Make sure you have a plan of what you’re building, and that you build it to the highest quality you can. I’ve encountered lots of about-to-be CTOs and often the blinkers are on and the goal is to build as quickly as possible. But if this stage isn’t done correctly, it only gets you so far before you have to rewrite the program.
You also need to be able to have an opinion. And it’s hard to have one of those without a deep-rooted understanding of your tech stack and the industry you’re operating in. I’m aware I have an advantage here because I built the YouLend platform – but for me it’s all about taking that knowledge and putting it into training and mentoring new talent.
What’s the most surprising thing about your job?
That we’ve got as far as we have! Every time I walk the office floor, I think back to building the platform in my bedroom and how a lot of startups don’t get to make it to where we are now. It’s a bit of luck but also a lot of hard work and determination. I’m excited to continue growing and see what’s next.
What is the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
I think it has to be climate change. Finding ways to generate cleaner energy, future reactors, or recycling and moving plastic come to mind. This is the biggest challenge in my eyes because it impacts everybody. Elon Musk is doing some cool things whilst pushing the frontiers of space travel, but it’s not going to be accessible to everyone.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever done for fun?
When I was a teenager I used to do live roleplay. Normal things like dressing up as my favourite Lord of The Rings character and moving around the landscape in my living room as I played the board game. Think Dungeons and Dragons for any Stranger Things fans out there, but way less cool.