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Modern World Business Solutions: Q&A – Warren Whitfield – From Fantasy Football to Fintech

230 - Finance Digest │ Financial Literacy │ Financial Planning With his business journey starting at just 15 years old through sweet sales and Fantasy Football at school, Warren Whitfield has built a business portfolio that spans real estate, events and technology. Now managing director of payment service provider Modern World Business Solutions, we sit down with Warren to discuss how he broke through into fintech, and how his newly launched comparison platform, The Payments Market, is revolutionising the way businesses find payment suppliers.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you began your business journey.

I knew very early that school just wasn’t for me, and struggled with a classroom environment. I did enjoy my social time, however, and school was my first experience with making money. I used to operate a fantasy football league with a couple of friends, and also buy and sell sweets. My favourite one from this time was selling paper rounds – I’d pick up paper rounds from local newsagents, then enlist some of the other kids to operate them for less than I was being paid, and I think looking back these formative experiences are what shaped my interest in business.

I left school at 16 and trained as an upholsterer for a few years before starting my own upholstery business at 19, which gradually evolved into a furniture sales business. I realised that if I ever wanted to get anywhere in life it would be working for myself, as I didn’t enjoy being told what I could or couldn’t do. This, and the fact that I had a very different way of looking at things, and no filter for risk have all really contributed to my path, and have been central to how I’ve made business decisions.

You got involved with real estate at just 24, how did you break into such a competitive sector at this relatively young age?

During the time I was operating my upholstery and furniture business, I’d purchased several properties. Mortgage companies at this time gave me drawdown facilities, allowing me to draw equity as and when I needed it, and with property prices rising fast, I was able to draw equity out after the first year and use it to invest in additional properties. In 2008 my other business came crashing down due to the banking crisis, and I was able to leverage this growth in property prices to stay afloat.

What were the key business lessons you took from this first enterprise?

That failure is only feedback and persistence is the most valuable skillset an entrepreneur can have. Sometimes in business the unexpected can happen, and persistence and resilience are the only ways to overcome this. I’ve weathered the 2008 recession and then the pandemic in 2020 – without persistence, I would have quit long ago!

How did you progress from this business to co-founding the UK’s leading events provider, Xtreme Events, in 2013?

A friend of mine, Dan, was the founder of Xtreme Soccer, a bubble football company. I used to enjoy helping him out on events and travelled all over the country together. With us both being ideas people, we were constantly brainstorming new ideas for the business, and when his business partner emigrated to Canada, he asked me if I was interested in helping him full time. Recognising the huge potential in the business, we set about changing the brand and growing it into Xtreme Events. I had a brilliant time doing just this for the next 5 or 6 years, with highlights including having personalities like Lionel Messi and KSI attend some of our events.

What was the impetus behind the transition from Xtreme Events to your current payments business, Modern World Business Solutions?

For me it was necessity. I’ve always wanted to build a £100 million-plus business, and enjoy the freedom that delivers. While the events sector was brilliant fun, it would never have allowed me to do that, so I moved to a sector with no market cap, but plenty of potential for new ideas. I’ve found that within the payments sector, and believe the ideas I have could genuinely change the industry.

With the payments industry being such a complex area for many merchants and businesses, what does Modern World Business Solutions do differently?

It sounds simple, and while it certainly shouldn’t be a USP, it unfortunately is – we are honest. We have an agnostic platform that houses nearly all leading acquirers, allowing us to fit the narrative of any type of merchant we work with. We can really understand both the customer and their unique pain points, and I think that is something that is too often overlooked in the sector, and it’s something that we can address and change through technology.

Tell us more about your recently launched platform, The Payments Market, and the lightbulb moment that led up to it?

This is super exciting and has all of the hallmarks of a unicorn in my opinion. Consumer behaviour is changing, with convenience, speed and transparency winning the day on most services, and although I would argue that the value in your payments provider is huge so shouldn’t be viewed as a commodity, the reality is most merchants do see it as one.

Before we launched The Payments Market, there was no genuine comparison website for payments that actually understands your particular payment profile and delivers a selection of results from multiple banks. Most will just capture the data and aggregate it as a lead to 6 or 7 providers who will proceed to bombard you with phone calls. Our platform is changing that. It allows our users to search, pick and then apply directly on the site.

You’ve achieved incredible growth over the last 5 years. What is your forecast and what are your plans for the next 5 years?

Since after lockdown our staff count has grown significantly, and we’ve increased turnover from £500K to £3 million. It’s been an incredible journey in such a short span of time, and I think the next 5 years will be about growing our direct channels and making The Payments Market the leading tool for SMEs who are looking to compare payment providers. We’ve progressed so quickly that I feel our £100 million goal is within reach if we keep delivering on our objectives as a team.

Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

I’m a great believer in everything happening for a reason, so while there’s quite a few small things I might have acted on quicker – hiring this person sooner or realising that was a bad deal faster – as a whole I think everything contributes to your journey. I never get too high, but I’m also careful to never get too low, either.

What advice would you give to any budding entrepreneur looking to start their own business journey?

Start now! In my opinion, the only difference between a good entrepreneur and a bad one is execution and persistence. Find the right people to be your sounding board early on, close off the excess noise, and just go for it.

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