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Ex-Revoluters and founders of Tilt: The simple formula of creating a thriving fintech startup

Image credits: Tilt

Tilt brings the social into shopping, replacing the bland consumer retail experience of browsing websites with an app that creates communities. Aimed at Gen Z, shoppers can watch videos and live streams from brands, chat with fellow shoppers, and see what items actually look like.

Co-founders Abhi Thanendran and Neil Shah recently closed a $3 million funding round. Meeting at Revolut, they quickly became good friends. Even when their roles meant Thanendran moved to New York while Neil remained in London, they remained in close contact, discussing the problems they were solving, and the problems they wanted to solve.

Recently, they joined TFN to answer questions about how Tilt began, their goals, and their advice for future founders.

How did Tilt get started?

Thanendran: I was talking to Neil a lot, and we would get on a phone call and just talk about ideas. It was on one of those calls we were playing with an idea, and it just evolved.

The challenge was: why are physical stores always going to be around, but aren’t really a growing industry, so what kind of business could you build that focused on the bit of retail that was growing? And that all pivoted into Tilt.

What is the idea behind Tilt?

Thanendran: First and foremost, it’s a marketplace. Brands can post videos and live streams — we just call them rooms — and shoppers can engage. They can interact in the room, see the content the brand has posted, and the products they can buy. There isn’t any redirection to a website, everything from discovery to purchase takes place in Tilt.

There are currently over 100 brands on the app, mostly small- to medium-size emerging brands. But for them, it’s exactly the sort of content they would be creating anyway, it reflects them and their market. For them, being on Tilt is a second nature.

Our customers are at home, too. It’s focused on Gen Z fashion, so the brands represent different styles that allow people to express their uniqueness. And, of course, choose brands that reflect and represent their values. Tilt is for the brands and customers that are passionate about what they buy, and what it represents for them and the world.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

Thanendran: It depends on who you think our competitors are!

Tilt is all about the experience, and, for that, our main competitors are actually social media. People come to us for discovery, they use Tilt because they are shopping or finding products. With social media, you are going there to pass time and, every now and then, you might see a product in an ad.

Although we are making the purchase experience seamless, we aren’t building Tilt just as a retail app. We are trying to optimise the discovery and the experience for users, so shoppers can discover and understand that there’s more to buy than just Zara and fast fashion. I don’t want to reveal too much, but we’ve got a lot more coming.

How did you secure your latest investment?

Shah: Some of it came from my experience. After I left Revolut in 2020, I dabbled in angel investment and was a mentor for SeedCamp. It meant that I made a lot of contacts, and we met a lot of our investors, like Earlybird Venture Capital and TQ Ventures, through those contacts.

But I think the real benefit was that I understood the partners and what they wanted. Many startups will target firms, but instead, they should be looking at the individual partners and aligning their application strategies with them.

What’s next for Tilt?

Shah: We have about 16 people in the team right now, and we’re looking to double that over the next year, and that will cover the whole of the business. So, we’ll be looking for iOS, Android, web, and back-end engineers on the engineering side. On the operational side, we’d need managers, business development and customer support.

And, of course, we want to expand our reach. China is a very mature market, for example. But we’re really focused on the shopping experience for young people, wherever they are and whatever they want. We started with fashion but want to go beyond that.

What advice do you have for future founders?

Shah: It’s a hard market at the moment, so take your business as far as you possibly can, and prove as much as you can, to make your startup an attractive investment.

And think about diversity. Funders are increasingly looking at diversity because they know diverse startups are often stronger.

Thanendran: Make sure you really understand the problem you are solving and how you are solving it. We were often asked about the perceived chicken and egg problem we had; there was a marketplace, brands, and customers, but how could we attract one when we didn’t have the others?

In fact, it wasn’t as complicated as it might have seemed. We had a very clear vision, and a specific profile of brands, so we had about 100 on board not just before we had shoppers, but before we even had an app!

Finally, any books you’d recommend for founders?

Shah: Principles by Ray Dalio. If you are starting your own company, you should definitely read it.

Thanendran: Death by Todd May. If you want to be a founder, it makes you think about the important things in your life.

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