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4 min read

AMA: Jim Wilkinson, co-founder of Zuto

AMA: Jim Wilkinson, co-founder of Zuto

Table of Contents

Jim Wilkinson is the co-founder of Zuto, a revolutionary online marketplace that matches customers with the best car finance and loan deals. We asked Jim to tell us how it all began and what Zuto does differently.

Hi Jim! Could you share the story behind your company, including the problem you set out to solve and the inspiration that led to its creation? 

I co-founded Zuto in 2006 with a vision to change the way people finance their cars and to give the power back to those looking to buy a vehicle.

The motor finance industry has historically suffered from something of an image problem; plagued by bad practice and unfair lending rates. So we’ve been on a mission to change the industry for the better.

I met my co-founder Ryan Dignan when we worked together in a call centre. With Ryan’s family background in car dealers, we had some insight into how the customer experience needed to change car financing to be more transparent and fairer to the customer.

And so, we decided to launch an online marketplace using algorithms to match customers’ budgets to the best loan deal.

What were the initial challenges you faced?

When we started out, we were lacking in business know-how and money! But we didn’t let that stop us; we financed it ourselves with personal credit cards and loans, amounting to £70,000.

However, during the 2008 recession, we lost a couple of lenders and had to pivot the business model to keep afloat. This experience brought us closer to the customer, so as well as teaching us resilience, it actually helped us gain further understanding of customers’ needs.

We were able to put it to good use once the economy turned and were able to scale the business.

Tell us about your team and the culture you've collectively created.

Providing a positive workplace and ensuring our people feel valued has always been a priority. After all, they are the ones making things happen every day.

Zuto’s people-first approach runs through the organisation. While we have grown quickly, it’s been important not to lose sight of the people who are a part of it and that includes our employees, whom we call Zutonites, our customers, and our local community.

For any business that aims to be a force for good:

Prioritising employees’ financial wellbeing and making sure they have a fair salary and a robust support package should be a top priority.

At Zuto, this has meant becoming a Real Living Wage employer and managing salary adjustments against the longer-term landscape of inflation, as well as providing more immediate tools to support our people’s overall wellbeing, such as improved family-friendly benefits.

What are the metrics that you never take your eye off and why?

Our objective at Zuto is to balance growth, profit and market share with our commitment to making a positive difference within our industry.

That’s why we embarked on the B Corp Certification programme, a process that demonstrates how businesses can meet the highest standards of performance, accountability and transparency. This is an ongoing commitment.

For us, it means we’re now continually monitoring our products and processes to ensure they’re fair and looking at ways to do things better for our customers, our staff and the planet.

It may seem obvious, and you may think that companies are doing these things as a matter of course, but by having to renew your certification every three years you’re making an official pledge to remain accountable.

Giving back to our local community has always been important. We've been involved with Greater Manchester community charity, Forever Manchester, for a number of years.

In 2021 we launched the Zuto Make a Difference Fund in partnership with the charity, to support a wide range of regional grassroots community groups. Since then, the fund has raised £60,000 and supported 61 local community groups, benefitting more than 28,000 people.

In 2023, I took on the presidency and have been working with the charity to develop its strategy on community outreach and how to improve funding.

Amazing! Can you talk about your fundraising journey, the lessons you've learned, and any advice for other founders seeking investment? 

After the 2008 slump, the business really bounced back and within a couple of years we were doubling our predicted turnover. We wanted to open an office in Manchester, rebrand and our focus was on fast growth, so we needed to raise investment.

When we went to the market in 2014, the business was flying and growing quickly and we had no shortage of offers from investors. We chose to go with digital technology investor Scottish Equity Partners, which first invested £8m and has since totalled £17m.

My advice to others is to accept that business isn’t a linear journey.

As a startup, you think you have to do it all now and that there’s an urgency to win, but doing the right thing is more important.

While you’re on a growth journey you’ll have ups and downs, so it’s really important to have a supportive investor alongside you, one that is aligned to your values.

Do you have a share scheme in place? If so, what does that do for your company?

At Zuto, we operate a growth share scheme. In some businesses, these are reserved for leadership-level members, but ours is distributed to key individuals throughout the business to reward them for the value they have added and their ongoing contribution.

Good stuff. How does your business promote diversity?

Providing a positive workplace is a key element of the work we put into our B Corp certification. Applying the B Corp lens to every level of our decision-making has allowed us to foster a culture that includes and celebrates everyone, regardless of their background or identity.

Our family-friendly policies have become fully inclusive; we have introduced an Authentic Self policy to create a safe space for employees to feel comfortable in the Zuto environment; we added preferred pronouns to display names and worked with our landlord to provide inclusive amenities for our employees.

43% of Zuto’s management team identify as women - more than double the average number of female executives at other fintech firms (19%).

The automotive industry has even lower stats, so I am pleased to participate in the Automotive 30% Club, which aims to achieve a better gender balance within this sector.

We support the Menopause Workplace Pledge, which means we have committed to recognising that menopause can be an issue in the workplace and women need support. We host workshops for Zutonites across a wide variety of topics, including recently, a men’s mental health charity on the power of conversation.

Any unusual hacks or rituals at Zuto that might surprise us?

At our core, we care about people: Zutonites and customers alike.

Creating an environment where we can all flourish and deliver great things while being able to fail and learn and have fun along the way is vital. Trust is the key ingredient to this.

Every Friday, the leadership team takes a walk around Manchester - a great way to foster free talk.

We can all be 100% vulnerable in these conversations and be met with full support. No one has all of the answers, and people go through different struggles, so being able to talk without judgment is amazing.

This open and supportive environment is how we build strong teams at Zuto, which are the engines of our success.

Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Jim. 
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