Product review: Rocket Mortgage’s Instant Mortgages

Can the whole process of getting a mortgage made a lot easier!? Whether you’re looking to buy a home or refinance your current one, the mortgage process can be a real pain in the neck: slow, stressful and opaque. Given the emergence of players such as Trussle, Habito – both UK-based online mortgage brokers – and my professional interest from leading product at Settled, I’m keen to explore this further.

Let’s start with a look at Rocket Mortgage, an “instant mortgage” product by Quicken Loans.

My quick summary of Rocket Mortgage before using it: I expect a product that makes it very quick and easy for a me as a consumer to apply for a mortgage.

How does Rocket Mortgage explain itself in the first minute: “You May Be Surprised to See How Much You Can Save – Can’t Hurt to Look” and “We’ve Reinvented the Mortgage Process to Put the Power in Your Hands” are two strap-lines on Rocket Mortgage homepage that stand out to me. Both lines are ‘above the fold’ and do make me curious to learn more about what Rocket Mortgage does (differently) to established mortgage providers.

How does Rocket Mortgage work? Mortgage applicants can submit their personal and financial information online (“Share Your Info”), and they receive a mortgage quote in return. This initial quote can be reviewed and customised to meet one’s personal needs and circumstances (“Explore Your Options”).

Let’s look at the individual steps in more detail:

User answer pre-approval questions

To apply for a Rocket Mortgage loan, you’ll first need to create an account by entering your name and email address, followed by choosing a password. Once you’ve clicked the “Save & Continue” button, you’ll be presented with a number of questions about your personal situation, both from a personal and a financial point of view:

User uploads personal assets

Rocket Mortgage will connect to your bank account(s) and your asset information will then be uploaded automatically onto the platform. You can then update the information or remove assets from consideration from your mortgage application, , after the boxes have been auto-filled. With the advent of PSD2 and open banking, I expect loads of US mortgage lenders and startups to enable a similar synchronisation with a user’s personal accounts.

If you have any other financial assists, like investments in shares via platforms such as Betterment and Wealthify, you will need to enter this data manually as well as related documents. The same applies to Rocket Mortgage requiring you to enter specific info to be able to generate a personal credit report and score. In future, I expect platforms like these to seamlessly integrated with credit score companies like Experian and Equifax.

User explores options

 

User obtains a mortgage rate

Once you’ve locked down a mortgage rate, there’s a separate Rocket Mortgage online tool which lets you finalise the mortgage.

Who else is doing this? I had a brief look at “mello”, the digital loan platform by loanDepot, and the product and its experience feels quite similar to Rocket Mortgage. In the UK, Molo is a new player on the scene, promising to “reimagine mortgages.”

Main learning point: It’s clear for everyone to see that these players are aiming to make the experience of applying for a mortgage as intuitive, transparent and quick as possible.

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.highya.com/rocket-mortgage-reviews
  2. https://techcrunch.com/2015/11/24/this-could-be-the-mortgage-industrys-iphone-moment/
  3. https://studentloanhero.com/featured/quicken-loans-review-rocket-mortgage/
  4. https://digit.hbs.org/submission/quicken-loans-rocketing-forward-the-digital-mortgage/
  5. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/mortgages/for-rocket-and-its-rivals-mortgage-advice-is-next/
  6. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/mortgages/loandepot-mortgage-loans-review/
  7. https://www.loandepot.com/blog/inside-look-loandepot-mello
  8. https://www.roostify.com/
  9. https://molofinance.com/

Why Square and Klarna are looking to become banks?

Just a short post this time, as I just wanted to share my excitement about the likes of Square and Klarna becoming banks (eventually). As an outsider looking in, I can see the rationale for companies like Square and Klarna, payments platforms, for becoming full blowing banking entities:

  1. Logical extension of the payments ecosystem – Given that Square and Klarna already process payment transactions for thousands of merchants and their customers, it means that they’ve got a strong foot in the door with small businesses. It therefore makes total sense to offer new products and services to both merchants and their customers.
  2. Data, data, data – I can imagine that with the amount of transactional data being processed, Square and Klarna no doubt have built up great customer and merchant data profiles, and are now looking to further monetise on this customer understanding. Offering lending products jumps out at me as a key reason for Square and Klarna wanting to become banks. This pattern fits well on the trend involving challenger banks like Monzo and Chime starting out with limited features, but gradually expanding into fully fledged bank accounts.
  3. Regulatory relationships – As Square and Klarna start offering more bank-like products and services, they’ll need to put robust regulatory compliance frameworks in place. Establishing regulatory relationships by becoming a bank helps with establishing these frameworks.
  4. Hook at point of sale – Being able to engage with both consumers and merchants at the point of sale feels like a pretty strong hook to me! Loved how backend payment platform Adyen recently got valued at $8.3 billion, and it shows you that the financial sector is way off from calming down.

Main learning point: Whilst there are concerns about small businesses being impacted negatively by the likes of Square becoming banks, I’m excited by the ongoing disruption of the financial sector. Recent applications for banking licenses by Square and Klarna are a sign that the Fintech startups and challengers are scaling. As long scaling doesn’t happen at the detriment of the customer – both consumers and merchants – this can only be a good thing!

 

 

 

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/18/square-stumbles-into-the-banking-business.html
  2. https://www.americanbanker.com/news/the-story-behind-squares-bank-charter-application
  3. https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/19/klarna-gets-a-full-banking-license-gears-up-to-go-beyond-financing-payments/
  4. https://www.pymnts.com/news/banking/2017/square-makes-its-big-move-on-banking/
  5. https://bankingblog.accenture.com/might-fintechs-become-banks
  6. https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/23/revolut-launches-a-premium-subscription-and-starts-raising-a-new-round/
  7. https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/31/no-fees-mobile-banking-service-chime-raises-70m-series-c-valuing-its-business-at-500m/
  8. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-05/it-took-a-1-billion-ipo-for-everyone-to-see-why-adyen-matters

What’s so special about SenseTime!?

Question: What do the following products have in common?

Product 1 — Smart glasses worn by Chinese police officers

https://techcrunch.com/2018/02/08/chinese-police-are-getting-smart-glasses/

These smart glasses connect to a feed which taps into China’s state database to detect out potential criminals using facial recognition. Officers can identify suspects in a crowd by snapping their photo and matching it to their internal database.

Product 2 — Wrong360, a peer-to-peer lending app

               https://technode.com/2013/06/24/rong360-online-financial-product-search-platform/

Wrong360 is a Chinese peer-to-peer lending app which aims to make obtaining a loan as simple as possible. When users of the Wrong360 app enter the amount of loan, period, and purpose, the platform will automatically do the match and output a list of banks or credit agencies corresponding to the users’ requests. On the list, users can find the institution names, products, interests rate, gross interests, monthly payment, and the available periods, etc. Applying for a loan can done fully online, and the app uses facial recognition as part of the loan application process.

Product 3 — Security camera

Security cameras in public places to help police officers and shopkeepers by improved ways of face matching. Traditionally, face matching is based on trait description of someone’s facial features and the special distance between these features. Now, by extracting the geometric descriptions of the parts of the eyes, nose, mouth, chin, etc. and the structural relationship between them, search matching is performed with the feature templates stored in the database. When the similarity exceeds the set threshold, the matching results are shared.

                                                         http://www.sohu.com/a/163629793_99963310

 

Product 4 — Oppo mobile phone

                                      https://www.notey.com/blogs/device-SLASH-accessories?page=4

 

Oppo specalise mobile photography and uses artificial technology to enable features such as portrait photo-taking, bi-camera photo-taking, and face grouping.

Question: What do the following products have in common?

Answer: They’re all powered by SenseTime artificial technology.

Whether it’s “SenseTotem” — which is being used for surveillance purposes — or “SensePhoto” — which uses facial recognition technology for messaging apps and mobile cameras — it all comes from the same company: SenseTime.

The company has made a lot of progress in a relatively short space of time with respect to artificial intelligence based (facial) recognition. The Chinese government has been investing heavily in creating an ecosystem for AI startups, with Megvii as another well known exponent of China’s AI drive.

A project with the code name “Viper” is the latest in the range of products that SenseTime is involved. I’m intrigued and slightly scared by this project which is said to focus on processing thousands of live camera feeds (from CCTV, to traffic cameras to ATM cameras), processing and tagging people and objects. SenseTime is rumoured to want to sell the Viper surveillance service internationally, but I can imagine that local regulations and data protection rules might prevent this kind of ‘big brother is watching you’ approach to be rolled out anytime soon.

Main learning point: It seems that SenseTime is very advanced with respect to facial recognition, using artificial intelligence to combine thousands of (live) data sources. You could argue that SenseTime isn’t the only company building this kind of technology, but their rapid growth and technological as well as financial firepower makes them a force to be reckoned with. That, in my mind, makes SenseTime very special indeed.

Related links for further learning:

  1. The billion-dollar, Alibaba-backed AI company that’s quietly watching everyone in China
    Most Chinese consumers have likely never heard of SenseTime. But depending on where they live, it might be looking at…qz.com
  2. This Chinese Facial Recognition Surveillance Company Is Now the World’s Most Valuable AI Startup
    SenseTime raised $600 million from Alibaba and others at a valuation of over $3 billion, becoming the world’s most…fortune.com
  3. China Now Has the Most Valuable AI Startup in the World
    has raised $600 million from and other investors at a valuation of more than $3 billion, becoming the world’s most…www.bloomberg.com
  4. China’s SenseTime, the world’s highest valued AI startup, raises $600M
    The future of artificial intelligence (AI), the technology that is seen as potentially impacting almost every industry…techcrunch.com
  5. Chinese police are using smart glasses to identify potential suspects
    China already operates the world’s largest surveillance state with some 170 million CCTV cameras at work, but its line…techcrunch.com
  6. Facial Recognition in China with SenseTime – Nanalyze
    If you’ve spent any meaningful amount of time in a managerial role, you probably understand the importance of having a…www.nanalyze.com
  7. Rong360: Online Financial Product Search Platform · TechNode
    Launched in 2011, Rong360 operates an online financial product search platform providing loan recommendations for small…technode.com
  8. OPPO and SenseTime Jointly Build an AR Developer Platform
    OPPO and SenseTime Jointly Build an AR Developer Platform (Yicai Global) March 19 — Chinese handset maker Guangdong…www.yicaiglobal.com
  9. About Us – OPPO Global
    OPPO is a global electronics and technology service provider that delivers the latest and most exquisite mobile…www.oppo.com
  10. Megvii, Chinese facial recognition startup with access to government database, raises $460 million
    Megvii Inc., a facial recognition development startup also known as Face++, raised about $460 million from the…www.fastcompany.com

App review: Blinkist

The main driver for this app review of Blinkist is simple: I heard a fellow product manager talking about it and was intrigued (mostly by the name, I must add).

My quick summary of Blinkist (before using it) – “Big ideas in small packages” is what I read when I Google for Blinkist. I expect an app which provides me with executive type summaries of book and talks, effectively reducing them to bitesize ideas and talking points.

How does Blinkist explain itself in the first minute? – When I go into Apple’s app store and search for Blinkist, I see a strapline which reads “Big ideas from 2,000+ nonfiction books” and “Listen or read in just 15 minutes”. There’s also a mention of “Always learning” which sounds good …

 

 

Getting started, what’s the process like? (1) – I like how Blinkist lets me swipe across a few screens before deciding whether to click on the “Get started” button. The screens use Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” book as an explain to demonstrate the summary Blinkist offers of the book, the 15 minute extract to read or listen to, and how one can highlight relevant bits of the extract. These sample screens give me a much better idea of what Blinkist is about, before I decide whether to sign up or not.

 

 

Getting started, what’s the process like? (2) – I use Facebook account to sign up. After I clicked on “Connect with Facebook” and providing authorisation, I land on this screen which mentions “£59.99 / year*”, followed by a whole lot of small print. Hold on a minute! I’m not sure I want to commit for a whole year, I haven’t used Blinkist’s service yet! Instead, I decide to go for the “Subscribe & try 7 days for free” option at the bottom of the screen.

 

Despite my not wanting to pay for the Blinkist service at this stage, I’m nevertheless being presented with an App Store screen which asks me to confirm payment. No way! I simply get rid  of this screen and land on a – much friendlier – “Discover” screen.

 

 

To start building up my own library I need to go into the “Discover” section and pick a title. However, when I select “Getting Things Done” which is suggested to me in the Discover section, I need to unlock this first by start a free 7-day trial. I don’t want to this at this stage! I just want to get a feel for the content and for what Blinkist has to offer, and how I can best get value out of its service. I decide to not sign up at this stage and leave things here … Instead of letting me build up my library, invest in Blinkist and its content and I only then making me ‘commit’, Blinkist has gone for a free trial and subscription model instead. This is absolutely fine, but doesn’t work for me unfortunately, as I just want to learn more before leaving my email address, committing to payment, etc.

 

 

Did Blinkist deliver on my expectations? – Disappointed.

 

 

 

App review: Steemit

Steemit.com is one of those products that feels super complex at first sight. I think it’s content platform but I need to give it a much closer look in order to understand how Steemit works:

My quick summary of Steemit (before using it): I reckon Steemit is a content creation and sharing platform, but I’m not sure what technology it’s built on or how it works.

How does the app explain itself in the first minute? “Your voice is worth something” is the first thing I see. When I continue reading above the fold, it says “Get paid for good content. Post and upvote articles on Steemit to get your share of the daily rewards pool.”

Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? The first thing I do is clicking on the “Learn more” button on the Steemit homepage. I then land on a useful FAQ page which covers the typical questions and answers you’d expect. Steemit enables “the crowd to reward the crowd for their content.” The platform is connected with the Steem blockchain, which is decentralised and open. Content contributors to Steemit are rewarded with STEEM, dependent on the attention their content is getting from other Steemit users.

Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? Signing up is very straightforward, nothing out of the ordinary. A nice progress bar, two-factor authentication and I now have to wait for Steemit to validate my sign-up request.

What can I do in the meantime? – I have a little nose around the Steemit platform, to learn about the content people publish. For example, I came across Dan Dicks, who has posted 71 posted on Steemed and has (sofar) received $123.86 for his latest post.

 

Main learning point: Steemit feels very similar to Quora and Reddit, but the main difference being the underlying blockchain and cryptocurrency element. Once my signup request has been approved, I’ll no doubt get a better sense of how the platform actually works. Currently, I’m not entirely clear on the dynamics in terms of being rewarded for your Steemit content.

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://steemit.com/steemit/@mindover/steemit-for-dummies-like-me-everything-you-need-know-to-get-started
  2. https://steemit.com/faq.html
  3. https://steemit.com/exploring/@kebin/what-is-steem-and-what-is-sbd
  4. https://steem.io/SteemWhitePaper.pdf

Book review: “Zero to One”

Whatever you think of Peter Thiel, he’s got a lot of ‘street cred’ in the world of technology and venture capital. We all know how he founded PayPal and turned it into a billion dollar company. As a tech investor, Thiel is widely known for being an early investor in the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn. Listening to a recent interview between Thiel and Reid Hoffman on the latter’s podcast inspired me to read Thiel’s “Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How To Build the Future”. Thiel published “Zero to One” in 2014, based on a course about startups that he taught at Stanford previously.

Truth be told, some of Thiel’s views and concepts in “Zero to One” didn’t resonate with me, mostly because I struggled to convert them into action points I can apply to my own situation (read: working at a successful but early stage startup, and being based in London and not in Silicon Valley). Perhaps that’s exactly the point of Thiel’s book; to provide readers with a wide range of views, some more visionary and though provoking than others, and leaving it with readers to ‘pick and mix’ as they see fit. Consequently, these are the main learning points that I took away from reading “Zero to One”:

  1. Forget about being the first mover, be the last mover instead (1) – In strategy terms, people often talk about the benefits of being a “first mover”; a company’s ability to have a head start over its competitors as a result of being first to market in a new product category. The Hoover vacuum cleaner or Apple’s iPad are good examples of products which opened up a whole new product category and therefore did enjoy (durable) first mover advantage. Thiel, however, flips this by arguing the benefits of being a last mover.
  2. Forget about being the first mover, be the last mover instead (2) – Thiel argues that “moving first is a tactic, not a goal.” He stresses that the point of any business is to generate future cash flows, so being the first mover doesn’t do you any good if someone else comes along and unseats you. Video streaming app Meerkat is a good example of a product which was first to market, but got quickly overtaken by late(r) entrants Periscope and Facebook Live. Thiel explains “It’s much better to be the last mover – that is, to make the last great development in  a specific market and enjoy years or even decades of monopoly profits.” He advises that in order to get to such a position, companies need to dominate a small niche and scale up from there, constantly moving toward their long-term vision.
  3. The value of long term planning – I really like Thiel’s point about “lean” being a methodology, not a goal in it’s own right. As much as I see the value and importance of learning early and often, I do agree with Thiel’s opinion s about the pointlessness of iterating just for the sake of it. What’s the point of a Minimum Viable Product if you aren’t going to learn from it and iterate accordingly? What’s the value of just releasing ‘stuff’ without reflecting on whether a release got you a step closer to achieving your overall vision and commercial success? Thiel describes how successful companies like Apple and Facebook used long-term planning and business planning to get a position of durable market success.
  4. What to do with the “Power Law”? (1) – Thiel gives readers a good insight into the workings of venture capital (‘VC’) companies when he discusses the “power law”. The power law is based on the Pareto Principle. You might have come across this principle in the form of the 80/20 rule; explaining the unequal relationship between inputs and outputs, with 20% of invested input being responsible for 80% of results obtained. Thiel explains that this uneven pattern exists just as much in the VC world: “The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a successful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of of the fund combined.” To optimise for the power law, Thiel recommends focusing on one market, one distribution strategy and, as a consequence, to be cautious about diversification.
  5. What to do with the “Power Law”? (2) – For me, the most valuable bit of “Zero to One” is the part where Thiel covers how to best use the power law when making critical business and product decisions. Going over his questions, I learned the importance of being pretty single minded about your unique proposition and execution (see Fig. 1 below). Thiel’s thinking about these questions is pretty simple: “Whatever your industry, any great business plan must address each every one of them. If you don’t have good answers to these questions, you’ll run into lots of “bad luck” and your business will fail. If you nail all seven you’ll master fortune and succeed.”

Fig. 1 – “Seven questions that every business must answer” – Taken from: Peter Thiel, “Zero to One”, pp. 153-154

  1. The Engineering Question – Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  2. The Timing Question – Is now the right time to start your particular business?
  3. The Monopoly Question – Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. The People Question – Do you have the right team?
  5. The Distribution Question – Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  6. The Durability Question – Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
  7. The Secret Question – Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Main learning point: You can tell that “Zero to One” is written by someone who’s ‘been there and done that’. Thiel speaks with authority about the need to focus on a single market and busts commonplace myths about ‘lean’, first mover advantage and diversification.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/11098971/Peter-Thiel-the-billionaire-tech-entrepreneur-on-a-mission-to-cheat-death.html
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/21/peter-thiel-republican-convention-speech
  3. https://art19.com/shows/masters-of-scale/episodes/09f191df-d089-49a3-876d-75c7730a3f94
  4. http://www.reidhoffman.org/
  5. http://zerotoonebook.com/
  6. https://hbr.org/2005/04/the-half-truth-of-first-mover-advantage
  7. https://marketing-insider.eu/categories-of-new-products/
  8. https://medium.com/@RevelX/first-mover-disadvantage-9-reasons-being-the-first-to-market-may-harm-your-business-9ec75a85b1d2
  9. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2014/10/13/peter-thiel-we-dont-live-in-a-normal-world-we-live-under-a-power-law/#35b4d7fc7a7d
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle

 

App review: Toutiao

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of www.toutiao.com/ homepage 

When I first heard about Toutiaou I thought it might be just another news app, this coming one from China. I learned, however, very quickly that Toutiaou is much more than just a news app; at the time of writing, Toutiao has more than 700 million users in total, with ore than 78 million users reading over 1.3 billion articles on a daily basis.

Toutiao, known officially as Jinri Toutiao, which means “Today’s Headlines”, has a large part of its rapid rise to its ability to provide its users with a highly personalised news feed. Toutiao is a mobile platform that use machine learning algorithms to recommend content to its users, based on previous content accessed by users and their interaction with the content (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Toutiao iOS app

I identified a number of elements that contribute to Toutiao’s success:

  1. AI and machine learning – Toutiao’s flagship value proposition to its users, having its own dedicated AI Lab in order to constantly further the development of the AI technology that underpins its platform. Toutiao’s algorithms learn from the types of content its users interact with and the way(s) in which they interact with this content. Given that Toutiao users spend on average 76 minutes per day on the app, there’s a wealth of data for Toutiao’s algorithms to learn form and to base personalisations on.
  2. Variety of content types to choose from – Toutiao enables its users to upload short videos, and Toutiao’s algorithms of will recommend selected videos to appropriate users (see Fig. 3). Last year, Ivideos on Toutiao were played 1.5 billion times per day, making Toutiao China’s largest short video platform. Users can also upload pictures, similar to Instagram or Facebook, users can share their pictures, with other users being abel to like or comment on this content (see Fig. 4).
  3. Third party integrations – Toutiao has got strategic partnerships in place with the likes of WeChat, a highly popular messaging app (see Fig. 5), and jd.com, a local online marketplace. It’s easy to see how Toutiao is following an approach whereby they’re inserting their news feed into a user’s broader ecosystem.

Main learning point: I was amazed by the scale at which Toutiao operate and the levels at which its users interact with the app. We often talk about the likes of Netflix and Spotify when it comes to personalised recommendations, but with the amount of data that Toutiao gathers, I can they can create a highly tailored content experience for their users.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of video section on Toutiao iOS app 

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of user generated content feed on Toutiao iOS app

IMG_4954

Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Toutiao and WeChat integration on Toutiao iOS app

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.toutiao.com/
  2. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/toutiao#/entity
  3. http://technode.com/2017/06/05/podcast-analyse-asia-187-toutiao-with-matthew-brennan/
  4. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603351/the-insanely-popular-chinese-news-app-that-youve-never-heard-of/
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ywang/2017/05/26/jinri-toutiao-how-chinas-11-billion-news-aggregator-is-no-fake/#24d401d64d8a
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toutiao
  7. http://lab.toutiao.com/
  8. https://www.liftigniter.com/toutiao-making-headlines-machine-learning/
  9. https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/01/chinese-news-reading-app-toutiao-acquires-flipagram/
  10. https://lotusruan.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/cant-beat-giant-companies-on-wechatweibo-try-toutiao/
  11. https://www.chinainternetwatch.com/tag/toutiao/