Asher Ismail

Coaching founders to scale themselves and their businesses faster

HOF Entrepreneurs Asher Ismail 1920X1080 (1)

Published: 07/07/2021

Updated: 17/11/2023

After a successful career building venture-backed companies, including Make it Matter, Midrive and Uncapped, Asher Ismail is now paying it forward by sharing his learnings with other founders and CEOs as a coach.

How it started

Asher Ismail’s first enterprise was selling pirated copies of video games to his friends. It was quickly shut down by a teacher who suggested his energies might be channeled in a more productive direction, but the entrepreneurial bug stuck and while studying at the University of Toronto, he started Make it Matter.

The social enterprise focused on funding social projects by creating an online marketplace that linked those with an idea to improve their community with local people who wanted to help. Some people would offer funds and some people would offer time. Asher also brought in corporate partners to match donations. L’Oreal, for example, became the group’s ‘partner in creativity’ and co-funded all projects connected to the arts.

Asher went on to work for BCG as a consultant, before moving on to advise the CEOs of Skype and on strategy and business development. He then became CEO of Midrive, a startup that disrupted the sleepy market for new drivers by connecting learners and instructors which was acquired by the AA in 2019.

However, with all these experiences, Asher kept coming up against the same problem – funding. It was difficult to access, the fundraising process was slow and time-consuming, and the decision-making process that led to getting investment was opaque. "The hardest part was always raising the money I needed to grow. That’s what led me to founding Uncapped, a revenue-based finance provider which allows founders to raise growth capital without giving up control of their business. It’s the funding option I wish existed when I was trying to run my business."

The key was finding a different way to underwrite businesses. He says:

Banks use personal guarantees and credit checks to drive their decisions. We’re a technology company. We’re looking at a company’s actual performance by connecting to the data they already use to run their businesses. Their payment processor, their accounting software, their bank account. We use that live data to make better and faster decisions.”
Asher Ismail

And to make repayments fairer for entrepreneurs, Uncapped uses a flat fee model instead of charging interest or taking equity.

Asher believes Uncapped’s opportunity to transform fundraising is vast as online businesses make up a greater share of the economy. If ever he had doubted there was an unmet need, the day that he announced Uncapped’s launch in TechCrunch, he had 400 applications from businesses looking for funding. He adds: “The options are so limited for founders who want to raise capital. Venture capital is a common route, but less than 1% of companies will raise this type of funding. So much of that goes to specific types of businesses that are in a specific place. We’ve been able to level the playing field.”

It’s not about who you know or whether you’ve shaken hands or sat down for coffee. It’s about how your business is performing. That means businesses don’t have to be based in major centres such as London to raise funds.

At first, Asher and his partners tried to build Uncapped without the technology, and underwrote all the loans themselves. Only then did he raise his first funding round to bring in engineers to make it “a beautiful fast process”.

How’s it going?

The pandemic accelerated demand. “In three months of the pandemic, we saw 10 years of ecommerce growth.” At the same time, funding from banks and other traditional sources started to dry up. Another knock-on effect from the pandemic has been a huge rise in entrepreneurship. Asher adds:

It's one of my proudest achievements, knowing we've helped thousands of entrepreneurs access the capital they need to grow."
Asher Ismail

In less than five years, the company has expanded into 20+ countries and recently raised another £200M in funding. However, if anything, Asher says, the company was too cautious during the pandemic. He naturally slowed down because everyone else did, when in reality, the need for funding was increasing: “We did waste some time. However, once we looked at the live data and the reality of companies’ trading positions, we made quick decisions and continued to issue credit. Eventually, we doubled down and that risk paid off.”

What’s next?

After 20 plus years in the trenches, Asher has handed over his operational responsibilities. He’s now fully focused on how he can empower others to reach their potential. The idea came from his startup journey when he often struggled to find support. "A startup executes only as well as its CEO. Unfortunately, when I started scaling, the support available for me as the founder massively declined because there were fewer founders in my situation and quality content was hard to find. While there were many founder coaches, I struggled to find one who had been a CEO."

Recognising the impact of coaching on their portfolio, investor Octopus Ventures invited Asher to become their official coaching partner. His work as a coach now allows him to provide the kind of insights and support to founders that few others can offer. “Most good investors recognize the need to invest in founders not only financially but also emotionally. They also acknowledge that, as investors, there will always be situations in which they are not the best sparring partner.”

Asher's role as a coach means he often reflects on his own roller coaster journey to relate and guide his clients. "I've had many successes, but I've also shut down a company, experienced burnout, and lost loved ones. Similarly, many founders I've worked with have had challenging and life-changing experiences that I've been able to coach them through. Founders persevere in situations where others would just give up. It's this resilience in the face of adversity that defines a true entrepreneur."