Interview with Richard Dana

Democratising Access to home ownership

Remy Minute

15 Jun 2022

Increasing house prices, coupled with stagnant wages and stringent mortgage lending criteria, has reduced the ability of first time buyers to be able to purchase a home. We are witnessing an increase in the affordability gap. Innovation of the year and Best Mortgage broker of the British Bank Awards 2023, Tembo, proposes a solution to this problem. It is a digital mortgage broker that focuses on helping a new generation of buyers take their next steps in homeownership via specialist buying schemes.

We recently caught up with Richard Dana, CEO and co-founder of Tembo to hear his insights.

Speaking on his motivation behind the company
“Tembo was born from a personal pain point. My parents had purchased a home in London over 40 years ago and had a significant amount of equity built up in it. They are not wealthy and had no surplus funds to support my sisters and I with buying a home. But there just seemed to be an imbalance whereby my parents had too much property equity and we didn’t have enough. It got me thinking that if this could be harnessed correctly, it could actually be really beneficial to all of us. Looking around at what the ultra-wealthy were doing with family offices — this concept of “professionalising” family finances and working effectively together as a family gave me an idea to create a platform that allowed any family to do the same, no matter how little wealth they had.’’

What is your vision for the company and what does success mean for you and your company?
“Our vision is to help families work more effectively together with their money, because by doing so we believe they can achieve more. We still cherish every great customer outcome that we achieve as a business. It’s something that I love and I’m still really involved in customer interactions and seeing how things progress. Whilst we’re helping people to buy or refinance a home, there is so much more to it than just a financial transaction. To start with, most of our transactions involve family which brings in a whole range of emotions and feelings. But this is also about home — it is where memories are made and new families grow. For us, helping families to achieve things they thought were not going to be possible is really what drives us as a team and a business.”

Talk to me about the development of Tembo and you as a founder since the inception of the firm.
“We launched the business in the midst of the pandemic and it took a while to get the product up and running and the team in place. There have certainly been ups and downs and the mortgage market has not been easy — particularly for consumers, but that has actually helped Tembo — as we help those people who are struggling with affordability on their own. The team has grown and we are now up to 40 people. We have an amazing team of people — and as we’ve developed we’ve really learned what makes the perfect ‘Temboer’. That is something that has been a big learning process for me as well.”

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
“There have been so many hurdles, it is really tricky to pick one. As a regulated business there is this constant balance between innovation and what is allowed within the existing regulations. We have a very strong risk and compliance culture, with a big focus from our board chair all the way through the company. There have been occasions when the timing of some of our innovations wasn’t quite right — and that is frustrating for the team and everyone involved. We’ve learned to slow down the pace of innovation, but make sure that things are done properly and thoughtfully. That has meant that new product releases and iterations have been far more successful than when we set out initially.”

How have you worked with Ascension and why did you decide to get us onboard as investors?
“We met with Ascension during our pre-seed round and they ended up investing pretty quickly — I think it was all done within 6 weeks. We were really impressed with the team and loved the mission of the Fair By Design fund. Jean and Emma have been really supportive and Jean joined our board after the last investment round. Above all else, they just seem like really good people — that is something that can never be overlooked when you’re devoting your life to a business. You need to surround yourself with great people not just in your team but your partners, investors and suppliers too.”

So, what is next for Tembo?
“We’ve built a great proposition and team, now we are focused on growing and continuing to deliver for our customers and strategic partners. There is a huge amount in the pipeline in terms of product releases and growth opportunities — the key for us is to prioritise and make sure we focus on what we do best.”

Who is your most inspirational person and why?
“It’s a tricky one but I would say that my Dad, who died recently, is a big inspiration to me. Aside from being an inspiration for the business he had an incredible ability to remain calm no matter what was going on. I don’t think he ever raised his voice to me during my lifetime. Calmness is not only a great feeling to have but it can also be so powerful too.”