Q&A, Q&A- Startups

7 Questions with Hussam EL-Sheikh of 9fin

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself, both at work and leisure.

Hey I’m Huss, CTO & Co-founder of 9fin. I think I’d describe myself as an engineer in every sense of the word. So, via a degree in Aerospace Engineering, taking apart my siblings’ toys as a child, learning programming at school from age 12, I find myself now running a technology startup serving up news, data and analysis to the financial markets. I love Formula 1, and it’s been a very stressful (but exciting) 2021 championship this year. I’m trying to get better at badminton after taking it up for the first time a couple of years ago… At least my height lets me get away with not being any good yet!

2. Which product or service do you offer, and who are your competitors?

When a company chooses to raise financing by borrowing money, they may choose to do this via the Debt Capital Markets. There are many moving parts and many players in that process, who all want and need different things.

9fin provides a specialist market intelligence platform covering European Leveraged Finance. Across High Yield Bonds, Leveraged Loans, CLOs, Restructurings and Insolvencies. Our clients are Sell-Side and Buy-Side firms, Restructuring Advisers, Distressed Hedge Funds and Law Firms. Providing everything investors need to analyse an investment, giving traders an edge with breaking news alerts and arming Investment Banks with deep data & analytics to help them pitch and win deal mandates.

I’d say there are not many peers to our all in one platform for Leveraged Finance, combining many aspects of more generalist larger market data providers. We’re expanding to the US and are always adding to our product lines.

3. How did you get the business idea and take it from launch to the first customers?

This is where I introduce my friend of 10 years, housemate of 6 years and co-founder of 5 years, Steven. If you’re doing your maths right, yes… this does mean there was a period where we were in the same house while founding the same company! During that time, both of us and our third housemate Tom, would always vent about the less than ideal technology experiences within our day jobs. All of us were at Investment Banks at the time, experiencing awful software tools, forever delayed projects, archaic red tape or simply just a lack of any modern technology at all.

So the kernel of the idea that Debt Capital Markets, especially Leveraged Finance, operated like it was still in the 1980s and that it was in need of modernisation was directly from Steven’s own experiences. After years of not doing anything about it, I guess we got convinced… so I decided to quit my job and join the party to start 9fin.

4. How have you financed your startup? Any lessons would you like to share from the fund-raising journey?

We have had quite a “typical” series of Venture Capital investment rounds, but that shouldn’t make it sound like it was all a walk in the park! We had to explain the mechanics of the complex leveraged finance market many many times over, to then even be able to get to laying out the vision we had of a new global financial data and technology platform.

So my advice is to not be put off by the inevitable setbacks you’ll face, fundraising is a process and it has to run its course. It is at the same time the most orchestrated, methodical and planned operation while also being totally random. Talking to other founders has always been helpful, whether to be a sounding board or to just vent. So do make the effort to maintain those relationships, it’s easy to let slip when you’re no longer all in the same co-working space. Just keep going, and good luck!

5. What’s your ask/ how could our network help you in the next 6-12 months?

Any connections to Sell-Side and Buy-Side firms, Restructuring Advisers, Distressed Hedge Funds and Law Firms operating in Leveraged Finance in Europe or the US are most welcome!

6. Which key trends and opportunities should we be watching in (European) finance?

Europe is naturally going to be fruitful grounds for technologies and innovation in Capital Markets. Every country has its own financial centers, as well as being within the wider continental financial ecosystem at the same time too. We’re almost forced to relentlessly use technology, as it’s the only way to enable all the collaboration and interconnection required to make it all work.

I think it’s a really exciting time! 3-4 years ago, when you heard the word “fintech” it was taken to mean retail banking apps or maybe neo insurance apps. But now there are a growing number of fintechs who are very much in the Capital Markets technology space. That is, technology for core Investment Banking, Market Trading, Capital Raising and Capital Allocation functions. Many of the traditional ways of doing Banking are broken: human intensive manual processes (analyst burnout is real), paper/powerpoint/excel based processes, lack of data driven decision making and overall legacy technology from the 1980/90s. Yes, some firms have already been going for a decade plus, but there are a lot of new startups doing new things to address all of these problems.

7. What’s on your bookshelf/ reading list, and your favorite place for a coffee or a drink?

I’m very bad at reading fiction! So for that escapism, I usually turn to a screen. Movies, a Series or Documentaries. I really enjoyed reading “Crossing the Chasm” – Geoffrey Moore, that really helped me understand the process of selling to very large enterprise customers. “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”’ – Chris Hadfield, was also a great motivational book on just simply getting your head down and working hard toward your goals.

Unlimited Chai at the end of a meal at Dishoom in Kings Cross is always a winner in my book.