Norfolk Network stories

Disruptive business

Jane Chittenden
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Steffan Aquarone has built his career on disruptive business models and collaborations between large groups of people. He’s an early adopter of crowdfunding, and that’s enabled him to do some extraordinary things – including persuading an entire village to collaborate in making and financing a film, and developing a new way to send money via mobile technology.

When he was just 20 Steffan became a founding director of a UK Top 50 film production company. After that, he co-founded Immense Films – and that proved to be ground-breaking. The company made headlines with its 2012 romantic comedy Tortoise in Love, with the help of the village of Kingston Bagpuize. The villagers got involved in all sorts of ways, from making cakes to organising a Red Arrows flypast – and crucially, they raised all the funding needed. The film was a huge success.

“It taught me that if you do good things in a good way,
people want to gravitate to you and make it happen.”
Steffan Aquarone, film producer and entrepreneur

Nothing was more exciting than making that film, Steffan says, and he learned a key lesson too: “It taught me that if you do good things in a good way, people want to gravitate to you and make it happen.”

Next, Steffan immersed himself in new tech. He was based in Birmingham– a good place to run a business, he says. Steffan and his business partner Will Grant had spotted an opportunity to disrupt the banking and finance sector and co-founded the mobile money app Droplet. Completely outside the conventional banking and card systems, it’s an app for social payments, a new way for people to send money to each other via mobile, for free.

They made some mistakes along the way:

  • They thought sales people would sell the product (they couldn’t)
  • Apple had rated Droplet as one of the best apps, so they thought peer-to-peer payment would take off (it didn’t)
  • They hired a top-notch London agency for advertising (that didn’t work either)

What really worked, they found, was grassroots take-up, working with local networks of merchants and councils. Already 17.5K people have downloaded the app and it’s operating in three cities: Birmingham, Edinburgh and Norwich.

So what happens next? Fee-free payments brings people in, but now they need to monetise the app, with some help from angel investors. They’re looking into Droplet rewards such as zero-touch payments and rewards, like stamps. These are exciting times for the company. Today they’ve captured three cities – tomorrow, who knows how many more will join them?