What to Do When Your Startup is Blacklisted


It's a hard lesson, but a key one.


“Typical brat Gen-Y trying to change the way we operate. I call to boycott any bank that works with him.” This is just one of the abusive Tweets that Clint Howen, the founder of Hero BroKer received in a two-week period after admitting in an interview that his company, which aims to revolutionise the mortgage industry, was in trouble.

“Good to see there is no more hero and only a zero,” “Get back in your box, son,” and “Boom, another tech company gone! Suck it, Clint Howen.” In fact, the 28-year-old has faced such a torrent of abuse that he decided to film a YouTube video in which he read aloud some of the vitriolic comments. “I needed to explain to our customers why I couldn’t help them,” says Clint. “It was a humorous way of giving an insight into the challenges we’re facing.”

What shocked him most about the abuse weren’t the words but the troll’s identities. As stated in their Twitter bios, most worked in the home loan industry. “I knew when I launched Hero BroKer that I might face a little resistance,” says Clint. “But I was naïve in respect of how old-school the industry is and what the people working within it would do.”

The Hero BroKer model gives consumers direct access to a panel of mortgage aggregators. It removes the mortgage broker from the deal-making process and allows the consumer to pocket the commission they would have taken. “Within two weeks of launching earlier this year, we’d had over $20 million-worth of mortgage applications from customers,” says Clint. But they faced an unexpected problem – every aggregator refused to work with them.

“The aggregators still get their ‘clip’ of the loan so I thought they’d be happy,” says Clint. “I’d be bringing them customers in volume. But in meeting after meeting I heard the same thing, ‘My director had told me that we can’t work with you.’” Around the same time, the only aggregator firm that initially signed up with Hero BroKer pulled out of their contract, within their 30-day cooling off period.

“I didn’t know what was happening,” says Clint. “I had expected some people to not want to work with me, but not all of them.”

The situation only became clear when the entrepreneur met up with the GM of another aggregator firm. “He admitted the different aggregator groups had got together to discuss Hero BroKer and all agreed they would never work with me. We had been blacklisted.”

It’s the day that every budding company dreads.

“It certainly [knocks] you back,” says Clint. “But then I took a step back and thought about my options. If I couldn’t get the support of aggregators, I would go down another avenue and contact banks directly. It would be slower, but could end up being a better model.”

Luckily, the pivot has paid off.

“I’ve had success,” he admits. “Especially with smaller lenders like Building Societies and Credit Unions who are designed to empower consumers.”

The entrepreneur now chooses to take the backlash as a compliment. “I noticed something years ago when I lived in Perth and used to run along the coast with my shirt off,” he says. “When I was out of shape I didn’t get any heckles, but when I started to look half-decent guys would yell out of their car windows, abusing me. Now, I take it as a sign I’m onto something.”

In the YouTube video, Clint raises a glass of wine to his “haters”. He credits his upbeat attitude to an important role model – his mother.

“My mum is nearly 60, she’s tiny and she works in a maximum security jail,” says Clint. “She deals with some of Australia’s hardest criminals, but she’s always upbeat, happy and grateful. If she can work in that environment and still have a positive attitude, than I can manage a few grey-haired suits.”

Amy Molloy



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