For Conor Lyden, the transition from penniless college student to penniless founder was relatively seamless. 

Leaving University College Cork (UCC) in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, he considered going down the route of working in a professional services firm, but decided to dedicate a year to building his own business first. 

Setting out, he decided to solve a problem he had faced when trying to buy football tickets, or sell his grandfather’s car through online marketplaces. 

Lyden wanted to eliminate the risk of handing over an envelope of cash in a carpark, or the chilling factor of having strangers come into your home to pick up a second hand sofa. 

“I thought this is all very sketchy and there must be a better way,” Lyden told The Currency in this week’s podcast.

“I was familiar with escrow as a concept because I had done a couple of J1s and I was always left sorting out the accommodation for everyone.”

Conceptually an escrow, an arrangement in which a third party temporarily holds money between two other parties, suited what Lyden wanted to achieve. However, it was a document heavy and time consuming process and wasn’t suited to everyday transactions, like those Lyden wanted to make safer. 

The other flaw with escrow was that it only dealt with money, it didn’t deal with the logistics of sending and delivering an item. 

“The idea behind Trustap is to merge those ideas together for what we call milestone based transactions,” Lyden said.  

“So a buyer pays and the seller ships through the platform as well and we can see when it has arrived and been signed for and we will release the money after a dispute period. So we control the transaction from end to end.” 

Starting out Lyden hadn’t initially thought of partnering with marketplaces. He had originally envisioned a consumer facing product, but it quickly became apparent that to grow a business based on individual sporadic and spontaneous transactions would be incredibly slow and haphazard. 

“It made sense for us to partner with marketplaces, where those transactions were originating,” he said. 

“It just so happened that the world of classified marketplaces was going through a bit of a transformation at the time and they wanted to get closer to the transactions.”

Conor Lyden is CEO and founder of Trustap.

The initial problem Lyden faced was that many of these marketplaces hadn’t updated their infrastructure in years, they were still operating as if they were classified ads on the back of a newspaper. 

The marketplaces didn’t have basic data on the number of items being successfully sold, the length of time to sale, or what kind of ads converted to sales. 

This made it difficult for the platforms to market themselves appropriately, to know in which direction to grow, and limited them in their ability to grow revenue. 

“They weren’t monetising the transactions that were happening throughout the platform, they were only making money from the cost of hosting an ad, but we had a way for them to become transactional without any of the liability, or overheads,” Lyden said.

Trustap is now partnered with eight marketplaces across the UK, Finland, Malaysia and the US. The company is yet to land a deal with an Irish marketplace, but that is coming down the line. 

For peer to peer transactions, Trustap charges 3 per cent of the value of the trade, but through marketplaces where high-value items like cars and campervans are sold, this fee has been reduced.

“Initially the fees were inhibitive if you were doing a large transaction because we were only using card payment, the reality is those sit on multiple layers of infrastructure like Visa or Mastercard. They are interchange fees you can’t avoid,” he said.

“But when we are able to add additional payment methods, like bank to bank, we were able bring the fees way down. So the fees now depend on the payment method.”

Trustap’s next move to expand the scope of the business is to take on the logistical task of transporting items by partnering with delivery companies.

The service is already being trialled in Manhattan, which has the advantage of being densely populated and limited in size.

“It is more complex in Ireland and in the UK, where someone in west Cork could be selling to someone in Antrim. But that is on the roadmap anyway and we are hoping to get that up and running this year,” he said.

“Hopefully it will be a game changer, if you can make it a realistic option for people, for it to be as easy to sell stuff as throw it out.”

Growth and funding

The other area of growth for Trustap is in the SME space, where it has found a new use case for its escrow model.  

“In e-commerce you have a large middle market that sells directly from shopify stores or from Instagram stores and they wouldn’t have the same level of trust as the large merchants,” Lyden said.

“Someone selling soccer jerseys wouldn’t have the same brand recognition as Nike or Adidas, so they often struggle to convert site visitors to paying customers, because there is a lot of doubt that comes into it. “

With a Trustap enabled seller, a buyer can see that the merchant will only receive payment once the item has been received.

Psychologically, Lynden said, that leads to much higher trust from the user, and leads to higher conversion rates. “We have only started in that space, but it is really exciting,” he said.

The biggest competition Lyden sees is not from other escrow companies, but from the continued use of cash and services like Paypal.

“I do think as people get more comfortable with crypto, decentralised options will become more popular. The reality is, we could do this with blockchains, but for the general population it is still a very taboo subject,” he said.

Trustap was backed early on by Liam Casey, the founder of PCH, and raised $3.4 million (€3.1 million) in seed funding earlier this year. 

The round was led by MiddleGame Ventures with co-investment from Act and Atlantic Bridge. Lyden is now optimistic that the company will close a Series A round of between $10 million – $12 million by the end of this year. 

The business now has offices in Cork, London, New York and Zagreb. 


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