This interview is part of Scaling Enterprise FinTech | The Handbook, which includes proprietary research on ca. 65 Enterprise FinTech scaleups in Europe, Q&As with 16 founders on their journey to scale, as well as insights from 10 leading investors and financial institutions. Whether you are a founder with an idea, an early stage startup looking for inspiration and learnings, or an investor or financial institution looking to understand the difficult but rewarding journey to building a world-class Enterprise FinTech firm – download the Handbook here http://www.fintechforum.de/sef/
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your company.
I’m Nicolas Blanchard, co-founder of Apiax which is a tech compliance solution that makes it radically simple for companies to comply with global regulations.
Apiax’s technology is designed to embed compliance into business processes so that business teams can work more productively and compliance teams can manage their stakeholders much more efficiently.
In four years we have grown to have over 65 employees across 4 countries (Switzerland, Portugal, United Kingdom and Singapore). With our combined compliance expertise and technological abilities we are on the mission to make compliance easy for everyone.
2. Give us the backstory- how did you get the founding idea, and how did the first sale come about?
I met my co-founders in 2016 through mutual friends and we immediately recognized our shared passion. Coming from backgrounds in technology, product, compliance and marketing, we had witnessed the effects of increasing regulatory complexity first-hand. That’s what set us out to answer: ‘How can compliance be mastered in the 21st century?’
Our first customer was a Swiss private bank. Getting them onboard and trusting our innovation was a big step for us. The project was a stepping stone that helped us develop our product and set the foundation for future projects and products. Even now, years later and with new clients onboard, our aim continues to be the same: to turn compliance into a business enabler for our clients.
3. Could you summarize your journey to scale from a sales, go-to-market and business development perspective, perhaps split into 2-3 key phases?
As a marketplace starting out, we often found ourselves in the chicken-or-the-egg problem in the sense of “where do we start?”. I’d say our first challenge was to find content partners, which is when the popcorn began to ‘pop’—and it has yet to stop! We are growing fast and it is amazing to see how far we have become in just four years.
4. Which was the most challenging phase, and what would you have done differently?
In the early days, everything was a learning curve. I wouldn’t have done anything differently because it’s led us to where we are today; which is a growth company building its team and expanding to new markets with new clients.
I’d say the most challenging part in growing so rapidly has been scaling up and hiring the right people and quickly. It’s a challenging market when it comes to finding the best talent.
5. When did you decide to expand to the international/ US market, and how? We do have first customers in the US and APAC.
In May 2019, we joined Allen & Overy’s Fuse Accelerator and kickstarted business activities in the UK. Last year we also got our first customers in the US and APAC. The decision to go international was based on a market analysis and the insight that for our sales processes to be successful, we need to have a presence close to our customers.
6. When did you first decide to raise venture capital, and what has been your approach to financing growth over the years?
Our first round of funding was in 2017 with business angels (our Seed Round). In 2019, for the Series A round of funding, e.ventures and XAnge joined our journey. We have recently extended our Series A with the Frankfurt-based Futury Regio Growth Funds who will support and accelerate our expansion to Germany. We are very much committed to be a VC-funded growth company.
7. How is building an Enterprise FinTech firm different from a “regular” SaaS / Enterprise Tech company, and what three things should founders get right?
I think there are various ways that they are different. B2B Fintech companies tend to have long sales cycles compared to other SaaS companies. This sales process can also be complex as there are usually multiple stakeholders involved. In our case, the procurement process is also much more complex than in other industries. From my experience, there are three things that can really help you get that kick start. These include enterprise readiness to drive your ideas, pre-sales expertise to get your product out there, and having good and relevant references.
8. What’s on the priority list for you and your team for the next year?
Our objectives are to accelerate global growth plans, strengthen product development and continue to build a strong interdisciplinary team across all locations. This includes the expansion to new markets, investing heavily in the product pipeline, as well as an ambitious hiring plan for the coming year.
9. Where is the financial services sector headed in the next 12-18 months, and what should we be watching out for?
I think that it’s only a matter of time before digitising regulation and compliance practices will be a standard. Although I think we are not there yet, I do believe that in the next couple of years we will see a growth in the digitalisation of processes for financial services and see more distributed
teams. With the current climate and how the new “normal” is affecting how we do business, I also think more regulations will emerge.
10. Your favorite place(s) for a meal, coffee or drink (pre-COVID19)?
In our Zurich office, prior to COVID of course, Cafe Grande & Bar was a favourite go-to place down the street. Now I’d say that our virtual team building get-togethers on zoom with all our colleagues around the world are pretty cool!