This interview is part of Scaling Enterprise FinTech | The Handbook, launched in Mar. 2021 in partnership with SixThirty Ventures and Finovate Europe. The Handbook 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 have a bit of an unusual background, having been born on a piece of tin in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. Respect to my mother, who is an inspiration! I’m a fintech nut. I’ve been in fintech for 25 years, having been part of the founding team of Volbroker.com in the late nineties. I then spent time in several banks, including a decade at Goldman where I led their strategic investments and corporate venturing team. But I knew that I wanted to get back to building and creating. So I started on a quest, with my amazing co-founders (Andre, Giulio and Philipp) and our team, to fix B2B payments.
Our company is a data science firm, on a mission to instantly pay the world’s millions of small sellers, so that they don’t have to wait and chase for weeks and months to get paid. Our purpose is to unleash the power of data for business.
2. Give us the backstory- how did you get the founding idea, and how did the first sale come about?
B2B payments are archaic – suppliers wait and chase for months to get paid. It is monumentally inefficient. Imagine if you went into Starbucks, ordered a coffee, and said: “Send me an invoice, I’ll pay you in 60 days.” That would be mad. And yet, that’s how business works.
The founding idea came from a hunch – that perhaps we could use data to fix this? Our hypothesis was that there would be enough predictive power in the payables data of large corporates to precisely assess the risk on any given invoice, so that we could facilitate instant payment without the months of manually checking invoices. So we tested our hypothesis, and it turns out that we were right. But, as any successful entrepreneur or investor will tell you, an idea counts for nothing. It is all about execution. And it is all about the team that executes. And in Enterprise Fintech, that takes a decade. In fact, conviction in the sanctity of your idea is a huge blocker for a start up – because it stops you learning and iterating. We definitely suffered from that in the first few years.
The first sale was an introduction from an early investor, for which we are forever grateful. I met with the Chairman of a very well known global firm, and within 10 minutes he said: “This is brilliant, we’re in.” Unfortunately, that gave me an unrealistic expectation of enterprise sales …….
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?
Phase 1 was all about testing the hypothesis – can this work? Is there enough predictive power in the payables data of a large corporate to price the risk on an invoice? Having proved that, phase 2 of the journey was building the platform to industrial strength, so that it was ready for enterprise customers. And we are now in phase 3, having proved our model and built the platform, it is all about go-to-market and making our solution available to millions of SMEs. We use a combination of direct sales to large corporates, channel sales to large corporates, and embedding our solution with the leading existing players in the industry so we can enable them to deliver better products.
4. Which was the most challenging phase, and what would you have done differently?
The most challenging phase is always the one that you are in! And I will know what we should have differently once we are past this phase and can look back on it with 20/20 vision in hindsight. But generally the biggest learning is to listen. No-one has the right answer. No-one has a great product or a genius idea. But everyone has the ability to listen, to empathise, to find pain points of customers, and build solutions for them.
5. When did you decide to expand to the international/ US market, and how?
We’re unusual for a fintech in that our solution is global right out of the gate – as any large corporate has suppliers in multiple countries. So we simply followed our initial clients and partners, first to the US and shortly to Asia and LatAm.
6. When did you first decide to raise venture capital, and what has been your approach to financing growth over the years?
For us it wasn’t a decision, as it was a necessity. We weren’t in a position to boot strap, and what we were undertaking was very ambitious – to change the way business is done, globally. So we raised venture capital at the seed stage, and have continued that strategy over several rounds.
7. How is building an Enterprise FinTech firm different from a “regular” SaaS / Enterprise Tech company, and what three things should founders get right?
FinTech is of course different. It’s more complicated and the stakes are higher. “Build fast and break things” is not an option in regulated markets. Founders need to be very patient – it takes a long time. They need to take compliance seriously. And they need to have real credibility .
8. What’s on the priority list for you and your team for the next year?
Execution. And selling. Over the last 5 years, we’ve built the foundations to fundamentally change how business is done globally, and to fundamentally transform the $125 trn of B2B commerce. We have partnered with some terrific leaders in the space, and now the priority is go-to-market and getting an incredible product into the hands of millions of businesses.
9. Where is the financial services sector headed in the next 12-18 months, and what should we be watching out for?
The pandemic will have a big impact – it has accelerated a lot of innovation, created real demand for more efficient finance, and also exposed some business models. We will see a real acceleration in banks and fintechs partnering – the smart banks will continue to realise that not only they can’t build everything themselves, but they shouldn’t!
10. Your favorite place(s) for a meal, coffee or drink (pre-COVID19)?
Lemonia, Primrose Hill. It’s a family run Greek restaurant just around the corner, and a real gem. I don’t think the menu or people have changed in the 20 years we’ve been going – and that’s a great thing!