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With Checkout.com recently announcing a record $230m in Series A funding, its founder and CEO, Guillaume Pousaz, guest stars on the latest Rolphcast to talk about building a payments processing platform from scratch, why success shouldn’t make a business complacent, and the biggest challenge that all growing companies must face…
Hello and welcome to episode 10 of the Rolphcast. This is the fourth edition of the Founders Series and this week I’m delighted to have the opportunity to sit down with one of the busiest men in fintech right now — Guillaume Pousaz, who is the CEO and founder of Checkout com.
For those of you who have been hiding under a rock over the last month or so, Checkout.com just recently announced one of the largest Series A investments in fintech history — $230m. So without further ado…
Welcome Guillaume — all founders and entrepreneurs of startups tend to be busy, but having just raised what has turned out to be probably a record Series A at $230m, I’d imagine you’re definitely busy.
Life has changed for the better — no question. I think the way we look at it is that we know we worked super hard for this — probably a full decade from when we started in the beginning — and of course the profile has raised a lot, but we’re the exact same people we were six months ago.
For someone who has never heard of Checkout.com, could you tell us what you do?
Checkout.com is basically a unified payments platform that provides a truly global acquiring network with all relevant payment methods around the world via unified technology — so it’s a single API, single reporting and single reconciliation.
You talk about it being 10 years in the making — how did you start Checkout.com, how did you get to where you are today, what’s then led to that point where all of a sudden it’s the name that everyone’s talking about in fintech?
OK — so it’s a pretty long story and I’m going to try and make it short. I wanted to be an investment banker. That didn’t work out for personal reasons. Then after this I took a job in California after three months of surfing there because the job was next to a wave pretty much.
I didn’t find payments, payments found me. It was a payments company. I spent two years as an employee, left with the head of sales and started my first business.
We didn’t own anything — so we were a true white label. We were sending contracts to a bank, we didn’t have the technology. My partner and I had different visions for the business — he wants to buy a Porsche when the business does well, I want to build a tech company and basically build everything myself. We split, we start again — well I start again — and this is basically the beginning of Checkout.com, starting with a payment gateway.
After the payment gateway, in 2012 we became licensed by the FCA. In 2013 Visa and MasterCard gave us a principal membership, so for people who know payments: now I have a payment gateway so I can connect a website or app to an acquiring bank. I now have the acquiring bank, but I’m missing the last piece of the technology, which is the payment processor.
We tried to find out who we could to work with on this because this was too big for us to build. Nobody wanted to work with us — I guess because we didn’t raise money or because we didn’t have enough money — and from there on we decided to build the whole payment processing platform ourselves, which for most people was completely crazy.
It took us more than three years — which is also probably why there was no marketing in anything — we just worked super hard to basically build the rails and pipes of payment processing.
We did this for all major card schemes, adding older payment methods on top of it. Fast forward to 2016, we relaunch everything and from there on it’s mostly exponential growth.
Now more recently you have a set of investors that have put a large amount of money in — can you tell me what you think the differences are pre-investor? I think once before you mentioned the fact that: “hey, no investors means no pressure.” Now after taking investment, what’s materially changed in your world particularly?
First of all I have my investors sitting in front of my wife in my preferred WhatsApp contacts. I think that’s the best way to put it. The second point is that we always said we wanted investors to get the best version of ourselves — it’s a matter of not being complacent.
We’ve obviously had a lot of success, we know we can do a lot more — I don’t see it as having somebody breathing behind your neck — but having the moral contract with somebody and actually a financial contract to actually deliver, that’s the best way to put yourself under pressure.
I mean I’m a big runner, when you have a race coming up you train harder — I think it’s the exact same thing – but like I said in the beginning of the interview, we are really trying to stay true to ourselves and not change the group of people that we have internally too much.
A couple of things come off the back of that: one is around the impact on the leadership team…
That press was really good for everyone — for all the people who worked super hard. Now it’s a matter of not letting it go to our head — if anything it has built a true bond with the management team of saying you know what, everything is changing around us — like I said in a good way, suddenly a lot of people care about meeting us — but we’re in the exact same people we have been for so long, and if anything it makes us stronger.
And then the second part to this is the impact it’s had on the culture of the organisation.
Culture is always the biggest challenge in growing companies. Now we have about 380 employees — by the end of next year we’re going to have about a thousand. We hire like 30 people a month — that’s why we’re actually outgrowing offices at the speed of light. So the truth is when you add more than 600 people in about 18 months, keeping the culture strong is a challenge.
Not everyone was in the trenches in the beginning, not everyone was there from the beginning of the company essentially, and hence bringing in new people, making sure that they understand your values, what you’re trying to do, is a challenge and I think it’s a challenge any high growth company is going to have. Fundamentally, it comes through spending time with your people.
This has been a real pleasure to chat to you. I know that you’ve got to scoot across town and have a big meeting coming up, so we appreciate you taking the time to sit on the couch and let the audience know a bit more about what you guys are doing.
Congratulations on the phenomenal success to date — keep up the hard work and we’re looking forward to continuing to innovate between Yoyo and Checkout.com in the future.
I look forward to it — Thanks Mike.