An interview with Aron Schwarzkopf, CEO and Co-founder of Kushki, a payment platform tailor-made for Latin America.
What are some of the biggest challenges in the fintech sector, specifically related to POS payments?
There is a lack of standardization in the way that payments are handled in different countries, and this presents the most significant challenge because it complicates the process of connecting them all across borders. We’re working to address that by adding some standardized connecting processes and using artificial intelligence to help mitigate these complications and make smooth cross-border payments a given.
Why are cross-border payments becoming more of a necessity?
As the world becomes increasingly global, the necessity for cross-border payments grows. People and businesses are expanding their scope and reach and therefore need to be able to operate in different countries. Part of being functional is the ability to make those cross-border payments, and so the demand for better options for those payments will continue to grow.
What are the key opportunities for cross-border payments?
There are four main opportunities that I see for cross-border payments. The first is facilitating fast and direct payments, cutting down on the extra steps required, but still maintaining the security of the transactions. From this, follows the need (and opportunity) to centralize recurring payments. Smart links are also an area of opportunity, letting people make mobile payments through different platforms using personal payment links. Lastly, expanding the opportunity to store payment information, like card numbers, and using tokenization to facilitate recurring payments.
With several fintech startups launching recently, how can you tell which are valid?
One common mistake is to assume that just because a startup has built something innovative that it is going to be useful. Instead, the most important thing to evaluate is whether the company is offering a solution to a significant pain point or just offering a minor improvement. I recommend comparing the startup to the most established version of its product. Which is less expensive? Which is easier? Which is resolving a larger challenge? If the startup is doing well on both counts, they’re probably on to something.
What are the security concerns surrounding POS payments?
The authentication process for credit card transactions is different in different regions due to different technological infrastructure. This inconsistency can generate confusion and concern about the security of various transactions and makes it hard to verify and understand the different fraud management and security processes in place.
HOW NEW TECH START-UP IS SHAKING UP THE IT CONTRACT MARKET
Neil How, CEO and Co-founder, ten80
1. What is ten80?
ten80 enables cost savings on SAP/software projects by an average of 43%. We do this by switching companies to an on-demand workforce – think Uber and how that has disrupted the taxi industry.
The ten80 marketplace connects companies with around 47,000 verified contractors, using algorithms to match companies with the very best experts that then deliver on projects remotely. This enables SAP customers to utilise a global workforce and break free from geographical borders, as well as take advantage of international market rates. In other words, it gives them the exact resources, when they want them, for however long they need them for and at a cost-effective price.
2. How did the idea of ten80 come about?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with SAP my entire career. My journey first started at the end-user side. I ran my first SAP implementation project in my early twenties and went on to form an SAP Centre of Excellence to allow for long term improvement.
Over the next six years, I ran three other major change programmes before joining the consulting world, and for the next 10 years I worked with various consultancies running numerous projects in a wide variety of sectors, including retail, utilities, banking public sector and government.
But having spent time working both end-user side and consulting side, it became clear that SAP clients were struggling to access the best in class consultants and contractors. Wanting to get this knowledge into the wider world, ten80 was formed to digitally link the global contracting workforce to a global customer base, while allowing clients to digitally access the ‘best in world’ not the ‘best in organisation’.
3. ten80 is solving business problems, but how is it helping contractors?
Consistency of regular work is becoming a challenge for many contractors, and the impact of ‘dead time’ becoming more severe and likely. This is made worse through an ever increasing pool of expert contractors.
In addition, selling time for money is not a sustainable model for financial freedom, and contractors are tired of being capped at an ever decreasing day rate. Contracting also puts a huge pressure on family life, especially if you have to be on-site away from home — missing out on time with family and loved ones is a huge drawback, and there is little work life balance.
With ten80, contractors can benefit from the following:
- An ‘always on’ demand for work
- The ability to sell their knowledge and capabilities rather than a day of their time
- Being able to carry out their role wherever in the world at any time, with total bulletproof security
4. What are the main challenges for your business?
ten80 is operating in a completely new area — outcomes-based delivery, so not being able to be ‘put’ us in a specific vendor box type is a challenge. Often corporate organisation’s procurement processes want to categorise us as a systems integrator or recruiter, but we are neither.
Being the first to market is always hard. We are offering some really powerful benefits to businesses and contractors, but we have no one to follow and are learning at every step of the way. There is a great saying that I have always believed in – “Success leaves footprints.” The big difference with ten80 is that we are making them! We are running agile processes on each stage of our journey. Everything is tested, iterated, refined, repeated. It’s the curse of being the first, but actually embedding continual improvement into our business has been one of our rocks of success.
Another challenge has also been controlling deal size. Big corporates have latched onto the benefits of what we are offering and are immediately referring us globally. It’s great but can quickly escalate and then take longer to close.
5. What’s next for ten80?
Our focus/goal is to secure a major investment over the next six months. That’s the first ticket to the major league and will give us the potential to grow to 150 people and some pretty big numbers revenue wise. We are entertaining some pretty important investment houses and are looking forward to one of them closing.
Running alongside that we have some really amazing companies in our pipeline, and I am looking forward to welcoming them onto our platform.
GOING FOR INVESTMENT IN CENTRAL EUROPE: START-UP LIFE OUTSIDE A TRADITIONAL TECH HUB
A Q&A with Bence Jendruszak, Co-founder and COO at SEON
- At what stage did you realise you were going to need an investor onboard?
During the early stages of the development (when completing our minimum viable product), we managed secure a Central European payment gateway in order to start using our system (free of charge). From this point on our product development was user feedback driven. It was at this stage, that we realised that our product has gained enough proof of concept, that we were ready to pitch the idea to investors.
- How important was the investment to getting your business to the current point?
Our pre-seed investment (50k EUR in January of 2017) was the initial kick-start to arriving to the current point. That micro-investment allowed myself and Tamas (Co-founder and CEO or SEON) to start working on the project full time and also to scale up the development team (from freelancers to full time programmers).
- How did you start the process of looking for an investor?
We started by setting up our very first pitch deck. Of course, a lot of market analysis and USP shaping went into this. Once we had our first deck, we started contacting investors and started pitching the project to them. That specific pitch deck was very different to what the current version looks like.
- Were you aware of the challenges you could potentially face as a tech start-up in CE?
We were very well aware of the challenges. The European investment mentality is different than that of the US investment mentality, for example. Investors tend to be more conservative in the EU. Now imagine what the investment mentality may be like in the CE region. Nevertheless, we were also aware of the advantages of setting up a tech start-up in the CE region. The talent pool of
engineers and the cost of labour is by far the best in our home-turf – so the challenge was worthwhile.
- What was your journey to finding an investor like? Challenges / milestones?
Initially, we were faced with multiple unacceptable deals. The terms and conditions weren’t right for us in the long term. We were always aware that in order to build an international start-up (that would later develop into a scale-up), we had to on-board investors that we were fully comfortable to cooperate with – and vice versa. We needed to be on the same page and have a shared vision for SEON’s future.
- How did you find your lead investor, Portfolion? What else do they offer in addition to financial investment? (international network etc.)
We met them by introduction from an acquaintance. Portfolion is a well renowned VC in the CE region. They seemed like a partner that we could on-board into our boat and we could steer the ship together with them. They are the subsidiary of OTP Bank, one of the largest banks in the CE region. A potential gateway to partnering with a major bank seemed like a mutually beneficial setup. Aside from receiving a financial investment from the fintech fund of Portfolion, we can happily say that we are providing our fraud prevention services to OTP Bank as of today.
- What have you learned about the investor landscape in CE?
We found out that European investors are even more sceptical when it comes to CEE countries. They tend to avoid start-ups that aren’t located in hubs like Berlin or London. For them, Hungary is still seen as a former Eastern bloc country playing catch up with the rest of Europe in terms of living standards and infrastructure.
That said, there are a lot of investors in the region, but you really have to focus on getting in touch with the right organization. Onboarding an investor is a long-term partnership, there has to be a fundamental alignment in terms of the vision and mission of the two teams. We believe that we’ve managed to partner with investors who share the same vision and mission as us (up to date).
- What role will investment play in the next growth stage of the SEON?
The next growth stage is focused on international expansion. We will be seeking an investor that can provide not only funds, but also somebody that has a solid portfolio of fintech companies and a partner network of financial institutions.
- Do you have any advice for other businesses in your position that are looking for funding in the CE region?
Do not rush into any deal that is in front of you, time is on your side. If you are in an early stage, make sure to approach as many investors as possible, in order to be able benchmark each opportunity.
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