Payments, People, and the Bootstrap Spirit
Last week, I shared that Checkout.com had raised $230 million in Series A funding. Aside from the validation, what is most important is that this takes us one step closer to building a truly global acquiring network, offered under a single platform. This didn’t happen overnight, so I wanted to share some insights into how we got to where we are today.
We spent our first few years laying the foundation for our product and reinvesting every single dollar back into the business. It has always been the company’s ambitious objective to disintermediate the payment value chain and do so on a global basis. We believe that this is the only way to deliver a true enterprise-grade payment solution for international merchants. This is why, on day one, we applied to become a principal member of Visa and Mastercard. Most people imagined this to be a costly endeavor but if you build the technology yourself, then the licensing costs are very manageable. Our approach was validated by the fact that our first Visa and Mastercard licenses were granted within one year of starting our UK operations (May and June 2013, respectively). People often ask how we are different from other providers – for one, we secured these licenses much sooner than most of our competitors and second, and more importantly, we have always understood the value that the acquirer and processing platforms play in a payments company, as this was part of our original thesis.
Bootstrapping a business means being lean – making tough decisions, hiring one employee at a time, making every resource count, and where mistakes are costly. At Checkout.com this often led to passionate debates among the management team on who would be lucky to get additional resources. This helped to forge a unique bond among us. I am a firm believer that facing adversity, problem-solving, and resilience contributes to creating the best management teams. That said, irrespective of the debates, our product-first approach ultimately made decisions easy: whatever helps the product, wins!
This product-first approach has indeed been instrumental to our success from the beginning. To say that we had to fight against the tide to sign our first merchants (when we had zero brand recognition and zero marketing spend) is an understatement. When I look back, we were the definition of an underdog story; working tirelessly to build the best product we could while also being super scrappy and using every resource as if it was our last. We coupled our product-first approach with a client-first philosophy, where listening and coordinating our clients’ needs would fundamentally drive the roadmap during the first few years. Maintaining diligence around these two most basic principles led to what we are today.
There is no question that tight budgets are good for discipline but is also meant that we had our fair share of good memories with cold pizzas (A personal thanks to Simaab’s mom for cooking the best Biryani there is for our first Christmas parties!) and crowded office spaces which included the now legendary Margaret Street HQ with 60 people crammed into 180m2 (1162.5 sq ft), the boiler room, and its infamous ‘conference room 3’ (which was shared with cleaning supplies!). I also can’t count the number of times we had to get creative in order to keep travel costs down (countless friends’ couches and AirBnBs, to name a few).
Speaking of travel… In order to establish our global acquiring network and the multitude of payment methods we have today, there was always a lot of traveling. This led to many good stories to tell and countless genuine encounters. From China to Latin America, we’ve been fortunate enough to help our merchants seamlessly open new countries and regions all around the world – all via our single API. Establishing this global, cross-border footprint has helped shape our culture of acceptance.
Finally, for team members who’ve been with us since day one, I am eternally grateful for your belief and commitment in the business. Those years keeping our heads down and not chasing the spotlight taught us valuable lessons in humility and teamwork – and they’ve also formed some of my best memories. It gave us a strong foundation upon which to build our technology platform and contribute to our unique company culture, both of which ultimately ensure sustainable growth for our business moving forward. So it’s of great importance to me that we never forget these moments and stay true to ourselves.
As I have said many times, I’m a firm believer that a business is only as good as its people. Even though our offices are now closer to Google than to our old Margaret Street office, we will continue to empower each Checkout.com colleague to do their best work – solving complex problems and delivering a valuable solution to our customers through teamwork and collaboration. We will always keep this “bootstrap” mindset, this is who we are – and every investment, of any form, should provide optimal value. It is from this foundation that as CEO I’m able to move the business forward and be the catalyst for growth as new challenges and opportunities arise.
Ultimately, entrepreneurship is in our DNA which fuels our desire to change the way payments are done. We’ve built the company from the ground up with a focus on putting our customers’ trust first and building long-term viability for us and our partners. We want to partner with customers as they grow their businesses because they should focus on delivering their own objectives, not building payment stacks.
There’s no winner-take-all scenario in the payments industry. McKinsey & Company predicts that revenue from the payment sector will reach $3 trillion in the next five years – that’s a market big enough for all to share.
I’d like to end by welcoming our new board member, Deven Parekh, from Insight Partners as well as DST Global, GIC, Blossom Capital, and Endeavor Catalyst to our journey. They join us at an exciting time and are dedicated to helping us realize our vision.
I also want to say one more big ‘Thank You’ to the amazing Checkout.com team who have worked tirelessly to get us to where we are today (trust me, we will celebrate properly in due time). I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved so far and the best is yet to come! I have said, for nearly a decade during my All Employee Meetings, that we’re still at Chapter Zero.
Maybe this is our true Chapter One?
Peace & Power,
Read more about Checkout.com
Forbes Little-known UK Fintech Startup Checkout.com is Now Worth $2 Billion
TechCrunch A quiet London-based payments startup just raised among the biggest Series A rounds ever
The Telegraph London payments firm Checkout.com valued at almost $2bn in record Europe deal