The PFF21 F in Tech Podcast
By Elliott Gotkine for the Paris Fintech Forum Communities
Hosted by broadcaster Elliott Gotkine the F in Tech podcast lifts the lid on fintech founders whose journeys of genius - and despair - are changing our lives, mostly for the better.
The F in Tech podcast is co-produced in 2021 by the Paris Fintech Forum with the support of bpifrance
The PFF21 F in Tech PodcastNov 05, 2021
Credit Kudos CEO, Freddy Kelly [PFF2021/38]
When he got his first taste of startup life, in San Francisco, freshly-graduated Freddy Kelly did a few months at culinary school on the side. Little did he know that years later, his baking skills would help him blag his way into a conference by virtue of a chocolate cake he’d baked. He met Credit Kudos’s first investor there, and his fintech - an open banking credit-reference company - was off to the races. It hasn’t stopped running since.
Bridge by Bankin' CEO, Joan Burkovic [PFF2021/37]
In its early days, banks tried to block Bankin’. Some set up call centres, warning customers of the danger of using the personal finance app, and encouraging them not to use it. On one occasion, they even called Joan, not realising that he was the fintech’s co-founder. Nowadays, with open banking, it’s a different story; banks, for the most part, are cooperative. And Bankin’ is now blossoming into one of Europe’s leading consumer finance apps - with a potential B2B spinoff to boot.
Banxware Founder, Miriam Wohlfarth [PFF2021/36]
Some people thought launching a fintech during a pandemic was crazy. Then Banxware - a Germany-based, white-labelled SME lending platform - saw its banking partner, Wirecard, blow up. Since then, it’s been relatively plain sailing!
Alpaca Co-Founder & CEO, Yoshi Yokokawa
How Yoshi Yokokawa is enabling the world to have Robinhood-style access to financial markets and crypto, and why the Alpaca co-founder & CEO feels the furry camel cousin best symbolises this ambition.
Wakam CEO, Olivier Jaillon [PFF2021/34]
How Olivier Jaillon cheated death, and survived the failure of his U.S. startup, to reinvent a 200-year old insurer-turned-insurtech, Wakam.
Elinvar CEO, Chris Bartz [PFF2021/33]
Blurb: How having investors from day one helped wealth management platform, Elinvar, get off to a flying start, and why co-founder and CEO, Chris Bartz, says that doesn’t mean there was any less pressure. Fun fact: “elinvar” is an alloy of iron, nickel, chromium, and other constituents, resistant to rust and magnetization and having a low rate of thermal expansion.
Bitbond CEO, Albrecht Radoslav [PFF2021/32]
Aged 14, Radko Albrecht, was one of Germany’s top figure skaters. A child of Slovakian refugees, he was on track to become an Olympian, something that would have required focus, dedication and the ability to pick yourself up when you’re down. He never made it to the Olympics, but those same skills have come in handy with his chosen path: founding BitBond, which helps banks and intermediaries issue and securitize bonds using blockchain technology and tokenization.
iwoca Co-founder & CEO, Christoph Rieche [PFF2021/31]
When Christoph Rieche told colleagues at Goldman Sachs he was leaving to set up iWoca, some of them thought he was crazy. Others were jealous. Ten years later, the second group would appear to have been right: iwoca has now helped more than 65,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) gain access to capital. It’s building out new products all the time, raising $350m in debt and equity capital along the way. And although Christoph’s creative talents may not have come up to snuff for him to have become an architect, the businesses iwoca has helped people to build may end up having an even bigger impact than any structure he may have designed.
Divido CEO, Christer Holloman [2021/30]
The buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) space is on fire right now - just look at Klarna’s latest funding round, valuing the fintech in excess of $45b, or the $29b Square paid for Afterpay. So it seems as good a time as any to catch up with Christer Holloman, founder of Divido, which connects banks to retailers, to offer customers BNPL. His other big passion is promoting diversity in fintech through his charitable initiative, Fintech Finishers.
“I’m raised by a single mother in northern Sweden [and gay],” he says. “So for me, gender diversity and equality has been a given from day one. And then when I came to the UK, started my company and just sort of being busy building the company, I didn’t really think much about it. And then, one day, I took a good, hard look at my leadership team, and two middle-aged, white, straight men were looking back at me, and I realised: ‘hang on a second, where did I go wrong a long the way here’.”
Bunq CEO, Ali Niknam [PFF2021/29]
How Ali Niknam went all in with more than 100 million euros ($125m) of his OWN money to create an eco-friendly neobank called Bunq (now valued at nearly $2b), and why he doesn’t lose sleep over it - despite the high steaks.
Minna Technology CEO, Joakim Sjöblom [2021/28]
Joakim Sjöblom founded Minna Technology to stop people wasting money on subscriptions they no longer want - but seeing his first company fail, and losing money in the process, he says, was worth every penny.
Simplex CEO, Nimrod Lehavi [2021/27]
How Nimrod Lehavi turned his frustrating experience of buying crypto into Simplex, and why it was anything but simple.
Tandem co-founder, Ricky Knox [2021/26]
His grandfather founded the Cincinnati Bengals American Football team. Ricky Knox co-founded Tandem (along with 10,000 other people - kind of), while almost striking gold with Bitcoin. He’s now stepped down as CEO of the neobank. But with an entrepreneurial journey that’s included selling clubbing clothing, and mobile phone infrastructure to the Central African Republic, you can be sure that whatever he does next will be anything but dull.
Dreamquark CEO, Nicolas Meric [2021/25]
How Nicolas Meric made the leap from particle physics to fintech, and the challenges he faced along the way with Dreamquark.
Railsbank Co-Founder & CEO, Nigel Verdon [2021/24]
Entrepreneurs often describe multiple existential challenges hitting them at the same time as “a perfect storm”. But Nigel Verdon, CEO of banking-as-a-service platform, Railsbank, must surely be the only fintech founder to have gone through one in the literal sense. Of course, being able to keep calm in such trying circumstances can give you perspective when dealing with 30-foot swells like a financial crisis or a pandemic - enabling you to see through choppy seas to the destination that lies beyond.
Raisin Co-Founder & CEO, Tamas Giorgadse [2021/23]
Tamas Giorgadse was a chess prodigy who survived civil war and hyperinflation. He finished school aged 12, and completed his masters three years later. He moved to Germany, gained two PhDs and went to work for McKinsey. Next, he co-founded Raisin, Europe’s leading platform for savings and investments. Already a unicorn, the fintech recently announced a merger with domestic rival Deposit Solutions, to create Raisin DS.
Collective Benefits Founder & CEO, Anthony Beilin [2021/22]
A back injury - possibly caused by some overexuberant dancing at a wedding - put Anthony Beilin out of action for six months. Luckily, he worked full-time, at Aviva. His income didn’t suffer, and he received all the physical and emotional help he needed. But when a contractor friend came to see him - and told him of his loss of income and benefits while off from a knee-op - the proverbial lightbulb went off in Anthony’s brain. Why, he reasoned, should gig-workers, freelancers and contractors be deprived of sick pay, holiday pay and other benefits just because of the way they work? This issue became especially pressing during the pandemic, giving Collective Benefits a perfectly-timed opportunity to step into the breach.
Ubble Co-Founder, Juliette Delanoe [2021/21]
A lunch, an idea and a co-founder she trusted were all it took for Juliette Delanoe to leave her job at Thales to create Ubble, a (for now) French-focused, web-based identity verification startup. As with so many digital-first businesses, the past 12-18 months have been a boon; banks and financial institutions account for more than half the company’s clients. And if you’re wondering why “Ubble”, it’s a riff on the famous telescope that sees into the depths of space (in French, the H is silent).
Bux Founder, Nick Bortot [PFF2021/20]
When he was fired by Citi in 1999, a young Nick Bortot received some friendly advice from his soon-to-be ex-boss: don’t get another job in finance. Yet that’s just what he did, joining the Netherlands’ first online broker, before helping to build BinckBank into the first Dutch fintech unicorn. In 2013 he founded BUX, a pan-European trading platform, partly because he had a point to prove. Inevitably, it’s often compared to Robinhood, and not just because the two startups were founded within months of one another. It offers zero-fee trading, and has the size, scope and simplicity that have made Robinhood a household name. But it doesn’t get paid for order flow (it’s illegal in the EU). And with a focus on subscriptions, education and long-term investment, it’s also Europe’s anti-Robinhood. In that sense, it’s a bit like Schrödinger’s cat being alive and dead at the same time. So maybe we should call it Schrödinger’s app!
Primary Bid CEO, Anand Sambasivan [PFF2021/19]
Born in Bombay, and raised in Singapore, Anand Sambasivan was destined to be a doctor - till it turned out he wasn’t very good at medicine. He went into investment banking and then set up a hedge fund, where he had privileged access to IPOs and other share offerings. But he didn’t think it was fair. So he founded PrimaryBid to level the playing field. Thanks to the London-based fintech - and a partnership with the LSE - retail investors have had access to IPOs, such as Deliveroo and PensionBee, and share sales by the likes of Compass Group, Ocado and Taylor Wimpey. WIth more than 160 deals done, PrimaryBid has now launched in France. The U.S. may not be far behind, as Anand continues on his mission to put the P back in IPO.
Moneyhub CEO, Samantha Seaton [PFF2021/18]
Sam Seaton was an eventing champion. She flew around the world with her horse in the hold. But after failing to make the Sydney Olympics team, and realising the demands on her and the horses were not what she wanted, she turned her hand to consulting. A management buyout (MBO) of stochastic forecasting company, eValue followed, before another MBO, this time of open banking platform, Moneyhub, which she bought for £1.
Nav Co-Founder & Executive Chairman, Levi King [PFF2021/17]
Farmer. Missionary. Electric sign salesman. Hotelier. And most importantly - for our purposes, at least - founder of not one, but TWO successful fintechs. First came SME loan-broker, Lendio. And now NAV, a business financial health platform - matching small businesses with the best loans available, and helping them improve their risk profile, to enable access to better loan rates in future. The company has raised $100m from investment royalty, including Kleiner Perkins, Goldman Sachs, and Experian - an even larger sum than Levi’s had to pay in driving fines in the U.S. and around the world.
Meniga Co-Founder & CEO, Georg Ludviksson [PFF2021/16]
Georg Ludviksson was once Iceland’s top mathlete and creator of a Tomb-Raider-topping video game. But it took the global financial crisis to help turn his fintech, Meniga, into reality. The company is an innovation partner for some of Europe’s biggest banks, such as Santander and Unicredit, enabling them to provide customers with advanced digital services - everything from personal finance management to carbon insights. And if you want to know how Meniga got its name, make sure you listen to the end, for a musical finale.
Akoni CEO, Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, [PFF2021/15]
If you can switch financial assets, like stocks and pensions, super easily, why can’t you do the same with the bank that holds your cash? This germ of an idea prompted Felicia to found digital cash platform, Akoni. Along the way, she set up a micro-credit startup in India, and co-founded Hive Founders, to help other female founders to follow in her footsteps. At the same time, she’s trying to persuade policymakers that they also have a critical role in leveling the playing field for female entrepreneurs. You’d be a brave man - or woman - to bet against her.
Zego Co-founder & CEO, Sten Saar [PFF2021/14]
There's no ego in Zego! And so when Estonian-born Sten Saar replaced his co-founder in the top job, there were no recriminations. Instead, the insurtech, which offers policies from 1hr to one year, has boomed, becoming, after its most recent fundraising, a "reluctant" unicorn. It's not Sten's first success: he founded his first company - notepads with study aids tucked into the covers - when he was just 18, growing it to $1m in turnover. In between, though, he had to learn some painful lessons, including why it's not always a good idea to get your father to mortgage his home to provide you with capital.
Plum Co-Founder & CEO, Victor Trokoudes [PFF2021/13]
In his early 30s, Victor Trokoudes was a man without a plan. He was also a man with no savings, and a father who kept nagging him to do something with his money. What should such a person do? Why, co-found and run a fintech that enables people to save and invest without having to think about it, of course. Plum is young, but it’s already on track to have some three million customers by the end of the year, as the coronavirus pandemic gets more people into the habit of putting money aside.
Editor’s Note: No frogs were harmed in the production of this broadcast
Husayn Kassai, Co-Founder & CEO, Onfido, [PFF2021/12]
Aged 10, and freshly arrived in the UK, Husayn Kassai watched his parents struggle to prove their identity. A couple of years later, he “borrowed” his sister’s ID to set up an eBay business that did a roaring trade selling CDs online. These two experiences helped plant the seeds of the idea that, a decade later, would become Onfido, a global leader in identity verification and fraud protection, which he co-founded and - until recently - ran.
Pollinate Founder & CEO, Al Lukies [PFF2021/11]
Running a fintech is apparently just as challenging as playing professional rugby. Al Lukies should know - he’s done both, though he only broke half the bones in his leg with the latter. His first attempt - Monitise - hit a market value of some £2 billion at one point. After a stint as the UK Prime Minister’s “fintech ambassador”, he went on to found Pollinate, which helps big banks provide digital tools, such as merchant services, to small businesses. And it’s a good time to speak with Al: Pollinate has just raised $50m from the likes of Natwest, NAB, Mastercard and Insight Ventures. Enjoy.
OurCrowd Founder & CEO, Jon Medved [PFF2021/10]
Already well-known as the world’s biggest cheerleader for Israeli tech, Jon Medved set up OurCrowd in 2013 to enable retail investors to get the same kind of access to tech startups that he had as a VC. In this sometimes riotous podcast, he reveals that on one occasion one Marc Benioff offered him the chance to invest in the seed round of a tiny startup called Salesforce. He declined. But as he concludes, with his usual ebullience: “Life is life. It’s all good. I’m still in the game.”
Christian Wiens, CEO, Christian Wiens, [PFF2021/09]
Forget glass ceilings, Christian Wiens had to break through glass doors - and be billed for them by his landlord - before being inspired to found his insurtech, Getsafe. Based in Germany, Getsafe provides coverage for everything from cars to drones to pets to legal fees. You could call it: Europe's Lemonade.
Liberis CEO, Rob Straathof [PFF2021/08]
Rob Straathof is CEO of Liberis, an alternative lender for SMEs, whose technology and data enable it to pre-approve businesses for loans.
Of all the fintech founders we’ve had on the show so far, Rob’s stints as a cheesemaker and alligator-dodging pilot probably qualify him as the one with the most varied stories. And though he may never have fulfilled his ambition to become an astronaut, keeping his feet on the ground has meant helping many small business owners keep a roof over their heads.
Zopa co-founder, Giles Andrews, [PFF2021/07]
With a passion for motor racing and cars Giles Andrews wasn’t always destined to found a fintech. And when he did, he almost crashed and burned. But under his leadership, he turned the p2p lending pioneer around. And while banks and other lenders were coming unstuck during the global financial crisis, Zopa sailed through - and even grew, eventually becoming one of the UK’s biggest challenger banks
Future Family Co-Founder & CEO, Claire Tomkins [PFF2021/06]
They say founding a startup is like raising a child. After blowing more than $100,000 on her own fertility treatment, Claire Tomkins did both, alongside founding Future Family - a fertility-financing fintech - to help others do the same.
Goodlord CEO & Nutmeg Chairman, William Reeve [PFF2021/05]
Serial entrepreneur William Reeve is CEO of lettings software platform Goodlord and Chairman of robo-advisor Nutmeg. He sold his first startup - Fletcher Research - to Forrester (just before the #dotcom bust), and co-founded Secret Escapes. But is probably best known for co-founding LOVEFiLM which, after seeing off Amazon, was eventually bought by the company.
Kantox Co-Founder & CEO, Philippe Gelis [PFF2021/04]
Picture this: you've been beavering away for years on your fintech. Friends and family have chipped in. And now you've just raised your seed round of €1m. Everything is going great - until your bank closes your account for no reason, leaving you with no means to receive the cash. What do you do? Philippe Gelis doesn't need to use his imagination for this scenario. It's what happened to him and Kantox. Fortunately, Barclays came to the rescue, and this currency management-focused fintech has never looked back. Packed with lessons, both personal and entrepreneurial, learn what Brexit has really done to London-based fintechs; the joys of failure; and why innovating in financial services is easier than innovating in T-shirts.
Curve Founder & CEO Shachar Bialik [PFF2021/03]
They say bad things always come in threes. Shachar Bialik would no doubt agree. Brexit and COVID would ordinarily be enough on their own to floor many businesses. Throw in the Wirecard fraud fiasco, and it’s a wonder he’s still around to tell the tale. But not only did he and Curve survive. They thrived. The #fintech recently announced it had raised an additional $95m, taking its total to $175m. Now, Curve is coming to America. (Listen closely, and you may hear his baby son in the background).
eToro Co-Founder & CEO, Yoni Assia [PFF2021/02]
Is working in roller coasters not the perfect metaphor - and experience - for running an online trading platform? We think so! Yoni Assia, who leads social trading platform eToro, had his first taste of entrepreneurship when he founded a startup that involved installing video cameras on white-knuckle rides, and then selling DVDs to the riders as they wobbled out of their cars. He eventually sold it to former a high-flying tech stock called Kodak. And while that company's best years may be behind it, a bumper 2020, profits, and a return to the U.S. all suggest that eToro is very much a fintech for the future.
Hippo Co-Founder & CEO, Assaf Wand [PFF2021/01]
Is it an insurtech, is it a unicorn, is it a hippo? It's all three! Having raised more than $700m, Hippo - which unlike, Lemonade, is firmly focused on homeowners insurance - is one of the hottest insurtechs on the planet. An IPO may happen this year. But getting to this point wasn't a given: “When we started the company," says Assaf, "the VCs kicked us off the stairs and basically said, that's the dumbest thing ever."