Breaking Barriers was the ambitious title of a fintech event that took place on Feb 10th in Amsterdam. The goal of the event was to bring together corporates and startups in the Dutch fintech scene, and join forces to make/keep the Dutch financial industry relevant on a global scale. The event atmosphere was surprisingly collaborative: participants agreed that financial institutions like ING need change, and that corporate startup collaboration is helpful.
Why Breaking Barriers
Breaking Barriers is an example of a new style of semi-open events. It was initiated by the Dutch bank ING because the ING organization wants to innovate, for instance with Lean Startup. Instead of making it a closed event where only ING people talk about startups, it contacted other parties to organize an open event where anyone including startups could join the conversation.
About one third of the participants was from ING, but other people had joined as well by buying a ticket via Live of Demand, or through one of the network partners from the startup ecosystem (including Holland Fintech, Node1, StartupJuncture, Startupbootcamp, Hackers & Founders and banking review). For the Dutch startup scene, it was an opportunity to see several interesting speakers and to network with the big banks. For ING, it was a big step forward into becoming an open, transparent and accessible organization. Let’s hope other corporates follow suit.
The event started with traditional speakers talking to an audience about action, but got better during the day with plenty of room for actual startup founders. Our review is in opposite order: first the startups, followed by the traditional speakers.
Overall winner: Checkmetrix
During the day a selection of the best Dutch fintech startups was invited to give a small product demo to all participants, and all participants could vote which startup demonstration they found best. The most convincing demo according to the audience was from Pieter Paul van den Hoven, founder of Checkmetrix and he was invited to pitch his company on stage.
Checkmetrix makes a small box (Pieter Paul is holding the prototype) that can be used to connect any old-fashioned cash register (also called POS system) to the cloud to make information digitally available. The product (hardware and data platform) are live, and Checkmetrix is looking for pilot customers: loyalty schemes, manufacturers or retail chains that need immediate sales data for better decision making.
Other demos: Vraagbod, Invoicesharing, Acceptemail, CashorCard
Checkmetrix was only one of the startups present at the startup market, and the other startups were convincing as well. In fact several of the startups are older and way ahead of Checkmetrix. Here is a short overview:
Invoicesharing is a very mature startup with a business to business focus. We interviewed this startup in december 2013 when Invoicesharing first received funding, and since then this startup has grown into a serious business. Another mature startup present is AcceptEmail, who offers user friendly way of collecting payments.
Another featured startup was Vraagbod: launched in October 2015 after one and a half year of preparation, this startup runs reverse auction to give consumers the best deal from various webshops. People can select a product, see the best available price in connected shops, and ask webshops for an even better deal. The webshop can respond with a limited time only offer, adding a nice race-against-the-clock gaming element to each purchase. The innovative fintech aspect of this startup is that the received permission from the DNB to collect payments directly. Also present was Moneytis, the money-exchange startup we interviewed previously, and John Staunton from CashorCard, a startup that has been quietly growing into a serious company in the past year, and Leapfunder, the convertible notes funding platform.
During the event, participants could join several networktables: discussion sessions around special topics, hosted by selected experts. The reservation/matchmaking platform for these tables was offered by the startup Networktables (founded in 2014), and this was thus a good example of working with startups rather than just talking about them. Networktables itself was present to explain how the platform works. Tables were hosted by amongst others Don Ginsel from Holland Fintech, Rutger Kemper from Leapfunder, professor Erik Stam from Utrecht University, Robbert van Geldrop from The Lean Circle, and also the Dutch regulators AFM and DNB.
Startup pitching on stage: Symbid, Bux and Tabster
Three more advanced startups, Symbid, Bux and Tabster, were invited on stage to pitch their companies in front of a panel of experts, and ask questions and get feedback. For the audience this served as an exciting reality-check: would the international experts (Bindi Karia from the London Fintech Scene, Eric Ries from Silicon Valley and Benoit Legrand from ING) be impressed by these Dutch startups? Luckily these three startups had a good story to tell, and some interesting questions for the panel. As we already noted in our interview with Eric Ries, the panel was good at spotting the real question for each startup: the problem you are working on is not always the real bottleneck of your company.
Symbid received important feedback about international growth. It is relatively easy to become the champion in a small home market. You need a good value proposition and good execution, but you do not need a very focused pitch since people will know you anyway. When you go international, especially in a crowded market like equity crowdfunding, you need a one sentence pitch that describes your company: not necessary your product, but the unique value proposition in your products. For Symbid this was lacking in the pitch: Eric Ries likes the idea and would like to mention it to the many startups he knows, but would not be able to explain it easily to all these startups.
Bux received similar praise but also a question about positioning. In many industries, startups that have reached a certain level of users need to make a strategic choice to reach further growth: they need to focus on earning more from each customer, so they can afford high advertising costs, or they need to focus on 100% customer retention, so that they are not so dependent on new customers. This is a tough choice to make, but necessary: companies that try to do both end up bringing all their money to Facebook or other advertising platforms.
During the event we interviewed Nick Bortot, the CEO of Bux. For those that do not know Bux: Bux offers casual stock trading: a combination of a game to learn about the stock market and a trading platform where you can make small investments with real money.
What has been your biggest learning as a founder of Bux?
When listening to our users, I learned that for many young people, the stock market is not just a place to make money or invest for later. Many people learn about the real world and its problems, through the stock market. Look for instance to the market response to conflicts, or the dependence of stocks on the oil price. Many users use the stock market to know more about the glbal economy.
What is your advice for new tech founders?
My one word advice would be collaboration. Especially when your service is a commodity, you need to work with other parties. Bux is collaborating with an English broker who executes our trades, so that we can focus on improving our service. By outsourcing some parts of your business model to partners who are already good at it, we as a startup can truly focus on the issues important for us: first of all to launch the product and get real feedback, and after that on improving the product based on the feedback.
How do you see the Dutch fintech scene?
The Netherlands has a very active, exciting fintech scene. My only worry is that we are moving slowly towards an overhyped situation. The risk is that fintech will always be seen as an ecosystem on itself. This would be a waste, because especially the financial industry can learn a lot from other industries: consumer tech, games, etc. The crossover between the financial world and other industries is what will change the financial industries.
Tabster (interviewed previously here) pitched their innovative apps for payments in bars and restaurants. Eric Ries confessed that he was worried about uniqueness during the pitch: “It has become a running joke in Silicon Valley that every restaurant aiming at founders has 30 to 40 new payment methods on their counter, all of them similar but incompatible”. Tabster however has one secret weapon: integration with any type of cash register. This has helped them get POS manufactur Eijsink onboard, and should hopefully help them expand into most bars and restaurants in The Netherlands.
Breaking Barriers had an impressive list of non-startup main speakers as well. It is impossible to give a full summary for each speaker, so we focus on the main points:
- Nick Jue explained how ING wants to innovate. The bank has adopted the Spotify model, and organized itself into squads, tribes and guilds. He used an image of an elephant to represent banks. The way he told, his elephant seemed young energetic and ready to dance with new technology.
- Bindi Karia shared many numbers on the London fintech scene. The Netherlands has a long way to go if it wants to surpass London and become the European fintech capital.
- Kasja Ollongren from the city of Amsterdam was there to show that Amsterdam is committed to supporting the Amsterdam startup ecosystem.
- Don Ginsel, founder of Holland Fintech, announced on stage that Holland Fintech will open its own collaboration space: Fintech Metropolis, to be opened May 2016. He also explained that the importance of global thinking for Dutch fintech startups. “Borders do not matter in technology”. Many Dutch fintech startups are happy if they dominate the market in The Netherlands. Dominating the Dutch market means nothing on a global scale. Fintech startups should aim higher.
- Yuri van Geest talked amongst other things, about the predictability of technology driven change. One can estimate the rate with which technology is developing. Based on this, you can plot when new technology will become better than existing technology.
One speaker we particularly liked was Patrick de Zeeuw from Startupbootcamp. Patrick gave a high energy speech that was not really focussed on fintech, but had some interesting ideas. One of the messages he has is simple, but not understood by many people: startups are not corporates, and corporates are not startups. Corporates that want to work with startups need to understand how startups work, and understand terms like MVP, experiment and runway.
Startups that want to work with corporates on the other hand need to understand what a budget, SLA and a purchase order is. Once you understand that corporates and startups are different kinds of animals, the collaboration becomes easier. Another message he had was the liberalisation of entrepreneurship. The reason everyone is talking about startups, is that technology has made it a lot easier to start a company. One no longer needs an extensive network and billions of dollars. This is the reason why Silicon Valley is no longer the only innovation hub worth watching: you can start a startup from anywhere, including The Netherlands.
What made Patrick’s performance great however where not the slides and the slogans: he used his slot to invite a real startup founder on stage. Aviram Siboni is CEO of Multisense, an Israelian startup that has been part of the Smart City Amsterdam program of Startupbootcamp in 2015. Multisense uses biometrics to improve security, and sees opportunities especially to use this technology at fintech companies. Perhaps this is a nice experiment for the next edition: invite all corporate speakers to bring one startup on stage, and ask all startups to invite one of their corporate customers.
Next steps and feedback
Speaking of experiments, the meeting ended with a call to action by Live on Demand. Breaking Barriers is intended as just the beginning of better collaboration in the Dutch fintech world and should be followed up with smaller, more in-depth events. What these events will be and which speakers are invited is up to the Dutch fintech crowd: participants can submit ideas to the organisation. The organization will publish these ideas at the Live on Demand platform, and if enough people expres their interest (by buying a ticket in advance), the event will happen. So if you have ideas for interesting speakers share it directly or leave a comment. Also if you have a additional remarks or a different view, feel free to share.