In the winter of 2021, Tom Stafford of DST Global sat down with founder Guillaume Pousaz to talk about how he bootstrapped Checkout.com. During the conversation, Pousaz covered everything from how he hired people to how he perfected his product. Learn more about the process of getting his business up and running, and discover why Tom Stafford decided to invest with him only 25 minutes after meeting him for the first time.
In the Payment Industry
Before Checkout.com, Pousaz was already an expert in the payment industry. This was his third company in the financial sector, so he was familiar with the nuances of how payments were being accepted and processed. In the past, his company needed to cooperate with banks to facilitate these transactions, but working with banks was difficult due to their outdated technology and corporate greed.
Checkout.com aimed to perfect the e-commerce model, but the company couldn’t get there if it had to keep accommodating traditional banks. Luckily, it received some help from the government. In 2009, the payment service directive regulations in Europe changed and allowed fintech companies to essentially become their banks. This gave Checkout.com a chance to reinvent the value supply chain.
The company wanted to connect merchants directly to payments, so they wouldn’t lose as much revenue to transaction fees. A tech-first approach had the potential to remove many complications from the payment process and put more money into small businesses rather than big banks.
Seven Years of Bootstrapping
Product quality was non-negotiable for Pousaz, and he spent seven years perfecting his prototype. Tom Stafford was curious as to why Pousaz would wait so long before going to investors. Pousaz said it was a methodical process, one that had little to do with getting rich and everything to do with getting it right. He was already aware of what channels he needed to go through to move forward.
In 2012, Pousaz applied for a license from the FCA, a top financial regulatory agency in the UK. His company gained principal membership in the Visa and Mastercard networks a year later. Now, he no longer had to go through Barclays, the historical banking provider that Checkout.com relied upon before it was approved to process payments on its own.
From there, an electronics seller noticed that Checkout.com’s license had been approved and asked to become a client. This commitment wasn’t enough to get rich, but it was sufficient to carry the company from 2013 to 2016. During this time, Pousaz gave up his role as CEO to work on the product. It was one hire per quarter, and the team was built brick by brick.
Why DST Invested in Checkout.com
As Checkout.com grew, so did the overall global interest in fintech. The team started to attract some notable interest in their work. Signing Netflix as a client was an achievement, but it was far from the only major merchant that wanted to work with Pousaz’s team.
Even so, for every merchant who said yes, there were nine who weren’t impressed with the balance sheets of the company. When Pousaz went out in search of capital to grow, he wanted investors with the network and industry experience needed to take his firm to the next level. Few investors fit his needs the way that DST Global did.
For Stafford’s part, he said that his checklist could be boiled down to three key elements: team, total addressable market (TAM), and traction. With fintech payments, the TAM and traction were already built in. It came down to the strength of Pousaz’s team, many of whom were with him from the earliest days of the business.
The Growth of the Team
Guillaume Pousaz embraced the same philosophy as many successful founders: He desired to surround himself with smart people who had a wealth of experience. He sought people who believed in excellence above profits, and he wanted to inspire them with his vision of a better, more efficient tomorrow.
It didn’t take long for Tom Stafford of DST Global to determine that Pousaz was the kind of leader who would hire people for the right reasons. He said that, as an investor, he comes across numerous pitch decks. Many of these decks make tremendous claims based on real evidence, but if an experienced investor looks closer, they can see the cracks almost immediately. No matter how good an idea is or how much potential there is in the market, it ultimately won’t go anywhere if the employees aren’t on board with the mission or can’t agree on the best way to move forward.
Part of the reason why Pousaz’s company has outpaced many of its competitors is that his team consistently looks to the future of electronic payments. This includes anticipating regulatory changes, of course, but it also means keeping up with all of the developments in fintech. In effect, clients are counting on Checkout.com to future-proof their payments. This helps them stay competitive even as compliance laws get more complicated and payment preferences start to change.
If the world suddenly shifts and Apple Pay becomes the number one form of payment, Checkout.com would be in a better position to tackle the challenge than most companies. Tom Stafford of DST Global is impressed with Pousaz’s finesse at funneling his experience as CEO while still being able to look outside of his purview to get the big picture behind a complex industry.
The talk also included a discussion of where payments are headed. As a tech expert, Pousaz is fascinated by the future of cryptocurrency. Despite its volatility and (sometimes) poor press, the disruption and the underlying platform behind that disruption is undeniable. As an innovator himself, he’s impressed with the immediacy of the transactions as well as the spirit to break away from traditional systems that have held certain people down for centuries.
Thanks to the expansion of his company, partially made possible by capital from DST Global, he can tackle a variety of projects within Checkout.com that he wouldn’t have even thought about several years ago. Payment processing can appear simple to many consumers, especially when credit card numbers are saved on our devices and it takes little more than a tap to finish a transaction. Behind the scenes, though, there are numerous moving parts. Checkout.com is hard at work every day to improve the accuracy, speed, and, ultimately, the convenience of each purchase.
Make Decisions With Your Heart
Pousaz wrapped up the talk by sharing his insights as a founder. He told the audience that it came down to gathering and analyzing data with your head but making decisions with your heart. He also emphasized the importance of talking to your customers. A fintech company that’s dictated by the founder’s vision will offer very different benefits than one that communicates with customers directly and discovers what they are struggling to accomplish. Pousaz was happy to move forward quickly even if he made a few mistakes along the way. It was the best way to build enough momentum and velocity to get ahead.