First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Rodolphe Ardant: My family and I are well, thank you! But it’s been an intense time, working from home with two little kids while running a hyper-growth startup with 200 people. Everything worked out really well, but I was happy to return to the office in Paris after three months, to see our team and have a more stable internet connection. 🙂
Tell us about yourself, your Career, & how you founded Spendesker
Rodolphe Ardant: I’ve always loved building things. In 2013, I sold my first company, Wozaik, which I had created straight out of university. I then took up the role of COO at Drivy (now Getaround). But I soon wanted to get back to my entrepreneurial roots and found a great opportunity as a founder in residence at French startup studio eFounders. In 2016, we started Spendesk with the vision to disrupt the B2B payment sector and to build a global company where everyone can thrive and be part of something great.
How does Spendesk innovate?
Rodolphe Ardant: We already saw a lot of innovation in the B2C payment sector, with new players like N26 or Revolut. Our goal at Spendesk is now to bring the same level of innovation to the B2B world and help businesses (particularly SMBs) spend smarter with an all-in-one spend management platform. We believe in trust and freedom at work, but the most difficult thing to trust people with money. That’s why Spendesk provides finance teams and management with full control and visibility over company spending, while employees have access to smart payment methods like virtual credit cards. And thanks to a high degree of automation, everyone saves time on tedious processes like expense reports, receipt collection, or reporting.
How does COVID-19 affect your Business, and how are you coping?
Rodolphe Ardant: First, we had to ensure that all Spendeskers were safe, healthy, and motivated during this period. We encouraged our international employees to visit their families and friends – even if it caused a bit of disruption in the beginning as some team members travelled to the other end of the world. Then it was especially important to support our customers as much as possible in this challenging situation. And last but not least, we had to understand how our business and processes are affected and adjust some things accordingly.
We’ve seen the economic impact, especially in the way clients spend through our platform. Without business trips, conferences, and events, we suddenly saw a 50% slump in what was spent – even though spending on software subscriptions, such as video services, increased simultaneously. So that was obviously concerning at first.
But with our subscription model, the business as a whole is very resilient, and we’ve seen very positive trends. We lost very few existing customers, and our service was often implemented much faster than before. Suddenly, there are many companies looking for solutions to organize their financial processes remotely, with a shift away from traditional payment methods to more online spending. So we’ve actually been growing every month since April, and since the end of the lockdown in Europe, we’re seeing even faster growth than before, with new records week after week.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices? What were the Lessons Learned?
Rodolphe Ardant: Of course, there was a lot of uncertainty everywhere at the beginning for people and companies, including us. But there have been many crises before, and somehow business always goes on. Often in such situations, the cards are reshuffled, and people continue to develop through what they have learned. But especially in such times of uncertainty, our actions determine what people will remember later. That’s why it was important for me that we really understood what exactly was happening and how our company was affected before we made decisions with long-term consequences.
As a startup, we are in a lucky situation, with sufficient capital and agility in our working methods to consider what makes the most sense for us in the long-term and not to rush anything. So we’ve made a conscious choice to keep investing in our team, use the time to learn as quickly as possible, and come out of this crisis faster, better, and stronger. Looking at our trends in the past months, I’m confident that we made the right decision and are now back on track for faster growth.
How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety? How do you project yourself and Spendesker in the Future?
Rodolphe Ardant: I like to take a step back and have the time to breathe and think. For me, this either means spending quality time with my family or doing long walks in nature – usually hiking in the mountains.
Entrepreneurs thrive in ambiguity and uncertainty. We know that the path to building a great company is not a straight line and that all kinds of obstacles and surprises are likely to occur along the way. And the confidence in the objective we’re pursuing is a key driver to help us cope with the stress and anxiety-driven by this uncertainty.
I’m incredibly confident in the future of Spendesk. More than ever, businesses need to adapt to a faster changing environment. And our product’s effectiveness in this troubled period – allowing finance teams to modernize while having a precise view on where the company money goes – will be an accelerator for our growth.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Rodolphe Ardant: When you find a promising market, there will always be new competitors and challenges coming up. This is something I am very comfortable with. There is no market without competition. Competition is a blessing actually, as it pushes you always to be innovative and truly understand your customers.
For a Fintech company like us, there are two kinds of competitors. On one side, we have the incumbents – big banks and the traditional finance industry. And on the other hand, there are emerging new players like ourselves. There’s no playbook really on how to beat the competition – it depends on the specifics of each market. In SaaS, I believe it’s about being ahead in understanding what customers want, and your ability to learn fast and keep up the speed with which you drive innovation in your respective market.
How do you see the recent fall of Wirecard, one of the Major Players in your Industry?
Rodolphe Ardant: The fall of Wirecard is terrible news for Fintech. And I believe it’s essential to understand why one player’s failure can have such an impact on the whole ecosystem. The world of payments is complicated – not purely because of technology, but also because it’s obscure and difficult to access for newcomers. There aren’t many options for Fintech entrepreneurs to choose from if they want access to the network. Many Fintechs chose to use Wirecard as one of the few service providers to integrate payment services into their offer, under Wirecard’s license.
The answer to the fall of Wirecard can’t be just more regulations. We need to enable strong innovation by opening up the sector while ensuring that regulatory requirements are met. We need to encourage new players to emerge who can decentralize access to payment systems. We need more transparency and diversity to prevent this dependence on just a few players, which ultimately puts the whole ecosystem at risk.