Meet Andreas Cleve: Founder of Corti
We sat down with Andreas Cleve, Copenhagen-based entrepreneur and lean startup evangelist in the Nordics and Founder of Corti. We talked
GRILLED #01: Every now and then, the TechBBQ PR & Communications Department runs out to interview a prominent profile from the Danish tech, innovation and startup ecosystem with the goal of getting the latest update and a TechBBQ-anecdote to share with our audience through an in-depth portrait interview.
What is "GRILLED by TechBBQ"?
Every now and then, the TechBBQ PR & Communications Department runs out to interview a prominent profile from the Danish tech, innovation and startup ecosystem with the goal of getting the latest update and a TechBBQ-anecdote to share with our audience through an in-depth portrait interview.
Who is getting "GRILLED by TechBBQ" this time?
CEO and Co-founder of Pleo, Jeppe Rindom.
What is "Pleo"?
Pleo is a Danish fintech company founded by Niccolo Perra and Jeppe Rindom in 2015. The company received a unicorn status in 2021.
What is the "Pleo" solution?
Pleo is a centralised business spending solution for forward-thinking teams. Pleo enables employees to buy the things they need for work, while keeping companies in full control of all spending.
1: When did it all start with Pleo?
"We founded Pleo in 2015. The company today is 750 people headquartered here in Copenhagen, but it is servicing customers in 10 European countries by now. Pleo is basically the product that you need as a business. No matter the size.
If you want to enable your employees to buy the stuff they need for work. No matter if it’s by using a Pleo card or paying for an invoice, while taking away all the complexity of dealing with the receipts, what we all hate, as well as automizing your accounting and bookkeeping processes."
2: How about a short update?
"2022 has been a massive year of growth and investments for us. Last year we raised $350 million dollars. With that sum of money, we’ve decided to move into a number of European countries. So, we’ve recently launched four new countries: Austria, Benelux, Finland and France.. We are still expanding - and we are opening up another ten countries in the coming year. At the same time, the organisation has been growing quite a lot. We hired more than 200 people in the first quarter of 2022. So, now we are becoming used to more than 100 people joining us every month."
3: What is PLEO’s main focus currently?
"We are still very focused on business spending, but we want to cover all spend cases. You may recognize and remember the Pleo card and that’s still what a lot of people associate us with.
But we actually take care of all sorts of payments, not only the card payments. So, if you need to pay a bill or if you’ve paid something out of pocket, and you need to have a process of being reimbursed. We try to look at the space of spending in a coherent way, where we deal with all usercases you need to take care of when you spend company money."
4: What do you look forward to?
"So, I think one of the things that we are looking forward to is moving into a new continent. For many reasons, also for legislation reasons, we’ve been really focused on Europe in the past. Europe is a massive market, a big enough market to create a fantastic company. But we do have bigger ambitions than that. So, we are soon entering the next continent and soon enough we’ll be announcing that. I can’t wait to take Pleo global."
5: Is it hard to attract a talent?
"Attracting talents has proven to be one of the hardest things. Even though that we are hiring 100 new people every month, it’s hard to claim that we are not succeeding. We still do find it fairly difficult. Why? Well, because, as we all know, there is fierce competition for the great talent out there.
I think what has helped Pleo over the course of the years has been really focusing on creating a great work place, where we truly care for our employees, and care for the learning and growing experience that they get throughout the years here in Pleo. Connecting that with our employer brand and making sure that those things are consistent, so what people hear and feel Pleo is like is also what they experience when they walk into the office or when they have their first day at work.
Every first Monday of the month, when we welcome our new ‘bricks’ (as we call our new starters) for the two week onboarding program, I tend to do a raising-of-a-hand and ask how did people hear about Pleo?, and why did they decide to work for Pleo? I would say the one thing that constantly pops up is that people chose to join Pleo for the kind of work place we are and for the culture, for how they perceive Pleo from the outside-in perspective. So, I think that has proven to be a really helpful focus point for us."
6: What is the Pleo culture?
"I think there are a lot of different things that go into Pleo culture. But if I were to highlight one thing, it is really believing in people and truly believing that the impact we are going to have in the world and the market, does not come from me or the management team. It comes from everyone. It is also strongly linked to how we think about our product which is also a very enabling product.
Essentially, we want every single person to come to Pleo and be able to innovate, be able to have an impact in the market. We think that it is the only way we can succeed. The market is moving so fast. We need everyone to keep up with it and make themselves accountable and drive Pleo forward.
The red thread across that also means we are all organising this way, and we are trusting people, and we are bringing them onto a journey. That is being valued and something that is making a difference."
7: Is there a certain Nordic approach?
"I do think here in the Nordics that we are a trust based society. I think that goes across how we think about people in our society. E.g. how we are filing taxes is a very trust based way of dealing with people. I think that it also translates into how we think about leadership in the Nordics.
We generally do trust our employees, and we generally are OK relying and passing on responsibility. I think that we in Pleo are building on that trust to create our own company. But we are also trying to export that approach through the values in our product."
8: How do you think the Danish/Nordic startup ecosystem is performing?
"I generally think that the Danish ecosystem has developed a lot in the past twelve years as I’ve been a part of it. If you start on the talent side of things, which to me is quite important: E.g. if you visit the universities or if you go to business schools today, you will see working in a startup or in a technology company is just up there today: It is something that the students really want!
I was actually invited to do the graduating speech at Copenhagen Business School this year, and for the first time ever it was an entrepreneur like me who did that. I think it tells the demand among the students that this is something they see as a choice of career. Whilst I would argue ten years ago, it was more like I want to do consulting or I want to do banking.
Entrepreneurship is a thing today for talent and that’s super helpful. I think, if you look at the investor environment, ten years ago Danish companies where backed by Danish or Nordic funds.
Today, they are approached by funds all over the world. So, I would say Denmark and Nordics are up there and respected for the sort of innovation that we do and have in Denmark.
That sits really well with me to see how all of these startups are succeeding and attracting a lot of capital and scaling their organisation in Denmark. So, there is a huge difference in the past ten years."
9: What are some of the challenges in the Danish/Nordic ecosystem?
"There are still few weaknesses or disadvantages in the Nordics.
The obvious one is that Denmark and the Nordics is a small market which means that all your local expertise, local network, local legislation doesn’t translate into a massive market opportunity. It translates into a first market opportunity.
What we need to get used to and get better at as Danish companies is to think internationally from day one and ensure that we set the bar really high in terms of our ambitions and do not settle with the local ambitions.
Number two, I do think that scaling organisations in Denmark is a little harder. We don’t have so much talent available in Denmark, particularly not when it comes to a digital talent. Also, we don’t yet have so many executives in Denmark that have scaled tech companies through a far extent.
To create a successful company out of Denmark, we need to be able to grasp how we bring people to Denmark - or how we build outside of Denmark combining organisations across borders.
It's not easy, but I do think that it’s been a little bit like a religion for us at Pleo to keep our headquarters in Denmark. We have had to compliment by hiring outside of Copenhagen, and whether I like it or not, when a hundred of new people start in Pleo, only around 30–35 of those are actually located in Copenhagen. The majority are from outside of Copenhagen. But that’s just a part of growing an international company."
10: What is a Pleo employee like?
"One of the things that we are looking for in a Pleo employee is someone who want to join a journey of growth. Both a journey of personal and company growth. You often can see that in the eyes of people when they enter a room: The way that they talk or have a certain energy and passion around them.
If we sense that they are looking for a job in the traditional form, they would rarely get a job in Pleo. But if we sense that they are looking to be a part of something big, they have a much better chance of joining us.
So, the thing that we’ve realized in Pleo over the years, has been attracting people who are truly inspired about growing and building something, which also means that a lot of the people we hire have a dream of starting a business of their own.
We’ve probably had 5-10 people leaving Pleo to go and build their own companies.
It’s fantastic to see how they are succeeding in the market and how having been a part of Pleo has been a catalyst for them. Not only in their learnings, but also in the network that they’ve achieved, and the contact with investors out there. As a result, a lot of them are successful attracting capital and building companies.
It’s an ambiguous feeling to lose really strong people, but also wonderful to see how the Pleo has fostered new entrepreneurship.
Looking back at my own path, it was kind of the same thing for myself. I joined the technology company Tradeshift. I was excited about that journey. I learned a lot. I also did have a dream of starting my own business. And that’s what I ended up doing.
So, my recommendation would therefore be: If you have such a dream, consider joining a company for a few years and get all of those learnings embodied, before you go ahead and start you own business."
11: Do you remember your first TechBBQ experience?
"I’ve attended TechBBQ since the first year in 2013.
But the one event that stood out to me by far was in 2016 when TechBBQ was in the Opera House of Copenhagen. It was in September, and it was right before we were planning to launch Pleo. We’ve had a few test companies just to onboard the product.
Honestly, the event came a little early for us, but we decided to give it a shot, and actually launch Pleo at the event. So, I went on the stage and I told the audience about Pleo. I also invited them to go to our booth and live onboard them there with Pleo cards in their hands, so they could go and buy a few drinks in the bar.
Something happened, which we hadn’t expected: Around 75 companies were queueing up in front of the booth.
At TechBBQ 2016, we had the entire company present, which at that time was about eight people. The team was helping with live onboarding and modifying codes in the backend. It was just a great feeling to see Pleo cards being used in the bar right away.
I do still think that we were not really ready to serve 75 customers afterwards. But 10 or 15 of those companies still have the feeling that they first got started with us at the TechBBQ 2016 event - and have used Pleo ever since."
12: Why did you attend TechBBQ?
"The purpose of TechBBQ for us and for me personally has changed over the years.
Early on, it was a celebratory thing: to be a part of the community and to get inspired.
Coming to an event like that for a recently launched company such as ours, it’s about building a network, getting introduced to investors that you can speed date etc.
One or two years after that, for us it was about employer branding, to make sure that our company name was out there - and that we knew how to engage new talent at the conference.
Today, whilst employer branding is a constant, I think it’s also about paying it forward - and ensuring that we are giving back to the community and sharing our learnings.
We try to inspire other people, without a direct expectation of what that brings to Pleo."
13: TechBBQ is hosting its 10th event this year. Are you coming, Jeppe?
"I hate to say it, but unfortunately, I am not coming this year, which probably is the first time.
It happens to be that we are going to bring our entire company - at the time of TechBBQ about 1.000 people - to Croatia for our annual offsite.
I think that it is as good of a reason as it could be not to come to TechBBQ this year."
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