Written & produced by Keyvan Thomsen Bamdej

June 28, 2022 / 8 min. read

GRILLED by TechBBQ #01 ​

Exclusive interview with Jeppe Rindom, CEO & Co-founder of Pleo.

Watch the interview with Jeppe Rindom:

Fintech industry trends:

European fintechs raised over €20bn of VC funding in 2021, almost three times the previous record of €7.5bn in 2020. More later-stage funding across more fintech companies is being observed, indicating a higher number of unicorn fintechs emerging.

Source: savills.com

"2022 has been a massive year of growth and investments for us. Last year we raised $350 million. With that sum of money, we’ve decided to move into a number of European countries."

Interview with Jeppe Rindom:

Keyvan Thomsen Bamdej:
»When did it all start with Pleo?«

Jeppe Rindom:
»We founded Pleo in 2015. Today, the company is headquartered in Copenhagen and has 750 people, but it now serves customers in 10 European countries. Pleo is the product that you need as a business. No matter the size.

Suppose you want your employees to buy the stuff they need for work, whether 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, and automizing your accounting and bookkeeping processes.«

»Could you give us a short update?«

»2022 has been a massive year of growth and investments for us. Last year we raised $350 million dollars. With that money, we’ve decided to move into several European countries. So, we’ve recently launched four new countries: Austria, Benelux, Finland, and France.. We are still expanding and opening up another ten countries in the coming year. At the same time, the organization has been growing quite a lot. We hired more than 200 people in the first quarter of 2022. So, now we are used to more than 100 people joining us monthly.«

»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 many people associate us with.

But we take care of all sorts of payments, not just card payments. So, if you need to pay a bill or if you’ve paid something out of pocket, you need to have a process of being reimbursed. We try to look at the space of spending coherently, where we deal with all user cases you need to take care of when you spend company money.«

»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 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.«

»Attracting talents has proven to be one of the hardest things. Even though we hire 100 new people every month, it’s hard to claim that we are not succeeding. We still do find it somewhat difficult. Why? Well, as we all know, there is fierce competition for great talent out there.

I think what has helped Pleo over the course of the years has been really focusing on creating a great workplace 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 people hear about Pleo? and why they decided 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.«

»What is the Pleo culture?«

»I think there are many different things that go into Pleo culture. But if I were to highlight one thing, it is believing in people and genuinely believing that the impact we will 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 and 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 make themselves accountable and drive Pleo forward.

The red thread across that also means we are all organizing 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.«

»Is there a certain Nordic approach?«

»I 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. For example, filing taxes is a trust-based way of dealing with people. It also translates into how we think about leadership in the Nordics.

We generally do trust our employees, and we generally are OK relying on and passing on responsibility. 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 of our product.«

»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 a technology company is just up there today: It is something that the students want!

I was invited to do the graduating speech at Copenhagen Business School this year, and for the first time, an entrepreneur like me did that. I think it tells the students that this is something they see as a career choice. 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. If you look at the investor environment, I think ten years ago, Danish companies were backed by Danish or Nordic funds.

Today, they are approached by funds all over the world. So, I would say Denmark and the Nordics are up there and respect for the sort of innovation that we do and have in Denmark.

It sits well with me to see how all of these startups are succeeding, attracting a lot of capital and scaling their organization in Denmark. So, there is a huge difference in the past ten years.«

»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 are small markets, meaning that all your local expertise, network, and legislation don’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 high in terms of our ambitions and do not settle with the local ambitions.

Number two, I think scaling organizations in Denmark is a little harder. We don’t have so much talent available in Denmark, particularly not when it comes to digital talent. Also, we don’t yet have so many executives in Denmark that have scaled tech companies to a far extent.

To create a successful company out of Denmark, we need to grasp how we bring people to Denmark - or how we build outside Denmark, combining organizations across borders.

It's not easy, but it’s been a bit like a religion for us at Pleo to keep our headquarters in Denmark. We have had to complement by hiring outside of Copenhagen, and whether I like it or not, when a hundred new people start in Pleo, only around 30–35 of those are located in Copenhagen. The majority are from outside of Copenhagen. But that’s just a part of growing an international company.«

»What is a typical Pleo employee like?«

»One of the things that we are looking for in a Pleo employee is someone who wants to join a growth journey. Both are a journey of personal and company growth. You often can see that in people's eyes when they enter a room: The way that they talk or have a specific 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 they want 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 genuinely inspired people about growing and building something, which also means that many of the people we hire 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, many of them successfully attract capital and build companies.

It’s an ambiguous feeling to lose strong people, but seeing how the Pleo has fostered new entrepreneurship is wonderful.

Looking back at my own path, it was the same thing for me. I joined the technology company Tradeshift. I was excited about that journey. I learned a lot. I also have a dream of starting my own business. And that’s what I ended up doing.

So, my recommendation would 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 your own business.«

»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 was in 2016 when TechBBQ was in the Opera House of Copenhagen. It was in September, right before we were planning to launch Pleo. We’ve had a few test companies onboard the product.

Honestly, the event came a little early for us, but we decided to give it a shot and launch Pleo at the event. So, I went on the stage and told the audience about Pleo. I also invited them to our booth and live onboard them with Pleo cards so they could buy a few drinks in the bar.

Something happened that 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 a great feeling to see Pleo cards being used in the bar immediately.

I still think that we were not ready to serve 75 customers afterward. But 10 or 15 of those companies still feel that they started with us at the TechBBQ 2016 event - and have used Pleo ever since.«

»Why did you attend TechBBQ?«

»The purpose of TechBBQ for us and me personally has changed over the years.

Early on, it was celebratory: to be a part of the community and get inspired.

Coming to an event like that for a recently launched company such as ours is about building a network, getting introduced to investors so that you can speed date, etc.

One or two years after that, it was about employer branding to ensure 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 give back to the community and share our learnings.

We try to inspire other people without directly expecting what that brings to Pleo.«

»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.

We will 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.«

Watch the interview with Jeppe Rindom:

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