An excellent interview with Pieter van der Does, co-founder of Ayden, on the topic of a positive HR culture and how UK businesses can seek international opportunities.
What’s your business background?
Prior to Adyen, I helped build a payments operator called Bibit,
which was acquired by RBS in 2004. I was chief commercial officer, and when we sold the company, I stayed on for two years, working with Ron Kalifa, who went on to create Worldpay. Following a short break after leaving Bibit, I launched Adyen with a few partners.
What I learnt from Bibit is that building a layer over the banks
isn’t going to give merchants the quality of experience that they need, because that model involves interfacing with lots of different card schemes, such as Visa, Mastercard and so on.
Working across lots of platforms in that way means that there’s a lot of data that gets lost en route with a transaction. It also gives you [as a payments operator] less power over the service. At Bibit, we often had to apologise to consumers about issues that were no fault of our own.
Adyen is a single solution – and we build everything in-house, with one platform that works end-to-end, so that no transactional data is lost.
What’s different about Adyen as an employer?
There’s a way of working that I and the [founding] team really like.
It’s a very open culture, with very direct feedback – maybe it’s quite a Dutch culture in that way, despite us having 14 offices worldwide.
In the [fintech field], where it’s so competitive to hire people, we decided that we were going to work very hard to keep the right kind of culture – one that sets Adyen apart. Every person whom we
bring into the team is seen by a board member first. In terms of the existing team, we avoid emailing, where possible; everyone is encouraged to pick up the phone.
It’s how I conduct my personal life. If an upstairs neighbour had a leak in their house and emailed me about it, I would drop by and talk to them, rather than escalate the issue with another email.
Many entrepreneurs think that they should go international, but it’s not always the case
We find that it’s a very efficient way
to work and we’re good at retaining team members. We have expert software developers whom, in a Silicon Valley environment, might leave after about 18 months. At Adyen, we still have developers who were with us from day one.
What could be the most radical outcome of payment technologies?
This all depends on privacy laws, but there’s the possibility of the big players knowing so much about a consumer that they can give real-time credit, where you would pay [for something] and just be invoiced later. They would have such a detailed profile of your activities that they would know your likelihood to pay and could price your risk accordingly.
It would shape the competitive [payments] field, because the amount of data a company has could dictate its payment options, empowering data giants, such as Google, to the detriment of smaller retailers.
All this activity could happen at such a rate that consumers may not even realise that it’s a credit-based transaction.
How do you keep data secure at the business?
The nice answer would be that everything is bombproof and that you never need to worry about it.
But that’s not the case; you have to invest a lot and make sure that you can tackle any attacks or breaches quickly. It’s about developing
a strategy that’s aimed at avoiding the worst kind of breach, but it’s a game of cat and mouse; this industry will always be under attack.
What advice do you have for UK entrepreneurs trying to find opportunities overseas?
I run a very international company, but that’s because a
Netherlands-only payments company could only have been small.
As a founding team, we always had a sense of scale that we wanted to achieve. We focused on international problems with fraud patterns and currencies.
Many entrepreneurs think that they should go international, but
it’s not always the case; you can build into a big market with the UK, before looking overseas. International growth is challenging –
and often legally and regulatory complex – so do it [only] once you’ve developed the right level of operational strength in your initial country.
What will give Adyen the edge in a competitive space?
We’re doing very well, but because we’re growing so fast, we have to constantly reassess. You must be critical: has your team got the necessary skills?
Someone might be a great person for a role in 2015, but not 2017, because the job has changed so much. You have to be very proactive about your HR; make sure that you’re giving the right people the right opportunities.
What has been your biggest business challenge?
In terms of starting a payments company, it was getting volume on
to the platform. At first, why would a merchant go through the hassle of transferring its revenue to a small new company?
We got through that by building up volume with smaller customers – and then attracting large ones. From the get-go, we pitched to the largest companies that we could, but it took five years to bring them on board. It takes years of patience to build those kinds of relationships.
A small merchant with an issue is very good at giving you feedback; they will take the time to share exactly what they think of your services.
Ultimately, however, we’re a platform created for harmonising mobile, online traffic and so on – we’re built for larger players.