Making business banking great again: Interview with Alexandre Prot – Co-founder & CEO of Qonto

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Qonto is an innovative banking venture, designed to simplify and enhance the banking experience for businesses. Founded in 2016, Qonto’s goal is to make banking more collaborative, efficient and connected using only a current account and a Qonto Mastercard. With €11.6 million in funding and more than 60 employees in their Paris-based headquarters, Qonto is set to make business banking great again.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Alexandre Prot – Co-founder & CEO of Qonto about how it all began, and about the exciting times that are yet ahead for the startup. Here is the interview:

As a recognized serial entrepreneur, when did you first discover your entrepreneurial spirit and how is your entrepreneurial career developing so far?

I guess I have been enterprising in my actions for a while. I have worked on different projects, such as raising funds for an association. But you’re never an entrepreneur before launching a company from scratch, thinking about it all the time! My background is quite ‘classic’: business school and some years in consulting at McKinsey. Entrepreneurship: 0%!

In 2010, I decided to make a change and did an MBA at INSEAD. I wanted to make another career, be more operational, do things of my own. I went on to become the co-founder and CEO of Wimdu, powered by Rocket Internet. That experience was the ‘soft launch’ of my entrepreneurial career. Sure, I was CEO, but I did not take the financial risks in the venture. I enjoyed managing a company and I learned a lot in the year and a half of this experience. Entrepreneurship: 50%! It brought me the certainty that I wanted to be an 100% entrepreneur and create something of my own, from scratch. I reconnected with Steve Anavi, a high-school friend, and we decided to launch Smok.io together. Entrepreneurship: 100%, and it keeps going on!

If I take a look back on my entrepreneurial career, I can only be satisfied so far and I hope it’s only the beginning! With Qonto, we have raised 20 times the amount we raised for Smok.io and our team is much bigger. I enjoy being part of this amazing adventure and I am looking forward to see what happens next.

Your latest endeavor, Qonto, is a banking alternative for SMEs and startups. How did you get the idea for this project?

So we launched Smok.io with Steve, which was acquired in 2015 by a Fortune 500. During this experience, we were very frustrated with our bank. It was time-consuming, not tailored to our needs and very untransparent. We interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs and the pains we experienced were widely shared. That is why we decided to launch Qonto, to reinvent business banking for businesses and freelancers.

Qonto is described as banking for the 21st century. What services does Qonto provide and what is its potential for success?

When thinking about Qonto at the beginning, we knew we wanted to build a simple and user-centered banking service. In two words, we wanted to provide all entrepreneurs and SMEs with the service we would have loved to get at Smok.io! Qonto is the neobank for businesses and freelancers. It’s 100% online: you can open your account in 5 minutes, get your IBAN immediately and order your Qonto cards straight from the app.  You have access to a current account, with everything you need: transfers (SEPA and international), Qonto Mastercards… Our aim is to offer the best user experience possible with a simple and intuitive interface and our pricing is fairer and more transparent than a traditional bank, beginning at €9/month (VAT excluded).

On top of the current account, we offer native features so that our users can save time (with accounting or reporting tasks, for instance), including: smart dashboards, automated transactions tagging, the ability to add receipts or invoices to any transactions. In 6 months we attracted more than 5 thousand business customers. This was a real ‘win’ for all the team that proved the ‘product market fit’. Have you ever heard a business owner happy with her bank? I never have, so this is how big our addressable market is.

Qonto competes with banks by focusing on simplicity and affordability. What other makes it different from similar solutions on the market?

When building Qonto, we really wanted to solve the most common pain points in business banking. I guess you all experienced the nightmare of asking someone to lend their credit card or wait for an approval for days when you want to make a purchase? That’s why we designed Qonto for teams: each team member can have her card and manage her transactions, with full control from the manager.

Beyond our (amazing) product, we take customer service very seriously. The average response time to all inquiries is 15 minutes during business days. Our customers are very valuable and we want to make them feel that way! Plus, entrepreneurs are busy and we want to save them time with Qonto. So we want to provide the best answer as fast as possible.

Less than a year after the launch, Qonto offers its services to more than 5000 clients. What is your impression so far? Are you changing the banking experience for companies?

We officially launched Qonto in July 2017, and by December we already had 5000+ companies using the service, it’s amazing. I do think we’re making a real change in the business banking experience. Our customers are really satisfied with Qonto, our Net Promoter Score is +60 (when it’s -14 for traditional banks, source: Deloitte report). We feel grateful because a lot of customers share their love for Qonto on social media and also by email with the team. According to them, we do make business banking easy!

Tell us more about the hub of financial and legal services integrated with Qonto that you are building.

We are focusing on building the best business current account one ever had. We know our users might have other needs linked to their finances: card readers, incorporation services, insurances. That’s why we created Qonto Finance Hub: we’re partnering and integrating with the best services our users ask for. So far, Qonto Finance Hub includes:

  • iZettle, the European leader of mobile card readers,
  • Legalstart, the leading French Legaltech: they take care of the admin hussle to incorporate a new company,
  • Kantox, the best Fintech for FX transfers.

We think the Fintech and Legaltech ecosystem is all about joining forces. We have a lot to do to disrupt markets that have not innovated for years!

In July 2017 Qonto received €10 million additional funding from its two main investors, Valar Ventures and Alven Capital. How are you distributing the funds?

We use this funds to build the best product, service and brand, meaning we are mainly using this money to hire and develop a very talented team, and set them for success.

In the 2017 ‘Fintech100’ report which compiles a list of the year’s best fintech innovators from around the world, Qonto was one of the 50 emerging startups. What are your thoughts on the European fintech scene?

I was really proud to see Qonto in this report only 6 months after our launch! 41 companies in the report are from the EMEA region. I think it’s interesting to see the rise of more ambitious Fintechs in Europe lately. More opportunities are created and investments are at their best in the industry, there is a huge potential for growth. Even if compared to the US or China, Europe is still a ‘small’ player. I believe that collaborations between Fintechs – a number of them have been announced – the way we did it with Kantox, are a promising way to grow further.

What are the challenges ahead for Qonto?

Like any fast-growing companies, we want to scale: maintain high growth, keep our users as happy as they are now, keep being agile as a team, etc. More specifically, we are working on adding new services to the Finance Hub: factoring, insurance and lending. Also, our international expansion is planned for early 2019, so stay tuned to hear more about Qonto launch in other EU countries! 🙂