“Transparency is absolutely key for helping your team and your business grow” – Interview with Pleo’s co-founder and CEO Jeppe Rindom

PLEO-CEO

Copenhagen-based Pleo is reshaping how businesses manage company spending, and how they operate, enabling staff to feel more empowered and ultimately more productive. Pleo has been revolutionizing the tedious expense process, making it quicker, simpler and more transparent. The Danish company recently became a unicorn after raising its Series C round totalling around €126.5 million. This is the largest Series C raise in Danish history, and one of the biggest Series C rounds in European fintech, giving the company a valuation of approximately €1.4 billion.

We recently caught up with Pleo’s inspiring founder and CEO, Jeppe Rindom, who talked us through the company’s success, organizational culture, growth story, providing invaluable insights into how to make an impact inside and outside an organization.

So, if you’re also an entrepreneur looking for funding, are interested in predictions for the fintech sector, or simply want to know what made Pleo such a successful company, you should be reading this.

Copenhagen-based Pleo is reshaping how businesses manage company spending, and how they operate, enabling staff to feel more empowered and ultimately more productive. Pleo has been revolutionizing the tedious expense process, making it quicker, simpler and more transparent. The Danish company recently became a unicorn after raising its Series C round totalling around €126.5 million. This is the largest Series C raise in Danish history, and one of the biggest Series C rounds in European fintech, giving the company a valuation of approximately €1.4 billion.

We recently caught up with Pleo’s inspiring founder and CEO, Jeppe Rindom, who talked us through the company’s success, organizational culture, growth story, providing invaluable insights into how to make an impact inside and outside an organization.

So, if you’re also an entrepreneur looking for funding, are interested in predictions for the fintech sector, or simply want to know what made Pleo such a successful company, you should be reading this.

Thank you for joining us today, Jeppe, and congratulations on becoming Denmark’s first fintech unicorn! Could you please tell us how you came up with the idea of Pleo?

It all stems from a longstanding battle with receipts, which started back when I was 13, earning some pocket money at my father’s accountancy business. I’d spend hours on end just matching up shoe boxes of faded receipts with company bank statements. I understood that receipts were important, but I couldn’t get past how time-consuming and tedious the process was.

Years later, I was working as the CFO of a fintech start-up business, alongside Niccolo Perra, who went on to co-found Pleo with me. Once again, we were drowning in receipts and expense reports. Then one day, we decided to hand out company cards to everyone in the business. The idea was to create an atmosphere of independence, but inevitably it caused chaos! We’d succeeded in making our employees feel empowered, but we weren’t able to track spending effectively, and senior staff were still losing hours of time gathering and processing receipts.

So, we decided to reinvent the whole system. We set out to build a software platform and payment system that enabled employee empowerment, setting them up for success without compromising on control, transparency or financial safety – and that’s how Pleo came to be.

What are the specific features that differentiate Pleo from other similar service providers?

What makes us different from our competitors can be boiled down to three main things, the first being our brand and vision. One of the main goals of Pleo is to make everyone feel valued at work, so we’re more than just expense and invoice automation software. Pleo encourages a culture of transparency, freedom, and autonomy for employees, giving them back the time spent on tedious financial admin to do the things that really matter in their jobs.

Secondly, what often surprises people too is how simple Pleo is to use compared to other expense solutions. All you need is a Pleo card, your smartphone and our integrated app, and you’re ready to go. Employees can start capturing receipts and instantly process their expenses, while finance teams can set budgets and track company spending in real-time. Pleo is also entirely end-user centric, and we optimise the solution for those spending everyday, whether a salesperson, a marketer or an office manager – not just the finance team.

Lastly, in terms of Pleo’s specific features, our ambition has always been to be a one-stop-shop for payment and spend management solutions, so we’ve introduced new capabilities over the years that tackle bigger challenges beyond just expenses. We now offer automated receipt capture, cash tracking features like Pocket, and an invoice and bill workflow management and payments feature called Bills, which is actually the first of its kind in the UK. What’s more, with an average NPS score of 59 from our 20,000-strong customer base, we must be getting something right somewhere.

Fintech is maturing pretty fast. What are your top three fintech predictions for the upcoming years?

As we’ve seen from its phenomenal growth over the first half of this year, the fintech landscape is constantly evolving, so it can be tricky to put a pin on what the key trends will be down the line. In terms of what we’re seeing, though, I anticipate the following will be things to watch out for in the coming years:

  1. Employee financial empowerment – With remote, flexible working now becoming the norm for many businesses, there will be an increased need for businesses to support their employees financially. Whether from an educational perspective, or simply to empower them at work, I expect we’ll see more employers thinking about how company money flows as workforces become increasingly distributed.
  2. An increased focus on operations, data and infrastructure – The European fintech investment landscape is booming, with €10.4bn raised in the first half of 2021 alone. In order to scale their operations efficiently, I expect we’ll see fintechs heavily investing in their operations, data and infrastructure to ensure they grow securely, and safely.
  3. A focus on partnerships and bundling – Like Pleo, many fintechs out there today may have originally built their solutions around solving one particular problem. However, as their customers’ needs evolved, this has seen many firms ‘rebundle’ their services to solve other related problems. I expect we’ll see this continue in the coming years, with fintechs broadening their product offerings – whether through innovation or partnerships with like-minded fintechs – to become market leaders in their respective fields.

Growing fast as a company is extremely exciting, but at the same time, very challenging. Could you share with us a few of the Do’s and Don’ts of rapid scaling?

The first thing I’d say is never lose sight of your culture and the people that keep your company going. With rapid growth, there are bound to be teething pains as structures and processes inevitably evolve, but you’ll have a much better chance of weathering the storm if you’ve built a company where people feel happy, supported, engaged and a part of the journey.

In terms of don’ts – never stop listening and adapting. To your employees, to your customers, to your suppliers. It’s crucial to be flexible and ready to adjust your approach as the stakes change.

Pleo has just raised $150 million in a Series C investment round. How are you planning to use the funding?

Our main priorities right now are expanding our team, further enhancing our product, and continuing to grow our customer base, which is currently around 20,000 companies across Europe. We’re hoping to reach 1 million engaged users benefiting from Pleo by the end of 2025 – that’s about 25 times the size of where we’re at now, but you’ve got to think big!

We’ll continue to lean into our strengths, targeting growth in European and neighbouring markets where we see a strong fit – culturally and practically – for a product like Pleo.

What advice can you give to other entrepreneurs looking to get funding?

Remember to stay true to what you care about and what you’re good at. If you can keep these central to everything you do, investors will recognise your passion and your potential and that’s what they’ll ultimately buy into.

Secondly, don’t chase the money, but the advice that comes with it. While the funding itself is a business necessity, the true value of investors is their experience and expertise. They can provide invaluable support and act as a sounding board to keep you thriving and moving forward.

You set up successful teams throughout the continent. How did you manage to build relationships with your new hires while scaling the company and working remotely?

Here at Pleo, we’re determined to give new-starters the weaponry, context and relations they need to succeed in the role they’re hired for. So we created Bricks, our onboarding programme – named such due to our early support from The Lego Group. It’s a four-day crash course completed by everyone – be they full-time, part-time, in the office or remote – to bring them up to speed with the essentials.

It helps them get to know our values and our business mission, and understand a bit more about the company as a working organism and how everything slots together. We also match that up with discussions around their professional and personal development and meetings with their new co-workers. Our whole onboarding process centres arounds openness, flexibility and support, to set our teams up for success and happiness.

Looking back on the last years of your career in a leadership position, what are the most effective ways to deal with giving and receiving feedback at work?

Transparency is absolutely key for helping your team and your business grow. It’s like author Kim Scott says, you need to adopt ‘radical candour’, not ruinous empathy. That means being honest with the people around you and telling them, specifically, what they’re getting wrong – and right – and inviting them to do the same with you. When you’re scaling a business, if you shy away from having hard or awkward conversations, it will only slow you down in the mid to long-run.

Last but not least, what is the biggest challenge you see ahead, and how do you plan to overcome it?

Fintech is currently at a real inflection point. The market is heating up with more and more competitors, which presents us incumbents with the challenge of being aggressive enough and agile enough to keep up. That’s why we’re spending so much time on hiring now – to enable us to scale well into the future.