Kitesurf founder Revolut rides the fintech wave at a valuation of $ 33 billion

The first time Revolut became Britain’s most valuable fintech, Nikolay Storonsky was disappointed.

A fundraiser last year lifted his company’s valuation way ahead of its UK peers to $ 5.5 billion, but the chief executive “really wanted to get $ 10 billion or more,” according to a person who worked with him on the deal. “In some ways his take was ‘it was too cheap before’. . . he has a pretty optimistic mindset.

This week, the digital bank co-founded by Storonsky six years ago took it a step further. A fundraising of $ 800 million earned Revolut a valuation of $ 33 billion, making it the largest private tech company in British history and one of the largest in the world.

Revolut has been hailed by leading figures – including Rishi Sunak, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer – as a “great British fintech success story”, although Storonsky himself did not stay to celebrate.

While the company’s chief financial officer, Mikko Salovaara, announced the fundraiser to reporters early Thursday morning, its chief executive was already on his way to a rare holiday – kitesurfing in Rhodes.

“Even when it’s super intense, it’s his way of staying upright under pressure,” said Martin Mignot, one of Revolut’s early investors at Index Ventures. “He’s totally unfazed. . . I don’t think he ever doubted his success.

The trip is a testament to the priorities of the 36-year-old former investment banker, who has built a reputation with colleagues and peers as a hard worker, data-obsessed and taking a hands-on approach to creating the Revolut’s products, but has less interest in the showmanship and sales skills of some top tech entrepreneurs.

“I never accepted the role of CEO as a salesperson, or just a visionary person,” Storonsky told the Financial Times. “You have to have a vision that we all want to achieve. . .[but]every manager should know the details. If they don’t, they can’t change the direction of the business, they can’t distinguish what is good and what is bad.

A former equity derivatives trader who studied physics and was a competitive swimmer in college, Storonsky founded Revolut with CTO Vlad Yatsenko in 2015. It was launched in London as a card of prepaid debit offering inexpensive currency for frequent travelers, but has since spread to more than 30 countries, and services ranging from commodity trading to business banking.

Its long-term ambition is to create a “superapplication” that would provide all of the financial services a client might need in one place. This concept showed Storonsky’s “contrarian” thinking, Mignot said, at a time when other fintechs were focusing on narrow niches.

“People in Britain are very conservative,” Storonsky said. “People don’t make big, lofty goals. It is best to set moderate goals with a high probability of success. But to be really big you really have to aim for huge goals, which seem like low probability. “

His drive has been essential in attracting investors – he said the latest fundraiser was completed in less than three weeks – and in securing Revolut’s $ 33 billion valuation.

Revolut was launched as a prepaid debit card offering inexpensive foreign currency for frequent travelers, but has since spread to over 30 countries, © Charlie Bibby / FT

A former staff member said: “Does what Revolut is doing right now justify the numbers? Surely not. But they are producing so many new products so quickly. . . it’s a safe bet that Storonsky is a beast who created this product machine that will conquer Europe or the world.

Storonsky said the company got ahead of its competition because it “outperformed everyone”. Yet what supporters see as high standards and drive were seen by some critics as an aggressive approach that fostered a grueling work culture, especially in the early days of Revolut.

John Doran, Partner at TCV, who was the lead investor in Revolut’s 2020 fundraiser, said: “Nik is a visionary with a high bar and extraordinary ambition. His management style may not be everyone’s preferred method, but it is data driven, methodical and always fair ”.

He added that “Nik has grown tremendously as a leader over the years we’ve known each other.”

Storonsky has formed an unlikely duo with Martin Gilbert, founder of Aberdeen Asset Management and chairman of Revolut, whose reputation is at odds with that of Storonsky.

Storonsky said he appreciates the advice of someone with decades of experience building and running a large financial firm, unlike many “expert” investors in the tech industry who have little to do with it. real experience in setting up businesses. Gilbert, for his part, said this week “people get it wrong. [Storonsky] quite dramatically ”.

“He has a great sense of humor. . .[and]he’s a good listener, which a lot of people don’t see. He doesn’t make the mistake of saying too much – he has the ability to just answer a question and then won’t fill an awkward silence. People confuse this with other traits.

Storonsky’s reputation for coldness was also, according to some investors and staff, exacerbated by xenophobia – he is a British citizen, but was born in Russia and his father worked for a division of the state gas company Gazprom.

His ties to Russia have sparked particular controversy in Lithuania, where Revolut angered some politicians after receiving his first banking license in 2018.

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The company was also scrutinized to see if its rapid growth would be too difficult for compliance staff to keep up with, resulting in substantial investments in systems strengthening and staffing to reassure regulators and help them secure new licenses.

This week’s fundraiser took Revolut’s valuation a nose to NatWest, one of the UK’s largest banks with £ 453bn in customer deposits to £ 4.6bn for Revolut . The comparison led several bankers to call the investment “madness,” but Storonsky said he was happy that mainstream banks continue to doubt the company.

“It makes our way a lot easier if people and banks don’t take us seriously, we can be hiding, stealing and going faster. Hopefully one day they wake up and don’t have a business.

Additional reports by Tim Bradshaw


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