They say that slow and steady wins the race, but how many tech startups succeed
with a patient approach? Cash management startup Neo is a shining example of
slow and steady winning the race. While waiting two years for regulatory
clearance, Neo built a huge customer base before they could even sell. Now they
are poised to reap the rewards.
CEO Laurent Descout and Chief Product Officer Emmanuel Anton, joined startup
coach Roland Siebelink on this week’s episode of the Silicon Valley Momentum
Podcast. They discussed how Neo used those two years to its advantage and shared
other insights into the young company’s keys to success.
- How Neo gained insight into the pain points of its core customers.
- The formula for keeping all four co-founders on the same page.
- The right time to do away with generic roles and give team members clear roles.
- The importance of listening to potential clients to create the right product.
- Why trust within a founding team is an essential part of success.
*Sharing below the full transcript of Roland’s conversation with Neo Founders
Laurent Descout and Emmanuel Anton*
Roland Siebelink:Hello, and welcome to the Silicon Valley momentum podcast.
My name is Roland Siebelink and I'm a scale-up coach and adviser. And today, I
have two awesome founders with me coming to us live from Barcelona, Spain, it's
Laurent and Emmanuel, the CEO and chief product officer of Neo. Hello guys.
Thank you for joining us.
Laurent Descout:Thank you for having us tonight.
Roland Siebelink:Excellent. Laurent, tell us, just for people who, if
possible, have never heard of Neo before, what do you do and for which target
group do you solve what problem?
Laurent Descout:Mostly we are what is now called in Europe a challenger
bank. We mostly work for corporations across Europe, helping them operate
worldwide, opening a multi-currency account that they can use to be paid from
their clients, that they can use to pay the suppliers, and having a layer of
advisory so that they can manage the foreign exchange exposure at the best.
Roland Siebelink:Okay. You're saying the client group is really
corporations. How do you differentiate between maybe size or industry? Do you
have a clear target group in mind?
Laurent Descout:We only work for corporate clients. We don't deal with
individuals. We are a pure B2B service. We have some verticals that we have more
preference or a natural fit with. But any corporate that is working globally is
normally in the need of the services we provide.
If either you find difficulties in opening a multi-currency bank account or you
think your bank is charging way too much for your international transfer, for
ethics risk, this is definitely the type of client who can come to us. In
practice, what we see is we have clients in the software industry. A very young
startup but also scaling up. We have fintechs as clients. And we also have a lot
of clients in the asset management industry.
Roland Siebelink:Emmanuel, to get you in the conversation, obviously, `this
is something that has been offered by traditional banks and other players as
well. How does Neo differentiate itself from those traditional players and from
other challenger banks in this field?
Emmanuel Anton:First, we're faster. It's really quick to open an account
with us. We completely integrated the chain and we produce our IVANS ourselves
so we can equip our clients in a really short period. We have, I would say,
great support. We're digital like most of the competition and more digital than
the banks, of course. But I think one of our major assets is our support. Our
clients love that because we are there. We are replying. We are assisting them
every step of the way.
Plus, the platform we have developed is a one-stop shop and they have all the
functionalities. We give them all the information they need without any limit in
time. They can tweak what they see on screen, so they don't necessarily have to
export. I think the tool we provide is also very complete, an advanced one.
Roland Siebelink:Excellent. Can I also introduce to the listeners the
fourth person on this podcast is Carlos Founaud, who is our local scale-up
startup coach based in Spain. Zaragoza to be precise. Carlos, you had a question
for Emmanuel or Laurent as well.
Carlos Founaud:I got a question. I'm very surprised you're working mostly
with the new economy. I thought you were going to be working with the
traditional large corporations. And I wondered, how do you make the first
approach to these CEOs or these CFOs? How did you get to them?
Laurent Descout:We have been working in treasury functions across team
members for a while. Either on the market, on the hedging functions, or I was
myself a financial advisor to corporations for a long time. What we've seen is
we find out that many companies either have a very hard time opening an account.
The opening of an account has become Europe - and I think it's probably due to
the fact that regulations just keep increasing and that banks have less and less
appetite or will to be very punchy in terms of getting new clients. We see a lot
of clients coming to us and finding us on their own just because they have a
very hard time opening a simple bank account.
On top of that, what you're looking for, it's not a simple bank account. It's an
account that works perfectly with 30 currencies that can accept them, that can
pay them, that gives you all that you need so that you can perform your
reporting. It's even harder and harder.
Mostly, what we try to find when we search for clients are companies where we
can easily screen the geographies where they're operating. And that gives us a
very good insight on what are their needs. Are they exporting to South America?
Do they have subsidiaries in Southeast Asia? Are they themselves a subsidiary of
a Swiss-based company?
All this gives us some insight that there is a currency need. And then after,
it's very much a matter of finding them in the right places. That may be
LinkedIn, social press, or social media. And it's making the right pitch. Do you
have hard times opening accounts? Are you satisfied with your international
operations? Do you think you pay way too much for your international transfers
or even for your exchange? Every client who may say yes to this, is normally
interested in hearing what we have to say.
Roland Siebelink:Can I just interrupt you, Laurent, and say that that is
just a great example for the founders that listen to this podcast of really
identifying the pain points in the mind of the customer, from the perspective of
the customer, and getting right to the point. What value am I providing? What
difference am I making? That's an awesome job.
Laurent Descout:This is critical. I'm not saying what we've done may work
for everyone. But what we've done during the first two years of Neo - let's say
that in the FinTech space, you have one natural disadvantage. You need to have
the right regulation in place to start operating. In our case, we had to go
through national bank approval for payments. We had to go through national
market authorization for the FX dealing. That takes two years. You can't go
quicker or slower, which is very often the case, but it's going to take you two
The way we approach it, knowing it from the start - meanwhile, we have this
application going on. We're going to go on a roadshow and talk to as many CFOs
and treasurers that we can with a simple approach. We have nothing to sell to
you today. We want to know what is the international bank account that you want?
What is it supposed to be? What is it supposed to do? And we've done that during
What happened during two years? We built very close contacts. More with a
generalist approach. And during two years, we built the lead base. And now what
we've done, from the very first day we had the license running, we call back all
those people and we say, "Look, since the last time we talked eight months ago,
we built an MVP, now we have the license, are you willing to try it?" That's
what we've done. And honestly, we are still living on this.
But what's been very interesting on that journey is that it brings you also
modesty. Honestly, we've seen pain points that we did not imagine. And we
discovered that some very little things have a massive impact for clients.
Things that, for us, on a powerpoint, would have been nice to have was suddenly
a must-have. Things that for us was a must-have, was suddenly nice to have or an
absolutely not needed feature.
And then, you look into that and you say, "Wow, lucky I had all these talks and
I talk to all these companies from machinery, from services companies, from
importers of a table of chairs, shipping companies, renewable energy." Everyone
with this different set up, with this different type of accounting, everyone
from one person CFO to departments with 30 people at the treasury. And you start
seeing the pain points. Like "I want to spend less," or "I want to do things
more efficiently. I'm afraid of fraud. We have problems with reporting. We want
to automate that. We want to work remotely." All those things, we put them
together. And when you have the chance of adding a bit of time to organize this
slowly, and many times too slow, but it starts shaping your product, shaping
Roland Siebelink:How have you divided up responsibilities between the
co-founders? That's a question I often get from founders. How should we split up
the jobs between us?
Emmanuel Anton:Laurent does everything and we do nothing.
Roland Siebelink:Excellent. I think we've got the title for our podcast
episode. That's amazing.
Emmanuel Anton:I think our founding team is very well balanced because we
have Laurent that has experience across assets, across competencies. He can
speak about compliance. He understands the financials. He understands the
product. He knows the regulation. He's the one putting everything together.
And then we have Ian, our co-founder, who is in charge of the IT that I work
very close with, as I'm in charge of the product. And then we have Nuria, who is
more in charge of all the regulatory and also financial aspects. That little
team works well because Laurent is making sure that everybody is speaking to
each other and things are smooth. And when there is a decision to make, he is
the one to put us in the right direction.
Roland Siebelink:Excellent. Okay. Laurent, back to you. How do you manage
such a complex business with just 30 people and four co-founders? What is the
most complex and how do you, as a team, wrap your head around the complexities
that you deal with?
Laurent Descout:For me, probably the most complex part of things is really
putting the right person all together and making this work. Even though you have
a clear view - and I think from the very start, we all know what we want to
build, and there's just no debate on that. We are all aligned with this. The
thing is, how do you make that vision happen and how years after years you go on
building your business in that direction? I think it all goes around having a
super-motivated team, knowing that everyone is here for a very clear function.
For example, it's not so much on the founders, but when we hire new positions,
we pay a lot of attention on having a super-precise job specification, I think
from experience, if we look at what has not worked so well in some occasions is
when you have this broad scope of "This is your position, but it's not exactly
That's why you get people lost and they lose sight of what is their day-to-day
job. And at the end, everyone is expecting someone to fulfill a clear set of
tasks. We spend a lot of time really making sure that everyone has a clear
understanding of why he is here with us. Everyone can bring some ideas on all
the topics. But we try to avoid adding people being generic. Everyone is here
for a clear mission. Of course, everyone has a good understanding of what part
he's playing, so that everyone feels that all the team is working together and
working together at the same pace. It's useless to have someone who's a
superstar but is going alone and no one can follow the reason. We always try -
and the more and more we recruit - to tell people, "Okay, this is what we're
hiring you for. And that's what you need to deliver."
If we hire someone in the compliance field, it's for a very specific mission.
It's not for a general task like you need to make things right. No, you need to
come to do this. That's extremely important. Extremely important. And the less
people you are at start, the more important it is. Of course, you have moments
when you need more generic people who are able to be flexible. And flexibility
is key. But once you pass 10 people, you need to have clear duties, clear roles,
and clear missions.
Roland Siebelink:Yes, that's a big breaking point. I think that makes a
difference. What has been your experience -Emmanuel, you can chime in as well -
when you did pass the 10 people? What started changing and how could you
establish more clarity in, as you say, telling everyone exactly why they are
there and what their expectations are for their role?
Emmanuel Anton:One thing that will fit nicely with your question and
complete what Laurent was saying, we've been very lucky at Neo because we only
had to start recruiting people - external people, let's say - after a while. We
came with a founding team but also, we had in mind people that we had met in our
previous lives that we wanted to work with. It took us a little bit of time.
Only the four of us - five of us, let's say - to get things going. And then we
brought into the project, people we had worked with in the past. It's like
bringing friends and family.
Roland Siebelink:Very good. Let's talk a little bit about some of the key
accomplishments that Neo has shown so far. What are some of the results you guys
are most proud of? And if you're willing to share, maybe there are also a few
challenges that you guys are still fighting with and maybe some people could
offer help with that? What would you like to share?
Laurent Descout:In terms of achievement outside of building a team and
living a fantastic journey and experience, I think what we're super proud of is
we managed to build from scratch, in our tech jargon, what is a banking system.
Not only did we put a nice front end or a nice design to solutions that others
did before and we just refreshed it. No, no, no. From scratch, we built a full
banking system that even banks are coming to knock at the door to see if they
can use it.
And the other thing we're super proud of is we serve today a bit more than 150
corporate clients across Europe. All our clients are super happy. They all have
things that they don't like or things that haven't worked well and so on. But
they always tell us, "You know what, guys, you help us. You pick up the phone,
you're you're for us. And what you build and the way you support it, it helps us
on a daily basis. This is fantastic. When you get that from your client, this I
love. This I think is what we're super proud of.
The challenge is, I would say as a founder and CEO, is the Neo I have today is
the Neo I thought I would have already two or three years ago. There's this gap
between things that are in your head for five years, and still they are not
done. What I thought was a two-year journey, maybe took 10 years. Handling that
gap between what you want to have and what you think the market is needing, and
seeing it arriving really on the table and many people using it, takes always so
much time. That's the frustration, I think, of the founder.
Roland Siebelink:Somebody said that as humans, we always overestimate how
much we can do in two years, but we really underestimate how much we can do in
Carlos Founaud:By the way, how are you finding Neo? How are you finding
yourselves, let's say in three years time?
Laurent Descout:I always say that things go fast, and at the end, things
don't go fast. If I look back three years ago, most of the FinTech scene was as
it is now. In one sense, we always have this feeling that - and sometimes it's
not only related to what we build; it can be the pandemic. All those things
which were not imaginable a year ago, suddenly they materialize. I think we are
used to living in a world that gives the impression that it's changing extremely
quickly. What will be Neo in three years? I can only tell you that those are the
features we are designing now because between the moment we designed them, we
put them in production and it gets real, and then it's adopted by the clients,
it's three years.
In three years time, the Neo account will not only be a super nice and efficient
bank account, it will be interconnected. Connected to the clients or the banks.
Connected to the client's accounting system. This is for sure Neo in three
years. What will be Neo in 10 years? I definitely think Neo in 10 years will be
like a small JP Morgan operating across the globe.
Roland Siebelink:I'm going to close with some questions about advice to
other founders. Maybe the same question to both of you. One is how do you keep
learning? How do you make sure you get advice where you need it? And two, what's
the key thing you would tell to founders who are just starting or are a few
years behind you? What's the key learning that you would like to convey to them?
Let's start with Emmanuel and then we'll close it with Laurent.
Emmanuel Anton:Perfect. Because I'm going to be way shorter than Laurent on
that one. My biggest inspiration and my biggest source of knowledge is Laurent.
He's reading a lot of books. He's really on top of all the economic trends,
everything that is happening in FinTech and the tech world. Ian is also very
curious about everything that is happening on the tech scene, the new languages
I learn from these people. I'll be very honest, I'm not a bookworm anymore. I
read the news, et cetera. But I learn from these people. I try to surround
myself with people I'm friends with but that have knowledge that might be
useful. I can go to them and ask and they share their knowledge, their time with
me. And then I can give it back to Laurent and the rest of the team.
And if I had to give advice to people, never think that a project is a sprint.
It's a marathon. Be prepared for that. And surround yourself with people you
trust and that have the same goal. I really admire people who are going alone in
a project. But from what I've seen, none of us would have been able to achieve
what we have achieved on our own.
It's good to be a united founding team. The team that is too big is not a good
idea. But the four people we are is really a good number. And it has been really
helpful not to be alone because you have people to speak with, people to rely
on. When one is a little bit down, the others are motivating him or her. If you
can, don't go alone.
Roland Siebelink:Excellent. That's really good wisdom to share with other
founders. And back to Laurent, the source of all wisdom.
Laurent Descout:I think what I would tell to funders or people who may
think to become co-founders and so on is first, talk to a lot of people. Talk
about your project to as many people as you can. And many times, I look at what
was my LinkedIn network before being an entrepreneur. I may have had a hundred
contacts, and now I may have 6,000. It's so easy to talk to people now. Use
this, that's the most.
Then choose who you listen to as well. It's nice to talk to friends or
so-called advisors or whatever. Talk to potential clients. Talk to potential
clients, listen to what they have to tell you, listen to where the pain is at
the end. A business is driven by the market and by the demand. This is what you
have to listen to, and you'll be very surprised many times by what you hear.
And then build trust with your founding team. Go with people you can trust,
people you understand, people you know, people you can rely on. Honestly, they
will become your second family. Don't underestimate the times that you will have
doubts, the times you need to have someone you can call on Sunday at midnight.
When you have that, it's good to go. That's my main advice.
Then after you need passion. You need to do something that really motivates you.
You can be excellent and you can build an amazing business in everything. I've
always thought that there are businesses in which I will never be good because I
don't like it or I don't understand it.
What I know how to do is help a treasurer who is having a hell of a problem who
doesn't know how to deal with it, who has no management who is giving him a
budget to improve his performance. I know how to solve this pain point. And I
find it interesting. It's me. Don't ask Steve jobs to sell ice cream. He liked
to build computers and then to reinvent how we lead the digital age. Others like
to send space rockets to Mars. You need to find your thing, and then you need to
find the people who are going to help you make it true.
Roland Siebelink:Last question. When people want to hear more about Neo,
where should they go and what particularly should they look for and download?
Laurent Descout:Yeah, I think they should definitely take a look at our
website, getneo.com. That's mostly where they have a description of the services
and the type of product we're launching. And if they have any requests about
Neo: [email protected]. Seems to be a generic email, but we answer all of them.
Roland Siebelink:Excellent. Very good. And if any investors still want to
be part of this new round last-minute, then I'm happy to provide introductions
to Laurent as well.
Laurent Descout:We'll be very happy to talk to any investors, whether it's
for this round or sometimes for the next one. Time flies, and the more we know,
as I said before, the more you know people and the more you understand what
they're looking for, the more likely you're to be there, even if it's for the
Roland Siebelink:Perfect. Okay. Thank you so much, Laurent and Emmanuel,
the CEO, respectively, and chief product officer for Neo. I was really happy to
have you on the podcast. Thanks so much.
Emmanuel Anton:Thank you very much, Roland. Thank you very much, Carlos.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders
across the world.