Surence is an example of a Dutch fintech startup with a mission: to change the way people reach financial goals, by offering online efficient investments. We interviewed Michael Pijnenburg, who co-founded the company with his father Cor Pijnenburg and Erwin Kenter.
When did Surence start, what are you building and when are you going live?
Surence was founded in 2015 and will go 'live' in September this year. Right now we are running a beta test program and optimizing the platform based on the feedback and experience of a select group of users. We are creating a whole new product and way of financial planning which makes it possible and accessible for everyone to invest in an easy and effective way, without any fees or investment costs. This is possible because we replaced the traditional business model of financial planning services and built an IT solution that makes investing fully transparent and efficient. We already have a 45+ beta testers and created several partnerships with financial institutions and partners.
Funding an ambitious company in The Netherlands can be challenging. What did you do, and what are your next funding plans?
We completed a funding round of EUR 500k in 2015 with a small group of informal investors. These are smart and experienced people and they leverage this through actively advising our whole team. We invested these resources in the development of the platform, getting customer insights and identifying the automatization and efficiency opportunities in financial planning and investing processes.
In anticipation for our next big milestone, the launch in September, we would like to expand our investor team with two or three smart and experienced informal investors. We are currently looking for potential investors directly through our own network as well as indirectly through recommendation and online channels. With the upcoming launching, and therefore a valuation boost for investors, convertible notes and equity investments are attractive to informals.
As for the further outlook: our first priority is to grow the user base in the Dutch and soon European market. As soon as we show traction on our home market, bringing in growth funding at higher valuations is a likely next step. Looking at other investing platforms, valuations according to the recent funding rounds go over $4.500,- per user.
You cofounded this startup with two people, one of which is your father. What is it like to start a company with your own father in the team?
This is special and an unique way to work together during this exciting journey. It is a complementary partnership. I'm a millennial, with expertise in investing and knowledge about opportunities of IT and the internet. Cor has over 30 years of entrepreneurial experience, with a focus on IT for the past 15 years. Both are driven by the idea that innovation helps to to empower people to reach their financial goals. Sometimes generations clash but because of the strong relationship we always seem to come to an agreement. For me it is amazing to have support from the man I respect so much.
Besides the Pijnenburgs there is a third co founder Erwin Kenter. He has a strong financial background and worked for many years as a commercial advisor and manager in the financial industry. With Erwin we found a true partner who not only shares the values and vision of Surence, but also brings in additional and valuable expertise and experience. Further there is a growing team of online marketeers en IT developers. In daily operations, the key focus is on customer experience and helping investors to make smarter decisions.
In fintech one often needs regulatory approval for launching new services. How do you handle this?
Surence is in its core a technology company. We use innovation to help people make smarter investing decisions with technology. To execute these decisions, we have several premium partners in what we call the 'investment supply chain'. These partners are specialized in administration, trustee services, order execution and compliance. They all hold the required international regulatory licences and offer their services to large and trusted companies in Europe. With these partners we are easily scalable for the European market.
The Netherlandse has many incubators and accelerators and networks such as Holland Fintech. Did you or are you planning to join one of these?
Currently we are located in Rotterdam, in an office filled with innovative energy. At this point we have no plans on joining an incubator program. However, in the past we did look into this. Of course, every incubator has its own focus and atmosphere. We did not want to join a financial corporate incubator, because independence is a key value at Surence. We did like the energy of Rockstart and Startupbootcamp, but these programs weren't a good fit with the stage we were in. We are very enthusiastic about the networks and activities of Holland Fintech, that prove to be very valuable for the fintech scene in the Netherlands.
You are trying to change the financial industry, that is currently dominated by large banks. What is your view on these banks and the role they are playing?
Traditional banks have to change and they know this very well. But they show it is very difficult for them to actually find a new path. The core functions of these banks are still important, but if and how they will survive is completely reliant on how they will react to this new innovative era. We believe that in the next years, the financial industry will be shaken up like a fancy cocktail. Innovative fintech startups like Surence and others will get rid of conflicts of interest between customers and banks and instead offer much more independent and customer focused services.
Finally, we would like to know which startups or founders inspire you and Surence. Can you share what you considere the most inspiring examples?
Our examples of founders and companies are Reid Hoffman of Linkedin, Eric Ries of Lean Startup, but also Ali Niknam of Bunq. The reason is that they are focussed and creating a product for the customer and use innovation to do so. Other big influencers for us are Clay Christensen, and important independent journalistic movements as 'Follow the Money' and journalists like Joris Luyendijk.