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How Ali Niknam changed the world of banking with bunq

In this episode of The Scale Lab, we deconstruct the entrepreneurial journey of Ali Niknam - the founder & CEO of bunq. Together with Ali and our hosts - Constantijn and Joe - we go back in time to the roots of bunq and Ali’s beginnings as a founder. We further discuss the bunq culture and the company's plans for the future. Listen in to find out how bunq managed to raise $228 million and reach a $1.9 billion valuation.

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Ali Niknam -  founder & CEO @bunq

Ali Niknam (1981), born in Canada but from Iranian descent, set up his first company when he was just 16 years old. In his early twenties he founded TransIP, the biggest domain name and web hosting provider of the Netherlands. In 2012 he set out to change the banking industry radically and founded bunq. Ali managed to get the first European banking permit in over 35 years. He set out to radically change the traditional banking industry and, as its sole investor, invested €98.7M in bunq.

In a deal with British private equity firm Pollen Street Capital, bunq has raised €193 million and the company’s valuation soars to €1.6 billion, as of July 2021. As part of the deal, bunq acquired Capitalflow Group, a privately held Irish lending company with strong ties to the Irish community.

Key highlights

00:02:21 - Ali - “And I look around and I see all these opportunities, how we can be better, better as humans, better as a world, better as a collective. And when that doesn't happen, that frustrates me”

00:08:17 - Ali - “I'm an engineer and I have an engineering mindset. When I see something is broken, I like to fix it.”

00:12:15 - Ali - “So if we create a product people love to use, they will be willing to pay a couple of euros. If we don't, they won't. So our business reality, our commercial existence is completely based on the fact that we make our users happy”

00:15:42 - Ali - “It is very rare for me to make a move for just one reason. I usually make a move that hits multiple goals at the same time.”

00:16:04 - Ali - At the same time, for me, it was also an opportunity to try to get the Netherlands back on the world map again in that sense, because I felt that this country has so many great people, so much talent.”

00:30:27 - Ali - “I do think that if I had been more open to investors, we would have been more international than we are today.”

00:32:13 - Ali - “But I think at the beginning it's more healthy if people focus on the product-market fit and concern themselves mostly about users and about a healthy business model and then take on capital. So that's what we did at bunq.”

00:32:42 - Ali - “I think a part of our DNA is now set in stone, which is good user-centricity, the love for the product and attention to detail, and no investor can change that.”

00:41:35 - Ali - “I think bunq’s culture is very unique, especially to the Netherlands. It is a performance culture”

00:42:33 - Ali - “I think bunq is different. We don't care if you're imperfect, if you're really good at what you do, you can just do that.”

00:43:48 - Ali - “But I think once you get the best people in who know what they're good at and also know what they're not good at, they will organize themselves into a functional team.”

00:52:35 - Ali - “The easiest way to go to sh*t is by not focusing.”


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