We talk to Online Payment Platform Founder Richard Straver about his journey from comic books and computers to running one of The Netherland’s leading payment service providers.
When the Covid-19 pandemic confined us to our homes, many of us turned to retail therapy to pass the time and raise our spirits. Online shopping is second nature to us now – you browse your favourite shops, find things you like, click a few buttons and you’re done in the space of a few minutes. There’s something slightly magical about it – you can buy anything you want and it arrives at your door a few days later – but like all magic, there’s more going on behind the scenes than you might realise.
Everytime you click that buy button, there’s a technology that whirs into action in the background, connecting your money to the business you’re buying from and protecting the transaction for both parties. This, in a nutshell, is what Online Payment Platform does, and though you may not have heard of it you probably have used it; since its founding in 2013 it has become one of the fastest-growing payment platforms in The Netherlands, handling transactions and transfers for the likes of PayPal, Marktplaats and ANWB, as well as hundreds of other marketplaces.
For founder Richard Straver, those 7 years are just a fraction of his journey; the roots of his entrepreneurial career go way back to his childhood. ‘I always liked the idea of becoming an inventor,’ he says. ‘Do you remember Willie Wortel? He’s the inventor in Donald Duck – he has this little lamp that can walk, and in the comics, he could create anything he wanted. I used to read that stuff as a young kid – I guess it left an impression on me! And I loved computers. The first one that sparked my interest was the Commodore 64, mainly because you could play games on them.’
By his teens, Richard had discovered that being an inventor wasn’t quite as easy as Wortel made out in the comics, but his love of computers continued and he realised he could design software rather than hardware. He spent most of his time at university working on his own projects – building websites and coding web apps – then launched a web design company. ‘I was really inspired by movies like Pirates of Silicon Valley,’ he says. ‘I felt like I had a connection to those people – I was a bit awkward and nerdy, and I thought I could do something better than what was out there.’
He had some success with early projects like WebMedic – a content management system for websites and Origamma – a drag-and-drop website builder, but both proved to not be very scalable. The first real taste of success came with TinyPay – a platform designed to help people sell products through social media; it was perfect for the US market, so Richard moved to Silicon Valley to market the new technology to west coast celebrities. ‘It was great for anyone who had a lot of social reach,’ he explains. ‘We got appointments at Sony, Universal, Warner, EMI – all those big companies. Every single manager we spoke to was really positive and loved the product; I’d go back to San Francisco from LA thinking we had all these deals in the bag, and then none of them followed through!
‘In the end we got lucky – I got a meeting with Snoop Dogg and his management and they really liked it. They actually used TinyPay to launch some of his products, and then we launched the platform with him at South by Southwest.’
Living in Silicon Valley was the realisation of a dream for Richard, but after a few years in sunny California, he came to realise it wasn’t his promised land after all. He returned to The Netherlands and threw himself back into web design, but he kept hitting the same barrier; all the different platforms and marketplace apps he had built had the same issue – as soon as he wanted to implement payments, it became a huge hassle.
‘The technology wasn’t tailored to fit marketplaces,’ he explains. ‘It was designed for webshops, but a webshop just has a single endpoint – one bank account that all the payments go to. A marketplace solution requires a lot of specific features – the marketplace might take a cut, but the payment has to go to millions of other bank accounts behind the marketplace. That technology just didn’t exist, so I thought, why don’t we fix these issues for ourselves and also create a product that can serve the market? That was around 2012, and a year later we launched Online Payment Platform.’
7 years of steady growth has seen Online Payment Platform become one of the big players in payments and transactions since then. It remains the only marketplace solution in The Netherlands with PSD2 certification – a new European regulation for electronic payment security – and in between big clients like PayPal, Marktplaats and ANWB, there are hundreds of others adopting Richard’s technology. ‘We’re not as big as Adyen or Stripe,’ Richard says, referring to the world’s two major online payment companies, ‘but we’re able to close deals with organisations that are leaders in their particular space. The only way to keep doing that is to keep showing that we deliver what we promise and that we’re the best at what we do.’
Richard admits he rarely sees the value in accelerator and mentorship programs, but Techleap’s profile made the Rise Program a much more credible proposition. ‘I saw it first on LinkedIn,’ he says. ‘The tagline got my attention – the chance to be part of the first group of 10 exceptional scaleups, with notable people attached to the program, and seeing that they had a big budget and a good story – all those things combined convinced me to fill in the form!’
‘I figured at least we would get some press attention and anything else would be a bonus, but in the end it turned out to be incredibly valuable. The mentor sessions with other proven entrepreneurs were great – having the chance to ask them questions directly provided a lot of useful information. In particular, though, getting to meet the other 9 scaleup entrepreneurs was amazing. I think because none of us were competitors, that created a lot more opportunity to help each other and join forces. For me, that was by far the most important aspect of the program.’
Armed with knowledge and connections from his time in the Rise Program, Richard promises an exciting future for Online Payment Platform, including a couple of big announcements that he can’t share just yet. With 15 years of entrepreneurial experience under his belt, the challenges of his role are very different now compared to what they were like at the beginning. ‘In the early days, you feel very responsible for everything,’ he says. ‘You have to make all the decisions and that can weigh heavy on you.’
Now, he says, it’s more about balance – understanding the importance of focusing your energy on the things you can control. ‘You can’t change the course of everything,’ he says, ‘no matter how much you worry about it. I would have liked to know that earlier in my journey! It’s really tough mentally in the beginning – you have to be able to persevere, keep improving and adapting to that environment. If you can do that, the rest will happen.’