Floryn offers small to medium-sized businesses a flexible, fast line of credit, without mountains of paperwork and weeks of waiting. We chatted to CEO and co-founder Sven van der Biezen to find out more about his journey.
Now more than ever, credit flexibility is so important for new businesses. We live in a world where everything is at our fingertips – services are instant and everything is connected – but the world of business loans, somehow, is stuck in the dark ages. Let’s say you’re a prospective entrepreneur looking to get a new business off the ground – chances are you need a bank loan to make that happen, but opening a line of credit with a bank can be a long, tedious process. There are meetings, rafts of paper documents to file, committees that have to approve your loan.
Meanwhile, the market for business loans in Europe is booming. Recognizing how out of date the current situation was and determined that they could do better, Sven van der Biezen, Marijn van Aerle, and Gion van den Bogaert started Floryn in 2016 as a technology-driven lending service that offered fast, flexible loans for small to medium businesses. Instead of being locked into traditional fixed terms, interest rates and withdrawals, Floryn lets you set your own terms, and withdraw and repay your loans whenever you want. Instead of mountains of paperwork sitting in filing cabinets, Floryn is completely digital and paperless and uses machine learning to perform faster and more accurate risk assessments on potential customers, often providing a line of credit in just 24 hours.
Floryn is Sven’s latest project, but not his first – his entrepreneurial journey started at just 15 years old, with a copy of HTML for Dummies. ‘Most kids my age were really into video games, but I was more into the technical side,’ he says. ‘I just found it really interesting. So I got into programming and somehow found my way into various board rooms, pitching them solutions on how they could get more customers.’
Sven met Marijn around this time, who was running a similar business of his own. They were both relatively successful, but after striking up a friendship they realized their efforts would be better served if they joined forces.
From that day onwards, Sven and Marijn have been business partners, developing all sorts of online software applications, to varying degrees of success. For every product that was successful, the pair would funnel the profits into new ideas in the search for something that would strike big. The biggest of their successes was Bimshare – a web-based 3D model viewer that allowed detailed 3D modeling without the need for expensive CAD software. ‘If you had a 3D model of a building for example, you could share it easily through a link in your browser, without needing a plugin’ Sven explains. ‘It meant that you could share the model with anyone and they could explore it virtually.’
Bimshare was a massive hit, with the likes of ARUP and various architecture firms using it for 3D model viewing. 18 months later, Gehry Technologies – the firm of renowned Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry – came in with an offer for the startup, and Sven and Marijn accepted; the opportunity to work in the United States with such a celebrated company was too good to pass up. ‘We were still only 25 years old,’ says Sven. ‘I remember presenting our technology at a meeting at the World Trade Center in New York to a room full of renowned architects; Zaha Hadid, Laurie Olin, Moshe Safdie – all the big names were there, and I was explaining to them how to view a model on an iPad! We spent a good couple of years in the US with Gehry Technologies, working on some amazing projects like Facebook’s Menlo Park campus and the Fondation Louis Vuitton museum. It was quite a ride.’
When Gehry Technologies was acquired by software services giant Trimble in late 2014, both Sven and Marijn felt that it was time for a new challenge; they returned to the Netherlands the year after, and were exploring new ideas when they met Gion van den Bogaert, who was working for ABN AMRO. ‘We were meeting lots of different people and looking for new opportunities,’ says Sven, ‘but when we met with Gion the pieces fell into place. We started chatting about business loans, how old fashioned they were and how it could be improved. It was an area that was ripe for innovation and we thought, with our expertise and Gion as the third co-founder in the business, we could really change something.’
Floryn has skyrocketed to success in the 4 years since then, going from 3 employees to over 50 and raising €17.4 million in capital, including €9 million in funding in May of this year. Floryn’s rapid growth has been a huge success, but it also presented the company’s greatest challenge, particularly in the financial technology sector. ‘Consistent growth like that means there is constantly a need to raise capital, both on the equity and debt side,’ Sven explains. ‘Also, if you have a lot of demand and a growing customer base, your backend systems and processes are constantly in need of improvement too. That’s been our main challenge – the systems you set up for your first 100 customers don’t work when you have 10,000 customers, so you have to spend a lot of time on the backend making sure you don’t outgrow yourself.’
‘It really helps us that we plan ahead in 3-month increments,’ Sven adds. ‘It means we have a plan, but it keeps us fresh and open to pivoting and trying out new ideas. Looking back at the last 4 years with Floryn, one of the main reasons we were successful was because we were adaptable – we changed product a couple of times, we changed teams a couple of times. It’s important to keep trying new things without being afraid to fail.’
As one of the fastest-growing fintech businesses in the Netherlands, Floryn was an ideal candidate for Techleap’s Rise Program; it was actually Marijn who applied, after hearing about the program from Techleap staff at an event. ‘My expectations of these things are generally quite low,’ says Marijn, ‘but they said this program was really for us – we had a good amount of revenue, a decent size team and we were thinking of going international, so they sent us a link to apply and that’s what we did.
‘You could see from the start that Techleap was taking this seriously,’ he continues. ‘There was a lot of support, and fantastic people involved like Constantijn and the CEOs from lots of great Dutch companies. It turned out really well for us. The sessions with the mentors were really good; it was a chance to meet with really experienced, successful entrepreneurs and ask them questions in depth – you don’t really get that opportunity anywhere else. It’s equally hard to meet other entrepreneurs that are at the same stage as you are, but with the Rise Program, all the companies are in roughly the same growth phase, so you can really take something valuable from those connections.’
Over the course of his 15 years plus as an entrepreneur, COVID-19 might present the biggest challenge Sven has ever faced. Nobody knows quite what the global economy will look like over the next few months and years, and that creates a tough environment to assess risk and lend money to businesses. The same is true for Floryn itself, which faced a battle to close out its own round of funding earlier this year, though it did so successfully. ‘COVID-19 was the first really big test for us,’ says Sven. ‘We had to prove to investors that we could weather the storm.’
‘We’re actually one of the few lending companies, after the banks, that are still open for business,’ he adds. ‘A lot of companies in the lending market have stopped accepting new customers because they had their hands full managing defaults, but we’re actually really strong – we’re below our expected losses and we’re able to accelerate our growth.’
Sven may be the CEO and face of the company, but he stresses, often, that Floryn’s success is built on the team. ‘None of the businesses I’ve run would have been successful without the people who co-founded the business with me,’ he says. ‘A lot of people think that they have to have the great idea, hire the people, be the CEO and do everything themselves, but my best piece of advice is, don’t do it alone! If you’re a CEO, make sure you find co-founders who complement your skills. I think you only have to make a few good decisions during your entrepreneurial lifetime to be successful; you need to make those together with people who really understand the business and the problem that you’re solving.’