When Philippe Gelis (CEO at Kantox) talks, he leaves no one indifferent. In fact, he describes himself as, "an entrepreneur not very politically correct!"
Startup Grind BCN kicked off 2015 yesterday at Mobile World Centre with Philippe Gelis as a speaker. For those unfamiliar with Kantox, they are a startup that's disrupting the foreign currencies exchange, in the #fintech sector. Founded in London, they're managing the company from Barcelona, because the British capital is more prepared legislation-wise, but home is where the heart is - hence they chose to maintain their offices in the Catalan capital.
Since winning the first ever Startup Weekend Barcelona in 2010, they've won an impressive string of awards & prizes including (but not limited to) the following: Winners of LinkToStart 2011, Winners of SeedRocket V Campus 2011, Startup of the year 2014 awarded by ESADE and Banc Sabadell, Winners of the Digital Entrepreneurship prize 2014 by FICOD and many others.
The fireside chat started off commenting on the last Kantox appearance in the media. Philippe even asked the public to guess how much they paid to sponsor the team. No one guessed right: "it only cost 2500 euro," affirmed Philippe to the audience's shock. "I actually regret not having opted for the bigger logo, that would've costed 10.5k."
Philippe is a man of strong convictions. When asked to reveal his first entrepreneurial venture, he said, "Every time I landed a new job, I knew from the get go that I would be quitting it as soon as I had the chance." Having chosen the consultancy path, working at Antares, Axis, and the worldwide famous Deloitte, he regarded them all as "survival jobs. Everybody needs to eat to survive. But these jobs are ok to keep you going until you can quit them for good." Moreover, he encouraged youngsters not to join the big corporations, as startups are a valid option nowadays: "When I see a young man join companies like La Caixa I think they are crazy. There are better things to do nowadays."
While he acquired many good skills during his time as a consultant, he also learned that "the big corporations are doing massive mistakes because they are afraid to change." Not only that, but Philippe knew Kantox's co-founder and COO Antonio Ramis at Deloitte, and their first investor. The idea also comes from their time at Deloitte: "we saw an opportunity to spare our customers some money in their transactions, so we went all for it. We quit our jobs and started getting potential clients while we were on our way to get the license to operate."
That's where Kantox was born: they tested the idea in the first ever Startup Weekend BCN back in 2010. "We were very close to skipping that edition to focus on other stuff. Without Startup weekend there would probably be no Kantox nowadays," adds Philippe, who also believes that all of the acceleration programs and contests helped them take off, "but it's not valid for everyone. That it did work for us does not mean it would work for every startup."
Growing their way to the top
Kantox's growth was fueled by perseverance and cold calls. "Everybody is wasting time looking for growthhacking methods that will make their startup skyrocket, but this is all nonsense. It worked for a chosen few, and you can invest your time more intelligently such as becoming good at sales," tells Philippe to the audience. When asked to share the secrets of their growth, he simply says: "lots of cold calling and sales. LinkedIn was our best ally. "I spent months messaging directives of the biggest American companies on LinkedIn. One in every 100 worked, and that's enough at the beginning."
Unlike previous speakers, he did not hold any grudges against Spanish investors. "It is not true that Spanish investors do not like risk. They do. There's a lot of money in Spain, and I believe that every good project with a solid business plan will get its money," but added, "on the other hand, I must say that rounds in Spain can't compare to the States." In the USA you can get 600k in a first round, and you'll be able to hire rockstar CTOs, developers, and marketers to help you along. In Spain, you'll get one tenth of that, and you can't feed more than two good people with that money, if even..."
Philippe also shared the difficulties they found on their way to the top. First of all, was convincing clients to switch over their platform and trusting a startup. Secondly, they also couldn't get hold of any subvention coming from the Spanish government because they forbid participation of companies doing currency exchange.
That's where Philippe dropped another bomb. "It's all because of the banksters. They want to have all the pie and won't allow any competitors to have even a small bite." Actually, Kantox has teamed up with like-minded companies in the fintech world from all over Spain to create a fintech association, whose main goal is "to end with the "banksters" who have been allowed to do what they have been doing, up until now."
On a more philosophical level, Philippe believes startups should lead the change in the coming years. "There are so many wrong things in this world, and the elected people won't change it, so it's our duty to take back what is ours and right the wrongs."
Before heading to the networking part of the event, Philippe was asked to share some advise to young entrepreneurs, to which he replied "everyone should start their business while in high school, when there's no need to earn money. Test stuff and go for it." Right afterwards, he also shared these words for all entrepreneurs, "hire slow, fire fast," as he thinks that's what they had to learn at Kantox, where he says they have failed many times. "If you detect anybody that's not doing well, you should fire him/her immediately, or else he/she will drag other people down."
He also had some strong words for non tech-savvy people, "Years ago, only crazy people would run an Internet-based business. Nowadays, only crazy people would stay out of it."
All in all, a very pleasant event back in Mobile World Centre, that ended with the usual networking with our speaker sharing his knowledge further with the attendees, in pure Startup Grind fashion.