Founder in Five: Q&A with GoCardless CEO Hiroki Takeuchi

GoCardless founder and CEO Hiroki Takeuchi

Hiroki Takeuchi is the co-founder and CEO of GoCardless, a payments company that manages direct debit collections on behalf of merchants.

The London-based company processes more than $30bn in transactions per year for over 70,000 businesses. It counts the likes of DocuSign, Plum and Epson among its customers.

Takeuchi co-founded GoCardless in 2011 at age 23 alongside Tom Blomfield and Matt Robinson. In February, GoCardless became the latest UK fintech unicorn with a £230m raise giving it a valuation of £1.55bn.

In the latest Founder in Five Q&A, Takeuchi describes how building a startup is like riding a wave on a surfboard, shares an early innovation mistake and explains why GoCardless is excited about variable recurring payments.

1. What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?

When we were going through Y Combinator, Sam Altman described building a startup as riding a wave on a surfboard. If you stay on that board, you will end up being successful. Once you fall, you can decide to get back on again. That’s something that has stuck with me – the resilience you need to get through the journey.

Many moments will seem challenging and many times you’ll question whether you’re doing the right thing. I’ve found that if you stick with it, you’ll live to fight another day, another battle, and all those battles will lead up to something.

2. What are the best and worst parts of your job?

There have definitely been a few moments where I’ve felt like an imposter. We started the business when I was 23. I had never even managed anyone before I started GoCardless, and this often makes me consider whether I am the right person to be leading this.

However, the best part is every year I realise how little I knew the year before. I see that as a good thing – it means that I’m learning. As a leader, you have to have confidence that what you bring to the business is valuable, but also have that hunger to learn and adapt.

3. Tell us about a time you screwed up?

One mistake we made in the early days was identifying where to innovate. In a startup, you get a lot of innovative and entrepreneurial minds. It’s no surprise that they want to apply that spirit everywhere such as to expenses and hiring – but that’s a big mistake. You don’t need to be world-class at everything to be successful.

It’s important to ask yourself, ‘does our customer care if we innovate this?’ If the answer is no, it’s a waste of time. We learnt that we should lean on best practices and experience for most processes, but we have to focus on what our customers care about most.

4. Which nascent technology holds the most promise?

We’ve seen open banking build momentum over the past four years, and this is only going to continue with the arrival of variable recurring payments (VRP). There is huge potential for this technology in the ecommerce space, offering merchants and consumers a cost-effective way to pay, coupled with a better payer experience and increased security through built-in payment authentication.

Direct bank payments like VRPs will soon pose a significant challenge to the dominance of card-on-file transactions. Paying via your bank account is on its way to becoming the popular, and preferred, method for consumers.

5. What’s the most misunderstood technology?

Although open banking continues to grow, many are still sceptical about its potential. People may criticise what they see as low consumer awareness or the high costs involved for banks to implement. But the numbers speak for themselves: the volume of successful payment initiations made by TPPs using open banking APIs has grown 250%+ year-on-year, and the UK now has more than five million open banking users.

We believe these figures will scale rapidly, not because payers are excited about new technology – but because they’ll appreciate what open banking can do. Once they’re able to make payments that are more secure, in a more seamless way, they’ll demand that same experience everywhere.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative startups, scaleups, unicorns and public tech companies – is published every Friday.