When online payment processor Mollie redefined its key values to put “being loved by customers” at the top of the list, the Amsterdam-based fintech company found that they began to approach every business decision they made quite differently — from hiring, to partnerships, to adopting a unique localization strategy that focused on fewer markets while still unlocking global growth.
In this episode of Growth Hacks, Katja and Kunal are joined by Ken Serdons, the chief commercial officer at Mollie. Ken explains how Mollie’s key value of being loved by customers has influenced every part of the company’s DNA, from how they assign responsibilities, to who they hire, and how the company structures and manages its relationships with external partners. Ken also explains to us how Mollie has reworked its partnership model in a way that helps them extract full value, something he credits to — you guessed it — Mollie’s hyper-consumer-centric mindset.
Here’s what you will learn:
- Why Mollie adopted a customer-first mentality
- How to drive partnerships that unlock their full potential
- How a localization strategy that prioritizes fewer markets can unlock hypergrowth
- Why they don’t do any bespoke development at Mollie
- How to hire candidates for their future roles
To hear more on this, settle in and press play.
Please find the transcript below, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Katja Gagen: Today we’re thrilled to speak with Ken Serdons, Chief Commercial Officer at Mollie, one of the largest and fastest growing FinTech companies in Europe.
A little bit about Ken – he likes to grow things which was clear from an early age. As a child, he used to grow all sorts of vegetables and pumpkins, and his passion for growth is now focused on helping customers grow their e-commerce business through the financial services that Mollie offers. Welcome to Growth Hacks, Ken.
Ken Serdons: Thanks for having me, Katja.
Kunal Mehta: Ken, it’s such a pleasure to have you here. Where does this podcast find you today?
Ken Serdons: I’m working today out of our headquarters here in Amsterdam.
Katja Gagen: Nice. And Ken you are Chief Commercial Officer at Mollie. Tell us about Mollie and what your role is.
Ken Serdons: So at Mollie we provide online payments to now over 125,000 active customers across Europe.
We differentiate by offering not just great products, but we also really care about design and making sure that the checkout is optimized for conversions and in some cases we can improve conversion by up to 7% versus more traditional players.
We are hyper localized in every market that we operate in. And we absolutely love the customer, which is definitely a unique selling point in the payments industry. So I look after commerce, which includes partnerships, sales, and marketing.
Kunal Mehta: Awesome. You know Ken, I’m a huge fan of partnerships because it just creates this multiplier effect. And what we observe is partnerships rarely see their full potential because they’re not activated well. And Mollie’s philosophy on activating partnerships drives a win-win for everyone. Maybe you can talk a little bit about how you get that.
Ken Serdons: Yeah, you’re right, Kunal. Partners are absolutely critical to the success of our business. They provide a super scalable growth channel. Our customers work a lot with different types of software and tools to run their business. So at Mollie, it’s important to work with as many of them as possible.
I’ll give you a couple of examples, how we get to a proper win-win situation. I think the first thing is, we don’t just care about the partners, but we actually also care about their customers, who of course, are also our customers.
We try to do our utmost best to provide the best possible experience to these merchants. If something goes wrong, we not just try to solve it with the customer, but we also inform our partners. And that creates a lot of transparency and a lot of trust. Again, happy merchants create happy partners.
That’s the core part, being extremely customer centric, both on the partner side and on the customer side.
Second is we look at creating value for our partners and value that goes beyond the traditional money incentives. For example, one of our partners did not have a very good view on their own customers. At Mollie we process payment transactions, so we see a lot of data about our customers, and we could help that partner with understanding which of their customers are growing, which industries they’re playing in, etc. All that information we could provide to them so they could actually identify for themselves which segments to focus on.
And finally, we spend a lot of effort in building amazing integrations with our partners. And that’s really helpful for developers that actually drive a lot of the decision-making on which PSP to select.
Katja Gagen: That sounds great, Ken. It looks like you have a really good playbook in place. It also sounds like there’s a lot of resources involved to activate a partnership. What types of resources and skills come in handy here?
Ken Serdons: That’s right, Katja. So first of all, we have split the job of partner managers in two. We have hunters who go after new deals, who get the thrill of signing up a new deal. And there you of course looking for the traditional sales skills, but also the creativity of how to structure deals.
We then we split that role from managing those relationships for success in the future. So we have what we call partner success managers. They really think about how we can create joint growth with the partner.
We also have technical people. Solution engineers who help design the integrations, technical partner managers who help them solve problems, etc. And overall, we have people that think about creating programs for partners, standardized programs, including joint marketing activities, etc.
Kunal Mehta: Katja and I have had a chance to work with you on round tables, and Mollie and you are deeply introspective. I’m just curious. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Ken Serdons: We try to do many bold things and sometimes things work – sometimes they don’t, and if they don’t work we course correct quite quickly. Looking at partnerships I think one of the mistakes that we made was that we were too focused on creating new deals, on the hunting part.
We did not spend enough effort into nurturing those relationships going forward. When we identified that some of these partnerships were not reaching the ambitions that we had when we created the deals, we started investing a lot more in those partner success management capabilities. And it really has created more trust with partners. And obviously more businesses flowing through right now.
Katja Gagen: That’s right, and Mollie has been on an expansion path, which Kunal and I have seen firsthand. We see your competitors carpet bomb their way into markets, but Mollie takes a different approach.
I remember reading all your German materials when you went into that market. And I know localization is really important to you. Tell us a bit about your strategy for expansion and going into new markets.
Ken Serdons: Yes. As you said, Katja, we believe that a very localized approach is required to create a truly unique experience for our customers and their shoppers.
They’re probably about three components in our international strategy. First one is focus. The second one hyper localization, and the third one is creating and standardizing the playbook that we talked about.
In the beginning we did not have this international expansion playbook in place and then it’s actually very difficult to roll out new markets at speed. And when I joined, we were active in about six markets, and we wanted to be present in as many markets as soon as possible. But I quickly identified that that was probably not the right way to differentiate ourselves.
We took the decision to focus. Drop Italy, for example, where we had a very small sales team in place, to really focus our efforts and resources on the markets where we saw a lot of traction. Mainly Germany and France, and later on the U.K. as well.
Hyper-focused on what really works, we’ve managed to achieve really fast growth. So Germany, for example, last year we were growing at a thousand percent year over year.
The second point about hyper localization. And this is really how we differentiate from, for example, the global PSPs, that process transactions across the world. Every market in Europe is different. They have their own nuances, their own local payment methods.
We localize our offering to not just include all the local payment methods, but also to make sure that the integration of those payment methods is optimized for conversion. So there’s never a redirect. You always stay as a shopper within the branded experience of the website that you shop at.
We also have localized the onboarding experience, tapping into local databases, using the right language. So we make sure our customers understand the documentation that they need to provide to us. Obviously, we also provide localized customer service in the local language. A German person likes to talk to a German support agent and it’s the same thing in every single market.
Finally, on creating that playbook. So when you go to a lot of markets at the same time, you really need to know about what you need to do at which sequence. We have created a playbook that includes how you set up partnerships upfront, how you start hiring the right sales teams, how you structure the team at different stages of the journey. That playbook really helps now to speed up the expansion to different markets.
Kunal Mehta: Ken, talking about focus. How is this reflected in the choice of the customer segments that Mollie serves?
Ken Serdons: One of the guiding principles from the get-go was that we never wanted to do any bespoke development. Bespoke development creates legacy technology and that’s expensive to maintain, but it’s also not scalable.
When we started, we focused on the small customers first, with a simple and easy to integrate product. We started off with a focus on one payment method back in the day, which was iDEAL, which is the preferred payment method in Netherlands. We really optimized that user experience and over time we really created an amazing journey for our customers.
Kunal Mehta: I love hearing two growth hacks in one answer. No bespoke development. It’s just too expensive to maintain and start with SMB because you just learn at scale in that segment. That’s really great.
Ken Serdons: Indeed yeah, I think it’s an easier way to disrupt the market if you start from the smaller end, add more features then as they go up market. The other way around is a lot more painful when you have to really simplify a complex product that you are using for larger customers to simplify it down, to go off smaller customers. That’s a really tricky job.
Katja Gagen: And what we’ve seen is that Mollie has grown up a lot in the last 17 years and learned a lot. But we also at TCV really focus on value and mission driven companies. So, how have your values evolved over time at Mollie?
Ken Serdons: Yes, they have evolved quite a bit, actually. So, we started off with five rather generic values. It’s a typical thing that you see at pretty much every corporate companies. We had passion, impact, courage, honesty, and friendship, and those values were good values, but they didn’t really resonate. So, we decided to upgrade those values and we selected three values that fully reflect what we do and who we are.
The first one is “Be Loved”. We aim to be the most loved partners for our customers, for our partners, but also be the most loved employer for our “Mollies”. And that’s important because for our customers, we always try to do the right thing. Every person you speak to at Mollie is absolutely passionate about our customer. We take care of them. We provide them an honest service. There’s never hidden fees at Mollie. And we’re super transparent on pricing, which is quite unique in our industry.
The second value is “Be Bold”. We’re not afraid to fail. We try lots of different things, make bold moves, and then if things don’t work out, we quickly iterate at a fast pace.
A good example of being bold is that we never locked our customers into a long-term contract. Our customers can leave at any point in time. And while that sounds a little bit scary sometimes, it actually is the best sign of confidence that we believe in our own product.
Finally, the third value is to “Be Authentic”. We want people, our colleagues to bring their best self to work. They can truly be who they are. We have lots of different nationalities, people from different backgrounds, et cetera. And it creates not just a fun environment, but also an environment where we encourage diversity of thought.
Kunal Mehta: You often don’t see “be loved” as a value. And that’s so refreshing to see, how does that show up at Mollie?
Ken Serdons: Yeah, I think in many different ways. So first of all, in all the interactions with our customers. In the way we think about pricing, in the way we optimize our products, et cetera. But we also look at our values in our performance appraisal process.
So every half year, every “Mollie” is being evaluated and we evaluate also our colleagues on which values they represent the most. And also the hiring process. We look at our values when a person is in front of us, we really check is this person reflecting the three values that we have? And one of the key things I like at Mollie is that we always hire people with low egos.
You have to absolutely put the customer first. You have to put the company first, we’re growing so fast.
Katja Gagen: That’s so refreshing, Ken, and such good insight. We also talked about hiring people and that’s really important to Mollie. You’ve said that you’re not just hiring people to do the job now, but the job in the future. Why is that important to you?
Ken Serdons: We’re growing at a very fast pace, effectively doubling every single year. And we also do a lot of things that have never been done before at Mollie. Opening new markets, expanding into different products, and we don’t have the big supporting structures in place that you’d typically find in large corporates.
We need people who not just know what good looks like but who also know how to implement it and how to get the job done. So when we hire people or when we promote people from internally for a job, we often get people who are too big for the initial role, knowing that the company will continue to grow and the job will expand.
If you hire a person that’s just about right for the job right now, the chances are very high that they might struggle the next year when the company is twice the size. And if you think one year ahead, they might be underperforming as the company keeps expanding. So we really want to hire people who can do the job still two years down the line.
And I think that only works if you hire low ego people. People who put the customer and the company first.
Kunal Mehta: Katja and I cover a lot of different companies. And one of the common questions we get asked are, “Hey, what’s the cool facts?” And I’m curious, what are the cool facts about Mollie?
Ken Serdons: Yes, we have about 125,000 customers and we have about 400 customers signing up on a daily basis. I think our biggest onboarding day was around 800 to 900 customers a day. Out of our top 30 best onboarding days 25 of them so far we’re in March 2020 when Corona hit and lots of merchants were scrambling to move their businesses online. So we helped a lot of these companies go online.
We have about 44 nationalities at Mollie, so a really diverse group of people. Last month was the best month ever in terms of hiring, we hired 62 people which is more than 10% of our total population.
Katja Gagen: All right, that’s pretty cool. We also have a few more questions. We always end with a rapid fire. So let’s go ahead. What’s the company you admire the most?
Ken Serdons: I love Apple because I think they’ve set the standard on providing delightful experiences on pretty much every single touch point with the customer.
Katja Gagen: What’s your go- to book, what’s on your nightstand?
Ken Serdons: So I regularly check in on a book called What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There. to really get some reflections on how to get better as a leader.
Kunal Mehta: Cool. Ken, just curious what’s the social media influencer who you follow the most?
Ken Serdons: Yeah. So I like to read stuff from Robin Sharma. He is a leadership coach. He’s a bit over the top, but his advice is always a great reminder on how to do things differently.
Katja Gagen: I totally agree. I like his 5:00 AM club as well Ken, and that gets me up in the morning.
Kunal Mehta: Well, it should make the next question super easy, morning person or night person?
Ken Serdons: Morning person. So I do try to get up early and enjoy the quietness of the mornings to work on myself and to get stuff done.
Kunal Mehta: Fantastic. And what’s your proudest achievement at Mollie?
Ken Serdons: It’s been a really fun journey the past two years, but I think what’s most memorable is I think all the efforts we did to help customers move online when the pandemic hit. And during the time we also expanded our market share substantially in all markets.
Katja Gagen: Well, thanks so much, Ken. We covered a lot today. Partnerships, expansion, culture, hiring, you name it. And I think we could have talked for a few more hours, but thanks for joining us on Growth Hacks today, and for all the insights you shared.
Ken Serdons: Thanks so much. It was my pleasure.