Hristo Borisov is on a mission to build the world’s biggest bank, without holding a single dollar. So far they’ve raised $240M, and have been growing incredibly fast. His venture, Payhawk has attracted funding from top-tier investors like QED Investors, HubSpot Ventures, Sprints Capital, and Lightspeed Venture Partners.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Raising money when you are outside Silicon Valley
- The future of corporate finance
- Hristo Borisov’s top advice for entrepreneurs
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For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
About Hristo Borisov:
AUBG alumnus Hristo Borisov (’10) co-founded fintech startup Payhawk.io in 2018. Less than a year later, the company already has paying customers, was selected among the five finalists in the international Pitch and Power Competition of Visa and Wirecard and has closed a seed round of €500 000.
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Connect with Hristo Borisov:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
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Alejandro: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a founder that is going to really teach us a lot you know about going from the engineering side to the business side from founding to building to financing. Scaling and they’re doing some really really cool stuff. But I think that again, we’re gonna be learning too about rejection ah fundraising picking yourself back up so you name it so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guests today Resto Marisov welcome to the show.
Hristo Borisov: Um, thank you for having me Alessandro how are you.
Alejandro: Very well. So so why don’t we do this. Why don’t we do a little if of walk through memory lane. How was life growing up in Sophia in Bulgaria.
Hristo Borisov: Ah I would say pretty interesting the 90 s when I was growing up were very interesting times because obviously socialism ended in eighty nine and the country was in this kind of ah. A bit trajectory going up but still we did not have the structure so it was very wild I would say um you know getting into democracy after 4050 years is not something that happens overnight. So i’ would say it was pretty wild so as a kid. There are almost no limits. You can do everything we were you know, just for fun traveling on on the public transportation all day long and we didn’t enjoy the time. Um, and also the other thing was you know one of the good things is growing up here was that. In in the socialist time everything was there was actually zero crime so in the 90 s still. There was that notion that kids you know you can just let them go when they’re 13 years old out and they can be where everywhere crossing the city. All day long and this is what we did and right now if I think about it doing that to my kids that’s crazy.
Alejandro: Now in your case. How do you? you know, start to develop that love to work computers.
Hristo Borisov: Very early on so I got my first computer in 1996 which was a very old ah privates computer which was the buagarian version that we were producing here 16 bit. um and it was um the first the first touch to to that you know um and after that I always wanted to do more with those computers and I learned some basic programming very early on and then 2001 I got my first proper computer. And I was reading so much about computers before even I had one so I knew every single part and I was very passionate about ah you know back then the internet one of the crazy things about bugaria is that we never got on this Ah um, you know. Infrastructureral feature that was based on. Let’s say the the let’s say the typical phone network with Modernms and Adsl we actually got directly on Fiverr. So 2002 2003 we had fiverr optics. Ah, everywhere. So we just when everybody was building their internet infrastructure in the late 90 s in the western societies. We actually did not do anything and then when we started building ours. It was already on the technology 2.0 direct on fiber optics so we had crazy fast internet since you know 2002 2003 which was amazing and then when I went to the Uk for exchange in a university there in 2009 I felt like 10 years back in time because of the quality of the internet there.
Alejandro: Now in your case when when you finish your studies you went add a Asas software engineer 1 of the companies where you really spend most of your time you know what say tellleic right? So how do you? How do you land on tellleic I mean.
Hristo Borisov: E.
Alejandro: It’s basically there you know a very interesting journey too because you know you you were there for over 10 years which is a really long time and you get to experience several things you got to experience an acquisition. You got to experience your incubation of your own Company. So How was that journey for you because 10 years is a long time.
Hristo Borisov: Yeah, it is a long time. But um, you know we were growing exponentially so when I joined them to late 2007 they were about 70 at m employees and when we got the core 2014 we were 850 um, and 1 thing that that was really interesting about this journey is that um I joined them as so as an engineer and it was a company that was serving developers. So the average quality of an engineer was very high because we were building developer tools. We were building tools that other developers needed to build website mobile apps and so on and the quality was extremely high and then 2010 we realized that the community was about 200 people that. You know there needs to be a little bit more structured and this is when Kevin graduated both business and computer science. Um I um, ah had the opportunity to become one of the first world managers in a company and I started incubating off our cloud and mobile products in 2011 ah, for ah, late 2011 to early 2012 and that allowed me for me to to build a lot of products internally to compete with companies like Microsoft and Ibm and you know zamarin and whatnot on the market which was. Ah, really, really good experience because you had to build a real strategy to be able to compete. You had to build a very solid probe to outperform those companies you had to have a very strategy because in general you’re the underdog going versus the big guys and um. What kept me in that company for 10 years was really the pace of innovation. So every 6 to twelve months I had a different job meaning even though I was you know building products. It was just a different scale and by 2016 I had 12 product managers on my team and 180 engineers so doing that and doing this with let’s say 3 4 engineers and you being the pm is completely different in world and that kind of exponential grow during the years really helped me understand how to put a strong strategy in place. How to you know create a healthy environment. How to really structure the engineering teams and the pro teams to to be really a leverring in each other and to have this kind of a healthy ah ah pressure between them and we I always like to say that for me the Holy Grail of building product is ah ah you need the holy trin is you need a pm.
Hristo Borisov: Ah, you need an engineer and then you need a ux guy Ali and to me these are the mini ceo miniityio and the mini creative designer on the on the team who are chief creative designer who are actually the the core and then by having this kind of a very strong relationship between Chris. Those 3 people. Um everything is possible.
Alejandro: But I mean you were there for over 10 years and it sounds like you know when you are for so long under a bigger umbrella to a certain degree. You get comfortable working at at at bigger corporations rather than thinking about the crazy thought of building your own business. So What really costs you to say hey I’m gonna take a look at maybe take you know seeing this opportunity a little bit farther and then all the way to giving your notice and to living everything behind to start something of your own.
Hristo Borisov: Yeah I mean first of all um, you know thleric was the you know the the flagship company of the country so we always had this sense that we’re building something together. The startup culture is very strong that um you know we always get this kind of a motivation. That was well beyond ah, just the money. Um, and the fame of building something that is really groundbreaking. We had a community of one point five million developers and everybody on the you know developer community knew taleric back then. Yeah, it was extremely famous. But um, what happened was that by 2018 the company went through acquisition 2014 and then I stayed four more years in the public company and um I was allowed to do an internal startup 2017 in incubative product and. I was for I was allowed to go and recruit people who were only leaving the company. Um, because obviously I couldn’t recruit somebody. That’s you know, already in the company and what happened was that all those people were you know deciding they they already were decided to to leave and um. I managed to convince them to stay and those people um with those people we created a company called ah sorry an internal protocol called Darvin Ai which was it is code name and then it became native chat which is still existing and with this product we created ah a tool obviously for developers to create chatbots. But the innovation was that we actually did not allow developers to just go and build decision trees to have a conversation we created something which is called cognitive flow so we can actually just define different types of conversations that the chatbot can have and different types of structured data. The bo can understand and then you let the boat. Have the conversation on own. Um, and that was very groundbreaking at the time when we met with gartner forster over their set in terms of technology. This is even way ahead of what Google and Ibm were doing with Watson. Um, so I was seeing this kind of a very nice. But on you know, building something within the company and and then the Ceo of the company. He was very aggressive about going purchasing companies and and not being patient enough to actually have real innovation within the company and this is when I decided that um. I really don’t want to be in that environment and I would rather go and ah do something on my own. Um, and this was exactly the time when my first daughter was born. So um, and as soon as my daughter was born I told my wife every day my our daughter grows up.
Hristo Borisov: It’s a day that I’m stayying away from my goal of building a company and it was a funny conversation telling my wife hey I know you’re in ah um, maternity leaf. You’re not earn anybody and I’m going to go and build this standup most probably I will be without the saly for the next two years but she knew that I cannot just stay still right? I’m a person who needs to be you know building staff. Ah, who loves how to you know, put together strategy and execute and this what defines me as a person and and I said if if I don’t cut all safety nets I would never. Do it and if I just don’t make it very hard and make failing not an option for me because I I mean ah we need to succeed here. Um, and the other thing that was key was that um I knew that we have a lot of experience. We already gain. Ah, lot of experience and we knew that we have the confidence to go and build any product we want in our own way by going interviewing customers by interviewing the customers of competitors by understanding where these guys are weak and putting together a very strong strategy on how to attack and I knew that we can build anything and The only thing we needed was to find a big market because I said if I’m going to go and start the startup I please make it big you know and to make it big. You need to find a big market and solve a big problem and if you do those 2 things. It’s going to be a big company. And that was our strategy for where day went. We started searching for this big market to to identify a big problem in it and the other thing that was important for us was to really build something that’s on the cross section of of industries not just software. We were faired up of just building software. We wanted this to be software with something right? with you know, healthcare care with financial services with agriculture or whatever something that is a the persection of 2 industries and when a new market is going to emerge and you know we literally started the company on day one with going to Google and saying how to issue a car. Ah, we are not caring for of the financial services world but we we’re learning fast. We’re moving fast and you know this is how we started the company.
Alejandro: And how did you go about putting together the founding team.
Hristo Borisov: So um I had um you know boku he was part of my team at Teleriki and we were discussing a lot. He was you know, willing to go and and do something and leave the company and I said hey why? why? I’m planning to live as well. Why don’t we build something and and he said you know I think you’re going to be the best Ceo I can ask for and I said I think you’re going to be the best Ceo I can ask for because we had a very strong relationship. Um, at at Teleric we were able to build some really cool stuff. Um, just the way we collaborate was a very strong fit and um, you know back then he said you know I’ll be happy to join for us much as 20% in the business and I said no, you need to have 50% of the business because I need a new to co-founder. Um, and this is how we started the company. Um. From day one we had ah a person helping us on the ah you know, ah putting together the model because we were targeting. Ah you know cfos and we were not cfos and one of my peers at Teleleric was a very strong finance person and later on after a year and a half we got him as a late co-founder. Ah, who joined the company and from day on it was important to have his opinion about you know what is the world of cfos right? Um, so this fellow we put together the team and then um, what happened that the whole team we had at the and darvin ai decided to join. Slowly the company. So pretty much we started with very strong engineering team of people that have used to work together before and that gave us the opportunity to when we set to build our first version of our product. We managed to do that informs and informants. We had a cart company card out on the market. Already in the hands of customers on which we wanted to move fast and get feedback and improve on a daily basis
Alejandro: Wow And in terms of the for the people that are listening. You know to really understand the the business model of pay hock. What’s the what’s the model there. How do you guys make money.
Hristo Borisov: So payokck is we are a software company first and um at the end of the day what we identified in the so first of all when we started. There were already 2 3 companies out there that we’re building. Ah. Automating company cards expenses with giving you a company card and then automating all the expense handling reconciliation for the finance team so they were medging this sort of expensive 5 plus cards that worked in a single solution and. What I did is I I used some of their websites to try to pitch them to customers and to understand what they think about their value proposition where a value provision breaks if it’s a bigger company. What they’re custom about what they would need more and I realized that just integrating company cards and expense is just the first. First problem that needs to be solved and if you think about it today. Um, you know there is a big disconunt between soft and and finance because you know banks only cant about giving you a company card for you going swiping a carta a business and as soon as the posting me know gets your payment then. The bank has done its job. But that’s the point in tower the struggle for the business begins. What do I do at this expense who’s going to extract data from the expense who’s going to Rika stylele this expense was I allowed to spend those money and we realized that this is just the. 1 spearheadtting the problem but obviously managing all payments for a business is pay managing accounts payable managing expenses for employees that don’t have a company carimpaimbursing employees with this payment is is hard and then we decided that. Instead of going and building these things 1 by 1 you’re going to just go and combine 4 5 different ah products that existed at the time so people were buying 1 thing for data extraction starting from carts for for accounts payable something else for workflow management and so on. And then the finance team is not the most Techavvy team and the finance team was asked to go and use four five systems to put together the structure of their operations and we decided that this needs to be a single system and we build this all this in 1 system. Obviously we don’t force you to use all of that. And the other thing we did strategically very early on was that um you know company paycoll currently allows you to issue company cards manage accounts payable orbu employees manage expenses for employees do date extraction in 16 languagescur out all this into your accounting software or yearp system. Automatically.
Hristo Borisov: And the other thing we did is we did. We just didn’t do it in 1 market. We did it in 30 countries and that allowed us to get ah companies that had this problem multiple times meaning that they had this kind of 4 or 5 system they had to choose but some of those systems were country specific. So you ended up if you’re a kind company that has ah 10 entities across Europe you usually had 30 solutions across the boards pitched together to run your operations which was insane and we really replaced and wiped out all those kind of ah disconnected solutions into something that is really. Ah, powerful tool for the finance team to stay in control and to really empower the employees and throughs them to manage ah spend properly and to really have this kind of a very nice collaboration platform. Um, so our our path has been always to shortcut. Ah, really and and make big leaps. In terms of thinking and go way ahead of what everybody had as trajectory.
Alejandro: Got it and now in terms of capitalizing the the business. How much money have you guys raised.
Hristo Borisov: So just to finish the the question. So how we make money today as a stock company we make money from subscriptions and we also make money from interchange the volume that goes through the cards and that’s why we decided to offer 3% cash back
Hristo Borisov: Ah, cap to your subscription amount when you’re using payhoke so that if you’re spending through paycock you can actually get the pro free of charge. Ah, and that aligns very well our interest in the customer interest because at the end of the day. Um, if the customer is. Using the platform and they’re making payments. We don’t care about the saas revenue. We only care about the interchange and this is how we can subsidize the product and if the customer is not spending. It has a healthy pressure to start spending because otherwise it’s going to be paying for the pro subscriptions. Um, so. In terms of velocity right now we have raised about 240,000,000 Us doors. Um, we just closed our series b one extension led by lightspeed ventures which gave us a unicorn statuslu. The company was valued to 1,000,000,000? Um, and in terms of revenue this simply that we don’t share. But I can tell you that for the last twenty months ah monthover growth has been on average 22% month over so we have been scaling exponentially and I think that is ah something you know pretty impressive on our side that we have had this kind of a very strong steadyic growth. Um, yeah, very predictable growth in terms of you know, interchange in terms of dynamics on on on the revenue side. So that’s high level where we are.
Alejandro: Now the I mean there’s a lot of money that you guys have raised you know, especially being you know there in in Bulgaria. So so how did you manage to get those investors and and what was that fundraising journey like for you guys.
Hristo Borisov: Well, it was ah, really really tough because we we initially goted money half a million Euro that we raisedd in Bulgaria from angels from the founders of Tellleric from a visit fund here and then only in 2019 I went ah all across europe to rise ah raises our seed routeought and we were looking for one point five million seed route which a lot of people in western europe were very concerned about they you know how would we investing in these guys that are based in Bulgaria. You know the only thing we have heard about bugaria and credit cards are how good are they they are at stealing them which was kind of you know the best and at the end of the day seed money is something that people would like to invest as close as they are like you you know within the. five miles where you are and we were very far from from from from those western european investors and back then this was pretty covid time. So usually he had to meet all those investors in person. So I was flying all across Europe to meet them and I ended up having you know 62 rejections from 40 funds a lot of them rejected me several times and that was really really devastating because the only reason why they didn’t invest was because there were a lot of investors who there were 3 very prominent investors who already invested in in those existing companies that we saw early on. And those companies were already three years old and we were moving extremely fast and those people did not appreciate really the prok innovation and the the pace of our engineering to outpace because in the in the world of a Vc The only thing a Vc can give you most of the time is money and so. Nature and every problem they solve is with money and the the the companies that have most money can solve the most problems right? That is the basic thinking. So you if you go andgainst the biggest funds out there and they have a lot more capital than you. They’re going to be the winner but 1 critical mistake. Those company did was that. Um, you know our um, our spend management expense management market is not a market where 1 winner takes it all because there is a lot of fermentation around countries currencies languages accounting systems accounting practices. And a lot more so it’s a lot more complicated than that and nobody believed. We could could cut through the noise and that was kind of a pretty prettyative journey. We were fourteen days away from running out of money before we closed. So.
Hristo Borisov: Before we close 3000000 in round with Robert.
Alejandro: And and in this case I mean what was that process of really building the trust with the with the investors getting them at ease and comfortable. You know with having you know such a big chunk of the team there in Bulgaria you know how? Ah how was that like.
Hristo Borisov: Um, the only way you can gain trust with people is by actions and this was it. We were just what we were saying we were delivering and we were delivering above that we were moving extremely fast. You know we were um, innovating. Um, you know. Looking the way on the market on its own way. Um, you know I remember when we introduced the cash back 3% cash back I met with a guy. Um and he’s a Vc and we were discussing our series round and he says like he said like if I was on the board of those competitors. I would be like how did we miss that right? It was in front of us all this time and and that was that was something that we we really focused on really to to prove to those companies we can move fast and and we can stand behind our words and I think this unit know you trust working is because you know regardless of where in whether whether you’re in Bulgaria. London ah Kenya Brazil or whatever it is all about who you are what are your motivations. Why are you building this? you know, ah you know and and what is kind of this kind of really big drive that you have right? and. The big drive we had in Bulgaria is really that we didn’t had you know those that many tech companies that do art scale and I don’t understand why and that’s what I wanted to prove that we can do it and I’m sure right now that there are going to be a lot more companies coming because they they sold it is possible. And I’m sure in the next two three years we’re going to have a least 5 to 10 unicorns coming out of the region based on our foot path and based on the you know open the doors we have opened so far so I don’t earn an interest is number 1.
Alejandro: Now Imagine you go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of pay hock is fully realized what does that world look like.
Hristo Borisov: The world. The this world looks like that you can go. You can go to a single vendor and that single vendor can you can be your global provider for business payments in every country in the world. So you don’t have to go and search for a company that is issuing carts in Rwanda and zimbbave in Uruguay. You can have a 1 provider that can help you manage your business and do business because. Making payments and paying is doing business. You cannot do business if you are not contracting um and this is a company that allows you to do that and also allows you to have very harmonized. Enterprise software that allows you to manage these businesses at scale. So that you can make sure that you have a tool that really empowers and um gives ah the employeees a way to ah do what they do their best and the final team. He has all the controls and levers to manage everything in real time so that you don’t have to wait for weeks or months to wait for your consolidated statements or reconcile statements. The business is about real time decisions and having these real time decisions having global footprint and having. Extreme automation and intelligence to drive those ah business decisions and payments is something that we imagine pecock is going to be.
Alejandro: Now Imagine if I put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time I bring you back in time to perhaps that moment where rito was you know, thinking about leaving teleic and starting you know something of his own and you had the opportunity of speaking. With that Youngerristo Maybe like back in 2018 and 18 now right right? immediately before you started pay Ho Imagine you you were able to give that youngerrisa one piece of business advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know Now. So.
Hristo Borisov: Um I think i’ would say a decent thing I try to do but I would have reminded myself back then again how how critical and important it is um you you need to have. Lazarfox and you need to be deliberate about every step and every action that you take and never think that you’re a big company. Um, think as a small company think as a company that is focused and just doing absolutely the maximum of. Every feature every you know, um, every you know marketing campaign everything needs to tie together and don’t spread yoursels to team. You need to be extremely focused and and and and I think. The synergy and the ah real flywheel of a business starts by doing a lot of accumulation and pressure in 1 point before you’re able to fully crack it if you just poke here things in there and you spread yourself to and you’re thinking for too many things at the same time that would be hard. If you are passionate and persistent and focused on 1 problem at a time and you really solve and crack this problem and move to the next one and then you crack this one. That’s the efficient way. Don’t try to do five ten things at the same time and I think that’s ah ah one advice that I received from a both member. Um. He said like you know the best ceos theirs and the best founders when there is a problem in the business they go and focus on it and when once they solve it. They don’t have to go and look at this thing for the next two years if you are getting back to this problem in three months four months you haven’t solved it properly and that’s why you need to remind yourself that um for big problems you need to so you the time you spent and the energy you spent on something should be based on how practical this thing is for the business. Um, and that’s really really important.
Alejandro: I Love it so restop for the people that are listening. What is the best way for them to reach out and say hi.
Hristo Borisov: I’ll say the best people can find me on Twitter I’m Cristo at at Christo Barrisov they can find me at the nicktin I’m at CHristo Borisov: as well. Um I think those are the 2 best channels I use for interaction. So feel free to ping me reach out and happy to chat.
Alejandro: Amazing Wellista. Thank you so much for being on the dealmaker show. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Hristo Borisov: Um, it takes aleandro.
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