As the CEO of Revolut, one of Europe’s highest valued start-ups, Nikolay Storonsky has been at the apex of the tech boom. Since co-founding the London-based fintech in 2015, he has overseen Revolut’s customer base grow to more than 25 million people.
Yet Revolut’s growth path was driven through an era of cheap money, raising a total of $1.7bn. Now, with a deteriorating macroeconomic outlook and rising interest rates, venture capitalists are more cautious and tech companies have begun to rationalise their growth plans.
Speaking with fDi at the start-up event Slush in Helsinki, Finland, Mr Storonsky described the current climate as a “hangover” for the tech scene after years in which “capital was misallocated” to start-ups with unsustainable business models.
“We’re back into this swinging mood,” says the 38-year old entrepreneur, who expects it will take two or three years for the industry to recover. “Now everyone is into efficient capital allocation. As a result, a lot of start-ups will go out of business or be forced to raise at a much lower valuation.”
Now everyone is into efficient capital allocation. As a result, a lot of start-ups will go out of business or be forced to raise at a much lower valuation.
Mr Storonsky believes the venture capital (VC) industry needs to reinvent itself and move away from “crowd - mentality”. He says that Quantum Light Capital Fund, the model-driven VC fund he launched in May 2022, will be “much more precise” than traditional VCs, and expects it to generate higher returns.
Despite VC being available, Mr Storonsky says his goal is to not raise any more funding for Revolut. “The moment you need to raise you become dependent [on investors],” he says. “Dependence is going to kill you.”
Aside from an entry to VC investing, Mr Storonsky has overseen Revolut’s growth strategy to become a “global financial super app”, offering everything from debit cards to crypto trading, travel insurance and business banking. The neobank already offers its services in 36 countries and is launching in new markets such as Brazil, India and New Zealand.
Mr Storonsky says that while Revolut’s products are built to be the same: they need to be “tweaked” to fit different regulations and cultures.
“You need to tweak for every single country … making it as local as possible,” says Mr Storonksy, who adds that know-your-customer, transaction monitoring and onboarding rules can be all differ by country.
While Revolut was awarded a licence in 2018 by the Bank of Lithuania to offer EU banking services, the fintech is still legally classified as an electronic money institution rather than a bank. Regulators in the UK are still yet to grant Revolut a banking licence, which it applied for in Janaury 2021.
“Our key milestone is to get the UK banking licence because it will really unlock a lot of opportunities internationally for us,” said Mr Storonsky, noting Revolut will be unable to receive a US banking licence without UK regulatory approval.
While layoffs have proliferated across the tech industry, as companies unwind recent hiring binges and rationalise their growth plans, Revolut intends to grow its headcount next year.
Mr Storonsky said that while Revolut is profitable, the company is still “cost conscious” and only hiring for specific projects which they expect will generate high returns.
“We are not hiring just for the purpose of hiring,” he said, adding that the digital bank aims to bring on board “the most valuable people”. Shortly after fDi’s interview with Revolut’s CEO, the Financial Times published an investigation into historic alleged cultural and operational issues at the neobank which included excessive risk taking.
A Revolut spokesperson told fDi that the fintech has a “high-performance culture” that is “diverse, supportive and encourages people to be the best”.
“In contrast to most CEOs, [Mr Storonsky] does not have an office, but sits in the middle of the open-plan floor. Anyone in our 5000-strong workforce can contact Nik at any time from anywhere,” added the spokesperson.
Another central focus of Revolut has been cryptocurrency trading on its platform. In September 2022, the fintech was granted permanent approval by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority to run its cryptocurrency business.
Despite the recent turbulence in the crypto industry, with the collapse of crypto exchange FTX this month, Mr Storonsky believes these fears will have little impact on the long-term prospects of digital assets and blockchain technology.
“Crypto is not over,” he said, adding that there is always “some flopping” in any “young and immature” industry where there is risk taking.“Obviously [FTX] took a lot of risk and it wasn’t lucky for them.”
Instead of shying away from this, Mr Storonsky said that Revolut is “actually doubling down on crypto products” and believes that blockchain will play a crucial role in finance moving forward.