Interview with Paymill founder Mark Fabian Henkel
Mark Fabian Henkel, CEO and co-founder of the payment startup Paymill, shares his startup story and major learnings from his entrepreneurial journey.
What made you become an entrepreneur, Mark?
The daily work as a consultant wasn´t challenging me anymore and I felt it was the same day every day. I wanted to build up something myself and benefit from the experience I gained from the years before. Taking care of my own business gave me the opportunity to really change something within the industry and create a valuable feature for e-businesses.
How did you come up with the business idea of Paymill and why did you choose this idea over other ideas you might have had?
I saw the lack of such a product in Europe and the process back then for startups and young entrepreneurs to start their online business was very complex. We wanted to be a startup for startups, helping those to focus on their business, not wasting time to work on a solution themselves to process their payments.
How did you acquire your first customers? Which channels and tactics did you use?
Actually word of mouth. In the early beginnings we ran from event to event, convinced friends and business partners of our great idea, trying to sell our solution. We invested our budget rather in product development, than into paid sales or marketing channels. It have been crazy times then, but the experience was great. Looking back it feels just incredible that we now have dedicated sales and marketing teams, who take especially care of spreading the word and selling our products.
Can you please describe how the business model of Paymill works in detail (e.g. value proposition, revenue model, customer segments, channels)?
That´s simple: Online payments made easy. We offer an easy and secure payment solution for online and mobile businesses with various payment methods through one API. Merchants are free to design their own checkout however they like, they can easily integrate our API keys into their system to start accepting online payments worldwide in more than 100 currencies. The merchants sign up for a free account and can manage all transactions within one dashboard and minimum effort of implementation.
Bill Gates said once “People overestimate what they can achieve in 1 year, but underestimate what they can reach in 10 years”. What was your expectation of Paymill when you started?
Bill Gates is right. We thought we can achieve way more in the first months. But looking back now, after more than three years, we did great. We built a product which is widely used in Europe and really gives added value to our customers. Still after three years, the whole (now massively grown) team works with dedication, enthusiasm and conviction towards our 10th anniversary.
Can you paint a vivid picture of the very early days starting Paymill before having an external investor? What was a day like? What things did you focus on?
There was no focus, there were so many things which needed to be done. Partnerships, marketing, starting pitches etc. When you first start you want to perform great, put all efforts in product development and work, work, work! We are greatful to have those great investors on our side, who helped us to sort things out and supported us on structuring the company. We still benefit from their experience.
What tips did your investors provide you with? What things did you change that had a lasting positive impact on your business?
They already gave us in an early stage the advise to test new products with existing merchants before the official product launch. This was very valuable, since we´ve learned how to avoid growing pains right before they happen. Also they taught us how imporatent it is to listen to the customers and to do interviews and surveys on a regular basis, to understand how they develop and what they expect from us as a service provider. We are growing with our customers, and they do with us.
What things would you have changed and how, if you could turn time back?
Having a product in mind is important, listen to your target group is more important. As said, we worked with high pressure on developing and enhancing our product, because we had this great idea in mind. Today everything is data driven. We would take advantage of this and put more efforts in research and analysis to understand the customers’ needs and requirements.
What would you do today, if you would start a company and wanted to learn about the customer needs?
I´d try to learn everything about my target group right from the beginning. Today everything is about meeting your customers’ expectation, giving enough freedom of individualisation, but also deliver a implementation-ready product. You need to find a balance to serve your customers what they need, but stay efficient at the same time. Agile development and project management make this possible. The keyword is ‘focus’.
How did you find and convince investors to put money in your business?
Stubbornness, persistance, and good knowledge about your numbers are the keys. You have to be conviced about your product and ideas, only then you can convince others to believe in your company. As said, we worked with high dedication and euphoria in those days, and we do it now.
What is your perception of the development of the startup ecosystem in Germany?
The growth of the startup scene and entrepreneurial community is incredibly exciting. It was never so easy and never so hard at the same time to start your own business. Especially online businesses do not only compete with local businesses anymore, but also with others all around the world. It´s hard to find a really new idea and be the first one in this globalized market. On the other hand, there have never been more Investors, Incubators, Business Angels or startup events to help young entrepreneurs to establish their business and deliver valuable support especially at the start. There are many chances out there, young start up founders can take advantage of!
Besides payments, what current business ideas do you perceive as truly disruptive? Which industries are ripe for disruption?
There are many business opportunities outside, indeed. I´d say everything which is about automating processes or making consumer lives easier can be successful. But do you know what would be truly helpful? If someone finds solutions for social problems instead of how to easily become a millionaire. We have this great benefit of being born and raised in central Europe. Everyone should take advantage of that lucky coincidence and give something back.
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