Guillaume Pousaz of Checkout.com: the surfer dude catching the fintech wave

Guillaume Pousaz moved to California to pursue his love of surfing, and landed in Silicon Valley. He then rode the fintech gold rush to a multi-billion-dollar fortune.

Few children dream of becoming payments processors. Guillaume Pousaz certainly did not, says The Sunday Times. Growing up in Switzerland he thought he might become an investment banker, but in 2005 dropped out of university in Lausanne to pursue his love of surfing in California, taking a job with the processing firm International Payment Consultants when he ran out of cash. “I didn’t choose payments – payments chose me.”

Having spent the past decade surfing the gold rush of the fintech revolution, Pousaz is now worth an estimated $19bn and his start-up, Checkout.com – valued at $40bn in a funding round last week – is now the third most valuable private tech company in the world, having almost tripled in value from 2021. It’s a shot in the arm for London, where the company is based, and for the UK’s thriving fintech industry, says The Times. But it’s another blow for the financial establishment. Checkout, which handles back-end payment processing for clients including Netflix, Sony, Pizza Hut and the crypto exchange Coinbase, cruised past NatWest, Britain’s fourth-biggest bank, in value.

An adventurous mindset

Almost as remarkable, says The Daily Telegraph, is that, unlike many highly valued start-ups, Checkout is actually profitable and apparently refreshingly immune to hype. “You want to stay normal, you want to stay humble,” says Pousaz, 40, who makes a point of flying economy on family holidays. That clearly has the power to persuade. For the first seven years of its life, Checkout “flew under the radar”, says CNBC: the company grew without venture capital. When Pousaz finally came to tap external finance in 2019, raising $230m from Insight Partners and DST Global, the deal was agreed over handshakes.

How did a young surfer come to gauge, and then grab a leading position, in finance’s hottest market? Pouzas credits his “very curious and adventurous” mindset at the time, which was sharpened by California’s “creative, technology-first culture”, says CNBC. Having learnt the ropes of the business at International Payments, he saw the potential of the ecommerce market, which “even in those early days… was growing at 20% year over year”, and concluded that digital commerce and payments “would be the key to unlocking the next phase of global economic growth”. Legacy providers such as his employer didn’t seem to get the plot. 

More techfin than fintech

Two years after going it alone in 2009, Pousaz spent $350,000 acquiring a small Mauritius-based company with a licence to clear transactions through the Mastercard and Visa networks, says The Daily Telegraph. He chose to move it to London because of “the Financial Conduct Authority’s embrace of financial technology” – joining a growing brotherhood of “adolescent fintechs”, including Revolut and Wise, who, he says, habitually used each others’ services “instead of the bank that you’re fighting on a day-to-day basis”. Pousaz attributes Checkout’s success to its focus on technology: “We are more techfin than fintech”. But the company’s big break came when it signed a transformational global customer, Netflix, in 2018.

An indefatigable globetrotter, Pousaz, who currently lives in Dubai (but has plans to relocate his family to London), reckons he spent 750 hours a year on planes before the pandemic, and regularly works a punishing 80-hour week. That’s unlikely to change as he contemplates a big push into the US – funded by the $1bn raised last week – and an eventual float, says The Daily Telegraph. Pousaz likes to relax by playing the board-game Risk with his children. Although all that “territory-conquering” must surely feel a bit like a busman’s holiday.

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