In a globalized economy, where everyone from Apple to Etsy artists is doing business across borders, challenges and restrictions presented by exchange rates, card fees, and rules imposed by individual banks can obstruct smooth transactions, harm customer service, and make purchasing and selling internationally a challenge for everyone involved. To address this challenge, companies are looking to fintech (financial technology), and the innovative solutions it offers for seamlessly handling transactions that are made in different countries and currencies.
One fintech company has set the standard for the rest: GoCardless, a London-based enterprise co-founded by half Japanese, half English entrepreneur, Hiroki Takeuchi. GoCardless processes payments worth at least $10 billion for over 45,000 business customers globally each year, including globally recognized names like Virgin, The Guardian, and the UK Government.
Three British Friends in Silicon Valley
The company is the brainchild of Hiroki Takeuchi, his friend from Oxford University, Tom Blomfield, and his colleague from McKinsey, a global management consulting firm, Matt Robinson, and is the result of a lot of work and a little bit of luck. In 2011, the three friends landed a coveted spot on the Y Combinator start-up support program in Silicon Valley, where they received advice and guidance from some of the biggest names in tech, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the founders of Airbnb. This program helped GoCardless’s founders secure $1.5 million in start-up funding, and they returned to the UK with the tools and connections that kick started the company’s success.
While it got its start in the UK and Europe, GoCardless has global aspirations, and recently opened an office in San Francisco, following a $75 million fundraising effort. This expansion is set to create hundreds of valuable tech jobs in the heart of Silicon Valley and stands as a testament to its founder’s dedication in the face of what, for most, would be insurmountable odds.
A Rapid Rebound from Something Life-Changing
Hiroki Takeuchi isn’t the typical tech maven. While he had the big ideas and wherewithal to make GoCardless a success as one of its founding members, he was struck by a life-changing tragedy in the form of a car accident while bicycling that left him paralyzed from the chest down in 2016, only three weeks after his wedding and about a year after taking on sole leadership of the company. After just twelve weeks of recovery, Takeuchi was miraculously back on the job with bold plans for GoCardless’s global takeover. On his rapid return to work, Takeuchi said in a 2018 interview with Forbes,
“I appreciate people saying nice things about it, but really, what else would I have done? What else would anyone have done? You have to play the hand you’re dealt.”
It’s this attitude that sets this “30 Under 30” alum apart from other fintech entrepreneurs. Instead of letting his injury become a permanent setback, he took the time away from work to reconsider his role with GoCardless, and decided that, while plenty of companies offer payment processing services, GoCardless’s approach shouldn’t be limited to just a few countries or currencies, and very soon it will cover more ground than any company of its type.
Crossing Borders, Connecting Companies
“Within two years’ time, I want to be in a position where we can say we’re no longer even Europe-centric, I want us to have much wider capabilities across a whole long list of countries,” Takeuchi said in 2018. Now, just a year later, GoCardless is on track to reach that goal. He recognizes the value this service brings to businesses and is prepared to meet any challenges GoCardless might face in new markets.
“Connecting five countries with the ability to collect payments is something that’s never been done before. But for our customers it would be a hugely valuable tool, being able to take direct debits almost anywhere in the world.”
GoCardless currently has offices in London, Paris, Munich, Melbourne, and San Francisco, and it has its eye on expansion to Norway, New Zealand, Denmark, and Canada.
Supported by new investments from Google Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, and Adams Street Partners, as well as its mainstay investors, GoCardless has begun the process of expanding across Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and North America, with the goal of creating a truly global network. It addresses what Hiroki Takeuchi calls a “broken system” that is “killing businesses”; a defunct standard of processing direct debits, especially recurring payments. The global business payments market is worth about $58 trillion, and about 18% of that market is recurring direct debits from subscription-based services, which are GoCardless’s target customers.
By providing streamlined payment processing, alongside services like analytics and instant settlement across national borders, GoCardless has built a platform that supports and enables 70% of the world’s recurring payments.
International Influences Improving the U.S.
As a new entrant to the U.S. market, GoCardless will create valuable tech industry jobs in and around Silicon Valley. According to Owler.com, the company already employs nearly 400 workers globally, up from 190 in spring 2018, with plans to add more as it opens more offices in new areas.
“We’re not investing in all of these people under all this expansion for no good reason,” says Takeuchi of his new hires. GoCardless is ready to onboard the next generation of tech innovators and put them to work “taking the pain out of getting paid.”
As a company lead by a UK national operating in the U.S., GoCardless has joined the growing ranks of successful businesses whose founders were not born in the United States. As of July 2019, nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants and their children, and although Hiroki Takeuchi has not emigrated, GoCardless’s diverse, international base gives it access to more perspectives, innovation, and ideas than a company with no foreign influence.
The U.S., despite being a global hub for technology, has traditionally been slow to adopt fintech advancements. While European companies and consumers have had access to flexible, secure banking and payment solutions for years, Americans are only just beginning to have access to services like Monzo, TransferWise, and similar online, border-free accounts that all but demolish the need for traditional brick and mortar banks.
Being able to securely and seamlessly process transactions in multiple currencies from almost any bank account in the world without foreign transaction fees and other costs imposed by many banks is a game-changer for U.S. businesses, and allows them to save on admin costs, prevent late payments, and grow their client base beyond their nation’s borders. Using GoCardless keeps U.S. companies competitive in an evolving financial landscape where they so recently lagged behind.
US Visa Opportunities for Mr. Takeuchi
Although Hiroki Takeuchi has not emigrated to the U.S. as part of his expansion initiative and has hired a talented team to manage operations in the San Francisco office, he might change his mind sometime in the future. If this is the case, Mr. Takeuchi will need to apply for a US business visa to live and work in the U.S. as the CEO of GoCardless. For businesses of this type, which operate in countries with a treaty of commerce or trade with the U.S., like the U.K., the E2 Treaty Investor Visa is an excellent option. U.K. nationals have excellent approval odds for the E2 visa, which is one of the most flexible immigration business visas offered by the USCIS. Nationals from E2 Treaty Countries can travel to and from the U.S. freely, which would be advantageous for a multinational company like GoCardless who could apply as the E-2 Investor, and, once approved, could then apply for essential E-2 workers to fill key positions in the U.S. The visa holder’s dependent children under the age of 21 can attend school, and their spouse can work subject to separate authorization. If the E2 Enterprise and visa applicant continue to qualify, the E2 visa can be renewed indefinitely, making it an excellent non-immigrant visa for those wanting to live in the U.S. long-term or spend extended periods of time in the U.S.
British nationals who do business in the U.S. under the E2 visa provide valuable jobs to U.S. citizens and bring the skills and, in Mr. Takeuchi’s case, innovative abilities cultivated by the U.K.’s prestigious universities. The number of approved E2 applications from U.K. applicants has remained relatively steady over the last several years, with a slight uptick between 2017 and 2018 from 2,862 to 3,065.
If Hiroki Takeuchi were to decide to apply for an E2 visa and maintain a presence in the U.S. to oversee the U.S. GoCardless office, he would do so with advantages that few other applicants have. His ties to Silicon Valley and American investors connect him to the U.S. market and have given him insight into the needs of companies seeking a better way to process payments without restrictions. GoCardless is already set for a strong start in the U.S., and whether or not he decides to apply for an E2 visa, Hiroki Takeuchi’s will to move forward in the face of even the most staggering challenges make him an admirable entrepreneur with the drive to connect businesses with their customers, regardless of what country they are in.