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The first Danish fintech unicorn: “A global mindset is key to creating tomorrow’s fintech unicorns”


Tradeshift has experienced exponential growth and in late May the fintech company passed the magic $1 billion-dollar valuation mark. CEO Christian Lanng believes that policymakers and fintechs alike should adopt a global mindset towards technology to increase the number of Danish scaleups.

Seven per cent of global tech exits at a unicorn valuation has come from the Nordics, while the region only accounts for roughly two per cent of the global GDP. When it comes to fintech scaleups with a valuation in the fathomed unicorn range, however, the region, including Denmark, is still punching below its weight.

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Tradeshift is the first Danish fintech to change that score. The leading player in supply chain payments and marketplaces closed a round of 250 million Danish kroner in May this year, putting the company at a $1.1 billion valuation.

“We were global from day one”

As startup stories go, Tradeshift’s is an evergreen. A team of tech-savvy geeks with a vision huddle together in a garage for a coding marathon. Days become weeks. By the time Mikkel Hippe Brun, Gert Sylvest and Christian Lanng finally emerge from the cold garage in the winter of 2009, they have become the founders of a fintech that Techcrunch soon predicts could disrupt the entire financial system.

“A reporter called our solution one of the best startup ideas he had ever heard of as he introduced us in an interview. I remember thinking to myself: ‘Wow! This is serious!’” Christian Lanng, who later became CEO, recalls. He attributes some of Tradeshift’s early success to that media broadcast. “In the minutes that followed, our inboxes exploded and our website went down. We became a growth company on day one.”

Press coverage might have been the spark that started Tradeshift’s fire, but a global mindset is a tinder that has kept it burning since the beginning. A mindset that the founders adopted from early geek culture fuelled by the Amiga 500.

“We carried that early exposure to a global reality powered by technology with us into Tradeshift. From the start, we have been working with development teams from all over the world. We didn’t want to be the best in Denmark, the Nordics, or Europe. We wanted to be the best in the world,” says Lanng. 

Today, Tradeshift is enjoying that international acclaim it was thriving for with customers in more than 190 countries, offices in 14 countries, and their staff spanning 43 nationalities.

It takes a global village to raise a scaleup

Lanng believes that the Danish ecosystem needs to adopt that same global mindset when it comes to technology if it wants to see more Denmark-based scalups come to life. In terms of governance and financing Lanng says that his company has raised more than $175 million in venture capital, but not a single one of those investments came from Danish VCs.

“We pitched to a host of Danish VCs and funds when we launched, but since they thought that we presented too much risk, we had to turn elsewhere. It is still true that to create the next big fintech success we need to invite foreign VCs in and think of them as potential partners for Vækstfonden and such. We need foreigners in general for both capital and talent” claims Lanng.

Securing funding, however, is not enough: the whole nation needs to leverage its strengths to assume a role in the global tech ecosystem. The CEO thinks that the public sector holds a lot of potential if it is used as a platform for startups to build upon. To get there, politicians need to focus on creating scaleups rather than legacy industry.

“Politicians have always paid more attention to KPMG and Microsoft than to Tradeshift and Zendesk, despite the fact that Tradeshift could create more Danish jobs over the next three years than Microsoft. I don’t know if that attitude has started to change, but it definitely needs to,” Lanng urges and continues:

“We are not going to be the next Silicon Valley, but that is not what we should strive for anyway. London, Stockholm, Singapore: they are the places we should look to when we dream big. They each play important roles in the global ecosystem—and so can Denmark, but we need to leverage our strengths. That is the only way we can help more fintechs reach scaleup status.” 

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