Feedzai CEO Nuno Sebastiao’s Entrepreneurship Talk at Stanford University

By Ajit Ghuman, Director of Product Marketing, Feedzai Inc.

I recently joined Feedzai about three weeks ago after spending almost five years at another Silicon Valley high growth company. During my tenure there, I saw the organization grow from 100 to 900 people. Now, Feedzai is at the same juncture, with 100 employees, 300% year-over-year growth and a number of marquee clients. It’s a very exciting time for Feedzai and also for Portugal, where our company was founded.

On Monday, Feb. 22, I was pleased to return to my alma mater, Stanford University, to see Feedzai’s CEO, Nuno Sebastiao, present a session for European Entrepreneurship to a group of about 100 students and members of the community. The session was titled “Vienna & Portugal – Startup Marketplaces and Artificial Intelligence for FinTech Founders.” In the talk, Nuno shared his experiences building a company in Portugal, thoughts on the state of the Portuguese entrepreneurship ecosystem and his key takeaways from building and scaling a global tech company.

How Feedzai got started

Feedzai’s cofounders met at the University of Coimbra. The situation at the University is symptomatic of what’s happening in Portugal overall. Both the historical country and the university are quickly establishing themselves in the modern technology economy and entrepreneurship scene. They realized that each of them was holding a different piece to the same puzzle and decided to start a company together. At the time Nuno had been building simulation models at the European Space Agency, while Paulo and Pedro were both faculty at the university where Paulo was researching Distributed Systems and Pedro was building real-time systems. The original concept for what would be Feedzai came out of their research at the university, and the three of them decided to get some funding and found a company. The end result was Feedzai.

What’s happening in Portugal

Right now, Portugal is a great place to be if you’re are starting a company. Entrepreneurs can no longer say they can’t raise money in Portugal or the rest of Europe. In fact, people are beginning to call Lisbon the Silicon Valley of Europe. You’re able to find the best engineering talent in Portugal, comparable to many world class engineering hubs. There is also a lot of money from the European Union, as well as infrastructure and support for startups.

Paddy Cosgrove, founder and CEO of Web Summit, a worldwide digital conference that includes the like of Google and Apple, chose Lisbon as the location for this year’s conference because of the exceptional level of grass-root and local interest from Portugal. According to Paddy, “It took until Sep 2015 to for 10,000 folks to register for 2015 in Dublin. We had 42,000 in the end from 134 countries. As of today there are already 23,000 from 145 countries fully registered. The scale is unimaginable. There will never have been a larger gathering of the most important, fast growing startups in the history of the world than in Lisbon in November.”

At the same time Portugal has some differences with Silicon Valley; While there is a lot of great raw engineering talent, there is scarcity of product management, sales or marketing talent, and doesn’t yet have people who’ve scaled really world-class organizations before.

Three Learnings from Building Feedzai

Feedzai is doing very well on its growth path. Today, Feedzai processes $1 billion of payment volume daily on behalf of its customers and will reach $2 billion in just a few months. Capital One, which invests in really innovate companies in the FinTech space, is also one of the newer investors.

Getting to this point has not been without challenges. Here are a few things Nuno learned from his experiences at Feedzai:

  1. Technology crosses borders Technology is like math or music, it really knows no borders. Feedzai was able to build really cool technology in Portugal, which is now being used by customers all over the world, Portugal, USA, Latin America, India and more. Feedzai is now also comprised of people from India, Russia, Brazil, Portugal,the U.S and more.
  2. Finding our Purpose When building a company you really need to have a purpose, a cause. “People join causes, they don’t join a technology”. Feedzai found purpose literally in fighting evil. Payments fraud is a big issue, the amount of fraud globally has now exceeded $16 Billion a year. Today fraudsters have become very sophisticated, they work in organized groups and their attacks fund really bad things like terrorism, human trafficking, drug trade and more. They do it in a way that looks normal in the patterns of global commerce. Feedzai is able to use machine learning at big data scale to find these low granularity signals and keep commerce safe!
  3. Making it in the big city Another key learning Nuno talked about the need to ‘make it in the big city’, to get out of Portugal to be able to truly scale the company. According to him, the question really was “How do we build a revenue model, processes, and a scalable predictable machine?”. Feedzai came to the U.S. because of its early adopter customers, talent and ecosystem; The U.S. is more receptive to breakthrough technology unlike other economies, in the U.S. Feedzai didn’t have to compare itself to giants like IBM or SAS in order to work with innovate customers. There is also more talent in U.S. with the skills to scale up a startup to a large enterprise; while are a few unicorns in the E.U., there is very little talent that has scaled startups into bigger companies. In the US, Feedzai has already hired from world-class companies and unicorns such as Amazon, Visa, Paypal, Medallia, etc. Finally the ecosystem here is powerful; People here share a lot and they will introduce you to other people. A venture capital firm, Foundation Capital, even introduced Feedzai to 20 different investors. They didn’t have to do this, but they did. Overall, the decision-making process is so much faster in the U.S.

Feedzai has come a long way and is growing rapidly, with a 100-person team spread across five different cities with leading customers using our technology with massive impact. I’m really excited to join Feedzai at such an exciting time and look forward to the journey ahead!

In case you missed it, here is the recording:

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