LONDON — Nikolay Storonsky was in a hurry.
The founder and CEO of Revolut, one of the fastest growing fintech startups in the world, whizzed through a presentation meant to last half an hour in around 15 minutes at the LendIt Europe conference in London this week.
He had a plane to catch. But doing things quickly is just Storonsky’s style.
So far this year, Revolut, which started as a foreign exchange card linked to an app, has launched business accounts, loans, loyalty offers, mobile phone insurance, a bill splitting feature, a subscription “Premium” account, a chatbot, and more. Oh, and raised $US66 million.
“We are not afraid of doing new things,” Storonsky, 34, told Business Insider after his LendIt talk on Tuesday. “That’s what entrepreneurship is. We’d rather try then fail rather than wait, analyse, think, then don’t do anything. There is a good phrase: paralysis through analysis. We are not these type of people.”
Projects can take just one month to go from an idea to reality at Revolut. Business accounts, Revolut’s thorniest problem so far, took just six months to build and launch.
This rapid work cycle has been rewarded with rapid growth. Just two years after launch, Revolut has over 900,000 retail customers and, just four months after business accounts, 16,000 companies have signed up. Venture capitalists and crowdfunding investors have also invested over $US85 million.
“The vision is very simple,” Storonsky said. “At the moment in the world, all banks are very local. As a result, you always struggle with international activity. That means you always need to open new bank accounts, issue new cards, set up a new credit profile.
“Nowadays people are all international. Banks are not providing this service. The vision for us is alternative global banking. Anyone in the world can just download the Revolut app and set up a local bank account to access any services they need.”
‘A lot of people work on weekends’
It’s a bold ambition. But can the business sustain this pace? I had heard from people in the industry — startup founders, PRs, former staff — that Revolut’s working culture can be tough: long hours, aggressive targets, burn out.
“We are not about long hours — we are about getting shit done,” Storonsky said. “If people have this mentality, they work long hours because they want it.”
There are just seven reviews of Revolut on Glassdoor, the website that let staff leave anonymous feedback on companies.
But two include the comments “work life balance will shift towards being dedicated to your job,” and “Working hours can be long.”
“No one is sitting there telling them they have to work long hours,” Storonsky said.
“They’re really motivated, really sharing the vision of where we want to go and as a result, they work long hours — they work at least 12, 13 hours a day. All the key people, all the core team. A lot of people also work on weekends.”
It should be said that all the company’s Glassdoor reviews are five-star reviews, even those that mention the hours. “This company is highly addictive,” one reads.
While Revolut’s company culture is not for everyone, Storonsky said it is the culture that makes the business such a success.
“We are trying to attract people who want to grow themselves. Growing is always through pain. It’s the same as going to the gym. You need to train and you need to hit your limit — and then you grow.”
He added: “Attrition is actually very low. We designed a whole onboarding process plus first six months as a continuing interview process — we see how he performs, how he feeds the culture, how he feeds the team, and most importantly, what he delivers.
“The majority of people, they pass through but some of them, they just realise it’s not for them. It’s not because they are stupid — they just don’t share our vision and our passion.”
‘After I closed the round, I went on holiday for the first time in two years’
Russian-born Storonsky is no stranger to long hours — he is a veteran of investment banking, an industry known for its long hours, having worked at Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers before setting up Revolut. Still, is there a personal toll to running such as rapidly growing business?
“It’s more complex compared to a year ago,” Storonsky said. “It’s more complex the more people you have around you.”
Relaxation is important. Storonsky is an avid kite surfer and still makes time for his hobby.
“It’s the only thing that I do apart from working,” he said. “What’s good about kite surfing is it switches your brain off completely and you just don’t think, and you become so relaxed — it’s effectively equivalent to meditation.
“I remember in summer, after I closed the round, I went on holiday for 10 days — the first time in 2 years. I went to Rhodes to do kite surfing in Greece. I switched the phone off and didn’t get any emails, for the first time ever.”
This downtime is as important to Revolut as the company’s hard-charging attitude in the office, Storonsky said.
“After you stop kite surfing and get to the beach, you have some sun, and you have so many creative ideas. My brain is structured so that its very process driven, it’s very logical, but at some point it blocks your creativity, right? You need to stop this logical thinking, kite surfing helps, and then you switch to creativity.”
Does he worry that those staff working 12-hour days and weekends won’t have that time to switch off and recharge their creativity?
“They’re all grown-ups,” he said. “It’s up to them how they manage their time. That’s part of the self-development process. We are not pushing them to do anything, it’s up to them.”
“I’ve got a very tight schedule all the time,” he said, adding that he manages about “five or six hours” sleep a night.
With that, Storonsky is off to the airport, off to Moscow for two nights and then on to San Francisco.
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