BUX CEO Nick Bortot: “Our Main Challenge wasn’t Tech, but Human”

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Nick Bortot is CEO of Bux, an Amsterdam-based mobile app aiming to take the complexity out of stock markets, and make trading fun. What began as a solution for inexperienced traders has become a goal for more people to understand the financial world. And as Bartot explains, achieving that is more about people than tech.

What was the initial inspiration for Bux, and how did its product change in the first few months?

I was inspired to start BUX while still with my previous company–BinckBank, the largest Dutch online broker–as I realized many people were interested in being active in the financial markets but in reality, the online brokerage market is still a niche market, especially outside of the US. So I saw this large untapped market.

When we started BUX, it was a trading app and soon, we found out that inexperienced traders can be insecure and often look for support, validation and ideas from other traders. We wanted to provide them with a platform to do that, so we introduced community features as a test and it immediately took off. Now BUX has the largest social traders’ community in Germany and the Netherlands, and it has become one of the key differentiators of our product.

Is it shocking to you how ubiquitous stocks and trading are–and yet how little most people know about them?

After the financial crisis, it became clear that financial literacy amongst society is very low. I think it’s very important for people to have a basic understanding of how financial markets work since they’re such an important part of the world. Not only that, but the markets are also influenced by political and social factors.

When you learn about stock markets, you also have a better understanding of how the world around you works. Yet people see the markets as this complex beast: at BUX, we’re trying to eliminate those barriers and educate people in a fun and accessible way.

What were the most significant tech challenges when you founded Bux? Was it tough to get the right people on board?

Our main challenge in the beginning was not technological, but a human one. It was definitely tough to find and get the right people on board. The shift to mobile is a relatively recent one so there’s still a shortage of mobile developer talent, not enough to meet the growing demand. So many companies, large and small, end up fishing in the same small pool of talent.

Was it hard to find funding for such an ambitious, customer-facing product?

I wouldn’t say it was easy but it was not a huge hurdle either because of our strong proposition and team. I would advise startups to find a VC who loves your product. We talked to a lot of VCs in London and Paris and I learnt to tell after 5 minutes in the room with them whether they liked the product or not. Don’t just pay attention to metrics and figures – more importantly, the VC should have an affinity with your product.

Once I had to make a pitch in the back of a taxi cab. It was to Oliver Samwer, co-founder of Rocket Internet and the Global Founders Capital investment fund. He was so busy he had every second of the day planned, so his assistant had scheduled for us to meet in a taxi that was taking him between appointments.

We had to make the pitch over what was supposed to be a 20-minute ride but we were lucky there was a traffic jam that day, so we got to stretch it to 45 minutes! I remember it was so hot that day and we ended up leaving the car drenched in sweat. But by the time the taxi arrived at Oliver’s destination, he ended up really liking the product.

What is your ultimate goal in democratizing the trading market?

Our ultimate goal is generating the ‘water cooler effect’ when it comes to stock trading. Now, on Monday mornings, you’ll gather around the water cooler with your colleagues to talk about football or something like that. In the future, we want people talking about the stock markets. That’s when we know it’s really become a part of everyday life.

For a company like yours how important is scale? Is the concept of rapid scale a mistake for many companies?

It was important for us to scale because our product is built around a community and that community only comes to life if there’s a critical mass. Therefore, we want to roll out across the rest of Europe soon to make sure we keep growing our vibrant community of traders, giving them more opportunities to connect with fellow traders.

However, scaling too fast can kill your company because it can destroy culture, especially if you rush through hiring in an effort to expand quickly and end up with lower-quality hires.

How does being based across London and Amsterdam help–not just for you but for any FinTech firms?

BUX is headquartered in Amsterdam and while it is not the FinTech hub of Europe, it does have a relatively large financial industry, so having that ecosystem absolutely helps. There’s a long history of trading here and the Amsterdam Stock Exchange is generally considered the world’s first stock market, so Amsterdam is a very fertile ground for FinTech.

Which other European cities might you consider moving into?

Nowadays, with technology that allows people to work and collaborate remotely, you don’t need to have physical offices in every market you operate in. Right now, it makes more sense for us to have one office with all our staff in the same space together, so we can focus on building a great company culture.