The unicorn of Amsterdam: Catching up with Adyen co-founder and CEO Pieter van der Does (video) was in Amsterdam recently, and we swung by the offices of Adyen, arguably one of Europe's most promising and highest-valued (fin)tech companies. An interview with CEO Pieter van der Does.
The unicorn of Amsterdam: Catching up with Adyen co-founder and CEO Pieter van der Does (video)

It would have been a shame to go to Amsterdam to explore the local startup scene without paying a visit to Adyen, the company that flew under the radar for far too long until everyone looked up when it raised $250 million at a $1.5 billion valuation last December.

And so I sat down with Pieter van der Does, who co-founded the company back in 2006 and has been at the helm since then. The aforementioned financing round made Adyen a member of the so-called 'unicorn' club, a group of technology companies valued at $1 billion or higher.

Actually, I asked van der Does whether he even considers Adyen a technology company, rather than a financial services firm.

His answer was yes, unequivocally. In case you're not familiar with what Adyen offers: the company provides businesses with a global platform to accept payments just about anywhere in the world. more specifically, the company enables businesses to process payments across online, mobile and point-of-sale systems with over 250 payment methods and 187 transaction currencies.

Unicorn Amsterdam

Adyen was founded in Amsterdam and also has offices in San Francisco, Boston, São Paulo, Singapore, London, Paris, London and other cities around the world. Today, the company acts as a middleman for companies like Facebook, Airbnb, Spotify, SoundCloud and Vodafone to help them process payments.

Asked how he has seen the payments industry evolve since Adyen's founding, van der Does said the switch to mobile has been a major driver of change (over 27% of global online transactions are now on mobile devices, the company announced last April).

pieter van der does

"What we now see is that a typical merchant, selling physical goods, will do about 30% of its business on mobile devices, where it used to be only a few percents a couple of years ago," van der Does said. "This is a really recent and material development, and as an online merchant, if you don't have a mobile presence it actually hurts your revenues."

Van der Does also talks about what differentiates Adyen from its competitors, which includes big banks and credit card issuers, explaining that its integrated system and platform approach enables it to process payments at scale quickly and reliably, and that its huge data mining abilities allow the company to more accurately combat fraud - one of the industry's biggest headaches.


Asked whether its clients typically use Adyen for only part of the world, van der Does said:

"It depends. For many of our clients we are the sole provider, because it keeps it very simple for them, and they only have one financial administration, which we organise. The largest ones go live with us per country; so they'd start in one region, say Latin America where we are very well represented, or Europe, and usually we'll expand into often covering 100% of their transactions, but not for all our merchants."

Adyen currently employs about 260 people in 10 offices across the globe. Asked where he sees most of the growth coming from in the next few years, van der Does said:

"The United States remains a very very important market, but it's always a complex question for us. You see that many American companies start with us in, say, Latin America, and then the São Paulo office will grow quickly in terms of revenues. We could attribute that growth to Brazil or to the US, depending on where the client's headquarters are."

But, the affable chief executive points out, if you were to overlay the globe with a map of e-commerce transactions handled by Adyen today, it would probably look very similar.


During the interview, I also asked van der Does for his thoughts on the Amsterdam startup ecosystem.

"I think that we underestimate the successes that we've had," he said, mentioning companies like, TomTom and TravelBird specifically. "We haven't been very good at celebrating our successes."

At the end of the video interview, van der Does says Adyen's next challenge on the road to achieving further success is moving from the digital space to the offline world, which is to say they want a bigger piece of the in-store payment terminal market in the coming years.

It would be unlikely for Adyen to start manufacturing their own card readers or terminals, van der Does said, preferring to partner with the big brands in that space.

The Adyen Formula

Finally, I asked van der Does sees an exit (by IPO or acquisition by an even bigger player in this space) for Adyen on the horizon. He commented:

"If you look at what we're doing now, at our hyper-growth - we're doubling in size every year and had about €150 million in revenue in 2014 - then it wouldn't be a very logical thing for us to do. If you are convinced that the books are going to show this kind of growth in the next few years, then it's something that should be considered in a few years."

"We're a very experienced team that has been working together for some time now, and we're not in a hurry to do anything other than expanding and making the product even better."

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