Harrie Vollaard

Board Member

MD at Rabo Frontiers Ventures

Harrie Vollaard

MD at Rabo Frontiers Ventures

“Start-ups looking to raise funds should avoid just making it a sales pitch”

The Rabo Frontier Ventures managing partner talks why tech isn’t the most important part in scaling, why digital transformation should be customer centric, and why financial services must be embedded into other environments like bol.com.

I became a HFT board member because I wanted to contribute to the flourishing fintech ecosystem we have here in the Netherlands. All parties come together in Holland FinTech to work on stimulating a better business climate, and that can only happen when all parties work together.  

My strategic perspective on finance’s future for today’s young people is it’s way easier to get in control of your financial life than in the past. We’ve transitioned from financial products, to services, to financial services increasingly being embedded into other products, like social media platforms. Finance is significantly more integrated into our daily lives and will only continue to do so.

Organisations like Holland FinTech play a key role in society as they bring parties together and fulfill the need for these different parties in an efficient manner. Start-ups are always looking for funding and clients, incumbents are seeking innovation, and investors for start-ups to invest in—Holland FinTech facilitates all of this. 

Companies also have similar problems, and in Holland FinTech they can address these together with the right party, whether it’s the government or a regulator. Together, they can make their collective case and can have more impact than they could individually.

I’m also active on the boards/industry associations of different startups, due to my job as head of Rabo Frontier Ventures.

What’s often missed in discussions about digital transformation is something Chris Skinner mentioned: digital transformation is not about doing what you’ve always done but now in a digital way. That’s digitalisation. Digital transformation is about coming up with totally new ways of serving your clients. For example, Rabobank is a lender, and they have digitised lending. That’s not transformation. They do, though, provide working capital to SMEs via bol.com, so within this e-commerce environment you can access working capital. This is new, this is transformative for SMEs. It’s really about your starting point: is it your customer, or the legacy systems you have in place?

Fintechs can best use tech in scaling by remembering the tech part of scaling usually isn’t the issue. What I’ve noticed is that companies often underestimate the major culture differences between countries when scaling—go-to-market strategies are key.

The Netherlands is a European fintech centre because the financial industry contributes significantly more to the Netherlands’ GDP than in other countries. We have a fantastic infrastructure, and well-educated, English-speaking people used to innovation. Additionally, as Rotterdam is Europe’s biggest port, the Netherlands is a great place for start-ups looking to launch in mainland Europe. All of this also makes the Netherlands attractive for mature fintech start-ups coming from outside Europe.

You’ll find these three things on my desk of course my mobile, it’s like an extension of my arm. Paintings from my kids, and tons of paper. I like to jot my thoughts down during conversations. I don’t save the papers, go back to them, or try to make sense of them, but it helps me organise my thoughts while I’m talking to people so I can better communicate my ideas.  

The key to addressing issues like financial inclusion, financial literacy, and sustainability is that financial services have to start looking at the topics that really matter and serving something bigger than itself. Financial services must help tend to society’s problems, like the energy transition.  

Investment and wealth management is being transformed by the thresholds for investment being lowered. Usually when people think of investment and wealth management, they think you need to bring in a lot of money, knowledge, and experience but the starting point is becoming more accessible, with good financial returns.

Start-ups looking to raise funds should avoid just making it a sales pitch where you tell your story. Thoroughly prepare by looking at the investor’s background. Additionally, listen to what their problems are and then tell them how you can help solve them. Ask the investors questions. Why did you invite me to pitch? What/how are you going to contribute to the success of my start-up? What are important criteria for you to invest in me in terms of traction, growth, unit economics, etc.? Make it a dialogue—I cannot emphasise this enough.

How likely are you to recommend Holland FinTech?