This is the ninth in our “8 Questions” series — in which we sit down with founders in the Playfair portfolio who share their entrepreneurial journey.
We first invested in Ravelin in 2015. At the time, we were inspired by the experience and vision of the founding team who met at Hailo, the early mover taxi app. Since co-founding Ravelin, they have built sophisticated technology to help businesses with evolving fraud threats and accept payments with confidence. They have recently raised $20M in a Series C led by Draper Esprit, with participation from existing investors Amadeus Capital Partners, BlackFin and Passion Capital.
Today, we sit down with co-founder and CEO, Martin Sweeney, to hear his story, from deciding to take the plunge as an entrepreneur to building Ravelin to where it is today. We hope this can help other founders and aspirational entrepreneurs in their own ventures.
1. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
When working together at Hailo, we grew from a team of 5 to 200 in three years; scaling was exciting but stressful. One thing we noticed at Hailo was there was a huge fraud problem in the taxi space which cost the market millions of pounds. We looked into this problem and thought surely someone could do something about it but current solutions were all built for other markets such as air travel or retail, both of which were such different models from on-demand mobile platforms. This is when we first saw an opportunity.
At the same time, one of my co-founders and I had young children so it was a risk to leave Hailo to explore our opportunity but we felt the risk was worthwhile. So we decided to leave and be our own bosses, test our theories and save businesses £100Ms a year from fraud.
2. Can you take us back to the beginnings of Ravelin?
After 5–6 years of working at Hailo, Hailo actually became our first client. It was great to have an anchor client, someone who trusted us, even though we didn’t even have a product yet. We built a very safe and secure product from day one— the classic startup MVP model does not work with cybersecurity/payments — and we’re still using that same code today, although we’ve built and expanded on it.
We raised our first institutional round from Passion Capital who wrote a cheque after we pitched with one slide deck. In fact, it was Christmas Eve when we received our first Term Sheet.
3. What is the hardest lesson learned since day 1?
We needed to do things properly from day one. My personal trait is to want results quickly and to always be thinking about the next thing. But a) you need to be careful with security and data protection and b) B2B sales with enterprises are a slow process; even when you think you’ve cracked it, you’re only at the beginning and you’ve still got procurement, integrations etc. to go. Being patient has been very hard. The results are there but you have to understand this is a long game. The need for constant feedback is hard when you’re in a slow-moving system and you have to slow down, think and do things properly.
4. What has been your strangest day as a founder?
Pre-pandemic, I did lots of international travel. One day , I was visiting São Paulo; it was 41 degrees and 100% humidity. I then got on a flight to New York where it felt like -20 degrees and there was a vortex storm. The temperature and culture shock going from Brazil to the US, and then working with extreme wardrobe malfunction, made it the strangest day I’ve experienced as a founder!
5. What have you learned from your investors since you first fundraised?
Investors have been good at forcing me to simplify the story. For founders, it can be easy to get deeply technical quickly, use lots of acronyms, talk about algorithms and essentially, be blinded by the science/tech. But focusing on the value, why people should buy it, why people should trust us and the story behind that is key in every investor, employee and customer conversation.
6. As a founder, what is your proudest achievement to date?
Firstly, I’m proud that it works. We started with a theory and hypothesis but seeing it in action, seeing the results and the fact that customers are happy to trust you, take a leap of faith and a bet on you is incredible to see. The product actually works and people took a risk; they’ve been proven right in their decision.
Secondly, I’m proud of the people we hired as juniors that have since moved up. We want people to enjoy their time at Ravelin and feel enriched; feel that it’s a supercharger in their career, to get opportunities, build relationships and friendships, and be more employable!
7. Crystal Ball: What are your plans for the future?
Expanding the range of fraud predictions and products we sell. We want to help big merchants grow businesses faster and more safely, and reach new customers. With payments in general, there is so much more to be done and to achieve more, we need to sell better, faster and make the user experience even better.
8. #1 piece of advice to an aspirational founder?
Be really honest with your motivations. If you think you’ll be a billionaire because you’ve seen Elon Musk do it, that won’t work. You need a genuine interest in what you do and if it’s a get rich quick scheme, you won’t succeed. It’s a long, hard slog and most people will fail; be resilient and honest with your motivations and intrinsic interest in what you’re doing.