Guillaume Pousaz is a Swiss entrepreneur, billionaire, and founder of checkout.com, an all-in-one payment platform (like Stripe).
Guillaume owns 2/3 of the business valued at $15 billion, which is, considering Stripe’s valuation of $115 billion, widely undervalued.
The market for online payment services is said to reach $6.7 trillion in 2023, where the biggest players like Stripe and Adyen only occupy a mere 1-2%.
This means that checkout.com’s best days are ahead.
Read on to find out how Guillaume Pousaz built one of the biggest payment companies in the world, without taking any VC money, and without knowing how to code.
No rags-to-riches story this time.
But a tragedy.
Guillaume Pousaz was born in Switzerland in 1982.
Details about his childhood are scarce as Guillaume, like his company, remains discreet.
All we know is that he was good enough at snowboarding to appear in a few magazines as a teenager.
He also got a computer as a kid, but never really fitted the geek type despite reading mangas about dreaming big and achieving the impossible. That certainly left a trace, though.
In 2000, Guillaume went to study mathematical engineering at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, one of the top engineering schools in the world.
His plan was to become an investment banker after he witnessed some members of his family going through financial difficulties.
He studied there for two years, then switched to economics and business.
At the end of his third year in 2005, he got a job offer from Citibank in London.
Simultaneously, his dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away.
That got Guillaume thinking.
He felt he needed a change in his life.
So he quit his studies, left Switzerland, and moved to California to do nothing but surfing for three months and a half.
A little while later, he got a job at International Payment Consultants for the mere reason that the office was close to the beach.
That’s how he entered the world of Internet payment.
It wasn’t easy, he had to learn everything from scratch, and worked 70-80 hours a week to do so.
His knowledge became thorough enough that he realized there were many problems to solve – hence many opportunities.
In 2007, two years after starting, he quit and co-founded NetMerchant with his former company’s head of sales.
The Internet of 2007 wasn’t the Internet of 2021. There were many inefficiencies.
For example, payment processing companies charged merchants 2% to accept payment in other currencies than the US dollar.
Guillaume wanted to solve that. He wanted to make cross-border payments as easy and as cheap as possible.
There was just one problem.
He didn’t own any technology and had no capital.
So he did what he could.
NetMerchant specialized in selling European currencies to US merchants. It acted as a broker between banks and online merchants, selling contracts to banks.
The idea was to sell EU currencies to US merchants, which then exchanged them themselves with the banks, a bit like what’s Wise is doing today.
This exposure to online merchants enabled him to realize that e-companies were mainly interested in payment processing solutions, above all else.
Guillaume worked on NetMerchant for two years until he and his partner split in 2009, incapable to agree on the direction the company should take.
Pousaz wanted to build a giant company while his partner wanted to be successful enough to pay off his mortgage.
This experience taught Guillaume about the importance to work with someone that has similar goals and philosophies in life.
He let NetMerchant go, and decided to create a payment gateway company.
A payment gateway is a software application that takes care of communicating payment information (price, credit card number, etc) between the website and the payment processor.
The payment processor then contacts the bank of the customer, the bank of the merchant, and facilitates the transaction.
The payment gateway, if you will, is the port, while the payment processor is the ship.
Guillaume wanted the payment gateway.
He found a list online of payment gateways compliant with at least one major credit card standard and contacted the smallest ones to see if they wanted to be acquired.
One company stood out, a 5-people team that had built a payment gateway on the island of…Mauritius. Their product was great, but they lacked business experience.
Pousaz offered to take over the company and grow it in exchange for three years of guaranteed salary for the 5 employees.
They accepted, and this is how Pousaz got the company “for free” in 2009 (overall, it cost him $300k).
He called it OpusPayment and set it it up in Singapore with the ambition to do business in Hong Kong.
He wanted to help Hong Kong companies (translation: e-commerce Chinese websites) to accept payments from all over the world.
The beginning wasn’t easy.
Then in 2011, Opus signed a deal with Dealextreme, a Chinese e-commerce website, which enabled them to become profitable.
In 2012, checkout.com was born. Guillaume got his license to be a payment institution that same year.
And a new problem arose.
Checkout had the payment gateway technology, the acquiring bank (which received the money), but no payment processor wanted to work with them, which prevented checkout from becoming an all-in-one payment company.
So the team decided to…build it by themselves (which was completely insane.)
That same year, Guillaume gave up his CEO seat and became head of product to focus as much as he could on building the payment processor.
The CEO left in 2015 and Guillaume took the job back.
One year later in 2016, not only the payment processor was ready, but checkout.com had become a complete payment solution platform, providing, gateway, processing, and acquiring services with tech they owned.
While these three services are often fulfilled by several companies, checkout.com offered an all-in-one package.
This enabled more safety for the merchants and customers, more speed, convenience, and a lower cost due to being a single player.
Guillaume relaunched the company and very quickly, acquired new customers.
He set up the headquarters in London and moved himself and his family to Dubai.
The reasoning was that the West was already quite developed in terms of payment processing companies (with Stripe, Adyen, and Paypal), and Dubai may just offer more opportunities.
He was right.
Pousaz signed with Deliveroo, the food-delivery startup from London which was expanding in the Emirates but had no payment processor on site.
Other companies quickly followed: Wise, Virgin, Adidas, Netflix, Samsung, EasyGroup (EasyJet holding), DoorDash, Klarna, ByteDance, etc.
Today, checkout.com is one of the fastest and cheapest payment platforms in the world, and boasts an incredible customer retention rate of…99%.
Checkout has offices in 10 locations, including London, Paris, Berlin, San Francisco, Dubai, Hong Kong, and even one in Mauritius.
Guillaume explained that part of his success rested on the fact that he had no outside investor at the beginning. That enabled him and his team to take their time to focus on the product instead of launching too soon.
The strategy paid off.
Checkout.com doesn’t have that many customers (it’s several thousand, while other companies like Stripe have millions), but each of these customers is a giant company processing hundreds of thousands of transactions per month.
Amusingly, the checkout.com logo never appears on any websites, and few people have even heard of the company.
Checkout has no marketing department, 2/3 of the company is made of engineers, and the rest are salespeople.
Checkout became known in 2019 when they raised $230 million in series A (while on average, series A raise between $2 and $10 million).
This move may appear to be strange since the company was profitable from the start.
However, Guillaume explained that in order to sign new customers and expand in new markets, the company needed more money in its balance sheet.
It also gives checkout.com more credibility and trust.
Fun fact: true to the Swiss tradition of good management, they haven’t used the money yet.
That same year, checkout acquired their first two startups, the French ProcessOut, and the Australian Pin Payments.
In January 2021, they raised $450 million.
While checkout.com could become its own banking app (they power most of the fintech apps today, such as Transferwise), Pousaz declared he preferred remaining behind the scenes.
However, he intends to take the company public at some point, seeing it as inevitable due to its size, which he wants to grow by 50% each year until 2029.
“We’re only getting started”, he said.
When I first made the list of billionaires I wanted to write about in September 2021, Guillaume had barely gone over $1 billion.
Now, he’s worth around $9 billion, and that fortune is growing day by day.
There is a lot of wisdom in Guillaume’s story.
I find the fact he built his company in a sector he randomly got in reassuring.
It means there really are problems to solve everywhere, hence, money to make anywhere.
However, let’s be honest.
Not everyone could have pulled off what Guillaume did.
He obviously has an above-average IQ and works really hard, two ingredients that make the best CEOs.
When checkout.com became profitable in 2012, his 12-hour workday became a 14-hour workday. He travels 300 days a year, and live mainly in hotels.
I kept the best two facts about Guillaume for the end.
First, he does not know how to code.
When he bought the Mauritian company, he told them “you have the code, but I have the business skills”.
He knew the type of product he needed, and he knew how to sell it – he just didn’t know how to do it.
That didn’t prevent him from succeeding.
You don’t need nearly everything you think you need.
Steve Jobs didn’t know how to code. Peter Thiel neither (he studied philosophy at Stanford).
A CEO should be proficient in business (management and sales) skills, and while engineering is always interesting, it’s not mandatory.
The second fun fact concerns his philosophy. Guillaume says he is “a man of one woman and an entrepreneur of one company”.
He only focuses on checkout.com, and does not dive into other businesses like Musk or Branson did.
That doesn’t seem to hinder his success or enthusiasm.
Quite the opposite.
For more billionaire series, head to auresnotes.com.
Photo credit: checkout.com.
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