Joachim Goyvaerts, the director of PayPal Benelux and Ireland, talks about the power of digital transformation, the benefits of building networks, and PayPal’s new partnership with FEM-START.
What was your journey leading up to being the Director of Benelux and Ireland at PayPal?
I have always found myself at the intersection of customer-centricity and technology; I have a degree in marketing management, but analytics interested me. I started my business consulting career: I helped businesses flip a product from internal orientation to customer orientation. Unwittingly, I entered the area/field of payments, and as of today, I have been working in it for the past 15 years. I was the first person to be hired at PayPal Belgium six years ago and helped them establish themselves in this region. Throughout the years at PayPal, I have been in different roles: from developing strategies for partners to leading the Benelux and Ireland region.
What were the greatest challenges you faced as a Director?
At PayPal, there is no lack of opportunities. The challenge lies in smartly using limited available resources by focusing on the most important things. PayPal now doubles down on cryptocurrencies as we see a more stable regulatory environment and customer relevance. More recently, at the onset of COVID-19, I had to rebuild the team’s culture and keep that culture alive throughout the global crisis. That has been a big challenge, but it also energizes me the most. Customer orientation is important, but that gets done through the team, of course.
How did you maintain the culture through COVID-19 times?
I have great internal allies who help me organize things for the team. With COVID-19, we miss out on the informal interactions, so it is important to structure them and make them more intense. PayPal really cares about its employees. We constantly check in on them; ask them if they are in hardship, or continue to work, etcetera. People need to take the time they need to get the basics right first. Otherwise, there is no way to perform sustainably over time.
Shifting gears now: over the past few years, we have witnessed a growing interest in businesses going digital, especially in the past year. How important do you think it is for businesses to adopt this new “trend”?
I don’t think we can think in terms of a “trend” anymore, it is important, but it is also a necessity. If you set up a business now, being digital helps you ensure continuity in all your processes. It is your lifeline today. The advantage of digital is that you can scale it. If you are starting a company, you need to think about scaling and think big. Having digital technology from the start facilitates faster scaling.
So, it is a must!
Yes, it is. Another advantage is that it makes things simpler, as well. It is essential to offer a straightforward solution to your customers and give them the possibility to contact you easily, digitally. If you think about customer service, for instance, phone calls or even e-mails are not so effective anymore, it is easier to have a chat available. Digitalization also helps to focus on sales, e-commerce, among other things.
It does! FEM-START is an ED-Tech solution to close the funding gap for female entrepreneurs. We are grateful and excited about this partnership between FEM-START and PayPal. What is your vision for this alliance?
First, it is important to understand the nature and the identity of PayPal as a company. We give people access to their money through technology. We believe it is a way to achieve more equality and inclusion by making the management and movement of money more accessible, secure, and affordable. More people have access to economic opportunities. Another core value of PayPal is innovation, and we have an entrepreneurial nature, so we encourage people to start their business.
Based on these core values, a collaboration with an initiative such as FEM-START seems natural! There are still many challenges for women to combine different roles. They often have more difficulties accessing funding, so we really need to watch out and ensure that digitalization does not increase inequality. We are also supporting women internally at PayPal. We have active programs to promote female leadership and diverse leadership. It is what we live and breathes as a company, so we have knowledge and networks to share.
Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest in female entrepreneurship? What are the advantages for investors and the community as a whole?
If you are trying to solve a problem, you would ask someone: would you leave out 50% or more of the potential? Of course not! By promoting female entrepreneurship, we are also tapping into creativity, sustainable results, and creating a society with a healthy bandwidth of equality and inequality. If half of the people are not participating, it is too unequal. Fundamentally, we should aim to have a healthy ecosystem that offers sufficiently equal opportunities, and that is, in the end, what produces the best results. Female entrepreneurship clearly has a big gap, even in The Netherlands, where many women work part-time when they become mothers.
Besides motherhood, what do you think contributes to this gap?
Networking plays a crucial role, having informal connections. It is key, and many people who have access to a strong network are not even aware of it. For example, many men from these business networks inadvertently exclude women. They seem to be unaware that this creates exclusion. Furthermore, with the lockdown, there is also a risk of missing out on opportunities because, in a way, people who do not have a strong network suffer more. This also goes for mental health. People who are alone are having a harder time. It might mean that some things need to be reset. Some networks do not exist anymore, which creates an opportunity for building new ones. Again, it is crucial to give women access to these newly formed networks, as well.
How can we bring more men on board to include female entrepreneurs?
I think the first step is awareness. If men become aware, they can make simple actions to change this, also in digital networks. Another action is to promote women and not see it as a threat, because it is not. If companies and stakeholders in society stand up and speak about these issues, we can address them. But it starts with what you can do as an individual because, in the end, it is the people and leaders within companies who are assigning budgets, assigning people, setting up a structure, focusing on diversity, and so on. As an individual, you can have a huge impact. It takes time, it takes precise focus, but once it takes off, it can become really big, which changes the network. As an individual node, you can influence the whole network.
Generally, women face difficulty when looking for investors for their businesses. What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs that want to raise funds?
I would say think big and bold; it is what investors are looking for. Compared to 10 years ago, there is a lot of capital available, and there are really many great ideas. The supply and demand are at a whole different level, so show that you can be that next big company, but you need to demonstrate how you will generate revenue. How will you get cash and make money out of your idea? I would suggest showing mastery in how to get paid. Many companies do not think this through, and thinking about this deeply builds trust and shows that you are a solid team. If you address this dimension of numbers and finance, you build extra trust in your leadership quality, and it helps get not only funds and investments but also helps your business.
How do you think start-ups can be helped to go to the next level financially?
As we discussed, if you build your company and use a digital backbone, you are ready to scale. I see many companies struggling with the scaling, and the excellent startups have thought this through, and they have the flexibility to test a lot, especially in different locations. Also, I would say think about geographically scaling. I have seen too many companies starting in one market and planning to expand in the next 2-3 years. I think that by doing this, you inhibit yourself from learning. It is better to learn sooner by testing the different markets simultaneously. Accessing a different market challenges your own perspective. It is a different culture.
The second thing is to define KPIs which in the future will generate cash and revenue. You do not need to be profitable from the start, but you need to know your key indicator that will lead to that profitable and healthy position. We see all social media platforms not making money at first but gaining users because they know that they will monetize on that in step two.
That is great advice. Thank you, Joachim.
You are welcome! I am really excited to see how FEM-START will create this energy and network of female entrepreneurs. That is why I have been advocating to support this!
By Azaina Shaikh and Paola Hasbun