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They are being overloaded by international awards: who or what is Backbase?

In this new category Movers & Shakers, we look at Dutch companies that are successful in the international market, through the introduction of disruptive technology.

The list of awards achieved by the Amsterdam-based company Backbase is impressive: in 2014 it received a ‘Best of Show‘ award during Finovate and again at FinovateFall 2016 in New York. In 2016 the company won an award for most ‘Innovative Banking Software Company’ at the European Fintech Awards. And last year Backbase won the LOEY Award 2017, for being the best online entrepreneur in The Netherlands.

It grew from 100 to 600 employers in 6 years. What makes this company so successful? What are its competitive advantages? Or is it something completely different that accounts for its success?

Jouk Pleiter, the founder of Backbase, co-founded another company 30 years ago, called Tridion (acquired by SDL in 2017 for 94 million USD), a software developer of content management software. Tridion grew to 20 million euro in revenue in five years time.

In 2003 Pleiter left Tridion, before it was acquired by SDL, and founded Backbase. Fifteen later, Backbase is a household name in digital engagement banking all over the world. With customers like ABN AMRO, Deutsche Bank, Citibank, HSBC, and Goldman Sachs.

But it wasn’t a smooth ride by any means. The company had to overhaul its business model twice, after arriving at a dead end: “If you’re sitting in front of a wall and have no idea how to pay for salaries, it is time to make an inventory of what you have in store and see if you could come up with an alternative scenario for making money.”

Pleiter counted his business’s blessings, its capabilities, came up with four new possible product solutions and went out to ask customers what solution was most relevant to them. This led to a third business model. Obviously, this meant Backbase had to fill a capabilities gap and this would took time: “While we were developing new products, we had to make some sort of a living from projects and get paid by the hour.”

Somehow they managed to pull it off. But real success began in 2011, afteriCity-Edelman-trustmonitor-2010-finance Backbase had decided to focus on one particular target group: the financial sector. After the economic crisis of 2008 customers had lost trust in banks completely, and the sector would have to work hard to regain it. According to Edelman’s Trust Monitor, trust has indeed recovered over the past five years, but it seems to have hit a new inflection point, warns Edelman.

Loss of trust had a disastrous effect on the bank’s bottom line and Pleiter understood that banks had to commit strongly to digital to reduce operational cost while improving its performance and to prevent annihilation.

However, by picking the financial sector, Backbase was being confronted with organizations that were heavily compartmentalized, each with its own procedures, structures and above all systems. Instead of trying to integrate these systems and services at the backend, Pleiter suggested to start at the front end – with the customer in mind: “Our software acts as an interactive layer on top of existing legacy systems, and across departments. This means the customer is able to manage all of their financial matters in a convenient and seamless manner, regardless of underlying systems or structures.”

Pleiter’s customer-focused starting point is fully compliant with Customer Dynamics™ and the ROUNDMAP™: start from a customer’s point of view (goes to relevance and potential), determine your value discipline (goes to differentiation), followed by the business model (goes to your operation) – and only then you should consider (how to integrate this with) your organizational structure, processes and systems. You might perceive this as an inverted MBA approach. It is no coincidence that this complements the Inverted Pyramid of Servant Leadership.

At the end of the interview on Sprout (Dutch) Pleiter concludes: “It is truly awesome to have worked at a certain level and then be able to go to the next. Entrepreneurship isn’t a play in the park: you got to have a survival instinct to keep on going.”

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