There’s a sharp clarity to Christo Georgiev. But beneath the exacting buzzcut, lies a man who’s as affable and enthusiastic as he is focussed with a relentless energy on bringing card services to small merchants and sole traders.
The fintech startup he founded – myPOS – which is shortly set to move to a base in One Canada Square is exactly the kind of company Canary Wharf Group must be keen to attract to swell the ranks of the companies filling its floors.
Christo’s business surpassed 1,2billion euros in sales for the year to November representing 92% growth in 12 months and is scaling up to tap a virgin market, as more and more of us eschew cash for plastic.
“It’s a fantastic product which we think is the key to unlocking the potential of small and medium-size enterprises,” he said.
“It is a huge, under-served market in Europe; between 35-50million sole traders, merchants and consultants – most of them don’t accept cards right now.
“Firstly it’s too expensive. They just don’t buy the connectivity from the big banks. Secondly the payment cycle right now is disturbing for their cash flow.
“For example, a merchant making a transaction on a Friday could be paid on Wednesday the week after.
“What we’ve done with myPOS is we’ve tried to make the product as cheap as possible.
“There are no monthly or annual fees and we also shorten the time in paying the funds back to the merchants to make it almost instant.
“The moment a transaction is made on the point of sale terminal, we settle the funds directly in the merchant’s account with us. Then, by using the myPOS debit card, they can get instant access to the funds.”
“If they were a taxi driver, for example, they can go to the gas station and fuel the car, get some groceries.
“The terminal, account and the card come as an all-in-one package. The merchant, they go on the website, activates, registers the device and starts using it straight away.
“For small merchants, complexity is an issue – they don’t have big offices to take care of all the accounting and technology. That’s the whole idea – to reduce the complexity, make it cheaper and allow merchants to start working with cards. According to our statistics, 80% of our customers never took cards before.
“We’re not attempting to replace an existing solution or compete with established players in the market.”
With devices available on offer as cheaply as £89, the model is an inclusive one. However, it’s the top line myPOS Smart machines Christo’s most excited about, offering firms the capability to run Android apps to complete a range of business tasks on a single machine.
“I’m originally from Bulgaria and my background is in computer engineering,” he said.
“From the very beginning I was a big fan of transaction systems trying to make them cheaper and reduce costs here and there. I had been in the industry for about 18 years.
“When the mobile payments emerged, it was about 2010, we thought it was a good opportunity for us to develop something for the under-served part of the market – SMEs.
“We just brought together the terminal, account and the card. It looks very simple from the top but underneath it’s a lot of work.
“We’re very happy that when we announced the product in 2014 in Barcelona we made a pilot with a couple of merchants it was accepted like: ‘Wow, really? Is it possible?’.
“My favourite product is definitely the smart terminal. This is a full feature Android device able to run different applications. If I’m a small merchant like a restaurant or a coffee shop or hairdresser I have here my applications and I can do my business with them. I don’t need a separate device.
“One of the things that distinguishes us from the competitors is we’re not pushing for the merchants to use our applications for their business. There’s a pretty much unlimited number of features.
“We believe software companies can create solutions targeting specific niches in the market so it’s better to work with them so we can give them the platform and the merchant can choose which application best suits his needs. That’s our philosophy.
“I believe this is going to be the future of payment devices because, like a decade ago when we began the transition from the normal dumb phones to smartphones, it happened almost instantly.
“We’re on the verge and in 2019 it’s going to start for sure. We have to equip all the SMEs with payment devices. Then the cash will be dramatically reduced. We’ll all carry our cards with us and that will be enough.”
Having tested the product in Italy before rolling it out elsewhere in Europe, why base your headquarters in the UK?
“We decided to come here and to work from London – it’s no secret fintech is predominantly happening here, for to many reasons,” said Christo.
“The regulators are very advanced. They understand competition is something very good, it’s something healthy and promoting it is in the interests of both consumers and businesses.
“At the same time we have talent here and It’s English speaking. So we got a licence here and set up the office with half of our operations out-sourced to Bulgaria, which is pretty standard.”
Currently operating from Regus on the 33rd floor of 25 Canada Square, the firm is eager to cement its place in Canary Wharf.
“Regus is a good scheme for starting up but we’re too big to be here now,” said Christo.
“We’re right now working on a format to move to One Canada Square. We like the area very much.
“First of all, we’re partners with the big banks. Competing with them doesn’t mean we’re not working with them. For example, the building we’re in right now is owned by Citibank.
“The atmosphere in Canary Wharf, with all the places to eat and to hang out after work, is vibrant.
“When I came here for the first time, I said: ‘Wow, if I can manage to have an office here one day it will be my dream come true’.
“Now here we are and we’re growing. They were so kind to offer us this place in One Canada Square – the building is refurbished and they offer us a great opportunity.
“The facilities are amazing, what else would be need as a company? There’s no need to recommend it – we see they’re coming anyway.
“But, of course I would recommend it. We’ve been to other places in London. But many have the kind of environment where it’s high-tech and people share spaces.
“We’re a regulated entity in the fintech business. We cannot share out offices with another regulated entity.
“For fintech, if you touch base with the financial world, Canary Wharf is exactly the place to be.
“Also, the fact there are high-rise buildings means it’s absolutely perfect to stay in Canary Wharf because everywhere above the 10th floor, there’s so much sunshine.”
On a final note and fitting, perhaps, for a company that makes tactile devices is the revelation Christo is a firm believer in bricks and mortar.
Far from the intangible world of may fintech firms, myPOS is investing cash in a store.
“We just opened our shop on Knightsbridge where all out devices are on display,” said Christo
“It’s kind of a branding exercise. Cars passing through that location see it and also it creates a lot of confidence.
“We’ve found from other locations in Amsterdam, Zurich and Barcelona, the moment we have a physical location perception changes completely.
“People go online and say: ‘Wow, do you have any physical presence – an office? We say we have shop and people say they will buy it.
“Just the fact we have a place where people can go and say they have issues or who just want to learn more – it completely changes the attitude of the customers. We’re opening in January in Paris.”