We’re thrilled to share that Gain.pro’s co-founder and co-CEO, Nicola Ebmeyer, has been featured in the Dutch publication MT/Sprout in their series "The Founder."
This series is a platform dedicated to sharing the spirit and resilience that drives Dutch business leaders to turn their dreams into reality. It delves into their entrepreneurial experiences, unveiling the thought processes, emotions and actions that paved their path to growing their company. These interviews reveal not only their triumphs but also their vulnerabilities, mistakes and the invaluable lessons they've learned along the way.
In Nicola’s interview, she opens up about her entrepreneurial journey that all started when she dared to end her career at McKinsey to start a fintech company with co-founder and co-CEO, Frister Haveman. She shares her unwavering ambition to become a global player from the very beginning and reflects on the challenges she faced while staying true to her vision.
Read the full article in English below or the Dutch version on MT/Sprout.
Nicola Ebmeyer (Gain.pro): "Milestones are fun, but my brain immediately thinks: what's next?"
According to others, she made the mistake of her life, but that didn't stop Nicola Ebmeyer from taking the leap into entrepreneurship. Five years later, her fintech platform Gain.pro serves all the major investor names. There is no shortage of ambition in Nicola. “In the beginning, we already stated that we would become a global player.”
In 2018, Nicola Ebmeyer (34) ended her flourishing career at McKinsey to launch Gain.pro (a fintech platform that provides investors and advisors with insights into private enterprises) from a small Amsterdam office together with Frister Haveman. Gain.pro is the product they themselves would have wanted to use, and Nicola had no doubt that there would be a demand for it.
Five years later, Gain.pro has 250 employees and over 150 clients. Many major investors work with Gain.pro, such as CVC, KKR and Blackstone, as well as international M&A advisors, such as Goldman Sachs, UBS and William Blair. This also applies to all Dutch banks, the large consultancies and the “big four” accounting firms.
In the spring of 2022, Gain.pro announced that the company has raised €10 million in investment funds. Since then, that amount has been increased to €20 million, thanks to a fundraising effort that the company has not made public. “What are we going to do with it? We're investing it in expansion. First in America, then globally."
Can I conclude from this that Gain.pro will soon be opening an American office?
Nicola Ebmeyer: Yes, in 2024! In New York.
How do you feel about that?
It’s exciting, but also very, very fun. We went international quickly with Gain.pro. A year after founding, we were already in London and Frankfurt. Then in Warsaw. Our office in Bangalore opened just over a year ago. International thinking is in our DNA, and the American market is vast. So, yes, super exciting.
What characterizes your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Ambition and excellence. I've always aspired to think big, right from the start. Against all odds, even. When I left McKinsey, people said: what are you doing now, this might be the mistake of your life. But I wanted to achieve something big. My experience so far is that you reach that point by performing at an excellent level every day. And by sticking with it in the long term. Doing something half-heartedly doesn't work.
Didn't the reactions of others make you insecure at the time?
As an entrepreneur, there are always doubts, especially when you start. My career at McKinsey was going very well. Within five years, I was an engagement manager, and the path to partnership was open. But I saw an opportunity to start a business and thought: I'll go for it. The first year and a half were tough. We built the product and sold it to our first customers. The search for the right product-market fit created a lot of uncertainty. But our customers liked our product.
Are you someone who needs challenges?
It's true that I always want to take the next step, to choose the difficult path. When I was sixteen, I decided that if I wanted to be successful, I had to leave the small German village where I grew up. I went to England to learn English and then attended an American university. In the end, I have lived in eight different countries. Even now, with Gain.pro, I want to keep going further. Milestones like a new funding round or a certain revenue are nice, but enjoying them? My brain is already thinking about the next step. What's next, where can I improve something?'
Is that a drive to prove yourself?
What do you want to prove?
That I can do it, I think. While I have never felt pressure from family or friends, it comes from within. But now that I think about it, I'm not sure if it's really about proving something. I just have a lot of energy. I wake up in the morning with a smile, even if it's four o'clock. Let's go. I want to use that energy constructively. Otherwise, I get bored.
Gain.pro has seen 100% year-on-year growth so far. How do you explain that?
Two things: hard work and a complete focus on the customer. We have been on the other side of the table ourselves and want to build the product that the customer wants. We don't take shortcuts, and we give it our all. In the Gain.pro culture, every employee is an entrepreneur; even our developers talk about investors and EBITDA. Everything revolves around the customer.
Which decision has contributed to the success?
In the beginning, we could have delved deep into the Dutch market, but we already clearly expressed the ambition to become a global player. Such ambition motivates the people who work with us.
You really aim for big goals.
Absolutely. Always. I wanted to go to the best university, get the best grades, and have the best jobs. I competed in gymnastics, and I wanted to excel at that too.
Fast growth is nice, but it can also lead to growing pains. What have you noticed at Gain.pro?
We started with five people, now we have 250 employees. That makes communication more challenging. We believe it's important that everyone knows exactly what they need to do every day and how their work contributes to our goals. If we don't communicate that clearly, people sometimes work on things they find interesting or think are important but that the company doesn't need. With so many new people in different locations, it's crucial that I continue to talk about our vision, our DNA and our culture. Even the analyst in Bangalore needs to know exactly why we're doing something. So yes, communication is a topic. But we're working on it.'
It seems difficult to find the middle ground between the credo "every employee is an entrepreneur" and your well-defined vision.
It is difficult. On the one hand, I do think you have to give people room for ownership, for freedom. I give employees time to earn my trust. In the beginning, I stay close, and if things go well, I let go. But even with employees who have been here for two or three years, I sometimes delve into the details if I consider it important. I don't think it's right to let go too quickly.
How do you make decisions?
Fairly easily. I am rational; usually, I take some time - sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes a day, depending on the decision - and then I look closely at the data. I truly have a data-driven mind.
At McKinsey, I learned to think analytically and break down complex issues into smaller, manageable pieces. It still helps me a lot, giving me the confidence to make tough decisions. Like opening an office in New York. I'm not afraid of big numbers or ambiguity.
What employees and the management team sometimes struggle with is that I can easily change my mind. For example, based on new information or realizing that I misinterpreted information.
Don't you find it difficult to admit you were wrong?
No. I always try to make the right decision based on the data available at that moment. The world changes every day, and I must be able to revise my opinion. Besides, I am ultimately responsible. I cannot support a decision I no longer stand behind 100%.
Was there a decision that gave you sleepless nights?
At the end of 2019, we opened a large office in London and hired many new people. We were doing great, but it required significant investments. Then COVID came. Within a week, our sales agenda was empty, and I wondered how we would pay for that office and all those people.
Did you start doubting yourself?
Yes, definitely. But I had two options: keep doubting or take action. I chose the latter. I explored what we needed to do to gain more financial flexibility, such as reducing variable costs. And I asked myself: how can we still add value for our customers? We focused on sectors that were doing well during the pandemic, like remote working setups, and provided free analyses. It was appreciated. In the same summer, the customers and revenue returned, and it turned out to be a good year. We still grew by 100% during that time.
Of course, you didn't know it would turn out so well. Did you ever think of quitting during that time?
No, never. But it was tough. Normally, I always look forward to going to work, no matter how tired I am. But there were days when I didn't enjoy it as much. However, I still believed very strongly in my vision and product. And I thought: I can do it. Quitting was not an option.
What do you consider your biggest entrepreneurial mistake overall?
Especially in the beginning, I was too loyal to people. At that time, we had many generalists who wore multiple hats – they were involved in both the product and marketing, for example. But as we grew, we needed more focus. It was challenging for me to tell the early employees, "I'm hiring someone else who can do this better than you." I built positions around people instead of finding the perfect match for the role.
Did that come at a cost?
Looking back, I think we might have grown faster if I had approached it differently. I still find it a difficult balance. Loyalty is important, of course. But it's better for the company to hire the right people, be clear about expectations and not make things seem better than they are. A sales job is a sales job; you have to meet your quotas and targets. Ideas you have for the product are less important in that role. I've learned to be more direct. People now know exactly what tasks they were hired for.
Will there ever be a point when you can let go of Gain.pro?
I've just become a mother, but I always say: Gain.pro was my first child. I am the company, and vice versa. Still, I am rational enough to say that the person best suited for it should lead Gain.pro.'
In what ways could someone else be better?
At the moment, I have the most knowledge. And I love to dive into the details; you can picture me in Excel. But growth might require a different skill set. If we have a few thousand employees, there might be a need for someone with an eye for internal politics. Something I might be less suited for.
Would you be willing to acknowledge that?
Yes, I'm always open to feedback. We say "feedback is a gift" here, so my team can give it to me too.
What feedback do you receive?
I do get feedback that I should involve people more in my thought process. My standards are very high - for myself and others. I used to sit down with employees in front of a screen, and in the past, it would usually go something like: look, we're doing it like this and this and this. Now, I try to give the other person time to come to the same conclusion calmly.
That seems like a challenge for someone with your drive.
It's incredibly difficult. I remember someone wanting to send an email that I didn't approve of. I rewrote the entire email, even though a few suggestions would have been enough. In reality, I want to be okay with the idea that others have the freedom to do things their way. It's a process, and I'm still in the middle of it. But I'm working on it.
So, growth within your company primarily demands change from you.
It's part of the journey. In life, we make mistakes; we need to keep growing and be open to change.
You say it with a big smile. What do you consider the biggest personal gain in the past five years?
I'm happy and proud. The people who expressed doubts in the early days now say: I wish I had dared to do it too. I see it as the best decision of my life. Over the past five years, I've gained the confidence that if you work hard and treat the people you meet well, things will turn out fine. Whatever "fine" may mean.
Writer: Belinda Fallaux
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