PaySpace Magazine Global has reached out to Günther Vogelpoel, CEO of Recharge.com, to discuss the company’s $35 million funding round and further plans.
Could you briefly tell us about your background? Why did you decide to pursue your career in this industry?
My background is in telecoms. I have worked in the sector for 15 years, from the late 90s until the early 2010s. During that time I worked for Tele2, a Swedish company, a real challenger company that was conquering markets and winning consumers. As the company grew, so did my career there, and I ended up being responsible for the company’s business expansion and customer base in Western Europe.
But after 15 years, the telecoms sector had changed and many new companies- particularly digital companies, were coming to market offering over-the-top services. I was still young enough to pivot my career and follow the industry’s transformation. I wanted to have a piece of the action as well and to become more entrepreneurial, so I stepped out of telecoms and went looking for a new opportunity. I discovered the founders of Recharge, who in 2009 launched a business that gave consumers the ability to top up their mobile phones online. This might not seem exciting today, but ten years ago this was a new opportunity that had great business potential.
When I met them in 2016, I had already started up my own business and it was doing really well. But I saw the potential to grow Recharge into a global company, which at that time had 20 people working in the Netherlands. I knew that if we approached this business with the right resources, funding, and technology we could create a major company – and that’s why I decided to get in. I invested a bit of myself in the company and became the CEO nearly five years ago, while the original founders remained shareholders. They don’t get too involved in the company now – they trust me now with their baby!
What is the Recharge mission?
Recharge aims to offer branded payments fast, safe, and simple for everyone around the world. Branded payments are a form of alternate payment method. You might be already using branded payments in forms like gift cards or prepaid payment cards for “brands” like Xbox, Spotify, Netflix, mobile phone top ups and more. As you might have observed, branded payments are prepaid cards with a specific limit.
There’s many varieties of branded gift cards and top up phone cards and often it’s very complicated for consumers to buy them. They either need to go offline to a kiosk or to a shop to purchase. If they go online, there’s not that many good websites where you can find the specific credit that you want and then you need to pay for it with a payment method that you don’t have. What Recharge does is make this all very simple. We offer a broad assortment of card options and in just three simple steps, you can buy any kind of credit, and we deliver it instantly in your email.
Congratulations on closing a multi-million Series B round of funding. What are your thoughts regarding further plans?
We already have a good plan for expanding into new countries and new products, and this is something that we are going to continue. We will be putting extra money into the US, Canadian, Mexican markets as they offer Recharge a huge potential for growth. Many people live in North America and they are also very prepaid credit and gift card-minded.
Earlier this year we expanded into the GCC region, starting with Saudi Arabia and UAE. There’s a lot of growth potential in these countries l, and we are looking at other nations in the region as well to roll out our services in the next year.
In addition to global expansion, we are looking at other business initiatives. As a mobile-first company, I think our app is something that we can enhance to deliver better and more service options for our customers. In this day and age, there are so many different banking and wallet functionalities. It’s very interesting for us to also look at these kinds of services and what we can integrate into our platform in the future.
Recharge plans to introduce its own financial services and banking products. Where will they be initially available?
We will start in Europe because it takes some time to manage all the regulatory requirements to roll out banking services. At the moment, we are forging these important relationships and figuring out how to launch our services and banking products in our region. Europe is still our home turf and we understand how it works. If we can succeed on this continent, then we definitely want to replicate our success in other regions as well.
Recharge also has its platform for international mobile top-ups. And since the global pandemic caused a dramatic rise in scams, has COVID affected this field as well?
Definitely. Many people could not leave their homes as a result of social distancing measures, and we’re therefore dependent on online sales points. Out of necessity people changed their shopping behavior and instead of going to a shop, they were going online and quickly got used to the convenience of it all. Shopping in this way became the new norm for customers – and not just a one-time purchase or a one-time try scenario. Now that they have discovered the online channel experience and all of its efficiency they remain a customer, and this a very positive development for us as an online business!
You are currently present across more than 150 countries worldwide. Which countries or regions do you consider the most promising in terms of running your business?
We offer international mobile top-up in 150 nations around the world but we also offer a full assortment of digital goods and gift cards in 20 countries – and that number is growing with our expansion plans. Our most successful markets to date are Germany and France, but countries where we have recently launched our services, such as Spain and Italy are also doing well and are very promising. There’s still a lot of potential for us in Europe. The other regions that we have high expectations for are the Americas, starting in the US and Canada, and Mexico. LatAm is also hot right now – as they are going through a rapid digitalization of services. And we are keeping a sharp eye on that region. Also, we launched in GCC and we see GCC as a stepping board to other Southeast Asian and African countries.
What makes Recharge different from other companies?
It would have to be our company culture. Recharge is growing quickly and conquering new markets, and it’s very important to have the right people on board to scale up the business effectively. And for me, the right people are not only the people that have the right capabilities, or knowledge, but also the right mindset. A company should feel like a safe place for people to work. So in our culture, one of our values is to ensure the wellbeing of staff, so we don’t tolerate negative or bullying behavior, or talking behind people’s backs, or being judgmental. We really want to teach our employees that negative behavior is counterproductive and will not help us to collaborate together or help the company grow. The feedback I get from the staff is that they appreciate the space we give them. And that they feel we are very employee-focused and are part of a caring environment. We also embrace diversity and have employees from 32 nationalities working with us.
Many people left their homes, and are far away from their loved ones, and colleagues at Recharge are like family to them. The needs of our employees are important and I take this aspect of my job very seriously. During Covid, we spent a lot of time softening the world-life balance circumstances of staff who needed to work remotely. But to be honest, I think there is a limit to what you can do when you are away from the office. I’m not in favor of remote working and I know, there are other people who think differently about it. In my opinion, if you want to build what we are building, it’s an adventure that is best enjoyed when you do it together as a team. That is what brings people joy. While I remain a big advocate for having people in the office, COVID has taught us that it’s okay to work a bit from home as well. So if you need one day or two days at home, super, but the default is that we work better with each other in the office.
In your opinion, what is your greatest achievement while being in the role of CEO?
There have been many highlights working for a company that you are helping to build. . However, the recent funding round and the new opportunities it creates have been a personal highlight in my career at Recharge. I worked in a corporate environment for years and in a company like Tele2 we did many big things there but it was already a huge business and it was difficult to feel the impact or influence that you had. In big companies, you play a role, you play a part, but it’s hard to assess what you’ve achieved for a business that’s already established. At Recharge, I helped to build a business from the ground up. I started four years ago with people in the east of the Netherlands and now we have 150 employees. With our latest round of funding, we are also in a better position than ever to reach our goals. Not by myself, but with the team that we built as well. If we succeed, then that would be the best thing I ever achieved in my career.