I love writing about startups and their path and challenges. This post is about a Belgian startup, founded by an ex-collegue of mine at SWIFT. The startup is called INTIX, and has a solution for a challenge specific to the financial industry: manage, access and analyse a financial institution’s accumulated financial messaging data.
Marc Braet, one of the co-founders of INTIX, and I met recently at Sibos and talked about his firm’s entrepreneurial journey and what motivates their specific brand of innovation. Marc Braet has worked in the financial industry from 1996 at SWIFT and other financial-related firms. His partner at INTIX, Wouter Van Santvliet, also has experience in the financial services industry at companies such as Beyers & Partners, Trax and Sungard, with his expertise focused more on the technology side. Together they decided to found INTIX in 2011.
“We were motivated to start our company because we had detected this opportunity in the market, and we believed we had the ability to offer a solution for it,” says Marc. “We have an entrepreneurial mindset and ambition that could best be satisfied by starting our own firm.”
“Our INTIX Message Warehouse solution is truly comprehensive in allowing institutions to access and analyze all types of financial messaging data,” says Marc. “Our solution supports all financial domains, such as payments, treasury, securities, trade, and includes the full spectrum of financial standards that apply. It delivers a qualitative support for large volumes of data.”
So far nothing that jumps out as big innovation. But I was intrigued by INTIX’s approach in developing their solution, since traditional development methods would have been too costly.
“With traditional development methods, supporting such a huge variety of data standards would have required a massive investment in R&D, which was more than we could have done as a small startup firm, and which would by default not be economically viable,” said Braet. “So instead, we applied a declarative approach based on formal specifications of these standards, which could be achieved through a relatively limited effort in R&D.”
Marc and Wouter developed the initial concept for the INTIX solution in 2010, and met with financial institutions to gather feedback and ideas for key features. They debuted a demo of the solution at SIBOS 2011 in Toronto, which was well received. In 2012, INTIX received an innovation subsidy from the Belgian Flemish government, which enabled INTIX to scale up its R&D efforts.
At SIBOS 2012 in Osaka, INTIX announced that they have signed a contract with KBC Bank in Belgium to deliver the INTIX Message Warehouse solution for that banking group, which is one of the largest banks in Belgium.
Marc told me about their journey from initial concept to thriving startup, and he offered some surprising lessons for other entrepreneurs.
“We started our company at a time of full economic crisis,” says Marc. “Although it might sound strange, this was actually an advantage to us. Because the economy was in recession and there was so much uncertainty, we were able to do a lot of R&D work in a slow, not very demanding market. As such, we were able to focus on improving our solution and we did not really have to miss any opportunities. Now we feel that the market is gearing up again, and we are ready to deliver a finished solution to our customers. So in a sense, the timing has been perfect for us.”
Marc also told me that one lesson of his company’s early stages is that you always need more money than you initially expected. “Almost every technology startup is going to be faced with delays in the R&D process, often because you end up doing more with the solution or offering different features than you initially planned. R&D is a discovery process of learning and adapting as you go along. We were fortunate to be awarded an innovation subsidy from the Belgian Flemish Government, which enabled us to keep refining our solution and keep hiring people. It takes time to hire good people for a startup firm, but it pays to be selective about who you hire. You need to hire people with the right skills who also have the right temperament and dedication.”
Very much echoing Pam Pecs Cytron, the CEO of PendoSystems, who I wrote about earlier, the key challenge the INTIX team encountered was that larger banks would say they were interested in the solution, but were reluctant to do business with a relatively new, unknown startup company. “We would be confronted with statements like, ‘You have a great solution, but you have to understand that we cannot buy from such a small player,’” says Marc. “However, it’s important to get your first contract and your first good customer reference – after that, your company and solution have more credibility. The first customer contract is the hardest to sign.”
I have been writing previously about the 3 Ps of innovation – patience, perseverance and passion.
The 3Ps of Innovation
Marc has learned the value of the 3Ps. He says: “One of the most important characteristics for startup success is to never give up and to believe in what you are doing. In our opinion, if you want to start a company in order to quickly become rich, that is not the right motivation. We are building a strong foundation for sustainable growth. We are a 100% privately funded startup firm with no third parties involved, and we are determined to grow in a financially healthy manner.”
INTIX is already making inroads into the European financial sector, and has also set up partnerships in regions like the Middle East and Russia. “We are working to cover the market outside of Europe by forming distribution channels and partnerships with established players,” said Braet. “We are still a young company, but we have global ambition!”
Good luck to Marc and INTIX.
This work by Kosta Peric is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.