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Chris Cardell

Interview with Christian Lanng (Tradeshift)

Tradeshift is a free web-based invoicing tool.

I interviewed Christian Lanng, Tradeshift co-founder to find out more. This interview is the hundred and sixteenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Christian!

How would you describe Tradeshift in under 50 words?

Tradeshift connects businesses on a secure online network to help them work collaboratively and manage tasks such as invoicing and cash flow. In the Tradeshift business cloud, companies create a network with their suppliers, customers and partners to streamline common business processes powered by the latest social technologies.

What made you decide to start working on Tradeshift?

The initial driver behind Tradeshift was frustration with business solutions and technologies that were currently available. Soon however we realised that a fundamental shift in the focus of business networks was needed to truly change things. We wanted to create a new kind of network – one that focused on people and business relationships.

How did you come up with the name?

Originally, we were working with the stealth name “Porta” but it soon became clear that we weren’t going to be able to get the domains we needed so went back to the drawing board. This was all accelerated when suddenly we had an enquiry from Wired and were about to appear on TechCrunch as well…

With 24 hours to go, we made a very long list of possibilities – but the second we saw Tradeshift, we knew it ticked all the right boxes. It felt revolutionary, it felt like it summed up what we wanted to achieve – and it also led to our slogan “shift happens”. Sometimes the least expected ideas are the best!

Where is Tradeshift based?

Tradeshift was founded in Copenhagen but now has offices globally including London and, most recently, San Francisco.

What technologies have you used to build Tradeshift?

Tradeshift is a 100% cloud-based platform, built from the ground up on open standards and open source technology. You can interact with Tradeshift using our REST API, and we exchange documents in UBL, an open XML standard for business documents which was co-created by Jon Bosak, one of the creators of XML who is also sitting on our board. We have used technologies such as Java, Spring, Groovy and javascript to realize our solution. We built our own continuous deployment pipeline using technologies such as puppet and MCollective.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Tradeshift?

When you’re concentrating on something designed to connect every business in the world, scalability is always a key challenge – but when you match that with a financial service that needs the security of a bank, like Tradeshift, you’re really pushing things.

On Tradeshift, everything happens in the cloud which takes an enormous burden off of the infrastructure and makes everything very secure. It has taken some of the world’s best software engineers out there to put this highly sophisticated technology together.

How long did it take to put together Tradeshift?

From first concept to launch was a very intense ten months. Of course, that’s calendar time – in reality we had a fleet of software teams working on it. We slept about two hours a night!

Tradeshift was valued at $137m in the last investment round-up. Why has nobody heard of TradeShift yet?

In the world of B2B tech, we’ve only been around a couple of years but have already appeared in everything from TechCrunch to the Wall Street Journal, FT and beyond. We might not be as sexy as Facebook but as we approach 100,000 customers – including big names like the NHS – we are becoming mission critical and have some powerful advocates.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Our latest offering, rolling out at the moment, is Tradeshift Instant Payments. This feature revolutionises the supply chain finance industry by giving businesses immediate access to money stuck in approved invoices. Once the buyer accepts your invoice through Tradeshift, you just press a button and the money is yours – at very favourable rates.

Tell us about your first startup, launched when you were 19 years old.

I’d just read a book about how cool it was to start a company and, just like the author, my friends and I found ourselves hanging out and geeking out making things, so why not. it was about making a little money from doing what we were doing anyway.

Six months into that and we were building websites for companies and doing creative. At that point, Siemens approached us about creating a browser for the mobile web. And that led to us making one of the first ever mobile browsers in 1998.

In 2010, Tradeshift was awarded Best Enterprise at the TechCrunch Europa awards and Most Innovative Solution by Financial-I. In 2011 it was also highly commended for ‘Kicking ass globally’ at the TechCrunch Europas. In what way is Tradeshift innovative?

In the purest way possible really – we’re trying something that has never existed before. Look at something like Skype which essentially took your telephone system and ran it across the web more cheaply, more efficiently and with new features. That’s the kind of thing we’re doing here – but with all your business processes.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

A key thing I learned was that you shouldn’t think about the market too much. After a certain point, you should just get down and make whatever you think has potential. The greatest ideas are always independent of trends – be sure you have confidence in your idea.

Where do you see Tradeshift in 5 years time?

I believe we will have really proven the benefits of connecting Tradeshift around the globe and will be close to connecting most companies – large and small – worldwide.

Has Tradeshift got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

We’ve been delighted with the feedback so far and we’re thankfully staying on top of the meteoric growth so far – partly because of some vital design decisions up front.

How many users does Tradeshift have at present?

Tradeshift does have paying customers and is approaching 100,000 companies across 190 countries. Businesses on the Tradeshift platform include ASP NHS, the French Government, Kuehne+Nagel, TDC, DT Group and DSV, with more to be announced this year.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Because the scale of Tradeshift’s offering goes beyond anything that has been done before, there are no competitors and there are also thousands! When you think about creating a network through which all organisations can conduct their business transactions, that naturally plays into many many areas – but at the same time can really complement them. We have lots of companies trying to do a little bit of the jigsaw, but only Tradeshift joins it all up in one place.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Like any startup, it’s always going to be that initial hurdle of uncertainty while you’re still proving what your business can do and that your idea is solid. That means everything from the struggle to get in front of the right people for funding to the possibility that someone else might be working on a similar idea in parallel and beat you to the punch.

Thankfully we’re past much of that now but it’s the journey that faces anyone with a fresh idea today.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting up?

Don’t be afraid to break stuff – get out there and try new things, if it breaks then you know you’re probably along the right lines. Once you unearth those areas, don’t hide from them, confront the challenge and address it. You’ll always end up with something stronger and superior.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

For our industry, I think people pushing the possibilities of big data are doing some really exciting work today. Beyond that, I look forward to seeing a lot of the near breaking waves of 2011, like mobile, finally reaching critical mass and showing the fruits of their labour.

Can you convince the reader to start using Tradeshift in under 50 words?

One day, we will all do business this way – and it will be because Tradeshift is the most advanced, efficient and effective way to work with other companies, and one you’ll want to share with everyone you know.

Finished reading? Check out Tradeshift!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 at 4:07 pm GMT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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