Just seven months ago, the Bulgarian payment and expense management startup Payhawk raised a record-breaking $20M Series A round. Back then, it seemed possible that this news could turn out to be the most noteworthy milestone for the local tech community in 2021. Well, it won’t be, not even close.
Today, Payhawk announces a $112M Series B round as transaction volume on its platform has increased by 663% since April. The investment is led by US VC firm Greenoaks, whose portfolio features iconic names like Stripe, Robinhood, Checkout.com, Deliveroo, and Discord. All existing investors, QED, Earlybird Digital East, and Sofia-based Eleven Ventures, have joined again. Currently, the valuation of Payhawk stands at $570M, which puts the fintech startup in an even better position to become the first Bulgarian unicorn*.
“Our plan was to close a new round next summer, but our growth continued to accelerate and we decided to raise now and accelerate our market position much faster. We have the best product on the market, and we decided that now is the time to blitzscale the business with aggressive growth in multiple countries at the same time,” shares Hristo Borisov, co-founder and CEO of Payhawk, in front of The Recursive.
The funds will be used to fuel Payhawk’s expansion to new locations like the U.S., The Netherlands, Australia, and Singapore while accelerating the company’s product roadmap with the launch of a credit card offering and low-cost cross-border transfers. The global team is expected to grow from 70 to 250 people in 2022.
In Bulgaria, Payhawk will be looking to hire another 60 software engineers, part of “the top 1% of talent in the country”. Sofia will continue to be the team’s product and business strategy headquarters.
“Payhawk really is an example of what a “perfect company” looks like – big, growing and underserved market, a strong founding team with a lot of complementary knowledge, amazing technology that gives it an edge, strong business model and unit economics, very capable at fundraising and deploying the capital to grow, great people and culture, and a strong support network,” says Vassil Terziev, managing partner at Eleven Ventures, for The Recursive.
So far Payhawk has raised over $136M in total.
$112 million in context
- Started three years ago, Payhawk has become the fastest company in Central and Eastern Europe to reach Series B and pass $100M in VC funding.
- This is also the second largest ever Series B for a B2B company in CEE, beaten only by UiPath’s $153M round back in 2018.
- Looking at the entire continent, it’s the third largest Series B round for a European fintech company in 2021, after Austrian unicorn Bitpanda and UK-based Paysend.
- In addition, it’s the largest and fastest ever Series B in the spend management space across Europe.
- Last but not least, Payhawk has now closed the biggest funding round in the history of the Bulgarian tech ecosystem and it has almost doubled the valuation of Telerik, which was sold to Progress for $262.5M back in 2014.
Why is so much money invested in the automation of corporate spending?
“Ask any business owner, and they’ll tell you that managing corporate spend is among the most frustrating parts of running a company. It requires significant manual work that consumes employee time and introduces substantial room for error. Payhawk turns a fragmented process into a seamless one, providing a single place to manage the entire spending lifecycle from company cards to expenses and bill payments to invoices. We’ve been thrilled to see how fast they’ve grown, already serving a truly global customer base that’s attracted by powerful and delightful software. We think that painful expense reports and bill payments should be a thing of the past, and we are excited to partner with Payhawk on the way to getting there,” states Patrick Backhouse, a Partner аt Greenoaks.
As explained by Payhawk, finance teams are still bound to a high amount of manual work as they are using multiple disconnected tools for cards, payments, invoices, and expense management. Payhawk reduces the amount of manual work by combining those key elements in one platform and therefore acting as a one-stop-shop for finance teams. According to Borisov, managing company cards, especially reports, bill payments, and invoices is currently a disconnected experience bridged by finance teams through a lot of manual work. Thus, the Bulgarian startup develops enterprise software running on global payments infrastructure that automates all spend processes.
As we have previously discussed with Hristo Borisov, many recent trends have further expanded the market opportunity for Payhawk: just because of the pandemic:
- Businesses are now managing bigger online budgets;
- Many of the ones that are digitally enabled had the opportunity but also the challenge to scale their financial departments internationally;
- In general, the past couple of years have made enterprises more motivated to eliminate inefficiencies and cut unnecessary costs.
With high-growth companies, in particular, looking to digitize financial processes, Payhawk emerges as the leading platform for large SMEs and enterprise customers, especially those multinationals who have multiple offices worldwide.
Payhawk currently serves companies in 27 countries with its company cards and spend management platform across Europe. Its customer base consists of a mix of fast-growing and mature multinational companies like LuxAir, Lotto24, Viking Life, Gtmhub, Flink, MacPaw and By Miles.
The role of the VCs
While Greenoaks is probably not the most popular name in Silicon Valley, the firm appears to have achieved great returns in recent years, along with attracting several other names in its portfolio that are likely to pay off big time in the years to come. Now, the San Francisco-based VC will be aiding the growth of Payhawk on US soil.
“We had term sheets from multiple investors, but the reference calls I had with founders who were backed by Greenoaks were above and beyond my expectations. Greenoaks is also in a strong position to support us for the US market entry, so we are very excited to be getting on this growth journey together,” tells us Hristo Borisov.
(Actually, some of those references are public: “They understood our vision really, really deeply. And then they just leaned in super hard,” commented Henrique Dubugras, co-chief executive of US unicorn Brex, quoted in a Financial Times article.
While the pre-seed and seed days of Payhawk are now a thing of the past, it’s worth noting that the company emerged entirely in the local ecosystem – keeping its core business and product teams here, being backed by Bulgarian venture capital, and playing an active part of the tech community in the country.
Eleven Ventures has been part of Payhawk’s journey from the very beginning, contributing to the development of the foundation for the business. The firm joined as the first institutional investor in the company back in February 2019. (Vassil Terziev, now part of Payhawk’s board, was also among the first angels in the company, along with his Telerik co-founder Svetozar Georgiev).
“Before one line of code was written, Payhawk had validated its concept. Before the infrastructure, there had been over 20 iterations on the value proposition,” Terziev has told us previously.
What’s next for Payhawk?
Besides its global expansion, in 2022, Payhawk will be focusing on several key product developments – one of which is particularly interesting – a credit card.
“What sets Payhawk apart from other companies in the space is that we target larger businesses that have operations in multiple geographies. We often compete with established players like Amex or Citibank, and that is why having access to credit card facilities for our customers is important. Saving working capital of 500-600K euro per month and only paying that in 30 or 60 days gives a lot more flexibility for larger businesses and the way they manage their cash flow,” Hristo Borisov comments for The Recursive on the potential impact of this initiative.
This new ‘feature’ follows after in 2021, Payhawk introduced 3% cashback on all payments, new enterprise features, free bill payments, and support for Apple Pay and Google Pay in 30 countries.
Of course, moving forward, Payhawk will also be looking to grow further standard SaaS metrics: monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and Customer Health score (a measurement on customer engagement and likelihood of clients to renew and upgrade).
Assuming that in the future the company will stick to the traditional 12-18 months period between fundraising rounds, maybe we can expect unicorn valuation in early 2023?
*We’re using the definition of a unicorn, stated in Investopedia: as a term used in the VC sector to characterize a privately held startup business with a valuation of over $1B. For the purposes of our analysis above, we are considering only companies that have been founded and grown in Bulgaria, have at least one Bulgarian founder, and early-stage venture capital provided by a locally-based investor.