20VC How To Raise $200m In Any Economic Climate, Scale From Garage To Global In Record Time & The Biggest Startup You Have Not Heard About with Christian Lanng, Founder & CEO @ Tradeshift

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 minutes VC," host Harry Stebings interviews Christian Lang, the visionary founder and CEO of Tradeshift, a company revolutionizing business interactions with a network-connected cloud platform. Lang shares his entrepreneurial journey from digitizing invoices in Denmark to reshaping the EU's digital landscape, emphasizing the transformative potential of technology in global trade and the job market. He also discusses the impact of automation and the necessity of sustainable energy solutions to mitigate job displacement. Lang's unique approach to VC fundraising, his insights on brand importance in B2B, and his take on universal basic income and competition in the software industry are also explored. With over $200 million in funding, Tradeshift's growth story reflects Lang's innovative thinking and his ability to attract investment from diverse global sources.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the Podcast and Guest

  • Harry Stebbings is the host of the 20 minutes VC podcast.
  • Christian Lang is the featured guest, founder and CEO of Tradeshift.
  • Tradeshift is a startup aiming to transform business operations with a significant global presence and substantial funding.
  • Christian Lang is recognized as a visionary European entrepreneur.

You are listening to the 20 minutes VC with your host Harry Stebbings, found on Snapchat at H Stepbings with two B's. I'd absolutely love to see you there. And for the show today, being a founder's Friday, we have an incredible founder in the hot seat for you today. So joining me we have Christian Lang. Now. Christian is the founder and CEO at Tradeshift, the startup with the vision to transform the way businesses work.

The quote introduces the podcast and the guest, highlighting the significance of both the host and the entrepreneur being interviewed.

Christian Lang's Entrepreneurial Journey

  • Christian started his first startup at 19 years old in 1998.
  • He was inspired by the book "Microserfs" by Douglas Coupland.
  • After a period post-2001, he returned to the startup world when he met Morten Lund.
  • Christian saw the potential for business networks in the cloud, which led to the founding of Tradeshift.

Yeah, I did my first startup when I was 19 years old, way before it. It was even cool back in 98. Read the book microserfs by Douglas Kuplan. I thought, this is what I have to do with my life.

Christian Lang discusses his early inspiration and the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey, tracing back to a book that influenced his career path.

The Vision Behind Tradeshift

  • Tradeshift was founded with the vision of bringing networking to business operations.
  • Christian observed that while consumer platforms had embraced networking, business platforms had not.
  • The idea was to create a new generation of network-connected business applications.

And we decided, you know what? That's going to be the next big thing for business. And that's why and how we founded tradeshift.

This quote encapsulates the founding vision of Tradeshift, emphasizing the gap in the market that the company aimed to fill.

Globalization of Technology vs. Jobs

  • Christian believes the discussion on job globalization should shift to technology globalization.
  • He points out that technology, not trade, is the primary driver of job market changes.
  • 80% of vanished US manufacturing jobs were replaced by technology, not outsourced.
  • Technology will continue to level the playing field, especially with advancements in AI and automated manufacturing.

I think while we talk about globalization, we forget that technology is actually the biggest driver in change. In the job market, 80% of the jobs that disappeared in us manufacturing did not go to China. They went to technology.

The quote provides insight into Christian's perspective on the impact of technology on the global job market, suggesting that the focus should be on technology's role in economic changes.

Bottlenecks in Automation

  • Current robots are considered primitive, capable of only simple tasks.
  • The bottleneck for automation is the limited number of tasks a robot can perform.
  • Advancements in neural networks and machine learning can increase the capabilities of robots.
  • Robots are beginning to train each other to perform more complex tasks, which improves capital efficiency in automation.

So, I mean, actually right now robots are extremely primitive. We see these big automated factories and we think, wow, this is really fascinating. But they're super primitive.

This quote highlights the current limitations of automation technology and the potential for future growth and sophistication through machine learning and neural networks.

Impact of Technology on Productivity and Job Landscape

  • Technological advancements are expected to significantly boost productivity.
  • There is a rapid alteration in the job landscape due to these advancements.

night. And I think these kind of things is going to be huge boosts to productivity and obviously also going to be rapidly outering the job landscape.

The quote suggests that technological advancements are anticipated to enhance productivity and change the current job market.

Globalization and Technological Leadership

  • The ability to address the declining job market will determine the leader in the technology race between the East and West.
  • Embracing technology quickly without preparing social systems for the transition could lead to societal shocks.

Look, overall, I actually think how you deal with the declining job market globally is probably going to be the biggest decider of who wins.

Christian Lan posits that managing the global job market decline will be critical in determining the leader in the technological race.

Role of Renewable Energy in Mitigating Social Impact

  • Investment in free renewable energy is crucial to lessen social impacts as jobs decline.
  • Renewable energy can enable the production of food and other necessities, reducing the problem of job market restructuring.

Because if you have free renewable energy, we have less of a social impact as jobs go, because we can actually produce food, we can produce almost anything we want.

Christian Lan advocates for investing in renewable energy to mitigate the social impact of job losses by facilitating the production of essential goods.

Energy as a Fundamental Constraint

  • The majority of daily consumption is tied to energy costs.
  • Reducing energy costs can diminish the negative effects of technology on jobs.
  • Serious consideration for reducing energy costs is necessary given current global events.

Yeah, absolutely right. I mean, if you think about the most of the things we consume on a daily basis, it comes down to energy cost.

Christian Lan confirms that energy costs are a fundamental constraint affecting daily consumption and the job market.

Universal Basic Income as a Solution

  • Universal basic income (UBI) has both significant benefits and drawbacks.
  • UBI can lead to larger ambitions, but it may also reduce the drive to achieve.
  • Countries like Denmark with UBI are seeing a new generation of ambitious startups.

I mean, I come from a country know we essentially have universal basic income already implemented.

Christian Lan discusses the implementation of UBI in Denmark and its effects on ambition and innovation.

Competition in the B2B Software Space

  • The current B2B software sales approach is flawed, with companies like Ariba acting as toll gates without adding value.
  • Hostages, not customers, are created when users are forced to use certain software.
  • Learning from consumer software, focusing on customer success, and making users love the software are crucial for a strong market position.

I mean, be very frank. Right. I think most of the b two b software space, the way we've been selling, the way we've been approached, it is pretty fucked if you look at it, right...

Christian Lan criticizes the traditional B2B software sales approach and suggests a customer-centric model similar to consumer software.

Importance of B2B Branding

  • Branding in B2B has not been a central focus for some companies, yet it has not hindered their growth.
  • The relevance of brand in the B2B space, borrowing from the consumer software sector, where brand is essential.

So what I'm asking is, how central do you think b to B brand is then, considering it's not been front and center for you in your growth and has never stalled you in you

Harry Stebbings questions the importance of branding in the B2B sector, referencing the company Tradeshift as an example.

Importance of Brand in B2B

  • Branding is crucial even in B2B sectors.
  • Recognition within the targeted demographic is key.
  • CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are aware of Christian's company.
  • Branding can be viewed as boring but is essential as it represents the "plumbing of the global economy."
  • Standing out is beneficial, and startups are recognized for innovation.
  • Being different from competitors can be part of a brand's identity.
  • Understanding the audience is important; competing with companies like SAP and Oracle on branding is easier than with consumer brands like Snapchat.

"I think it's important to be very well known within the segment that making decisions of who you're interested in talking to."

This quote emphasizes the significance of brand awareness within a specific target market, particularly for decision-makers in that segment.

"How we structure our global supply chains is essentially how we structure the economy."

This quote relates the importance of supply chain to the overall structure of the global economy, highlighting the significance of what might otherwise be seen as a mundane aspect of business.

"I wear sneakers and cap to most of my meetings."

Christian uses personal style as an example of how branding can differentiate oneself in the B2B space, even in interactions with high-level executives.

Fundraising in Different Economic Climates

  • TradeShift started in 2008 during an economic downturn.
  • Early stages involved working for equity due to lack of jobs.
  • Fundraising in a down cycle can lead to less competition and more opportunity to stand out.
  • Persistence is key in fundraising; Christian pitched over a thousand times.
  • It's important to be authentic and believe in one's own company during pitches.

"The first nine months we're essentially just working off tweets to try to get free work."

This quote describes the initial struggle of starting a business during an economic crisis and using creative means to compensate for the lack of funds.

"You need to compete harder. And a lot of your competitors, I mean, if you're fundraising or in an industry that's in an upcycle, everybody has money and everybody's trying to do something."

Christian explains the difference in fundraising dynamics between economic upcycles and downcycles, with downcycles requiring more effort to secure funding.

"I probably pitched 1000 plus times. And that's probably even an underestimate to raise the capital we raised."

This quote highlights the extensive effort and numerous pitches required to raise significant capital, illustrating the tenacity needed in fundraising.

Evolution of Fundraising and Investor Relations

  • Initial awe of investors can be counterproductive.
  • Confidence and belief in one's product are essential.
  • As a company grows, the focus shifts to data and metrics.
  • Investors have become more sophisticated, especially in SaaS.
  • Educating investors about new concepts is necessary and time-consuming.
  • The industry has become more crowded, increasing the need for differentiation.

"You got to believe more even than the vc that you are the best, right?"

Christian reflects on the importance of self-belief and confidence when pitching to investors, suggesting that entrepreneurs should have even more faith in their venture than potential investors.

"As you move from c to d round, it's all about the data, right?"

This quote indicates that as a company progresses through funding rounds, the emphasis shifts towards concrete performance data and metrics.

"Everybody knows the metrics. And I think you need to educate your investors about something new."

Christian comments on the current sophistication level of investors and the necessity for entrepreneurs to bring something new to the table to capture their interest.

Networking and Inspiration

  • Christian's networking approach is considered unconventional.
  • Inspiring others is part of the networking process.
  • The ability to network effectively has contributed to successful fundraising.

Unfortunately, the transcript provided does not include details about Christian's networking strategies or how he inspires others, as the conversation on this topic was not completed in the excerpt. Therefore, no quotes or explanations can be provided on this theme.

Globalization of Capital

  • The concept of venture capital is often associated with Silicon Valley, specifically Sandhill Road.
  • Christian Lan emphasizes the importance of looking beyond local VC ecosystems and leveraging global networks.
  • Tradeshift focused on working with investors who have a long-term perspective, rather than those looking for rapid turnover.
  • Christian advises against the desperation often seen in fundraising, suggesting a more strategic approach through networking.
  • He highlights the abundance of capital worldwide and the importance of finding investors who are interested in unique and standout ideas.

"Capital is global today, right? I think lots of startups sitting in Silicon Valley, when you say vc to them, they think Sandhill Road."

This quote introduces the idea that the concept of venture capital is often geographically limited in the minds of many startups, despite the global availability of capital.

"We want to work with investors who have the long term view, who is not necessarily classic funds with rapid turnover, but who is almost more like Greenfield, who can think long term."

Christian Lan describes the type of investors Tradeshift seeks—those with a long-term investment strategy rather than short-term, rapid turnover funds.

"There is more capital than ever before in the world and they're all looking for things that stand."

Christian points out that there is an abundance of capital globally, and investors are searching for distinctive and compelling opportunities.

Quick Fire Round

Favorite Book

  • Christian Lan's current favorite book is "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck."
  • He recommends the book for its message on conserving energy for important matters.

"Because essentially it shows you how many stupid things you spend your energy on every day you shouldn't spend your energy on."

Christian explains that the book provides insight into the unnecessary concerns that consume people's daily energy, suggesting a more selective approach to caring.

Changes in Startups and VC

  • Christian Lan advocates for more diversity in VC funds and portfolios.
  • He observes that the tech space is crowded with similar ventures and encourages thinking outside the conventional scope.
  • Christian sees an opportunity in longer investment cycles of 10-15 years, aligning more closely with the time it takes to develop significant projects.

"Probably more diversified funds from the VC side, more diversified portfolios."

Christian calls for greater diversification in venture capital to foster a broader range of innovation.

"There's a huge opportunity in the ten to 15 year cycles because that's honestly how long it takes to develop the big things in this world, if not longer."

He highlights the mismatch between typical VC funding cycles and the actual time required to develop substantial innovations, suggesting longer funding cycles as an opportunity.

Biggest Mentor

  • Christian Lan has had various mentors at different stages of his career.
  • Early on, he was mentored by Morton Lund; later, he received guidance from influential figures such as Pete Hoffman and Luna Fens.
  • These mentors provided him with insights on different aspects of business and strategy.

"Different mentors at different stages."

Christian emphasizes the importance of having mentors throughout different phases of one's career.

Favorite Blog or Newsletter

  • Christian Lan enjoys content from Dave Pell, and listens to podcasts such as 20 Minute VC and SaaStr by Jason Lemkin.
  • He values humor and industry insights in the content he consumes.

"Dave Pell is probably one of them I really love."

Christian identifies Dave Pell as a content creator he particularly enjoys for his humor.

"Podcast 20 minutes vc obviously Jason Lemkin and Saster is a must read for any startup SAS CEO."

He recommends specific podcasts and blogs that are essential for startup CEOs in the SaaS industry for their valuable insights.

The Next Five Years for Tradeshift

  • Tradeshift aims to achieve global dominance in the next five years.
  • The focus will be on networked and AI-driven software, moving away from centralized data stores to distributed networks.
  • Christian Lan believes in the future of business technology that leverages these distributed networks for decision-making.

"All of the ape software in the world in the future is going to be networked, it's going to be AI driven."

Christian predicts a shift towards AI and networked solutions in the future of enterprise software.

Show Appreciation and Recommendations

  • Harry Stebbings expresses gratitude for Christian Lan's participation and highlights his humble and enjoyable personality.
  • Acknowledgment is given to Morton Lund and Matt Oko for facilitating Christian's appearance on the show.
  • Harry promotes his Snapchat and blog, inviting feedback and engagement.
  • Harry also endorses X.AI for AI-powered personal assistant services and Workable as a comprehensive recruiting tool for startups.

"It's been such a pleasure to have you on the show today."

Harry Stebbings conveys his appreciation for Christian Lan's contribution to the podcast.

"A big thanks to Morton Lund and Matt Oko for the intro today to Christian, without which the show would not have been possible."

Harry acknowledges the individuals who made Christian Lan's appearance on the show possible.

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