Hi Alwin, welcome to our Fintech Interview Series. Could you please tell us about your journey in the technology industry? How did you arrive at Basware?
I started my journey by founding a cloud-based software company for processes in facilities/logistics/maintenance management. After growing it to one of the key players in Europe, I decided to look for a new challenge. I then started at Salesforce in Europe, which was not at the size that it is today. It was an amazing journey for those eight years as the company grew from 5,000 to 55,000 employees globally.
Then I found myself ready for a new challenge – I wanted to take all the learnings from my career journey to transform an established company. So, I started at a company called Software AG to transform their business into a cloud/subscription-based company focusing more on customer success, etc.
After a year or so, I realized I wanted to go back into a cloud-only business and work on the same transformation story. Basware had already completed its cloud transformation and was super successful with that. So now it’s about restructuring a customer-facing organization into a direction where we’re growing faster than our competitors. We are focusing the company fully on customer success and sharpening our responsibilities to help our organization learn about the differences, specifically how we strategically go to market between the on-premise and cloud world. We’ve already made some great strides together.
Could you tell us more about your role and responsibilities at Basware? How will your previous experience at Salesforce play a part?
My key responsibility at Basware is to grow revenue, specifically focusing on order intake and ways to grow it, as well as reducing churn.
What I learned during my tenure at Salesforce was how important it is to be a customer-centric company – it means all our thinking should be about how to help customers get the most out of our solutions. And that has gotten into my DNA.
So, to achieve this at Basware, it’s imperative that we align all our customer-facing functions, making sure we have the same targets and customer-centric mindsets so that we’re prepared to go forth and beat the competition.
What we’re doing at Basware is not a revolution, but an evolution based on all the great things Basware has already done. We’re looking to thrive and innovate in a new way by taking all our employees with us, on to the next level. The key is to empower our employees – they must see that we trust and listen to them. Everyone can learn and innovate from the ideas of others and we’re fortunate to have 1,500 employees with lots of different ideas and mindsets – that is a ton of diversity and the crucial source of innovation.
What important lessons did you learn during the initial pandemic days? How did you fall back on your experience and available technical / technological resources to stay on top of personal and business goals?
During the pandemic, I was in a bit of transition as I had departed from Salesforce, transitioned to Software AG and of course am now at Basware. When the pandemic began, I was at Salesforce and it was essentially business as usual because everything was always virtual. We never thought about needing to have face-to-face meetings with everyone together in a room. When there was a chance to do it, great, but otherwise it was always online meetings. To me, video calls are only a different medium. You can bring the same innovation to the table just as if you are sitting together in a room. Now, in the times we can safely meet in-person, I still find myself using the virtual whiteboard and/or having some individuals joining remotely. There is so much amazing technology out there to help you work virtually – and when you can meet in-person, that’s super too.
You have such a deep appreciation for Cloud solutions and Cloud business. In your opinion, what is the key to delivering solutions and value to enterprise organizations? How do Cloud solutions actually accelerate innovations in the P2P industry? What do you think about AI’s ground-breaking presence in everything that Cloud has to deliver today to various business software and solutions?
First, it’s important to clarify what cloud is. Cloud, in my opinion, is not deploying an on-premise solution in a cloud data center because that doesn’t really have an impact. Secondly, the main difference between cloud and on-premise businesses is not a feature or functionality; the key differentiator is the fact that the cloud solution is a new business model. In fact, less than half is about technology – it’s about mindset or methodology.
Back in the day, when you sold an on-premise license to a customer you could generate a lot of revenue at one point of time — at the beginning of project — and then there was a small maintenance stream afterward. That type of model forced the customer to implement it. A lot of companies thought, “Now that I have the money, I don’t need to care about the customer so much anymore.”
It’s the complete opposite in the cloud business. The subscription model doesn’t have a huge investment at the beginning and the customer pays in a continuous or annual rhythm. When the customer is not happy anymore, they can terminate the contract. For companies providing cloud services, they need to have happy customers that continue with services. In the old world, they got the money the first day!
This is why cloud companies have to operate in a completely different way than on-premise companies. This whole customer success theme means that a company like us must transform every single function in a way that yields happy customers who get the most value out of our solutions in the shortest amount of time – from finance to delivery to customer success to support to sales to marketing and through all other back-office functions.
And that’s the light-bulb point: cloud-based businesses must be all about customer-centricity. Then we can take intelligent technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to generate even more value to the customer in an automated way. That’s exactly how a company ties customers to the cloud model — by bringing technologies that generate more value.
More on Basware and Technology Development
What is Basware? How do you position yourself as the global leader in the Cloud-based Procure-to-Pay automation space?
Basware is a global software company, which has cloud-only products and Finnish roots.
It’s one of the few vendors in the procure-to-pay space that can really offer every aspect that a company needs to manage all invoices in a correct way, with all suppliers in one system. From purchasing to accounts payable to the network, Basware has proven that customers can solve all problems, whether they be complex or easy, in a global or international environment.
Plus, we are uniquely positioned to offer more speed and functionalities to customers in a segmented ERP world and unify this for them in one solution, giving them 100% spend visibility of all invoices/suppliers.
Enterprises are looking to balance their technology investments around IT Automation, Agility and Sustainability. Could you tell us how Basware delivers on all three aspects for core financial systems?
Let’s start with agility as it’s one of the biggest and most important things. As I mentioned with regards to cloud businesses, it’s critical to bring value as quickly as possible to customers. At Basware, we have worked diligently to restructure how we implement and deliver our solutions to customers. We have developed a new way – a plug-in model for implementation – where customers can choose from best-of-breed packages (plugs) for their specific implementation. They get it in a pre-packaged format so they can get started in the fastest way to be on the path to success.
It’s also a very important point that we have our open ERP strategy, which allows customers to connect to every ERP system – connecting all data and information so companies can get benefits as soon as possible.
Next, automation. We have invested a lot in the past years in innovation to get our automation rates up. Specifically, we have leveraged AI and ML technologies to automate conversion and mapping of invoices to get manual work out of the game. Our target is to bring customers to super-high automation levels. I’ve learned from talking to customers that, in a nutshell, they could really double or triple their automation rates by using our solutions.
Lastly, sustainability. It has become a big word with a lot of different opinions. All our solutions are running in data centers that have already committed to being carbon neutral, for example. Then, there are our solutions, which innately reduce companies’ carbon footprints and tangentially enable sustainable practices. Plus, we, as a company, are doing our part for sustainability via our workforce. I think it’s so important to activate and encourage our employees to treat our environment kindly (e.g., reusable glasses vs. paper cups). I’m a firm believer that we have to give employees the time to do so (e.g., clean up nature, plant new trees). I’m super willing to help and support. We are living in a world that must still exist for our future generations.
Role of a CRO in Fintech Space
This is my favorite part of the interview; could you tell us how you feel about having a CRO in the mix of Customer Experience and Digital Transformation objectives in the neo-IT era? How do you don the hat of an experienced Cloud CX leader at Basware?
Customer experience (CX), digital transformation, and customer success … for me, these elements are paramount and intertwined. Everyone in the company needs to be part of transforming the company in a digital way, focusing on customer success and figuring out ways to offer the customer a new experience. Our job in the C-suite is to empower the organization to solve for these elements.
CX isn’t only how we design our solutions. It’s also how we interact with the customers on billing; how finance handles resources; how salespeople talk to the customers; etc. CX touches every function of a company.
One of my favorite analogies to underscore this point is how we all play music at home. I had a sound system at home, but my partner and friends wouldn’t use it because it was too complicated. Over time, it became quite easy to listen to music from an iPhone instead, and then Sonos came out to seamlessly serve as the speaker, replacing the super complicated sound system we had once [not] used. Why? Because we didn’t want to deal with the clunky CX of the sound system – all the buttons and controls, etc. And there was nowhere to go for help. On the flip side, if something is wrong with Sonos, you can go on the support website or go to the FAQ section, and all you need is your phone. A totally different and EASY CX! And that type of CX is exactly what we all expect now. As an enterprise software company, we must realize that type of mindset and offer a similar CX to our customers because everyone has these types of examples of what they experience in private life. They certainly don’t understand why it should be different in enterprise solutions.
Keep in mind in my example, support, customer success, marketing, finance and so on all played an important role. CX touches every function, even at Sonos.
Where do you see the greatest opportunity/ies at Basware? Which new markets are you targeting in the near future and why?
Basware is already a global company and we are in the main markets. For the future, as I mentioned before, we see our trajectory as an evolution, not a revolution. So, we don’t want to go into new markets where we’re not – we’re already in nearly every major market. Our plan is to take key elements, like customer centricity, agility, automation and sustainability, and build on those to grow our current markets. With all this potential, we will simply optimize and grow. We have so much potential and such great products that we have huge possibilities to upsell our existing customers and find new customers. We started three years ago with a new partner model – we’re seeing great fruits coming out of this model. Now it’s about onboarding more partners and monetizing the model even more.
Tell us more about how the wave of e-Invoicing mandates is impacting your customers. What is Basware doing to help?
I’m super in favor of more and more countries coming up with the mandates. In short, the e-Invoicing mandates are forcing companies to move from paper to electronic invoices. That’s a benefit not just to their business, but also the environment! As experts in e-Invoicing and global financial compliance, we can easily assist our customers with this requirement. When I compare us with other solutions, we can deliver higher automation rates because we offer so much value with our AI- and ML-based automation. We are really leading in the market. In fact, a recent Gartner report found that our global customers process the highest percentage of electronic invoices, independent of whether invoices originate from paper, PDF files or structured e-Invoices. Plus, we secured the highest scores for accounts payable invoice automation for the second year. So, mandates are a foundation for our future growth.
Best of the Year, Predictions and Aspirations
Before we wrap up, what advice would you give fellow CROs? Few biggest learnings and tips you’d like to share with fintech innovators and leaders.
Look to your key stakeholders who are responsible for driving growth — customers, employees and partners — and uncover their needs. The key is listening.
To do so, you need to always empower your employees to translate ideas into innovation, allowing for mistakes without repercussion. When I have a feeling that my team is not making mistakes, I’m concerned we don’t have the speed or agility to try out new things. We MUST make mistakes to do better, to be better. This is all about creating a psychologically safe environment. Employees can’t fear punishment because they won’t innovate if they are fearful.
Lastly, help your team ascend to the next level, always with a good portion of fun!
Thank you, Alwin! That was fun and we hope to see you back on globalfintechseries.com soon.
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Alwin has a deep appreciation for cloud solutions and cloud business and knows how to deliver solutions and value to enterprise organisations. That combined with his proven leadership style and experience growing international GTM teams makes him an excellent fit for Basware as Chief Revenue Officer.
He joined Basware after a career spanning 20 years of leadership roles in the cloud industry, Alwin spent seven years with Salesforce, starting in 2013 as an award-winning Senior Account Executive and ending as Area VP of Cloud Sales for EMEA, a position he held until 2020. After Salesforce he was Chairman of the Management Board and Senior Vice President of Germany, Austria and Switzerland at Software AG
Basware is a leading provider of cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) business solutions which automates finance and procurement processes for globally operating enterprises and their suppliers across all industries.
As a global company, proud of our Finnish roots and traded on the Helsinki exchange, our mission is to empower global trade through data-driven insight. We’re striving to create a future where there’s complete transparency into the flow of money, goods and services around the world to enable better outcomes for businesses and society. We call this Visible Commerce.
Our purpose comes to life through our core values: Drive Customer Success, Strive for Excellence, Lead the Way, and Inspire & be Inspired which guide our global teams to deliver the best technologies and support for our customers. Basware prides itself not only on award-winning technology, but also on the talent of our people. Our success is made possible by the hard work, daily dedication, and insatiable passion of the approximately 1,350 employees working across 14 countries, representing over 30 different nationalities.
With the world’s largest open business network and an open technology ecosystem, our Procurement and Finance technologies have continuously enabled organizations to fully manage their spend, mitigate financial risk, and reduce the cost of operations through automation.
Together, with our extensive partner network, we’ve helped over 9,500 businesses in more than 70 countries, and we’re not finished yet.