20 Questions: Christian Lanng, Tradeshift

The Danish founder of the online invoicing and payments company talks Tesla, virtual reality and really bad headaches.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 25 Feb 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

Just before we launched Tradeshift, we wanted to launch a service where you didn’t have to own your PC. If there’s any issues with them, people would pick it up and give you a new one, almost like Chromebooks today. We were playing around with it five years ago, but I’m glad we didn’t do that.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

When Tradeshift was in stealth mode it was called Porta. Wired were doing a front page article on us, and we had 24 hours to come up with the final name we wanted in the article. We couldn’t get the domain name we wanted for Porta, so we literally had to come up with another name.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Tradeshift is already a very global company, we were founded out of Copenhagen, we have our global headquarters in San Francisco, an office in London and a brand new office in China.  Another city we thought about when we moved to San Francisco was New York. It would be Shanghai or New York.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

We didn’t, because it was in 2008 & nobody had any money because of the financial crisis. So we tweeted that we needed engineers and coders who were willing to develop for free in return for shares. Because of the financial crisis we got more than 1,000 applications from teams all over the world, and we actually built a very international team. The first official round we did was from Paypal in combination with British investors Notion Capital - that was almost a year later.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

The most important decision we made was to go global early, in 2011, and to put a lot into the American market. And that’s paid off. In Europe, companies have a tendency to maybe launch in the UK, and then move to the Nordics or Germany and so on. But very few make the transition to the US or Asia successfully.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

We were working on the next generation of our platform, a whole new architecture. Rather than making it into a lot of smaller projects, we tried to release this big thing, which goes completely against our philosophy. We should’ve sliced it into smaller bits and done it in smaller portions, so that’s probably one of the bigger mistakes we made.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

I would say Tesla. I would’ve loved to have come up with a great electric car, because I think that will really have an impact on the world for the long term. And I think what Elon Musk managed to do with Tesla was to make electric cars sexy and make them something that everybody wants.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

As a startup founder, coming from nothing and building a company, you’re in a perpetual state of pressure - in a way it almost becomes a lifestyle. I think stress is really something you choose to let happen to you. If you decide yourself what you work is and your scope is, people tend not to get stressed. It’s the moment that others decide for you what your work is that you experience stress. For me, I listen to my body - I can feel physically if I am stressed, and I take a break and do something else.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

I was a newspaper boy, biking around my village with the local newspaper handing it out.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

I have a clear winner for this one. Right after high school, I didn’t want to go to university yet. I got a job at a factory, and it was absolutely terrible. I remember I had a splitting headache after two hours there, and I told the lady who worked next to me, and she said, ‘Don’t worry it goes away, after two or three years you don’t feel it any more.’

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

I had two really cool jobs. After I quit the factory job, I got a job as a guide for young kids. I’d go to a school and spend time with them every day playing games, just hanging out and showing then how to do things. That’s a job I really liked, because it allows you to be childish.

Of more recent jobs, the job I had before Tradeshift was as head of division in the science ministry within the Danish government. I found that an incredibly interesting job, because I got very close to the government machine and parliament and how all of that stuff works.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

It would probably be Team Shift.

13. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

I would not invest in things that I’m doing myself, because that would be too boring. I would invest in a start-up called Ocolus Rift. They’re building actual real virtual reality, as you see it in the movies. What’s so cool about it is that they were financed entirely using crowd sourcing, and they built a prototype, and suddenly everyone believed it and all the big names came and joined them. I think it’s incredibly inspiring, and a company like that has a great future.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

The most expensive thing I’ve bought recently was a robot for work. You can drive around the office, and it has a video screen so you can talk to people when you’re working from home.

15. SUIT OR JEANS?

Jeans, everyday.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Absolutely flexible working. Most people in Tradeshift come in when they want and leave when they want.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

It’s so full of talented people. The problem with our office is it’s completely stuffed, we can’t fit any more people in. Apart from that, if I need to I can take a nap on couch in one of the meeting rooms.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

If it’s just a service, it would be Gmail. Email is the lifeblood of everything I do. Also, WeChat, which we use in Tradeshift for communication - it’s a Chinese messaging app.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

Elon Musk, the guy who was the co-founder of Paypal, who later went out and founded Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity. The reason he’s my idol is he’s not in it to make money, he’s in it to change the world, and I think that’s the right motivation for doing something.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINSTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

If I could be President for the day in the US, I think I would spend that day having the US sign all the international and global climate treaties. We do so much incredible innovation here, but if we don’t have a climate and a planet for the long term it’s not going to matter. I think that would be humanity’s biggest wasted chance.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today