Taking the Leap: From Corporate Employee to Startup FinTech Founder by@laurits

Taking the Leap: From Corporate Employee to Startup FinTech Founder

Laurits went through the mill as a tracked student at elite universities to join elite institutions upon graduation. He left BlackRock to co-found BitsForDigits, a private equity marketplace for internet entrepreneurs to list their online business and receive partial buyout offers. It's free and anonymous for founders to list their company and sell equity. The investors on the platform include micro PEs, search funds, family offices and high net-worth individuals seeking to buy minority and majority stakes directly from founders via secondaries. He together with his non-technical co-founder learned to build product on the internet using using low-code software tools, thus proving the hypothesis that bootstrapping is a viable path for internet entrepreneurs.
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Laurits Just

Co-Founder of BitsForDigits: A partial buyout marketplace for founders of profitable internet businesses.

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What is your current position?

I’m the Co-CEO and -Founder of BitsForDigits. We make it free and anonymous for founders of profitable internet businesses to list and sell equity to accredited investors. And we’re hiring!

The investors on the platform include micro PEs, search funds, family offices, and high net-worth individuals seeking to buy minority and majority stakes directly from founders via secondaries.

Where did you work before?

I worked at BlackRock as part of the FinTech solutions arm tasked with building and offering the investment platform used in-house and by its clients as a SaaS product. In my client-facing role, I served as a bridge between system implementation/usage and product/business development.

My journey from a suit-wearing, five-star hotel-dwelling consultant and JIRA ticket raiser to a t-shirt-wearing, ramen-eating platform builder and maker has, therefore, been very radical. My co-founder is also non-technical so we had to learn how to create products online before succeeding in launching our private equity marketplace, BitsForDigits.

How did you come up with the concept of BitsForDigits?

The idea of a platform dedicated to partial sales of internet businesses was a result of the times we live in with exponentially more sophisticated investors and internet entrepreneurs than ever. Starting an online business has never been easier and I think a lot of people found time to work on a side project or eCommerce shop during the lockdown. And so it was while working from home that I started brainstorming business ideas with my co-founder, JP, who was working for Google.

He and I met in Copenhagen during college and have been friends ever since. During the pandemic, it so happened that we stumbled upon an article from 2017 written by a fellow alumnus from our university. David Heinemeier Hansson, better known by his initialism DHH, is the creator of Ruby on Rails and a co-founder of Basecamp. He wrote a celebratory piece about how he and Jason Fried together sold a minority stake in their startup, Basecamp, to Jeff Bezos.

This opened our eyes to the problems founders face in terms of awareness and discoverability. Once business owners have created a cash flow generating company, the options are known to them for realising a return are either to raise capital to grow it further or exit the company fully via a full acquisition, forgetting partial exits. But even if they know about the possibility of a partial sale, they can’t signal their intent very easily to get competing buyout offers.

As it turns out, many bootstrapped founders are looking to take some money off the table as a way to “hedge their bet” and stay in control over the direction of the business. But some also seek to sell a majority stake in order to step down and let a new management team take the lead on daily operations with them in a supporting role. Selling less than 100% equity allows founders to stay invested in the future upside of their company while de-risking their business ownership.

How relevant is your educational background?

I hold 3 degrees from 3 universities: one bachelor in economics and two masters in information systems and innovation management respectively. Paying inordinate tuition fees at the London School of Economics was certainly not needed for the work I do now, but I would have probably been less likely to get a job at BlackRock had I not. And without experience working in FinTech, who knows if I would have connected the dots and co-founded my own private equity platform.

In my experience, it is less about the subject you study and more about the people you meet. If I hadn’t gone to Copenhagen, I wouldn’t have met my co-founder and for that alone it was worth it.

How did your career in FinTech develop over time?

I’ve been stock-picking since I was 13 years old using my grandfather’s brokerage account so it was no surprise to anyone when I chose to go to a high school for mercantile studies and immediately after majored in economics during my undergraduate. But it wasn’t until I graduated college that I started working for and with startups in London. The first was a mobile SaaS business and after that, I got an offer from Rocket Internet to help grow their ventures including a few marketplaces.

It was during my year working internships in the UK that I found my way to what I really liked and decided to apply for grad school. I somehow managed to enroll in two separate programs at two different universities in order to combine business and finance with information systems or “tech”. My extracurricular activities included starting the first crypto and blockchain society on campus so my career path after graduation was very tracked to a job in FinTech, which ended up being at the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock.

At BlackRock, I felt very humbled by the amount of talent under one roof. I had rocket scientists as colleagues doing similar work to what I was doing! Very quickly I felt underqualified and started working overtime to catch up. This resulted in an early promotion and the pressure was back to repeat an endless cycle. I really enjoyed the industry and my colleagues, but about 2 years into it, I quit to work full time on my own startup, BitsForDigits.

What compelled you to quit your job in the end?

Life is short and using the regret-minimisation framework I knew that I would always regret never trying to grow BitsForDigits. And there simply weren’t enough hours in the day (or night) at BlackRock to do this next to a full-time career there. One thing is time, another is energy. You can spend 4 hours doing 1 hour's worth of work if you don’t have your head in the game.

Not gonna lie, going from a life in Westminster full of fine dinner parties and extravagant holidays to one in Berlin on a diet of frozen pizzas and tap water was daunting. And of course, I sometimes miss the buzz of all of that mindless fun but not as often as I had expected. And when I do, I remind myself of the trade-off I made where I get to wake up and call the shots. Working for yourself isn’t for everyone, but it is so rewarding in what you learn along the way.

How relevant was self-learning to where you are today?

Self-learning is by far the most important piece in my journey as a founder. My work experience plays a big part too, yes, and so does my education but only up to a point. The bigger reason for being able to build and grow a business is by and large thanks to courses on Udemy, watching how-to videos on YouTube, and searching for answers on Google.

As an employee in a company, you tend to get pigeonholed into a certain domain with a subset of tasks and responsibilities. This can bring a lot of benefits to gaining deep subject matter expertise in a specific field but oftentimes comes at the cost of a lot of repetition. Lack of what Jocko Willik calls “extreme ownership” is also a reason why some day labourers forgo their full potential as they are not incentivised or held enough accountable to the company’s success.

As a student, I feel you are in a good position to learn if you know how to prioritise your time. Entire degrees can be completed in half the time and everyone in college knows this because most of us cram all the studying together in the weeks leading up to the exam. Unfortunately many spend the rest of the semester procrastinating instead of picking up new skills or working relevant jobs where they learn more than they get paid.

What should someone do today to get to where you are now?

Nothing can fully prepare you for the job of a founder but you can ease the transition by tapping into the community of bootstrappers online. Indie Hackers is fantastic for reading about the journey of others and so is Twitter for those building in public. Twitter is the gift that keeps giving in terms of meeting like-minded people and creating meaningful connections.

Aside from building out an audience in the form of an online community either via a Twitter account or a Substack newsletter, you as an individual can start to experiment with low- and no-code tools. Some call it the no-code revolution as these SaaS plugins affords creators in the digital economy unprecedented opportunities to build new businesses online. Getting savvy with as many of these tools as possible is both fun and oftentimes free for a trial period.

Once acquainted with how to make product and do basic HTML, CSS and JS, you can find inspiration on platforms like Product Hunt, where we also launched BitsForDigits last year (and became #2 product of the day).

What is the work-related achievement you’re the most proud of?

Creating a fully functional platform and seeding a marketplace with hundreds of investors and founders who anonymously list their business and discover professional investors to start partial buyout conversations with via in-app messaging - all built and marketed fully bootstrapped by us alone.

Thanks for sharing your story with us. Any words of wisdom for aspiring founders?

Build products and speak with your customers. The rest will follow.

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