A chat with Arnoud van Zelderen (CEO) and Sebastian Sawicki (head of People and Culture) from New10
The Culture Factor: How New10 brings together the best of both worlds
Just 6 years ago, a small group of ABN AMRO-ers got together and started a corporate start-up with the goal to set the new norm in financing entrepreneurs. Today, this spin-out is called New10, has grown into a team of 130+ employees, and helped clients to invest more than 300 mil euros in their businesses. New10 is a 100% subsidary of ABN AMRO. And with a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of +40 we can clearly say New10 is on the right track. So what role does Culture play in this story? How do you keep that challenger culture whilst also maturing as you go? Arnoud (CEO New10) and Sebasiatian (Head of People & Culture) share some of their learnings so far.
To start off: can you explain what New10 does and how it got started?
Arnoud: New10 helps entrepreneurs grow and run their businesses by giving them easy access to the funding they need. We are on a mission to set the new, digital first standard in business financing. We are a fintech and a 100% subsidiary of ABN AMRO Bank. This is how we can combine the customer centricity of a digital native scale-up with the financial stability and expertise of a bank.
Lending may sound quite simple. But legislation and supervision tends to make business lending quite complex. And therefore time consuming, and hard to understand for entrepreneurs. That is why ABN AMRO decided to start New10: with the assignment to challenge and rethink how business lending works, deliberately placed outside of the conventions of the bank.
What does Culture mean to New10 and to the business success New10 has seen?
Sebastian: For any team having a strong team culture is key. The culture connects everybody within New10 and guides us in the choices we make. As New10 we find two things important: taking good care of our clients and taking good care of our people. The clients are the reason we exist and our people make it possible to serve the clients. It’s safe to say that everything we have accomplished has a direct relationship to our culture.
How do you see your personal roles in the New10 culture?
Arnoud: as CEO my role is to always find the right balance between being independent and yet part of a big bank. We want to connect the best of both worlds. New10 relies on its connection to ABN AMRO, not just for funding. It is thanks to the bank’s expertise, financing ability and network that we are able to help our clients to succeed. And the same is true for ABN AMRO: they rely on New10’s ability to serve customers digitally, easily and fast without losing the customer focus. Having shared goals and mutual understanding is crucial for our combined success.
Sebastian: As Head of People and Culture my main goal in terms of culture is to make sure we maintain and develop our culture while scaling the organization. In 2016 we started with a small team of 10 people.The challenging mentality was in everything we did. But as we have grown substantially over the years to our current size of 130+ people, my role is to not lose that focus and feeling of a smaller, cross-functional team. So together with our team leads I promote and stimulate people to stay in close contact with each other, to speak their minds and to celebrate risk taking and personal growth.
As New10 grew over the years, what challenges did you face?
Arnoud: We really try to use our cultural values to guide us in everyday operations. Especially when you grow, not having a strong culture to rely on will force you to create all sorts of rules and processes that can never cover any situation that might occur. The challenge of course is to shape that culture while you're growing fast. To give you an idea, of our 130-something team members, about one third joined New10 in the last 12 months.
Sebastian: Exactly. In the early days the group of first New10 employees totally embodied our Cultural Values and everyone just organically copied certain behaviors. But overtime, that simply doesn't cut it anymore. Luckily we have put our Cultural Values in words quite early on. These values guided us, also during the difficult Covid period. We have really shaped our Hiring process around the goal to really try and look for talent that matches our values.
The second challenge is leadership. We all know: even when you successfully bring on the right type of talent, if role models give off the wrong examples that really hurts your culture. And so we have always made an effort to make sure our values truly mean the same thing to key role models in our organization.
What kind of practices do you cultivate within New10 to make sure your culture stays strong?
Sebastian: A few things I'm particularly proud of are our approach to hiring and our alumni group. To start with hiring: we really put a lot of focus on Culture, to make sure both the candidate and we as hiring team get the time to get a good feel for the match. Not only do I believe this leads to better outcomes, I also see how involving several team members in the hiring process helps the team to feel ownership of our culture. We really try to approach hiring like a Cultural Ritual that everybody in the team can partake in.
Secondly, I like how we celebrate personal growth. And acknowledge that people can also move on to new adventures after a fruitful period at New10. One way we do that is by celebrating our alumni group and staying in close contact with them. Not only can ex-team members be real ambassadors of our brand as an employer, it also is healthy to embrace the fact that both people and the company as a whole evolve.
What are your Cultural Ambitions?
Arnoud: The last few years we have really proven the success of how New10 services clients. So we are here to stay. Which also means we are moving into a next phase, in which it is our ambition to become the bank’s primary channel to service small businesses. So we cannot just be the challenger anymore. We also need to grow the ability to service larger amounts of clients. And also evolve the way we work with the bank to be able to make sure we stay a dependable partner as we scale up. I think this also means we need to deliberately sharpen our Cultural Values to match this new phase. And to keep on evolving our Culture in a way that captures and maintains the client focus and mindset that has made us successful in the first place.
We are here to stay; we are no longer just the challenger, we have the ambition to become the primary business channel for the bank in our segment.
Sebastian: One of the practical things I would like to focus on is how we can further stimulate and support peer feedback between team members. Not only is direct feedback a super powerful tool to support personal growth, I also see it as a way to make everybody a ‘practitioner’ of our values. Which hopefully will help to always make our Values more than just words, but truly understood and meaningful to everybody in the team.
What learnings can you share with other founders/coo’s/heads of people out there?
Learning #1: The office is a part of your culture
Sebastian: Especially since COVID changed everything, we have really tried to make our office space look & feel like a ‘clubhouse’ of our Culture. The kitchen, the wall of fame, the personal, almost family-like vibe is everywhere. I’m not saying Culture is all about having a ping-pong table. I’m just saying it doesn't hurt either :)
Learning #2: Culture in the hiring process
Arnoud: Making Culture a key step in how we make hiring decisions really is such a strong signal, also to the current team. At New10, if the team doubts the cultural match, that really is a veto, even if the candidate is very qualified in skills and experience.
Learning #3: Be open to people leaving
Sebastian: celebrate your alumni group and stay in close contact with them. Embracing the fact that both people and the company as a whole evolve really is a clear & healthy signal that you truly value personal development and growth.