CTO spotlight - Christoph Strasen
Updated: Jan 26
In our CTO spotlight series we sit down with some of the most influential CTO's across the tech scene, we had the pleasure of kicking off the series with Christoph Strasen, CTO at Berlin based Fincompare.
FinCompare addresses small and medium sized enterprises (SME) requiring financing needs starting from €10.000. Through the online platform www.fincompare.de, the start-up enables access to various financing solutions. Companies can find, compare and close Germany-wide offers from renowned banks, fintechs and financial service providers – for free and in a vendor-agnostic manner.
Our co-founder Rex Rusling sat down with Christoph to get his views on the FinCompare business, his experience as a CTO and how the current pandemic has affected his plans for the future.
Company - Fincompare
Location - Berlin
Current tech stack - Python, Go, Typescript, React, ELK, Micro-services, graphQL, Protobuff, Docker, github-actions, AWS
who are FinCompare?
CS - a group of people that understand how important it is to help small and medium enterprises solve their finance problems. They know both the banking side (financial institutions to help with loans and other finance products etc) but also marketing and business experts that decided to build a platform that solves the problems that SMEs face in the most automatic, comfortable and efficient fashion.
why did you join FinCompare?
CS - I joined FinCompare because I was compelled by how focused the company and management are in having FC be a tech product driven company and not a service driven company. And i liked how, compared to other fin techs in the market, there is a lot of ‘meat on the bone’. We are not creating a new ‘crypto coin’ so it is not a new concept that needs validating, we are simply taking a proven model and bringing it into the next century. I also like that there is already a lot in place, so I can experiment with a living breathing platform meaning we understand our clients and financial institutions through live working relationships.
what is your background, prior to moving to FC?
CS - Software engineering - I didn’t study, just wanted to get to work and really wanted to build some software. Started in 2001, just after the crash. Mostly on backend engineering, I quickly became a team lead but instead of just climbing the ladder, I really wanted to understand more holistically how software is produced and shipped in terms end2end so i decided to take up software-manager and release manager as it gave me a wider reach and I had a full view of the product life cycle. I was lucky enough to be able to set 2 good systems up from scratch and still to this day, I am very engaged in this aspect and this part of the process. Releasing software, hiring the right people and rewarding people are the most pleasant parts of my job I would say.
how have you found settling in since you have been there for a few months now?
CS - as expected, everyone has been very friendly and everyone is very professional. Particularly on the management side, everyone is part of a very mature and open group. The tech team is just lovely and they are very honest with their opinions. We all realise the journey that is ahead of us, we don’t let ourselves get bogged down by the issues we encounter and I have found a really good group of partners that share this mentality.
if we could have a look under the bonnet, what are FC doing right now?
CS - What we are currently working on? We are currently building a market network, that is not only connecting 2 parties (small business on 1 side and financial institutes on the other) but there are other players also, the broker which is an in-house service of FC but we also work with Freelance Brokers and we want to give these people more opportunities to sell more financial products on our platform in a much easier way.
We want to open up a platform for any broker in Germany to use instead of the old school technology they have available to them now and, at the same time, give them access to the wide network of financial institutions, products and customers. On the tech side, this will require us to make parts of the platform really fit for external use. So our platform building strategy is very outwards facing now and we will switch to working and improving how we work with external partners.
At the same time we are also renewing our systems that we have in place. The company is 4 years old now and some of the things that happened in the earlier days, the MVPs that we build, the monolith in place needs renovation and we have a modulation strategy that we are following. We plan to break up our platform into more micro-services.
how has Coronavirus impacted those plans?
CS - It has impacted everyone but with FC it is interesting. We’ve always tried to set the company up to be useful at all stages of an economy. There are always going to be ups and downs, of course Covid is a very specific situation but before it we were rather bound on the demand side and now after it we are rather bound on the supply side.
Banks are way more cautious to give loans and so this has changed our perspective on how we can automate and work to integrate people deeper and on what timeline. So Covid has changed the timelines on when we want and can integrate with financial institutions. The way in which our revenue streams work inside the platform, which kind of customers connect with which kind of Financial Institute - also that has changed and created some challenges for our teams that manage this.
for you, what do you see as being the biggest challenges on the horizon for FC?
CS - It is making sure we build the right things in the right order, and that we also build them in the right way. We have to be very good at prioritising and understanding what our customers want. As we are building not just a two-sided market-place but a market-network, with multiple stakeholders; SMEs,Advisors, Banks to name the core roles. Balancing our attention and building functionality that benefit the dynamics between the parties is a very interesting problem to continue to work on.
We need to also build things that are not too bespoke but rather provide generic solutions that can fit a wide array of clients. They should be able to be customised well enough so that our software creates a real lasting value and a really good IP for us while embracing solutions that think further ahead and not just one sprint and really focus on planning and understanding better.
moving away from FinCompare, do you have any pets?
CS - Yes, I have 1 pet. It's a small dog, it's a pekinese and she goes by the funny name of Berliner, which means a girl from Berlin. They say 2 things are hard in technology caching and naming things, and this was true here it was not easy naming her but I love her very much, and so do other people when she isn't grumpy!
when was the last time you felt nerd-rage?
CS - Haha, you stole this question from me! I’m trying to suppress this, I have to in my position. I think things but I can't say it because whatever I say will influence someone. I have to be conscious about that but I think during the review of the progress of our document extracting OCR project there was a lot of crazy ideas floating around and maybe I got a little carried away how we can make it self-learning. I think there were some good ideas there but further on the horizon.
do you have a favourite or most memorable tech quote?
CS - I think that's Conway's law; every organisation that builds systems will ultimately create an architecture that resembles the communications structure of that organisation. It rings very true for my experience and how I try to approach problems. I think ultimately every tech problem is a people problem.
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