Exec Q&A Christian Lanng, CEO & Co-Founder of Tradeshift

Tradeshift is a global digital trade platform that facilitates connections with vendors and business partners. Trade reformer Lanng tells their story

Many of the world's largest buyers and their suppliers use the Tradeshift platform to exchange digitised purchasing and invoicing information. 

1.5 million companies use its tech platform to fully digitise their operations and Tradeshift transacts over $3 billion of global trade each year. 

Christian Lanng is their outspoken CEO and Co-Founder. As a Fortune 500 advisor, as well as a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of IT Software and Services for the World Economic Forum (WEF), he has plays a significant role in technology and it’s economics.

Can you tell us about your role and responsibilities?

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Tradeshift. We founded the company in 2005 with a mission that was both incredibly simple and very ambitious: to connect every business and enable them to trade with each other entirely digitally. Since then, we’ve made huge strides towards that goal. Our cloud-based platform has grown into a community of buyers and sellers operating in more than 190 countries. Last year we passed $1 trillion in transactions processed through our platform.

As CEO, I'm responsible for setting our strategy and continuing to grow our incredibly talented team. And as a founder, I'm responsible for keeping the culture and the spirit of the company that has served us so well, while keeping our eyes on Tradeshift’s founding mission.

What is your point of difference as a business?

Tradeshift is in the business of connecting B2B commerce, and that means transforming the way organizations connect, transaction and trade with one another. 

As a company, we are grounded in the idea that if you can connect commerce and you create more opportunities for companies across the world to get more customers and grow then you can ultimately create a much more stable world. That’s always been a very strong part of our mission. 

What separates us from a lot of businesses in our space is that we started approaching this challenge from the perspective of the millions of small businesses who sell to big companies. We built a solution that really worked for them, and the network really grew from there. 

Buyers and suppliers are two-sides of the same coin, so when you approach a challenge such as digitalisation you need to look at the value proposition from both sides. A lot of technology providers neglect this and focus purely on the buyer. Suppliers are often resistant to change on these terms since it’s perceived as work for someone else’s benefit. 

The enterprise buyers we work with today, see huge value in working with Tradeshift, because they know that their suppliers will also see the value that comes from connecting to our network. We offer a win-win for all participants on the network. 

What exciting plans do you have coming up as an organisation?

Tradeshift was one of the first companies to really see the opportunities coming from the convergence of SaaS and fintech. Delivering easy access financial services that support business growth has always been a key component of the value proposition we want to deliver to any organization on our network. 

We launched Tradeshift Go, a virtual credit card, in 2019, and that’s seen explosive growth over the past 18 months. We’ve also seen significant seller enrollment to Tradeshift Cash, the digital, real-time factoring product we launched in 2021. 

These services and others like them are really at the heart of our journey right now. What’s really exciting is the opportunity to bring these services a lot closer together by truly embedding them onto our network, through the marketplaces we are building and beyond. 

The other thing I’m really excited about is our continued global expansion. This links back to the previous point: you can’t separate the technology from the growth strategy. The two are inextricably linked; the capabilities we add to the platform drives further adoption, which in turn makes the network effect even more powerful.

What trends do you expect to see in the SaaS industry this year?

I think where we’re heading now is an evolution from software as a service to value as a service. When SaaS came along it was a massive revolution. The idea was that you deploy software installed on a computer that you were then responsible for running. It got rid of all the headaches of hiring people to manage that hardware, and other people to manage the software and the databases. It replaced that with a very simple idea that instead of buying access to the software, you bought access to the value that software delivers. 

Fintech and financial services are an extension of that. Where we used to define services as delivering access to the features and functions as well as the data stored, we’re now starting to see that if we have all of that, why can’t we layer on access to cheaper credit, or a really smart software based credit card that integrates into the solution. I don’t actually think these concepts are so foreign, but as finance has become more digital, it’s becoming a lot easier to embed financial services and financial products into the software. 

We’re also going to see a real shift in terms of the business model, away from yearly subscriptions and towards a more consumption based pricing model. Customers are becoming used to this through companies like AWS or Google Cloud. The only way that traditional SaaS can make the economics of this shift work is through embedded financial services and fintech. 

What technology are you most looking forward to using more of?

I’ve got to say upfront that there are times when I’m really looking forward not to using technology! That said, I find what’s happening in the augmented reality space really exciting. As a lapsed gamer, I think there’s huge potential for AR in this space, and while it’s not something we’ve really explored yet and Tradeshift, you can never rule these things out. 

What is your leadership style?

Most of the time I’m very macro and try to focus on the big picture. I love working with people who can move fast, have ideas and act on them. It’s impossible for me to be everywhere so it’s important to recognise when other people have skills in areas that you might not. You need to trust those people and give them the room to go off and execute.

There are certain times where I become much more micro-focused, when it comes to our product or our brand for example. People who have worked with me in these areas know I can be extremely obsessed with the detail, and I think there are times where you have to be. 

What has been your career highlight, both prior to and in your current role? 

I don’t want to sound like a sportsperson, but career highlights are something you look back on when you retire. Every time you think you’ve reached a career high, it’s almost an admission that you’ve nothing more to learn. Instead, I’ve seen my career to date as a continual resetting of expectations, continually setting new goals. I hope I never lose that ability to keep going even when it’s really tough.

Of course, there are things along the way that are really special and memorable. Meeting my co-founders Gert and Mikkel when we were building the first ever e-invoicing system for the Danish government will always stand out. And as Tradeshift has grown, it’s amazing to be able to meet some of the world’s leaders to talk about our company and tell them that Tradeshift has really become a thing in the world that matters. Personally, I’m really proud of that because it aligns so well with our founding mission. 

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