Colin Groos is the CCO and co-founder of BOTS, a revolutionary platform designed to make investing more accessible to all. The Haarlem-based trading startup allows users to easily use trading algorithms that invest in everything from cryptocurrency and stocks, to real estate and art.

“Around 2017, we had the idea of making an algorithm. I had been trading in cryptocurrency since 2014 and made a lot of money with it. I did it using a certain standard, methodical way; ‘if this happens I’ll do this, then if this happens I’ll do this’. After finding success with that, I thought about building these methods into this algorithm.

“That’s where me and my co-founder Michiel Stokman began on this journey. We had all kinds of strategies and when we put them into Excel they showed great returns, so we thought ‘ok now we have to programme this.’

“That was how we began working with Stefan, who also became a co-founder and is now actually our CTO.”

The Spotify of trading

Central to the trading platform is the app’s accessibility to traders on all levels, opening opportunities for all walks of life.

“We had one algorithm that performed really well and we asked ourselves if there’s any way we could give this to our friends and family?

Cryptocurrency has already shaken up business models around the world. Tesla recently announced they would begin accepting Bitcoin payments, joining the likes of Microsoft, BMW and even Wikipedia in doing so.

That will no doubt redefine how transactions are carried out in the future. Colin shared an innovative, and somewhat bold, way of securing a deal for a new algorithm to be utilised on the BOTS platform.

We were contacted by someone else who had another algorithm and wanted to sell it to us. He said ‘oh it returns over 300% in certain periods’, so I went back to him and said ‘you can say this but I’ll believe it when I see it. You can connect it to my exchange, there’s one bitcoin on it and from the profit it makes, I will buy your algorithm.’

“It went from one bitcoin to two in ten days, so I had to buy it for $5,000 at the time.”

“However, you have to be really technical to do all that. You have to set up the server, you have to run a virtual machine, run your code, create and connect to your exchange account and fill out all the KYC information (Know Your Customer). Then you have to make sure you transfer some crypto to an exchange via wallet addresses, and none of this was set up in the most customer-centric way.

“We thought, it must be possible to make this far more straightforward. That’s where our journey started and we created this app. We wanted everything to be really easy, so we made a marketplace where everyone in the world could make a strategy and upload it. Then anybody who wants to use one of those strategies, they could just choose and play it, as easy as playing a song on Spotify. You pick a strategy, you click play and it starts trading for you.

“These kinds of algorithms have been used for a really long time by big companies like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs. They hire people, give them all the information and technology to make these strategies, but then they keep them for themselves. We open this once-exclusive phenomenon up to everyone, so anyone in the world can now access these algorithms and trade with them.

“You don’t have to know anything about trading anymore, you don’t have to know anything about crypto or underlying assets. If it doesn’t perform as well as you expected it to, then you just stop the bot and choose another. Or you make a basket of bots which is what I do. I have around 16 bots activated, then the worst-performing bot, I’ll just throw it out and put my money into the best.

“We’ve been commercially live since May last year, and we already have around 180,000 users of the app, so huge growth. We’re doubling our metrics every month. In January we had around €300,000 revenue, in February more than €600,000 revenue.

“Because we’ve made such a huge amount of revenue already, the VCs are getting interested in our Series A funding. There are still so many things we’re in the process of doing to improve the app too. For example, our referral programme is almost ready and we’re yet to introduce an influencer programme.”

The challenges of a startup trading platform

Some of the biggest challenges now facing BOTS come with scaling into other market locations.

“We’re now in a few countries so it needs to be technically really good. So factors like displaying the relevant currency. These little things, getting the basic stuff right, that’s the first thing we need to do. Then it’s about the scaling.

“We have campaigns running in different countries but these are online-only and we have to rely on them for our growth strategy, that’s a challenge.

“We also have legal and regulation challenges all around the world because each country has different rules when it comes to crypto. There’s one bot trading in (the UTSLA), so that’s a ‘datalised stock’ and in the near future there will be more of its kind.

“This is a revolution in how we build the app, if it’s ‘datalised stock’ that means we don’t have to go through all the financial authorities in different countries, because it’s not a financial instrument – that makes scaling all around the world easier.”

Shape the world you want to see

We asked Colin if there was anything that he had found particularly surprising since becoming an entrepreneur. He said anybody holding the possibility to reshape the world with their own vision was something he perhaps hadn’t realised was doable when he was younger.

“I found it surprising that you can create the world in the way you want it to be. That’s actually what I’m doing, I’m building a company that can potentially be bigger than Facebook. In school you’re usually taught that it’s a really exclusive club who get to build companies like that, but actually you can.

“So if you have a good idea, you have a good business model, you have good people working for your company and you know how to find your way around and build networks, then there’s no reason you can’t succeed. It’s all a networking game, you can’t do it on your own, you have to do it with the input of others.

“We used a crowdfunding strategy where we had around 1700 participants sign up and in exchange they got certificates of shares. So we actually have around 1700 shareholders in the company.

“That brings a huge network, all kinds of people from all around the world. Whether it’s people from a legal background, a marketing background, someone with organisational talent knowhow, or an expert in hiring – they all want to offer their knowledge and services as well as investing in the company. That brings a lot of good stuff that can help move you forward.

“If you really want to achieve something big, it’s possible, and that’s not something you learn in school. I sort of knew you could do it, but now I’m putting it into practice with these extreme goals of making a billion-dollar company, it’s actually really happening, so that’s beautiful to see.“

Treat your hiring process as an investment

Colin stressed the importance of making worthwhile investments in your team as early as possible. It may be difficult to justify at first, but in the long-run it will prove far less costly than cutting corners in the beginning.

“I always say hire only the best people you can. Of course, it’s in this stage that it always seems too expensive to do so, but you will always bear the fruit of hiring good people.

“We have people who built the Moscow exchange, someone that built a 1000-employee marketing company here in Holland, we have a Head of Technology and Trade who has 17 years experience in IMC, these are really, really good people and you need them at this stage to ensure the company is fit for the future.

“What was also surprisingly difficult for me as a founder, for Michiel and Stefan too, is that when you build a company like this, you cannot be hands on in the day-to-day running. That’s why you need to be strong in the hiring process, to put a layer in between that allows you the time to work on the business and not in the business.

“It’s quite hard to sit on your hands sometimes and not interfere. It’s just the practice of learning how to get the most from your team, giving your talent the things they need to grow and get better.”

Trusting talent is non-negotiable

Your hiring process is also the first port of call in ensuring those coming through the door are aligned in terms of values. Colin highlights that trust is an absolute must in this stage and that your business’ culture is very much a joint effort.

“When hiring talent, I think you have to ask yourself ‘do they fit into the family?’ You can have a really strong idea of a preferred culture, but I also think it should be something you create together.”

“The culture will be created by the people. It would be very naive for me to say ‘I can create the culture myself in a company of hundreds.’ Your team has to do it themselves and you can only select them at the gate when you hire them.

“You must feel like you can trust this person. It’s a very hard thing to decipher, but when you speak with the person, you have to feel like they’re trustworthy. You need to feel like, if you leave your wallet there on the table, they will never even think of taking it.

“If you don’t have that feeling at a certain point anymore, you have to get rid of this person as fast as possible. It’s all about positive energy.

“Don’t hire bullies. Even if they are really good, even if they are the best, fire fast.

Building a startup funding strategy? Just do it.

As Colin had previously touched upon, BOTS underwent a successful crowdfunding campaign, a technique which generally went against the advice he was getting at the time.

Making that decision has paved the way for the business’ current success, therefore opening the door to further funding options.

“What you definitely should do, is just do it. No hesitation or hanging around, just go for it. If it’s not working you stop, if it is working you continue and expand it.

“That’s actually how we’ve raised a bit more than €10m up to now, we just did it our own way. If we had listened to all the corporate finance advisors saying you can only raise the money through VCs and private equity, then we probably wouldn’t have done any crowdfunding. However, it was the crowdfunding that gave us everything we needed and was the reason behind the growth and valuation of the company.

“Again this comes down to trust. If you have any hesitancy about a person that wants to invest in your company, don’t do it.

“We’ve had some big investors come to us and express initial interest, but then quickly started making awkward requests. Just don’t fall into the trap of talking with people you don’t feel you can fully trust.”

“If you leave the doors open, coincidence is everywhere”

One of the most frequent mistakes Colin sees entrepreneurs falling into, is closing themselves off from opportunities because of their own preconceptions.

“Never think you’re already there. Make sure you can pivot with the growth of the startup and don’t be held back by your own belief systems.

“Always leave the doors open, things can come to you in many, many different ways. If you say ‘I only want to drive a blue Audi sports car’ you close yourself off from possibilities. If you say ‘I just want to have a comfortable drive from my home to work’, then things can manifest in a number of different ways.

“We are not made to know how things happen, we are just created to perceive that things happen. We have so many limitations in terms of our five senses, maybe there are thousands of other ways to receive information that we cannot sense, so why should you not embrace those too?

Colin then touched on the concept of coincidence, asking whether it’s a straightforward, unexplainable phenomenon, or if there’s more than that going on in these instances.

“That’s something beautiful, if you leave all the doors open, coincidence is everywhere all the time. Maybe that’s the natural order of things and because of our limitations, we push it out of our realities. If you leave these doors open and make it the natural order of things in your life, you’ll experience more coincidence.”

Why Rise?

It was that passion for networking that inspired Colin to join RiseTechleap’s own acceleration programme dedicated to startup growth.

“What Rise has brought us so far, are really good connections. You see other incredible companies, their ways of approaching similar issues that we all face. There are so many lessons to take from all of these sessions.

“Also, having access to all of these experts, you can learn so much; how to grow your company? How to deal with having multiple offices? How to incentivise your people? How to approach funding? There are so many valuable insights.

Join our Rise programme

Rise is your one time opportunity to connect with other founders and create together a strong peer community where you can share learnings and get inspired by one another. During the programme, you’ll be able to ask all your questions to seasoned entrepreneurs and gather deep, honest insights about scaling a startup successfully.

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