Banking and payments app launched six years ago valued at £24bn in deal secured by 36-year-old CEO
Revolut co-founder Nik Storonsky has said that Elon Musk’s perfect combination of “rationality and craziness” makes the Tesla boss his leadership hero. Now the 36-year-old is set to join Musk in the multibillionaire club after securing a funding deal that makes the banking and payments app the most valuable British fintech firm ever.
The funding round led by Japan’s SoftBank and Tiger Global Management values the six-year-old firm at £24bn, making Storonsky, who holds a significant stake, a paper billionaire several times over.
The determination Storonsky has shown to drive the fledgling London-headquartered company to such success – Revolut has more than 10 million customers and operations in 35 countries – has been a personality trait evident since the Russian-born entrepreneur’s earliest years.
Born outside Moscow, Nikolay Storonsky boxed as a child and then took up swimming as a teenager, becoming state champion while at university. He studied for a physics masters degree at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and has a masters in economics at the New Economic School in Moscow.
A keen kitesurfer, he imported the long-hours culture of his time as a trader at Lehman Brothers, which he left before its collapse, and Credit Suisse to Revolut, which he launched in 2015. “I can’t see how work-life balance will help you build a start-up,” said Storonsky, who has said his typical day in the office is 8am to 10pm. “Either you are all in and you’re focused and you spend time on it, or you have little chance to survive.”
However, the drive to succeed saw Revolut hit headlines for all the wrong reasons, as details of a tough work culture that encouraged employees to work long hours and weekends emerged. Wired magazine published an internal email from Storonsky warning that those that underperformed would be “fired without any negotiations”.
Storonsky has sought to change the company’s practices and rehabilitate its public image, arguing that it was a tough start-up culture that was unsuited to some of its earlier employees. The company recently introduced an equity participation plan for its now 2,200 employees, who have seen their stakes hugely appreciate following the latest valuation. As recently as last year Revolut, which saw losses double in 2020 to more than £200m, was valued at what now seems a relatively paltry $5.5bn (£3.98bn).
Storonsky has also faced scrutiny after it emerged that his father was a director at a division of Russian natural gas group Gazprom, which has been under US sanctions since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The connection sparked controversy in Lithuania, where Revolut has its European banking licence, after politicians cited national security concerns, although a parliamentary investigation found no risks at Revolut.
Storonsky has long denied any Kremlin links and has said that the furore around his father, who he has said is “effectively a professor, an engineer”, is “a bit funny”.
The wave of investor interest in fintech firms, from Klarna’s recent $45.6bn valuation to the upcoming £5bn flotation of payments firm Wise in London, has heightened speculation that Revolut could be next to go public. Storonsky has remained tight-lipped on the subject but on Thursday Mikko Salovaara, the company’s finance chief, refused to rule out the chance of a potential initial public offering by the end of the year, saying: “Never say never”.