When I first interviewed Symphony CEO David Gurlé, three years ago, the Palo Alto startup was then described as a “ Bloomberg Terminal killer,” with the ambition to build a secure messaging platform that will ultimately become the standard of business communications across many business sectors, including but not limited to financial services.
Since then, Symphony has raised a total of $460 at a unicorn valuation—above $1 billion—and counting most of the world’s largest financial institutions as strategic investors including Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas, J.P. Morgan, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Standard Chartered, HSBC, Societe General, and UBS.
In the last four and a half years since its founding, Symphony reached 430,000 licensed users from over 60 countries, making the Symphony community the largest global financial digital network to date, surpassing Bloomberg’s 325,000 subscribers.
And in the past year alone, Symphony added more than 1,000 bots and apps on its platform to help automate business and communication workflows across its customer base.
Earlier this summer, I sat down with Gurlé to talk about this latest fundraising and his vision for his four-year-old startup. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Jeb Su: Talk about your latest fundraising of $165 million dollars and what you plan to use it for as you’ve said you’re not expecting to turn profitable before 2021 or 2022?
David Gurlé: We started this process earlier this year and our original target was to raise between $50 million to $75 million, which is the amount we needed in order to turn cash-flow positive. And the first check we received was $50 million! So it really built the momentum on it itself and finally, we ended up with our best round ever of $165 million. And the thing I’m the proudest about in this round is bringing on MUFG (Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group) from Japan, and Standard Chartered which is U.K.-based company but with a really strong presence in Asia and Africa. And, it really enabled what I call East meet South coalition, covering a continent like Africa where we have not been represented so far. So this kind of for me completes all the strategic investors that would have made an ideal home run for Symphony. So that is giving us a number of benefits. One of the most important benefits is that we now have all the regions in the global market infrastructure to lay out the foundations of what I call the global market 2.0 as we bring disruptive secure communication across all these institutions. So the money that we raised, obviously be reserved for potentially rainy days but we think that there are opportunities for Symphony to expand in some other adjacent market as well as make acquisitions either in those markets or ongoing technologies so that we can bring on some new innovations that other companies have been focused on, and bring it in our global product portfolio. Things like specialized natural language processing and AI for financial markets would be very good examples.
JS: There were some reports that Symphony is valued at around $1.4 billion which is a little more than when you last raised 2 years ago. Why?
DG: Sorry, I can’t comment on the valuation and I think, those are just pure speculations of people trying to make something up from data that we haven’t shared.
JS: A lot of people compares Symphony’s communications platform to Bloomberg’s terminal that costs 100 times more. Why is that? Are these two really comparable?
DG: So what Bloomberg has done over the course of the last 30-35 years, is connect the market participants on a standardized workflow platform where communication capabilities i.e. messaging has become the central piece by accident more than by intent and achieve that status of being the de facto standard for collecting information, collecting prices, negotiating prices, and making transactions, settling transaction issues, and eventually settling. And it has done so very successfully and that’s the reason why they have been coined the most expensive social network in the world. And fundamentally that’s what Bloomberg has built, that network of about 200,000 or more terminals. And what customers now want is to replace that network with a more open, much cheaper, and broader platform, than what Bloomberg is offering. And that is the real game and that’s the stake that we are winning because our pricing point, as you mentioned, is 100 times cheaper but not only that, we also are not building a business based on aggregating data, based on collecting data, and then reselling data and potentially looking at this data. And we founded Symphony, the number one principle that we need to be a neutral vendor, meaning that we are not going to come as an intermediary between the buyers and the sellers on this global infrastructure. And because of that, we earned, by default, the trust, which is the most important element in any online marketplace. And so, this is really the end game and that’s the reason we’ve been able to raise capital relatively easily and why we are growing so fast, despite the high density of this market.