Zeller raises $100 million at a $1 billion valuation, but founder Ben Pfisterer isn’t celebrating yet


Zeller co-founder and chief executive Ben Pfisterer. SOurce: supplied.

Fintech Zeller has become the latest Aussie unicorn of 2022, securing $100 million in Series B funding, at a valuation just shy of $1.1 billion.

It means the startup’s valuation has more than doubled since June last year, when it announced a $50 million raise that valued the business at $400 million.

But with a team of its engineers facing unimaginable turmoil in Ukraine, it’s a milestone that becomes “just irrelevant”, says Zeller co-founder and chief executive Ben Pfisterer.

The latest round was led by US VC Headline, and also included backing from Australian superannuation fund Hostplus.

Aussie VC Square Peg was also a repeat investor, along with US-based Addition and Spark Capital.

It comes off the back of a period of growth for the payments startup that was “well ahead of expectations”, Pfisterer tells SmartCompany.

While the COVID-19 pandemic put a lot of SMEs on pause, it also meant business owners had a rare moment to step back and assess their operations, he says.

Many took the opportunity to put new tech services in place, to ensure they were more efficient and ready to grow on the other side.

As of the end of 2021, Zeller had about 10,000 businesses signed up and that growth has continued well into the New Year, says Pfisterer.

“We’re signing up more by-month than we ever have.”

Some 81% of those new signups are switching from incumbent banks, Pfisterer adds. While he and the team initially envisioned Zeller as a product for new businesses, he says it shows there is appetite from established businesses too.

Not a time for celebration for Zeller

While to the purists Zeller may not be an official unicorn, valued at more than US$1 billion, this is still a milestone for the startup. Either way, Pfisterer isn’t one to get caught up in the hype.

He does note, however, that it represents something of a line in the sand, and an opportunity “to just take a breath and reflect on what’s happened in a short period of time”.

For the team, it’s success that should be celebrated, he adds, but the time for celebration is not now.

Zeller currently has 11 team members based in Ukraine; people who have been with the business since the very early days, and who are now literally fleeing for their lives following the deadly invasion by Russia.

Even announcing a significant raise like this one “just feels ridiculously wrong”, Pfisterer says.

He considered delaying the announcement, but went ahead only on the insistence of the Ukrainian team.

Having a globally distributed workforce means you can’t carry on as usual while such significant global events take place, Pfisterer notes.

Zeller engineers are suddenly having to consider taking up arms and struggling to get their children across the Polish border to safety.

The business is continuing to pay staff wages throughout and offering additional funds to cover cashflow challenges. Pfisterer has also reached out to contacts in Poland to offer safe refuge for Zeller team members, when they can get there.

But “it feels so futile”, he says.

The goings on in Ukraine put any funding news “into stark perspective”, Pfisterer says.

“Any talk of ‘unicorn’ or ‘growth’ — it’s just irrelevant.”


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