We caught up with our very own CEO and co-founder Justina Tartilaite about how Adsum didn’t just survive – but thrived – as a fintech startup born in hard times. She shares words of wisdom on building useful solutions, bringing teams together, and the future of fintech.
How did Adsum start out?
Our story began with a small but ambitious team in a basement on the eve of the pandemic (February 2020). Despite the legacy of Jeff Bezos setting up Amazon from a garage, it’s not a prerequisite that all good companies start out that way – though it was certainly true for us. In retrospect, there was no better place to be… All the offices were closed anyway!
In many ways, the pandemic was a straightforward situation for us, because we just had to make it work. There was no option B. We had to find ways to build a sustainable business and make revenue from day one because we had no idea how long the total freeze of the market would last.
What was your vision in those early days?
Now is a good time to mention that the lightbulb moment came from Adsum’s other co-founder, Freddie Digby. He saw the constant headache experienced by 1 in 4 UK companies reclaiming VAT, especially those making large asset purchases. And we thought “what if we could turn those tax liabilities into assets?”
For me, what made me tick about the concept came from my personal ethos of usefulness. I was born in Lithuania and when I came to the UK, I had to earn money from day one. That’s why I can relate to the struggle of so many businesses and individuals – of having dreams and great ideas, but where finances are a major limiting factor.
The opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship is the best thing about doing business in the UK, but it is still a privilege to get your foot in the door. This is why finance infrastructure like Adsum is more than ‘nice to have’. It’s not a vitamin; it’s the painkiller.
So Adsum pursued success from day one – any secrets to achieving it?
It comes back to this idea of usefulness. Everybody knows the old phrase “only two things in life are certain – death and taxes”. A lot of businesses see the bureaucracy of the tax system as totally impenetrable. Non-negotiable.
While it’s true that, yes, you have to pay, we knew that Adsum could revolutionise how the system works for pre-revenue or net-repayment companies. And we knew that there was a very strong use case for our technology – with around 30% of GDP being taxes in most countries and 60% of the UK workforce employed by small to medium enterprises.
The big ‘aha’ moment for us was when we tested our product and saw what a big pain point it was for our users. We had a lot of joy in realising that we could help corporations optimise their taxes and what it could mean for their business.
What’s a day at Adsum like?
Having an integrated and cohesive team is important to us, so we are disciplined about staying connected – whether we are working remotely or in the office. Every day starts with a company-wide meeting, where one person presents on a topic of their expertise.
But it’s more than just the formal things… Personally, I love it when we order takeaway and enjoy it together, and that we can laugh and have a good sense of humour.
A good cultural fit has been really important in building our team. When making our hires, we look for clues of who people are at a very human level.
For example, one of our dev hires solves Rubix cubes as a hobby. Straight off that, I knew that if she has the kind of mind that solves problems in that way, then we could absolutely work together.
Thanks to that, we’ve ended up with a diverse team in terms of skill sets, educational backgrounds and gender.
What excites you most about the fintech landscape today?
Of course, for most people, tech, taxes and finances are big conversation killers at a dinner party – but between you and me, I think what’s happening in the UK right now is very exciting.
With the arrival of big data and open banking, it’s the single best place to be a fintech. All the existing banks have to share standardised data with entrants in the market – which, in everyday terms, means that startups can have the same level of market intelligence and data as major players. You don’t have to be a high street bank to offer the same level of seamless service to users.
Plus, the size of the UK market, the availability of suppliers and open-source AI and machine learning are all game changers for innovation and product development. So if you have good ideas, the technology is available – so long as someone can give you the cash, incredible things can happen.
Where is Adsum heading?
We see our future as part of critical payment infrastructure in the UK, specialising in taxes. Fintech is only 1% done and there are going to be massive developments in digitalising tax, hopefully shifting towards it being an automatic payment made at the end of the month.
We believe the time has come to peel back the shield of impenetrability of the tax system, which aligns with what HMRC are doing with Making Tax Digital. As pioneers of tax return technology, we see Adsum’s role as central in making the system work better for businesses.
We also plan to expand into new markets, and our current big goal is for Adsum to be available in any English speaking country with open banking. As part of our growth, we’re planning to almost double our current team of 26, so there’s a lot of excitement and activity behind the scenes at Adsum right now.
If you had to raise a toast to one of Adsum’s achievements, what would it be?
I’m proud of where we are today – but even more so, I’m proud of how we got there. We’ve got a stellar performance, and we achieved it by maintaining great relationships within the company and being user-led. It’s been quite a journey – we’ve outgrown our office space two times and now we’re on the 12th floor with a beautiful view overlooking London. I’m excited to see everyone’s hard work continue to pay off in improving our product and helping it reach more businesses.
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About Justina Tartilate
Justina Tartilaite is Co-Founder & CEO of Adsum Technologies with overall responsibility for strategy and enterprise management. Prior to founding Adsum, Justina was Director of Private Debt at Deutsche Bank, London and a member of Deutsche’s ‘Aspire’ management fast-track program and she previously worked at ABN Amro and RBS. She is a winner of multiple maths olympiads and holds a first class honours degree in engineering from CASS. She is an alumnus of Harvard Business School. In her spare time Justina is a keen naturalist and enjoys water-skiing.