ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: PIE SYSTEMS
We sat down for a conversation with Sunny Long, co-founder at Pie Systems, to talk about how the company has been doing since they participated in the Mastercard Lighthouse Program, which challenges and opportunities the pandemic has presented and how the approach towards tax free shopping during overseas travel has changed in governments, among customers and stores across the world.
Pie Systems was founded in 2017 and offers a fully digitized end-to-end product where merchants can facilitate, and consumers can claim VAT refunds hassle-free at the touch of a button on their mobile devices. The service is free and provides consumers with the market’s lowest fees and merchants with the most efficient and digital process. Since their start, there have been improvements in the app, slight tweaks, iterations of the software and updates to the system, but not much has changed in terms of the thesis and underlying beliefs behind the foundation of the company and the business idea. Long says, “our thesis to begin with was that tax free shopping should be easy and digitized, and we see now that this is something that people truly resonate with.”
Before Pie Systems entered the Nordics, they prepared themselves by getting first-hand knowledge about the market. This included talking to stores and conducting user research and interviews. Armed with that knowledge and feedback, the company developed digital solution for the market need. The team prioritizes collecting and managing the customer feedback both from store and users. As they obsess over customer satisfaction, they rapidly iterate and work with customers from the ground up to introduce features that add value to their local partners.
Pie Systems participated in the Mastercard Lighthouse program during Spring 2020. Being asked about the program, Long says that the strongest benefit from their experience was the arena provided for meeting interesting people and forming their network. The pandemic limited physical meetings which was unfortunate and increased the difficulties to achieve the personal touch that the physical setting brings. From the program, Pie Systems got introduced to a number of banks and 2nd degree connections, among them also a travel card company.
Speaking about the current situation, Long points out that the pandemic is of course not beneficial for a company dealing with international shopping since international travel has gone done 80-90%. However, Pie saw an opportunity in the silver lining.
“It is an interesting opportunity and time right now. As there are fewer people that travel, this is a great opportunity to take time for upgrading our product. Additionally, our local partners have been even more receptive to getting new ideas with extra time on their hands. It’s all about taking advantage of a bad situation – many stores are still open, and Pie have found some great partners. We have had good conversations with retailers, brands and stores. Everyone is ready for the tourists to come back. In a broader sense, looking beyond the pandemic and further ahead, more countries are looking at digitalization as the way to go forward. Everything was very analog, and even on a government level, they have started realizing that digitalization brings new opportunities. Especially with COVID and contactless taking the front stage – digitization is needed more than ever”
Pie Systems raised a pre-seed round two years ago and they were looking to raise another round in February 2020. Long tells us that despite February usually being an off-season for travelers, Pie recorded their best month yet outperforming every other month in the company’s history. A couple of weeks later, the pandemic started making headlines on a global scale, creating an increasingly challenging fundraising environment. Despite all the headwinds, Pie pushed through, and are now expanding and building, looking towards a bright future ahead.