In the spotlight

Jonatan
Allback

“Starting his career in consulting, then moving to banking, with a brief stop at Goldman Sachs, Jonatan Allback who now leads one of Adyen’s most strategic accounts, eBay, out of San Francisco, says about Adyen: “It was love at first sight.”

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Jonatan Allback remembers the precise moment he became a payments nerd.

In 2013, Adyen landed a deal with Swedish music-streaming juggernaut Spotify. Jonatan, who goes by Jono, had joined Adyen as a Junior Account Manager in the global headquarters in Amsterdam a year prior. A relatively recent business school graduate, Jono picked up payments quickly, and he was asked to manage the Spotify account. After a few months working with the Spotify team, he was walking them through intricate payment topics with an ease that surprised even him.

“You don’t realize how much you’ve learned until you’re geeking out on data analysis and auth rate optimizations,” says Jono, who grew up in Sweden but moved to the US to play soccer in college, then joined Adyen in Europe. 

In fact, he’s always been drawn to complex topics like payments. Adyen’s early years were “wild and fast-paced, like you’d expect from a start-up,” he says. “Every day brought a new challenge — it still does.” At the time, data analysis could be painfully manual, and calculating something like interchange rates might be an all-hands-on-deck project. For example, understanding changes to Visa and Mastercard rates in order to hand off the information to engineers. To Jono, the banter in the Dutch company was “refreshingly direct,” and the energy in the headquarters was (and still is) contagious, he says.

After three years running accounts in Amsterdam, Jono moved back to the U.S. in 2015 to co-lead the Account Management team in San Francisco. But earlier this year, after some reflection, he realized he didn’t want to continue managing. 

“I missed being deep into the weeds and getting my hands dirty,” Jono says. “I wanted to own my own projects versus dealing with the administrative parts of managing. I liked the mentoring and coaching aspects but wanted to interact with customers directly.”

Jono’s journey at Adyen unfolds like the history of Adyen itself, from his early days working on Groupon, getting Spotify up and running, to his work with Netflix in the San Francisco office. Now, heading into his sixth year at Adyen, Jono is using his payments knowledge to tackle his most high-profile position yet: managing Adyen’s relationship with eBay. It’s a difficult and complex project for Adyen, but Jono is ready for the challenge. 

“Managing accounts at Adyen makes you a bit like an octopus. You have tentacles in each part of the company, which exposes us to everything Adyen does,” he says. “You’re part consultant, part relationship manager, and part project manager. You need to know the product, and also which subject matter experts to bring in to help solve your merchant’s challenges.”

Keep reading to learn more about Jono’s story.

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What do you love about working in Adyen?

The fact that people aren’t afraid to fail and make mistakes. At Adyen, you have the freedom to make choices, but you’re responsible for the outcome as well. And if you prove that you’re able to run with a large, complex project — regardless of what it is — you’ll open doors within the company, and you’ll be able to move to any role. You can grow and learn more in this company than anywhere else I’ve seen.

What keeps you coming to work every day?

Although it sounds very cliché, it’s the people. I work best when I have people around me and when we have fun together. Whether we’re working on a project or even if it’s “beer o’clock,” it’s a “work hard, play hard” mentality everywhere, which I like.

Tell us about one of your peak moments at Adyen. 

About a year after I had been managing the Groupon account with Sam Halse (COO), it became clear that Sam was going to move on, since he was taking over as Head of Account Management in Amsterdam. We were planning a meeting with Groupon at their office in Switzerland. I had always been going to these meetings with Sam, listening in and learning. But then he asked me to go on my own. He said I’d never be able to fully own the account if he’s always there. I was nervous to travel there alone, because Groupon was one of our largest accounts back then. But it also felt great that I had earned Sam’s and the company’s trust.

And a memorable facepalm moment?

In my second year, I was at a gambling conference in London. I was on the conference floor having a long, engaging conversation with a prospective client, thinking we could help them out. After 15 minutes, we realized we wouldn’t accept his business and had wasted everyone’s time.

"People have different definitions of success. Some think it's titles. Not me."

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced at the company?

The biggest challenge I’ve always had is staying up to date with the ever-changing payment landscape. It’s an industry that is constantly evolving--from new products and players to rules and regulations. It can be a challenge to ensure you are well educated and have the right information, so we can continue to support our merchants.

How would you describe your day job to a child?

We’re trying to help merchants with their challenges, and make sure they’re happy with us as a partner to solve their payments problems.

"I found Adyen to be the opposite of banking. At the bank, we might have meetings for three months and nothing got done. At Adyen, things get done in three weeks. It suited me perfectly."

What has been your favorite project in your six years in Adyen?

Definitely taking Spotify live. Seeing them scale and overcoming the growing pains and challenges we faced with that. As a Swede, taking the largest Swedish unicorn live and seeing it grow all the way through their journey, that’s awesome. It will always be dear to my heart.

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"Whether it’s friends or colleagues, you should be able to tell people your true feelings and be yourself, without any fear of the repercussions for being honest and open. You don’t have to love or agree with everybody, but you should respect everyone. At Adyen, we have that “family” feeling, so people will not hold it against you if you disagree with them. People are encouraged to be themselves."

Do you think you chose the role with eBay, or did the role choose you?

Plenty of things happen for a reason, but I do believe you are the one determining your future. You’re steering your life. You’re always in charge of what you put into any role or project. You choose to put in the effort you do every day. If you put in a lot of it, good things will happen. So ultimately, I chose this role and I’m happy I did.

What’s it like working on such a high-profile account?

From the outside, it’s difficult to understand all the complexity of an account like eBay until you look under the hood and see what a big project it is for both companies. So many parts of eBay are changing because of this deal.

We had a critical meeting a few weeks ago. In the room, we had 5 or 6 people, eBay had dozens. This shows how many aspects of their business it touches. And the importance of the project for them.

What’s great about working on this account — and working for Adyen — is you get to work on projects with some of the largest companies in the world, eBay being one of them. Our merchants literally shake up every industry, and Adyen is helping with that because we have a direct impact on their business. It’s a huge challenge and responsibility but I love it.

They’re a large, successful company, they’re looking to revamp their whole payments infrastructure — and we’re helping them do it. How often do you get the chance to work on something like that?

What’s different about Adyen compared to other companies?

The simple fact is, Adyen is structured differently than most tech companies. We don’t have the same organizational structure and departments— we actually don’t really have departments. It’s one reason why we’ve been so successful. We want to keep the agility, independence, and autonomy because it’s fast — and that’s how we like it.

What's one of the perks of working here that surprised you?

Travel and the international aspect have been really exciting for me. Any project can take me to a new office around the globe for a few weeks. The flexibility is great, both personally and professionally. I went to Africa in November for two weeks -- which helped me recharge the battery and keep things in perspective.

What three words would you use to describe Adyen?

Do it again. (This is literally what “Adyen” means in Surinamese). Our founders really “did it again,” and created a payments company that has disrupted the industry’s landscape. The exciting part is that there’s still room for all of us to keep the momentum and “do it again”  iterate, launch fast, and create impact for our merchants. Some of the things that got us to where we are today won’t get us to Adyen 2.0 so we adapt and never slow down.

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