This month, Bondora is celebrating its 14th birthday! And who better to be our next Bondora Superhero than the founder and CEO himself, Pärtel Tomberg. Find out how the idea for Bondora grew, what his biggest learning curves were, and what fellow Bondorians have to say about him:
Bondora Superheroes #19 — Pärtel Tomberg
👱🏼♂️ Bondorian since: 2008
💡 Role: CEO
🚀 Team: Bondora
How was the idea for Bondora born?
The story of Bondora goes way back to when I was still in high school. The idea was planted because of a girl who invited me to join her on a trip to Turkey. I had to borrow money for the trip, and I reached out to 10 or more of my friends, who contributed a bit toward the total trip costs. I promised everyone I’d pay them back within a month. It was a fun trip, and in the process of earning money to pay back my friends, I kick-started my career.
Fast-forward to 2007 when I was studying in the UK. The first bank in the UK had just gone bust. We realized that personal loans—which already took ages to get through the traditional banking system—would soon be heavily cut back because of the crisis. We also understood that the traditional financial products sold to retail investors were very hard to understand, and people had to take on a lot of risk.
So, we ended up combining the idea that was planted many years earlier with the market situation at the time and the tech that allowed us to provide a fully online service. We launched the BETA version of our marketplace in 2008 and made it public in 2009.
Initially, we focused on Estonia, with plans to expand into Sweden and Finland as country-based websites. Later, however, we realized our platform was needed worldwide, so we started expanding to make it available to people across Europe and beyond (watch this space).
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned over the past 14 years?
I think the Agile Manifesto sums up my main learning well: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. In other words – choose people over processes: when you get the right people, everything else will follow. If you don’t, you can have all the fancy processes and tools, but they will have little impact without the right people wielding them.
When did you realize that Bondora was going to be a success?
Up until the end of 2011, I was still working full-time. Bondora was moving, but very slowly. My co-founder Martin (who built our tech) and I decided we needed to double down and either make it work or shut it down. We had a runway in the company and personally for about 12 months. This gave us a big motivation and drive—and time—to start focusing and make things work.
In October 2012, we finally launched the product we had envisioned for so long – a global platform for investors who, at that time, were able to invest in Estonian assets. Additionally, we moved away from the concept that investors do individual credit risk assessments, and we started doing them ourselves. When we launched, everything started to pick up: credit demand and capital supply, and at that moment, it was clear that things were moving in the right direction.
What was your biggest fuck-up?
My biggest fuck-up also relates to my biggest learning curve: not bringing in the right people with the right character and skills fast enough to cover all the jobs that needed to be done. We invested too early in growth in some areas before having the right product and all the required people.
Describe your typical day at Bondora
My days start with 1-1 meetings with different team members. This lasts until lunch, after which I focus on the most critical things in a given week. I try to keep 4-6 hours of focus time each day that is not covered by routines.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing my team succeed, especially on things I wasn’t involved in.
What’s your favorite Bondora value?
One team – keeping everyone aligned to Bondora’s overall goals rather than individual efforts.
If you could study anything again that would aid in your role as CEO, what would it be?
I plan to take a 2-week course at Stanford this summer that focuses on helping CEOs grow their companies effectively.
What is your best investment advice?
All my personal wealth is tied to Bondora, either through the shares in the company or Go & Grow. So, of course, I think Bondora is a great investment!
Recommend a must-read book or must-listen podcast to your colleagues
These are the three books I have most gifted to my colleagues:
- High Output Management by Andy Grove
- Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke
- High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil
All three are practical books for anyone who needs to manage people, regardless of the size of the team or whether it’s in business, NGOs, or the public sector.
What Bondorians have to say about Pärtel:
Helena Joamets – Chief People Officer
“The thing about Pärtel that motivates me most is the possibility to learn a lot of new things fast while building something great. When you work with him, you get the experience in a year that would take several years in other companies. Also, his drive to accomplish things is contagious.”
Martha Skirta – Head of Legal & Compliance
“Pärtel has built this amazing company where you don’t just feel like an employee, but like a family. This itself is already rewarding to be part of. He gives you opportunities to succeed and supports you in finding your path, as long as you are up for a challenge and ready to take responsibility.”
Kairo Kraaner – Chief Marketing Officer
“If I had to describe Pärtel in one sentence, I’d say he’s a little mad entrepreneur who is not afraid to take risks and experiments to find a way to success. He is demanding but also super supportive, which makes you want to develop every day and become a better version of yourself.”
Kaarel Roben – Engineering Team Lead
“The most rewarding thing about working with Pärtel is his attitude. If you fuck up, then no one will be blamed, but the person will learn from it and become even better.”
On a more personal note:
If you could, what advice would you give your younger self?
Ask more and listen more.
Should pineapple be allowed on pizza?
Why not – no point in being fundamental about food. Otherwise, we would all be eating the same things our ancestors did 1,000 years ago.
What’s your favorite TV show?
I try to avoid watching TV shows as they are a massive time sink, especially now due to streaming sites where you can watch all the 55 seasons in one go. However, one that I would recommend to my team is Silicon Valley, especially the first few seasons.
What’s the phone app that you use the most?
WhatsApp – I use my phone primarily for communication and reading, so I don’t use other apps that much. I try to avoid using my phone outside working hours.
How many times do you hit the snooze button, or do you wake up immediately in the morning?
When my kids were younger, I used to sleep until I woke up. I never had anything booked in the mornings, and I did many things late at night. However, now I need to take my kids to kindergarten, and as a result, a daily routine has reconfigured my biology. I wake up at 08:00 each morning and mostly a few minutes before the alarm goes off.
What’s something you want to do but scares you?
I spend most of my free time with my family. We try to do a trip each weekend during the spring-summer season, but recently we’ve stayed home for most of the time. I also play football twice a week.
Lastly, tell us your life motto
I really don’t have one. I try to live my life in a way that I would not have many regrets on things that I have not yet done, but I would want to (excluding bungee-jumping, which I’ll save for the future).
Thank you for joining us for this very special blog post! We’ll see you again in April as we get to know 20th Bondora Superhero.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the individual and not Bondora’s official view.