Interview with Nicola Ebmeyer, Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Gain.pro
Nicola Ebmeyer co-founded Gain.pro having identified a gap in the market for solid information on private companies. As she says, “We founded it because we needed it ourselves.” Here, she fills us in on the drivers of the company’s success.
It’s an honour to meet you, Ms Ebmeyer! Thank you for spending this time with us. Could you please walk us through your journey from McKinsey to becoming a co-founder and co-CEO of Gain.pro?
At McKinsey, I felt in a very good place. I had great colleagues and interesting client engagements. After five years when I was an engagement manager, I needed to evaluate whether I wanted to go for the partner track or do something else. That was when the entrepreneurial itch started to play up.
My co-founder and I started Gain.pro because we identified an opportunity, a gap in the market for high-quality information on private companies, something we ourselves would have loved access to in our previous roles. In the beginning, we had five people, and now we have almost 250, with offices in London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Warsaw, Bangalore, and New York opening in 2024. Since our launch, we have received €20 million in funding and have gained over 150 clients. We serve leading investors (e.g., Blackstone, KKR, CVC), bankers (e.g., Goldman Sachs, UBS, Jefferies), consultants (e.g., McKinsey, BCG, Bain), as well as all four of the Big Four (KPMG, PwC, Deloitte, EY). As a team, we are dedicated to delivering the highest levels of client satisfaction in the industry. In fact, 100 per cent of surveyed organisations agree that Gain.pro is their go-to platform for private market data.
With a background in consulting, what skills or lessons from your earlier career have proven most valuable in your role as co-CEO at Gain.pro?
Firstly, I think it was my role in consulting that helped me identify the opportunity that grew into Gain.pro. I am very data-driven and analytical, and I had a clear understanding of what would help customers in PE, M&A, and consulting to make informed decisions. This was, and remains, absolutely key in what we do.
Secondly, during my time at McKinsey I learned how to break down highly complex problems into more manageable pieces. I don’t shy away from ambiguity and I get excited by ambitious goals. In order to grow, you continuously need to push existing boundaries and embrace feedback as a gift. We could have stayed as a small Dutch player and created a comfortable environment for my co-founder and myself, but we thought globally from the get-go and that has been a great move for us, growing 100 per cent year on year.
Lastly, I have experienced that you are best off if you lead a company with a high degree of transparency and a clear vision. At Gain.pro, we openly share an extensive set of KPIs with all of our employees and investors on a monthly basis. We are always honest about our performance, including during times that go less well than expected. This has created a lot of trust over the last years and people understand a lot better why we make certain decisions.
In the tech industry, female leadership is still underrepresented. Would you tell our readers a little bit about your experiences as a woman in a leadership role in the tech sector and any insights on overcoming gender-related challenges?
For those of us who are in the industry, particularly in leadership roles, we have to work a lot harder to overcome bias and get investors to believe in us. I’ve been overlooked by potential investors as a leader, referred to as “HR” and not been invited to events because it’s assumed I need to look after my child – challenges my co-CEO has not had to experience.
My advice is to fight against any imposter syndrome and be firm about your achievements and your strengths. I was lucky enough to have a handful of senior sponsors that were instrumental at certain stages in my career. They leaned in to enable an international office transfer at McKinsey, pushed for an early promotion, and encouraged me to take on the role of co-CEO at Gain.pro. These sponsors don’t suddenly show up, but you have to gain their trust through hard work and consistency over time.
When it comes to underrepresentation, it is definitely an issue in the tech industry, and female empowerment is at the top of my personal agenda. I think that the industry is actually one that lends itself to this; there is flexibility when it comes to where you work from, the hours you work, and so on. It’s also ideal for people of all ages – it’s not just for graduates – especially if you’re looking at having a family and continuing to work either full- or part-time.
Diversity and inclusion are important aspects of a thriving workplace. Can you tell us about the strategies you’ve implemented to foster diversity and inclusion, and what benefits you have observed?
Diversity and inclusion are incredibly important for us at Gain.pro, and it’s an area of the business that really resonates with me personally.
At Gain.pro, we get to enjoy a mix of different cultures and traditions on a daily basis, thanks to our global presence. I myself have lived in eight different countries and our team is made up of colleagues of over 35 nationalities. We truly appreciate the impact that cultural diversity has on our professional and personal growth, which is why we never miss a chance to celebrate local traditions. In October, for example, we were able to celebrate the colourful festival of Dussehra, led by our Bangalore office.
Also, one of our firm values states that “people are our greatest asset”. “We strive to create a non-hierarchical, inclusive, and trusting environment where your own contribution determines your progression.” We put a lot of emphasis on removing culture and gender biases. As part of this, we have just finalised a project with an HR consulting firm to create a career development and progression framework built on highly objective pillars to ensure equal opportunities for everyone at Gain.pro, independently of where people are located, who their direct manager is, and what gender the person has.
As I alluded to in an earlier question, I have experienced the challenges of being a woman – and a mother – in business and, in particular, as a CEO. There remains a lot of bias in the industry, although, slowly, progress is being made and the culture of business is changing. I want every single individual at Gain.pro to recognise that they are valued and listened to just as the same as anyone else.
The work-life balance is a concern for many professionals. How do you manage your own work-life balance, and do you have any tips for those striving to maintain it?
Let me start by addressing the elephant in the room. You simply don’t build one of Europe’s fastest-growing businesses by working 9 to 5. As a founder, you need to be willing to “be on” all the time. A cyberattack, sickness of a key employee, a complaint of a major customer, an emerging competitor, a pandemic, economic headwind, all these things happen irrespective of your holiday plans, weekends, and personal commitments. It’s your job as a founder to address these issues and do so in a timely manner. This, however, doesn’t mean that you have to work 24/7.
For me, work-life balance is a mindset question. I have found peace with the fact that I’m working more than most people do and I actually don’t mind it. I love the work I do. It energises me. Each year, I set priorities for myself. For example, 2023 is all about scaling Gain.pro to become the private market intelligence leader in Europe and beyond, spending quality time with my baby girl, and living a healthy lifestyle. This also means that I have actively deprioritised parts of my life that I put more emphasis on in the past, like living an active social life or going on adventurous travels. These are the priorities for this year; 2024 might look different again.
I have always been a very structured person, which helps me to focus on the activities that have the biggest impact on my current set of priorities. As an early bird, I don’t mind getting up earlier. This gives me extra time to get ahead with work before our European colleagues start working, to do sports, or to spend time with my daughter before she goes to daycare. During normal working hours, I try to be laser focused and only work on things that only I can do. In the evenings, two hours are blocked for my daughter and cooking. I’m very passionate about food. Later in the evening, I try to reduce the amount of work that I’m still doing for Gain.pro, but I’m not always succeeding in it yet.
To summarise, I think work-life balance is something very personal and it’s our own responsibility to create a set-up that works for us. No one else will do it for us.
Communication is vital in leadership. How do you ensure that your messages and vision are effectively conveyed to employees and stakeholders, especially in a fast-paced environment?
For us, it’s vital that every single employee knows how they contribute to our goals, and how their work impacts the business. It keeps people focused and that understanding keeps them working toward a shared goal. Of course, we have many employees across locations, so it’s vital we communicate often and transparently, and continue to talk about our vision and mission, so that they become ingrained in our culture and DNA as a business. All boats rise together.
How do you foresee the landscape of investment and M&A evolving in the coming years, and what trends do you anticipate will have the most significant impact?
The reversal of quantitative easing by central banks means that easy returns from rising company valuations are a thing of the past. This poses a challenge to private-equity firms, who now require more profitability growth in order to create healthy returns for their investors and themselves. It is now essential to drive organic sales growth, do buy-and-build acquisitions, or make operational improvements.
This trend will also impact the nature of the mandates that advisors will be working on. Whilst the last years were all about sourcing and advising on more platform deals, more emphasis will be put on formulating winning add-on strategies and pulling operational levers in the portfolio companies in the future.
Looking back on your journey, what is one piece of advice you wish you had received at the beginning of your career, and what difference would it have made?
As a business owner, your objective doesn’t necessarily need to be that people like you, but to act in the best interest of the company, its employees, and shareholders. On a daily basis, I need to make trade-offs. Sometimes the right decision for the business is not the desired outcome for an individual. For instance, it’s our responsibility as leaders to hire the best people for the right roles, instead of building positions around people. Loyalty is important when building a business but you have to find the balance between people and roles and ensure that you’re getting what you need for your business in terms of skills and focus.
Nicola Ebmeyer co-founded Gain.pro in 2018. As co-CEO, she leads a global workforce of 250 employees in developing a world-class private market intelligence platform. Nicola finds inspiration by focusing on building a product that she would have loved to use herself when she was still sitting at the other side of the table. Prior to Gain.pro, Nicola spent her career in consulting with McKinsey. She holds a master’s degree in Strategy and International Management from the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.