By taking advantage of the scalability and international reach of AWS, we’ve expanded to the level we’re at today. Within the first year, we had tens of thousands of members in 150 countries, and we’ve continued to grow ever since.  
Gert Sylvest Co-founder and Senior Vice President of Global Network Strategy

While more than 2 billion people worldwide are connected via social networks, businesses still largely interact one-to-one, exchanging unstructured information between each other, often still on paper. Take invoicing, for example. Despite 30 years of effort to digitize the exchange of information, estimates indicate that this has only been achieved for around 5 percent of transactions. This trend indicates that digital supply chains will remain the preserve of the most advanced companies, with the vast majority missing out on the efficiencies and opportunities that digitization can bring.

Tradeshift was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark, by three entrepreneurs who wanted to change this. They had worked together on an e-invoicing network for the Danish National IT & Telecom Agency, and saw the potential of a solution to help businesses buy, pay, and work together more effectively.

Launched in 2010, it now has more than 300 staff and supports 800,000 companies across 190 countries. Its customers range from Fortune 500 enterprises to huge public sector bodies such as the U.K.’s National Health Service. The platform handles several billion dollars in transactions each month, and its success has won it a raft of awards and attracted almost $200 million from investors such as HSBC, Amex, and PayPal.

 

In their previous roles, Tradeshift’s founders learned valuable lessons about building IT infrastructures. They took these lessons with them into their new venture. “We wanted to allow the ‘long tail’ of the industry—essentially millions of small businesses that couldn’t otherwise afford digitized business processes—to join our network,” says Gert Sylvest, co-founder and senior vice president of global network strategy at Tradeshift. “All three of us had experience working with cloud technologies. We knew we wanted to use the cloud, open standards, and open-source software wherever possible to keep costs low and enable massive scalability.”

He believes that a crucial component of Tradeshift’s success comes from its unique approach. “We want to connect companies, processes, and legacy systems, and this network element is very hard to do without a cloud strategy that allows really quick onboarding. In our network, buyers and suppliers are equal entities, so anyone can transact with anyone else. We were born in the cloud, not behind company firewalls, which is the opposite of some traditional organizations. Now, we see firms such as this buying up smaller companies and trying to glue the network element onto their offering, but it’s not easy,” says Sylvest.  

Tradeshift evaluated a broad range of options, from dedicated hardware to cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). Sylvest says, “We looked at the market and saw that AWS had developed services to deliver strong APIs, pure virtualized infrastructures, and good control over instance management. This sounded like a strategy that would work in the long term. We had big ambitions for the first two years, like being able to switch on entire regions in one go. Only AWS could offer us the rapid scalability that our business plan required.”

Sylvest adds that setting up the network on AWS took practically no time at all: “The company was founded in early 2010, and within three months we were live with a product. It really was a very fast time-to-market.” Tradeshift runs all its services on AWS, including its core platform, its apps, and all related data. Its test, development, and deployment pipelines also use AWS.

Tradeshift started out using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) but is gradually moving to a microservices architecture. Sylvest says, “Today, we deploy using Docker. Each team has control over its own services, including hosting, managing APIs, and provisioning.”

 

By using AWS, Tradeshift has been able to launch its network and change the way companies view their business processes. Sylvest says, “Being in the AWS Cloud has allowed us to distribute advanced, people-centric business software to organizations everywhere in the world. These firms wouldn’t otherwise have the resources or the knowledge to acquire such software or be able to participate in advanced digital supply chains.”

“By taking advantage of the scalability and international reach of AWS, we’ve expanded to the level we’re at today. Within the first year, we had tens of thousands of members in 150 countries, and we’ve continued to grow ever since. For example, we saw 250 percent growth in the total value of transactions on the platform in 2015 compared to 2014,” says Sylvest. Recently, Tradeshift went live on AWS in China. “Technically, it’s very easy for us to open there,” says Sylvest. “AWS has recently announced a broader working relationship with its Chinese data-center partner, which was the trigger we needed to launch.”

Tradeshift’s growth has been impressive, both in numeric terms and in the recognition it has gained. In June 2016, it secured a $75 million round of funding from investors, adding to $125 million of previous investment in a deal that values the company at $600 million. Revenue for 2016 is projected to be $50 million. Tradeshift has also won a raft of awards for innovation, sustainability, and digital disruption.

Sylvest believes that customers get a better experience with Tradeshift. “We’ve gone live with large customers in just a few weeks, where traditional enterprise software deployments take many months. We find that customers are acutely aware of the cost of change, and the continuous development models that are supported in the cloud let them manage change at a completely different pace,” he says.

Tradeshift has found that using AWS has been an asset when speaking to Fortune 500 customers. “Big enterprises take a lot of interest in how we operate, especially given that we’re in the cloud. AWS helps us give them the confidence of a reliable, secure, compliant platform for a critical part of their business operations,” says Sylvest.

In addition, the company is in a good position to keep control of its costs as its expansion continues. Sylvest says, “Although our operations, including infrastructure, only represented a fraction of the total costs of the business when we launched, we weren’t too concerned about the cost of AWS. Being able to move fast was more important at the time. Now that the volume of transactions is higher, we can look to optimize our costs.”

 

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