Our guest for this #FinTechInterview is Giacomo Zaninetta, Italy Country Manager at Agicap, a Lyon-based innovative start-up that provides digital solutions to the cash management needs of SMEs. In May 2021, Agicap raised an impressive $100M round B at a valuation of more than $500M.
Thank you for joining us today in this coffee chat! First of all, would you tell us what led you to Agicap?
I started working as a consultant, but my professional aspirations weren’t satisfied. So, I co-founded a real estate start-up. This experience spurred my desire to help SMEs, which led me to join Agicap as I deeply believed in its mission. I soon got integrated in the team and now I am committed to bring this company into the Italian market.
At what point do you think a start-up should scale up into new market places? What considerations did you make before expanding Agicap abroad?
Obviously, a product should be primarily evaluated in the first market it enters. However, the market in which Agicap operates generates a “one takes all” kind of situation, meaning that the first player to expand will also have the biggest growth. Different products, perhaps more strictly linked to the country they were born in, have different necessities. Therefore, the perfect time to scale depends on the company’s structure and environment.
How would you describe Agicap in a few words?
“Cash is king” but cash flow management is a complex and time-consuming activity. Agicap solves this problem by helping SMEs to monitor and predict their cash flow in a smarter and faster way.
Do you believe that businesses smaller than SMEs are too reluctant to innovate to become a possible target customer, or are they attractive for FinTechs because they represent an important slice of the Italian market?
To us, medium-sized and small businesses are an essential target. One of the most significant strengths of our product is its capability to answer the cash flow management needs of all Italian SMEs, from micro-businesses with 5 employees to structured enterprises with revenues of more than hundred millions.
Have you noticed greater resilience to the pandemic in the companies that have used your software compared to those that have not?
The pandemic has certainly made the issue of treasury and cash flow monitoring more relevant. We are grateful that we have helped many businesses to avoid a meltdown from which it would have been difficult to recover, and we are convinced that those who have closely monitored cash flow in recent years have managed to avoid the worst consequences of the effects of the pandemic.
The Italian FinTech environment is still far behind in terms of investments and number of scale-ups compared to many other European countries such as Germany, France, UK, Estonia etc. What do you think are the main steps to ensure that this gap is filled?
We believe that it is a matter of ecosystem: for example, French politics has set the goal of reaching by 2025 at least 25 unicorns, therefore the French ecosystem is supporting the companies in that trajectory at the level of fundraising, networking, visibility etc. This type of action brings along digitalization in the economic sphere. Italy is still far from this type of environment, and we hope that, also thanks to the recovery fund, we can allocate resources to digitization and create a beneficial environment for Italian startups.
Do you think that this situation will change in the next years?
Future developments depend on the context in which startups will operate. For instance, the evolution of the contracts of employment in Italy will be fundamental. Moreover, Italy needs a “competitive advantage” to become stronger, by developing specific skills at a competitive price (like Portugal did). With regards to Agicap, in the long term we want to join forces with other companies to create the environment that Italian startups need. Our first step was joining the FinTech District community in Milan.
If Agicap had been born in Italy, would it have reached the goals it has reached so far, such as the internationalization and your impressive fundraising?
It would have been possible. Some startups have done similar things, such as Satispay and Casavo (even though the latter was financed through debit). Nevertheless, the obstacles you face are many more than if you raise funds abroad. We are convinced that our co-founders would have realized great projects in Italy as well, because much of their success is due to their vision, their competences and commitment. This accounts for 4/5 of the startup’s success in the first two years. The last fifth is due to luck, meaning finding yourself in the right place at the right time, with a product with a strong market fit and an advantageous legislation. As we said, the context is important.
You have a diversified client base. Does this lead you to hire workers with competences in diverse sectors? Which characteristics are necessary to work in a company like yours?
We need diversified competences: Agicap works with clients of all kinds. As far as the hard skills are concerned, we don’t look for “standard characteristics” in the workers we hire. Obviously, it’s easier for someone with an economic background to understand how our tool works, but everyone can learn. Soft skills are more important: we need smart people, who are ready to roll up their sleeves and do “whatever it takes”, and who are enthusiastic for the project. They need to feel like entrepreneurs themselves because this then translates into higher labor productivity.
What advice would you give to a young student with a passion for FinTech?
First, you need to be informed about the current market opportunities. Then, you need to be proactive. This means not just to post on LinkedIn and look for online job offers. Not everything gets posted on the Internet. You could get to know an interesting opportunity through your network, in which case you must not be afraid to come forward and send a message directly to the Head of talent acquisition or the founders. Be bold and passionate!
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