“I’m a serial copier”. This is how he defines himself Enrico Pandian: 41 years, 19 companies started, 3 exits and 14 bankruptcies behind them. Founder, among other things, of Everli, a startup that closed an investment (series C) of 100 million euros in March to further expand abroad. Everli, which in 2020 had a turnover of 110 million euros, is an app for online shopping in various supermarkets, operating in four countries and aiming to become a leader in Southern Europe. Dealroom the currency around half a billion euros. It was born as Supermercato24 in 2014 and in a couple of years it has become a model to copy.
Pandian calls himself a pirate, not an entrepreneur. “I like the heroic part of doing business. I like solving problems, not structuring companies”. Identify a model of success in advanced markets, put together a team to copy it, start the startup and when it works, entrust it to a manager to make it grow. In 2014 Pandian comes from the prezzipazzi.com e-commerce experience, sold to a competitor, the second exit after that of mature.it, which distributed materials for high school graduation. “I lived in England and used a local food delivery service. In Italy there was no such thing,” Pandian recalls. The idea for the first copycat comes to him after reading an article on Instacart, an American startup that runs a food collection and delivery service, launched in 2012 and which became a unicorn in 2018. Italy is the ideal market to replicate it for via the splitting of large-scale distribution. “I had always invested out of my own pocket, but Supermercato24 needed more capital than I had – recalls Pandian – So I participated in a startup competition”. The payout is an investment of 360 thousand euros by 360 Capital.
Pandian thus discovers venture capital. Shortly after, his second daughter is born, but “startups and children don’t get along very well”. He goes into crisis and asks for help from new members, who advise him to appoint a co-CEO. “There I had the intuition: unicorns are difficult to make, while replicating successful companies is more feasible.” Pandian identifies in Federico Sargenti, former Amazon and current CEO of Everli, the ideal person to grow the project. Instead, he begins to slip off: “I decided to diversify my portfolio by creating a new business every two years”. Pandian today owns a small portion of Everli and no longer has operational roles. “With Supermercato24 I learned that having cash is more important than making good metrics. Without cash you don’t make good metrics and when you risk running out of money you have to put the product aside and fund raising”, says Pandian.
The main problem with Supermercato24 were the queues at the checkout, impossible to predict for the delivery boys who took care of the shopping. “When I saw Amazon’s cashless store, I immediately decided to copy it.” At the end of 2016 Pandian founded Checkout Technologies with Jegor Levkovskiy, which he will sell three years later to an American company in the smell of a unicorn. It is the first attempt to replicate the Everli model, but after Pandian takes off the team fails to raise the investment necessary for growth. So he is called back by investors while in San Francisco to breathe the air of the Valley. Contact the COO of Standard Cognition and find a purchase proposal in front of the coffee. A partner, however, pulls back and the deal is broken. Pandian recapitalises, raises and nine months later closes the sale, taking four times more. “During that time I realized that the most important thing in a startup is to maintain the initial excitement in the most difficult moments”.
The pirate immediately returns to the track. “Checkout Technologies had offices on the outskirts of Milan, where there were no home delivery services.” In Italy, food delivery is late and so Pandian decides to copy the American Byte Foods by founding FrescoFrigo in 2018, smart refrigerators to distribute fresh and quality food in offices. The 2020 pandemic undermines the health of FrescoFrigo, but the company is saved by moving the vending machines to condominiums. When you go back to the office, “more and more people want to eat fresh and healthy things, and we catch that need.” Now that the company is walking on its own, Pandian can take off. “Italy is going through a particular moment – Pandian claims – There is a growing interest from foreign venture capital, but we have a deal flow that is not up to par.” The solution is to “bring more interesting startups to the market” and thus StartupGym was born. “I want to go faster: no longer a company every 24 months, but more startups at the same time. Let’s start in September”.
StartupGym is a startup studio, a copycat of companies such as Rocket Internet or Betaworks: it identifies startups that work in advanced markets and replicates them with Italian teams aiming at the European market. What Everli, Checkout and FrescoFrigo have done. In the hope of creating one or more Zalando, the European clone of the American Zappos who became a unicorn in 2015 and is now a leader in online shoe sales outside America. To make the Pandian model work, he must resort to one of the most important things he has learned: trusting others. “Entrepreneurs always think they’re number one, but they’re conductors, not musicians. They need to know a little bit of everything, not be good at everything. We just need to be able to talk, hire better people than us to do that. what is needed, and raise investments “.