There is a unicorn named Soldo. The startup founded in 2015 by Carlo Gualandri has closed in recent days a series C investment round worth 180 million dollars led by the Singapore sovereign fund, Temasek, which brings its value over one billion dollars. Soldo provides companies with an administration platform and a current account to which prepaid cards are linked in order to automate and control business expenses. The investment raised will serve Soldo to further expand in Europe and continue product development.
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Soldo’s valuation, estimated by Dealroom at around € 300 million before the round, has not been officially disclosed. However, this is the largest round in the spend management market, in which the previous record was set two weeks ago by Pleo, a Danish startup that raised $ 150 million to $ 1.7 billion. with 35 percent fewer customers than Soldo. Also for Pleo it was a series C, an investment that certifies the work done and prepares for expansion. And like Pleo, Soldo’s round was also higher than expected. “We are all there, there is also Spendesk – says Gualandri, citing the French startup that last October closed a round B at a slightly lower evaluation than those of competitors at the same stage – Then there are those who say these things, but I believe it also brings bad luck. The important thing is that this round guarantees us to stay here for the next ten years and will help us attract more talent. And then there are the names of the investors, companies that blow you away before investing, and if they then invest it means that they have seen interesting things “. In addition to Temasek, whose portfolio includes Adyen, Dell, Paypal and Visa, the US funds Sunley House Capital (which belongs to Advent International and previously invested in Nexi) and Citi Ventures (Citigroup) participated in the round, and the previous investors Accel, Battery Ventures, Dawn Capital, and Silicon Valley Bank, which covered a small portion of credit.
“It’s not the first time I’ve done things that then become unicorns, and in hindsight it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what you achieve ”. Gualandri, now 56, remembers the bubble of 2000, when Tiscali was worth more than Fiat. Those were the years in which he made Matrix, which later became Virgilio, with whom he contributed to the birth of Fineco, the first online bank in Italy, before founding Gioco Digitale, acquired by Bwin in 2009 for 45 million euros: “They are all still there and they represented an important step for many people, many of whom still work with us ”. Soldo has around 200 employees divided between Italy (Milan and Rome), London and Dublin. Gualandri wants to talk about the value of the round and the investors, the customers (26 thousand in 31 countries, including Mercedes Benz, Gymshark, GetYourGuide, Endemol, Bauli, and Brooks Running) and the volume of business expenses managed (increased four times compared to round B of 2019). “The rest for us are vanity metrics, even if they are interesting for investors. In the next few years we will see the evolution, we will all become big companies by collecting single-digit market percentages ”. The market is the European one, which is worth 170 billion dollars: “Think of all the GDP generated by companies, take away the margin, and what remains is roughly corporate expenses”.
Gualandri moved to England ten years ago “to expose my children to a wider world and a greater wealth of stimuli, so as to help them get out of their comfort zone”. In fact, he faced the biggest challenge himself. For years he lived with the feeling that there was a need to solve a problem, namely the control of money owned by one subject and managed by others. Being forced to lend his credit card to his son to play on the Playstation, in short, just didn’t like him already. Soldo’s idea, however, was born on the day that an English bank refused to raise the credit card limit used by a startup that Gualandri was working on. “I needed a £ 40,000 line of credit to do marketing on Facebook, but they didn’t understand that I already had the money and I just wanted to spend it.” Back home, Gualandri dusts off an old idea, the Virgilio Card, a sort of N26 ante litteram (but at the time a bank in an app was not feasible) and Soldo was born. “I had already dealt with payments in Fineco and Gioco Digitale, albeit in a completely different way. I thought about it for a while, tried all the possible combinations of English words, then I chose an Italian term, penny, which refers to the currency with which the soldiers were paid, and I chose that. The Italian language is very rich and appreciated abroad. Soldo was banal, but cool ”. It is 2015 and the trouble is that this time the problem to which Gualandri is dedicated is not perceived by anyone. The world around Soldo is still busy collecting online payments: large companies are struggling with Stripe and families willing to pay for Soldo are few. As a result, investors don’t hear us. “So I decided to cheat.”
The first two rounds of Soldo are led by Gualandri himself, who invests half of the € 8 million raised to build the company, develop the product and test it on the market. Everything is made more difficult by the fact that in England what we consider one of the fathers of the internet is nothing more than a startupparo like any other, moreover elderly. “But to talk to the financial managers of a company you need to have some experience, and young people are hard to have.” Gualandri doesn’t give up and gets around the problem: Soldo starts working on specific use cases such as travel expense management, online shopping and digital marketing, and in the meantime conducts research that arouses the interest of companies. The latest last June: poor expenditure control costs European companies 2% of their turnover. So customers start to arrive, and in 2017 Accel, one of the first venture capital funds in the world, is convinced to invest. At that point, however, there is to deal with Brexit.
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“For us it was worse than the pandemic, with due respect for the dead. Because the latter has presented us with challenges that have forced us to question certain fixed points, and has allowed us to become better, while Brexit has only cut off our access to the European market ”. Soldo’s team had to “redo everything we had done in three years,” says Gualandri, who had to move the company from London to Dublin and create an Irish bank to continue serving the old continent. In the meantime, however, the market, which was already struggling to perceive the problem, began to look to Soldo. Unfortunately, potential customers are looking for something a lot less complicated. And the competitors, with less sophisticated solutions, grow quickly. “And the market was asking for even less than what they were offering”.
“Thinking that you have understood what the market needs is only the starting point – considers Gualandri – Then the customer is always right. As CEO I represent the market and I look at things in a certain way, but I am not representative of the market ”. Soldo had a high-end product, packed with features that most potential customers didn’t care about. Thus the development team, based mostly in Italy, has transformed it into something simple to use, hiding the advanced functions, essential for the high-end customers, which become available when required. “You have to give people what they expect – analyzes Gualandri – But if you want to climb you have to build today the company you will have to lead in three years”.
Soldo’s adventure is certainly still long, but Carlo Gualandri cannot fail to ask what he will do next. He replies with a smile: “In ten years I would like to keep hitting my head on difficult things, but without being the one who doesn’t sleep at night and works on weekends”.
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