Soisy, one of the startups in the 2019 Startupbootcamp FinTech & CyberSecurity Program in Amsterdam has raised 1.25 million € in just 8 days since their equity crowdfunding campaign on the 200crowd.com portal had started. This is the highest sum ever collected by a FinTech company through a crowdfunding campaign and a great milestone for Soisy. We caught up with the company’s co-founders: Pietro, Andrea, and Marco, for a quick interview to find out how they got to this point, what lies ahead, and how they’ve been experiencing the first few weeks of the Startupbootcamp FinTech & CyberSecurity Program.
First, here’s all you need to know about Soisy:
A few years ago, Pietro Cesati and Andrea Sandro (the founders of Soisy) wanted to develop a solution to allow people to lend money directly without intermediaries. Fast forward a few years and their idea has evolved into a successful startup operating as a peer-to-peer social lending platform focused in the e-commerce space.
How does this FinTech platform for e-commerce work? It’s easy – Private (retail and institutional) investors finance the individuals who are making purchases on e-commerce platforms affiliated with Soisy. The startup isn’t (1) a bank or (2) a financial institution, (3) doesn’t lend money directly to anyone – Soisy (4) operates outside the classic areas of banking and financial investment. Their unique value proposition offers economic benefits to all actors in its business model. Investors earn more, buyers are able to tick even lower installments and the affiliated e-commerce companies pay nothing for the freemium integration.
Now, back to the Soisy Story: How did you get to where you’re at right now?
Pietro: It started when my co-founder, Andrea and I didn’t feel like we’re adding any value in what we were doing when we were both working at a bank. We started playing around with the concept of starting a startup, focused on P2P lending. We left the bank and started raising money for this idea. P2P lending wasn’t really developed back then in Italy (compared to the Anglo Saxon world). So, in 2015 we dedicated ourselves to working on building a business around that idea.
In 2016, we launched our company and it was a success amongst investors but a flop among borrowers. We hit a wall with the first concept. Why? Italian borrowers were apparently satisfied with the options they had back then and our market research wasn’t good enough. After 6 months, we found ourselves with a business that was difficult to scale.
Back to the drawing board: We threw around ideas on how we could improve our proposition. How could we transform our business? What was the best move to make? We decided to re-use our solution. We kept the investors and pivoted to a new market: e-commerce. We were not lending any more money directly to borrowers, but we started partnering with e-commerce merchants, who were offering their product and services through a pay-in-installments solution (which transfers the money directly to the e-commerce merchants). After an initial testing phase, we started again in May 2017 and we’ve had a growth rate of 20% each month ever since! The number of e-commerce merchants that use our solution has increased to more than 100 merchants. To date, around 2000 people have borrowed using Soisy, to purchase something from the e-commerce owners we are connected with.
“If you really think about it, back then, we were coming out of a pivot, and then an MVP. The offering was not fully polished but step by step we improved upon it. Now we have possibly the best offer of its kind in Italy. Why? We’re very focused on e-commerce. We really zoomed in on every iteration possible. Maybe there will be a moment that we will zoom out, but for now, we’re still zooming in.” –Pietro Cesati
What will the team be doing with the new funding you’ve secured?
We need it to just keep growing, we want to keep up with the growth rate we’re having now. But of course, the bigger we become, the more difficult it also is to keep up this speed of growth.
The second point on our plans right now is very related to why we’re in the Startupbootcamp FinTech & CyberSecurity Program. One feedback we received on our solution was that we’re only operating in Italy – while our customers are spread out internationally. That makes sense when you think: design, fashion, travel. Companies in these industries have customers all across the globe. Soisy is very Italian right now. So this is an interesting problem to solve… with a not so easy solution.
More or less at the same time when we started the funding rounds, we started realizing this ‘international’ need of the e-commerce sellers. The opportunity to join the Startupbootcamp FinTech and CyberSecurity Program came up at the right moment – we felt that it would be a good way to accelerate our path towards solving this ‘international offering’ problem we were faced with. Together with Startupbootcamp, we wanted to harness the power of their network and the partners of the program to find a solution to the challenge ahead.
You’ve just had one of the most successful FinTech crowdfunding campaigns in Italy – Do you have any tips for other startups out there?
Talk to your investors: I think it worked well for us because we also operate as a B2C, in a sense that we talk to our investors. We are credible and we know a lot of investors. We have 600 of them as our clients, and some of them have also invested in us as shareholders. So in that way, we’re used to talking to our investors.
Be comfortable with transparency: Crowdfunding has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that you take on board a lot of small investors. A big advantage is that it’s really good for marketing in the broad sense. It allows you to have conversations with people you wouldn’t have spoken to otherwise. It gives people transparency on what you do – and you need to be comfortable with that, otherwise, it doesn’t work. In our case, we’re used to being extremely transparent. If you are transparent and you’re willing to work on that level of transparency, people will definitely respond to it positively.
Pre-marketing: There’s a lot of work going on in a pre-marketing phase. You don’t want to just start with a campaign, with no one investing. You want to already have really committed people from the start of the campaign.
“We were extremely surprised! We didn’t ever contemplate this would happen – we thought our campaign would go on until the beginning of January, but the speed of it completely took us by surprise. It was incredible, to have had raised that much money in just 1 week. We started on a Tuesday and it was done the following Monday! The crowdfunding platform even went down during that time – it was almost like the website was selling ‘Last Tour’ Rockstar tickets. I think this accelerates things for us. Now there is plenty of attention on Soisy, there are so many people trying to get in touch with us, there are newspapers running stories on us in Italy!” – Pietro Cesati
How have the first few weeks in the SBC FinTech & CyberSecurity Program been? Any highlights or learnings you’d like to share with us?
Intense! There were plenty of workshops and meetings and new people we connected with. We’re not an early-phase startup – we’re more in an advanced phase. So these first weeks were the golden opportunity for us to take a moment, and rethink something we went through months ago.
The first workshop in Business Model Canvas really challenged us to rethink the Soisy model. We pivoted one and a half years ago – since then there has been constant refinement but there has also been a lot of execution going on. We worked really hard on the capital round. So I think it was a while since the last time we actually thought about our business, and how we were adding value to our clients. In the first week, we took a moment to reflect, using the tools given to us from the workshops.
Was Soisy moving into the right direction still? We took a (cloudy) Sunday afternoon to really get into it, using insights gained from the Business Model Canvas as well as the Value Proposition Canvas workshops. In my opinion, the Value Proposition Canvas was the most valuable tool for this purpose. We wanted to validate the problem we were solving so we took a sample of our partners (and some others – people we wanted to work with in the future) and we got our validation: Now is the moment for Soisy to go International. So basically, even though not much changed – this first part of the accelerator was a great opportunity for us to think, revalidate and know for ourselves that we were still going in the right direction with our business.
There is so much going on here at Startupbootcamp every day! It’s a huge network of people – we’d like to think of it as a big river, where you get many opportunities to catch the ‘fish’ that you want to. The challenge here is to balance the diverging phase with the converging phase – you have to really understand what you need and if you have a problem, you know that somewhere in that river lies the ideal solution.
And finally, how would you best describe Soisy?
Transparent, easy (as a client and employer) and true (we do things with no frills – “senza inutili orpelli” as Marco (Head of finance and staff – Co-founder at Soisy) likes to say it.
We’re really proud to have Soisy in our Startupbootcamp FinTech & CyberSecurity Class of 2019 – and are looking forward to supporting them in their growth and acceleration journey during these coming months!