In conversation with Matteo de Brabant, Founder of Jakala and Laurent Foata, Head of Ardian Growth
Matteo de Brabant: Three years ago we had no international revenues, but now we’re among the top five in Europe, with €250m in turnover and half of that outside Italy. So we’ve grown very fast, and this gave us a lot of options to raise money–strategic investors, private equity, even an IPO. But I decided to join forces with Ardian because Laurent Foata, Bertrand Schapiro and the team have an entrepreneurial approach and they really know both B2B markets and digitalization, which isn’t very common in private equity. As soon as we started talking, we were exchanging ideas about possible growth plans and acquisition targets. We’re very focused on growing in Europe, especially France and Spain, and these are geographies where Ardian has a strong footprint too.
Laurent Foata: It’s much harder to build a business and reach critical mass in our sectors if you’re based in fragmented markets like Italy, France or Spain than it is in the US. To succeed as Matteo and his team have done, you need an incredible instinct for survival and reinvention. For us, as growth investors at home in Southern Europe, that’s crucial. Put that together with Jakala’s ability to disrupt its markets and Matteo’s very strong personality, and you have the kind of company we search for–a needle in the haystack.
M.d.B.: I think Italians are used to unpredictable situations and that’s why we’re very flexible. I can’t say where Jakala will be five years from now but I’m very focused on growth and scale. We are always ready to experiment and try new things, that’s our attitude.
L.F.: It’s a very European approach. We’re not going to take a predefined market vertical and limit ourselves to just applying the industry’s best practices. We’re going to proceed pragmatically, stay close to our customers so we understand how to deliver value and at the same time be bold and ambitious in our approach. The advantage when you start in a market like Italy is that you quickly outgrow it, so you have no other choice than expanding internationally. It’s Darwinian–a question of ambition. And if you build on the core values we’ve discussed–that ability to be flexible and reinvent yourself–you have everything you need to become the undisputed leader in Europe.
M.d.B.: My dream is to become a global leader. Unlike most Italian entrepreneurs, I’ve never worried about being the majority shareholder. I’ve always been focused on building relationships with the different stakeholders: the management team, shareholders, clients, suppliers and potential partners. The key to achieving my dream is to find great managers who complement my approach and have the expertise I don’t have. My job is ‘just’ to motivate and convince them to share my vision.
L.F.: This kind of international growth project is precisely what we look for at Ardian Growth and it’s precisely what we’re set up to support. We have more than a decade of experience in continental European markets, deep knowledge of the sectors we focus on and a huge network of entrepreneurs and managers who can help Jakala. Over the coming years we will use these strengths to help Matteo build up this company’s influence and achieve his ambitions.
M.d.B.: We have made more than ten acquisitions in the last 15 years and I’m convinced that we need strong organic growth as well as M&A. Organic growth is obviously at the core but without M&A, you miss those moments of discontinuity that allow you to change the organization, look again at your offer and question your pricing. A company like ours needs these moments because we must keep adapting and innovating. If you have a strong management team and a great partnership with your investors–as we do with Ardian–you can achieve the growth we are aiming at. The reason I also invested personally in Ardian’s Growth fund is the same: I choose people and companies that I like and trust, who leverage on a really strong relationship.
L.F.: Great entrepreneurs like Matteo represent 80% of the investors in our new fund. This is a massive advantage, not just in terms of market intelligence, insight on business models or expansion of our ecosystem reach, but also because they give Ardian huge credibility when we’re approaching new entrepreneurs. It helps us to source deals or build-ups and also to put forward a strong independent candidate for a seat on their board. The value we create like this is much greater than if we were working alone.
M.d.B.: Whenever I talk to another entrepreneur who is looking at options, I naturally introduce them to the partners I have chosen.
L.F.: It may seem funny but the thing that we’ve learned through our networking events for entrepreneurs is that when we want to convince someone new to partner with Ardian Growth, the best people to explain what we do isn’t us–it’s our entrepreneurs.