When Stefano Pedron, the CEO of Jakala sent his 2021-2026 business plan to Ardian, the title was “Raise the bar”. Since then, the company has met its high targets of organic growth, and has readjusted the bar even higher.
Ardian has worked with Jakala, Italy’s first martech company, since 2018 through its Growth activity, with a minority stake acquisition. Three years later, Ardian acquired a majority stake in Jakala through its Buyout activity, and since then, we have worked to help Jakala enhance its business model and accelerate its growth strategy.
What are the keys of this strategy, especially concerning the expansion of the company across Europe? To learn more about this successful partnership, Colette Davidson traveled to Milan to meet with Stefano Pedron and Marco Bellino to learn more about how Ardian is supporting the company on its business journey.
Most of our regional competitors do not exist anymore or they are struggling because they didn't understand such a change. And we did. And so it's in our culture to challenge constantly ourselves to understand if what we do fits with what the market is asking for.
Keeping the entrepreneurship spirit at the heart of their activity is indeed very important for the future success of the company. So we felt the management had the right mindset and we were the right partner for the management in order to continue the incredible growth they've been experiencing for the last 23 years.
When you’re a world-leading private investment house, there’s more to your business than market growth. It’s about connections, relationships.
Ardian, a French-based private equity investment company, is constantly building its portfolio - to strengthen its partnerships, offer its expertise and remain true to the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Welcome to Entrepreneurial Journeys, a podcast all about Ardian’s commitment to building better business, together. In each episode, we’ll learn about Ardian’s growing global network.
I’m your host, Colette Davidson.
People centered, data inspired – that’s the motto at Jakala. Italy’s first martech company was founded in 2000, on the premise of integrating marketing and technology, to help its customers unlock their business potential.
Ardian has worked with Jakala since 2018 through the Growth team of Ardian, with a minority stake acquisition. Three years later, Ardian acquired a majority stake in Jakala through the Buyout team, and since then, they’ve worked together to help Jakala enhance its business model and accelerate its growth strategy.
The partnership has become even more important as Jakala looks to expand its operations across Europe as well as on an international scale. It already works with markets in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Poland.
I visited Jakala’s headquarters in Milan, Italy, and met with Stefano Pedron, the CEO, and Marco Bellino, Managing Director in the Buyout team at Ardian, to learn more about how Ardian is supporting the company on its business journey.
You are the CEO of Jakala. There has always been a strong sense of entrepreneurship at Jakala. Can you tell me about the beginnings of the company?
Stefano Pedron :
Yes, Jakala was founded in year 2000. So now it's a 22 years ride. And it's been a really fascinating story from a niche player in the corporate gift business… And it became now a leader in the martechand in the digital arena.
Stefano Pedron :
So we turned the company model into something completely different, because now we are something that is totally different from what we started off. That's because at Jakala, we are not scared to challenge ourselves constantly. And this business has been totally transformed in the last ten years. You have to do that if you want to try and if you want to survive. Most of our regional competitors do not exist anymore or they are struggling because they didn't understand such a change. And we did. And so it's in our culture to challenge constantly ourselves to understand if what we do fits with what the market is asking for.
Right, exactly. And what kinds of things did you want to improve? What were some of the challenges you faced?
Stefano Pedron :
Some things that we were not so rational or totally structured before Ardian came, that was our M&A strategy or giving the right priorities to our growth drivers because we were always thinking about how we can grow. “Let's go there and let's do that.” But some of these things needed to be more structured. For example, cross border acquisitions. We were not really prepared to do that before our partner came. And that was one of the reasons why we decided to go for this kind of partnership, because we needed a different kind of support and also a more structured way to prioritize the growth initiatives.
So this is why it was important to partner with Ardian specifically.
Marco Bellino, you are a Managing Director in Milan at Ardian. So does what Stefano is saying resonate with you in terms of why you wanted to work with Jakala?
Marco Bellino :
Yes, absolutely. Ardian is a big organization, but we have three core values that in the whole Ardian group shape our corporate culture and the way we interact with both our investors and our industrial companies. These values are excellence, loyalty and entrepreneurship. So Jakala, the way the management has built it, together with Matteo, the founder really resonates in our core values. Jakala answers the need from his customer to nurture the loyalty and the engagement of our customer's final clients. And therefore loyalty is at the core of the activity of Jakala, like it is at the core of our activity. Excellence is a must, especially in a very competitive market like the one in which Jakala operates. Entrepreneurship is maybe the core value that, given the size of Jakala, is the most challenging one because 23 years ago Jakala was founded as a small company. Today it's a large company, a leading company in Italy, and we are expanding in Europe. Keeping this entrepreneurship spirit at the heart of their activity is indeed very important for the future success of the company. So we felt the management had the right mindset and we were the right partner for the management in order to continue the incredible growth they've been experiencing for the last 23 years.
And maybe I'll just go back a step and push you a bit more about this concept of bringing Jakala to a European market and making it more European. Why was that important to you?
Marco Bellino :
It is important because in Italy, they are an absolute leader in the marketing technology space. But the real proof of success, what in the end, we bring to Jakala, is the ability to remain in a leadership position well beyond Ardian's investment period. So for the next 23 years, like they have done in the past 23 years, is really to be able to be relevant at a larger scale. Because you need to demonstrate that you are able to replicate such a story in other countries, which we have already started to do. We closed our investment in Jakala in May last year, May 2021. And in July, Jakala made the first acquisition in Spain, to which we added another Spanish company. And also Jakala supported what is today Jakala Spain in continuing its growth with very aggressive recruiting, so really betting on the increased needs from the Spanish customers on what Jakala has to offer. And today Spain is the second market of Jakala on martech. And this is a business that is growing extremely well, which already in a short time frame has demonstrated that Jakala is relevant to other markets. So we plan to continue to do this in Spain, of course, but also in other countries like France, Germany or UK to start.
And have you had to tailor your strategy to each market or do you have kind of an overall strategy that you implement?
Marco Bellino :
It comes back to entrepreneurship, because being an entrepreneur really means having the right ambition, but also the right flexibility to adapt to each local market, which is a challenge, because clearly there is an advantage. Working with technology, with digital, the technology we provide is a global one, so there is no particular, specific technology for one country or the other. So there is a common basis on which Jakala is extremely knowledgeable and extremely effective. Having said that, the entrepreneurship is important when you select the people that will serve your customers. So most of the effort in each country is really to find the right profile and the people that will be more able to roll out Jakala's offering in these foreign markets.
Stefano Pedron, let's come back to you. What kind of transformation have you noticed at check out since you started working with Ardian? Now you've had some time to look back and assess.
Stefano Pedron :
Yes, it's just more than a year, but it seems longer, honestly. Two many things, but on top of them: now we have a professional team to use as a discussion panel for our strategic decisions, because before it was mainly between myself and the founder. And now you have the feeling that you are surrounded by professionals that understand our business challenges and they challenge ourselves in order to take at the end of the most conscious decisions for our business. So this is the main ingredient and the main change that we see. In terms of practical things, definitely we have increased the speed and the professionalism of our activities because they are masters in that. They gave us methodology, they pushed us to involve professional talent from external markets and we set up a department focused on this kind of activities and you see that things are totally different and we will collect the fruit, the results out of these decisions very soon. Another thing that I think is really important is that we saw a big change when we go outside trying to onboard talent, senior people from the market, because being backed by Ardian, positions yourself in a totally different way. Also for people that are looking for a new professional project, you can sell them a different story, you can offer them better opportunities to improve their career. It gives you a really strong positioning in dealing with such people. And it's not a causality that we managed to involve very senior talent from the market. During the last twelve months we onboarded three, four, five very relevant talents from the outside market and this would not have been possible without such kind of change. So definitely these are the two main things that we saw as a difference.
Stefano Pedron :
Complementary support and new enthusiasm injection in what we were doing. So I would say that it's definitely a better way of working.
Great. And Marco Bellino, you know, when you think of your future work with Jakala, what is your strategy?
Marco Bellino :
We have discussed and touched many points... I'll do one step back. When we started to look at Jakala as a potential investment, Stefano sent me the business plan of the company. The title was “Business Plan 2021-2026. But the subtitle was much more interesting and it was “Raise the bar”. And in the end it’s a strategy for all our portfolio companies but what is very relevant for Jakala, is really to continue to raise the bar. Because when you look at the document they were projecting very high organic growth (20%) and they are delivering it. They were projecting European expansion and we are doing it. So you could think that everything is going to plan and we are a very lucky investor of a very successful company. But the reality is that when you hear Stefano speaking, you realize that they have already raised the bar compared to what they were thinking 18 months ago. So the strategy, as long as we will find a management team that continues to raise the bar, is really to support them, both financially and challenging at the right time their convictions, but also putting ourselves at the service of this great project.
Things are looking up, we can say. Thank you so much. Marco Bellino and Stefano Pedron.
Thanks for tuning into Entrepreneurial Journeys, a podcast from Ardian.
Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Deezer, or wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information, visit Ardian.COM. If you liked this episode, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on Apple Podcasts and talk about it with your friends and colleagues. Until next time!
Entrepreneurial Journeys is a podcast about Ardian’s commitment to building lasting change, by partnering with managers to build resilient, high-quality businesses that are fit to face the future.
This podcast is hosted by Colette Davidson and produced by Louie Creative for Ardian.
Tune in on iTunes, Deezer, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - and join us for an inside look at where the world is going next. For more information about the podcast, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and on our website.
Our podcasts are accessible to all thanks to the written transcriptions of the episodes available on our website on each episode's landing page.