The founder and CEO of Ualá, Pierpaolo Barbieri, affirmed that in Argentina there is a “great talent at a technical and business level that drives the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country” and projected that in 2022 his company will reach the ‘break even’, the moment in which the firm will come to cover the expenses required by the operation.
Ualá is currently one of the main fintech companies, with a valuation of around US $ 3,500 million, more than 8 million clients, and a workforce that expects to close in 2021 with 1,500 employees.
In dialogue with us, Barbieri said that he still identifies his company as a start-up and that the long-term objective of the firm is “financial inclusion in the region.”
The fintech has among its investors the SoftBank Latin America Fund, the technology fund focused on the Latin American market, and Tencent, China’s leading technology company.
To which are added funds managed by Soros Fund Management LLC, others by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, LP, Ribbit Capital, Greyhound Capital, Monashees, and Endeavor Catalyst, among others.
Calaid: The new Latin American unicorns are mostly dedicated to finance or electronic commerce. Do you think it is due to an unsatisfied demand from Latin American society? Is it a coincidence? Do you think that the pandemic accelerated investment in these types of companies?
Pierpaolo Barbieri: The growth of fintech and e-commerce companies in Latin America has to do with the great level of human talent in the knowledge economy sector, which attracts investors to bet on the future of the region. The economy in Latin America is one of the largest in the world and has one of the highest rates in the world in terms of Internet use. According to the Central Bank of the Argentine Republic, at present, 24% of people have an account with a payment service provider such as Ualá, a percentage that is equivalent to around 8 million people.
The emergence of Covid-19 caused certain habit changes that could have taken years to be made in a few weeks. It accelerated trends that we already saw in society, starting with the growth of digital commerce and the digitization of new industries. In this context, the adoption of digital payment methods had an extraordinary boost. As the population knows more and better tools, it experiences the comfort of its use and manages to make changes in habits in the daily management of its financial life.
C: When does a company stop being a start-up?
PB: Ualá is still a start-up. In these almost 4 years in the market, we have grown a lot, but we still have the same energy and ambition from the first day, as when we worked from a Starbucks.
We really hope to maintain it over time because it is the engine that drives us day by day to improve ourselves and make a better product for our users.
We now achieve a historic milestone by receiving this important private investment round of US $ 350 million.
The financing received will allow us to continue with the ambitious plan to attract talent that will lead us to end 2021 with 1,500 employees and develop new business verticals, providing innovation and technological development in Latin America.
We have a long way to go, but this announcement is a great vote of confidence for a team that grows every day. Today we are leaders of the fintech ecosystem, which gives us the confidence and the possibility to continue advancing towards our goal: to achieve greater financial inclusion in the region.
C: Does Ualá already have a profit or has it not reached break-even yet?
PB: We are about to celebrate our fourth anniversary in the Argentine market, and we began our international expansion with the arrival in Mexico, where more than half of the people have never made a payment other than in cash, with really ambitious projects. We are very well on track to achieve it in Argentina in 2022.
C: What macro factors are relevant for an upward movement of entrepreneurship to take place?
PB: In Argentina, there is an enormous talent, especially in the technology industry. Companies like Mercado Libre and Globant, with years of history, are clear examples.
In addition, the need to solve local problems with solutions thought in the local field demands new entrepreneurs with a close and creative look regarding the daily economy.
This is the reason why a virtuous circle of investment and local growth can be generated. There is a very interesting network between founders, entrepreneurs and investors, which shows the great talent at a technical and business level that drives the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.