Seven years. “A course”, nuance Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier. Half started, 2020 will remain a year of all dangers for its iBanFirst bank. Blame it on the coronavirus, which almost compromised a critical fundraising for fintech. In less than a decade, iBanFirst has become “the” online bank for SMEs working abroad. Its name refers to the acronym that designates the international bank account numbering system. “We help entrepreneurs transfer payments all over the world,” describes its founder between appeasement and emotion from the terrace of the Royal Monceau in Paris. To listen to it, all you have to do is create a multicurrency account with your neobank and you’re done. “Payment is made in less than twelve hours with China, if it is not in dollars and if it is at much more competitive rates than those of the big banks,” he points out.
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These are all assets that Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier, 42, has been able to monetize with a handful of capital investors. The man has proven himself. He founded Cambiste.com – the change online already! – and developed for ten years the European branch of the Danes of Saxo Bank. With his budding unicorn, the entrepreneur attracted Iliad founder Xavier Niel, public bank Bpifrance and French funds Serena and Breega to his shores.
In September, the hunt for funds begins
Six years after its first fundraising, its sales teams located on the edge of Parc Monceau are operating at full speed, while around forty engineers create products online and manage data from their HQ in Dijon. In 2019, the time has come for a “third round” campaign. iBanFirst is not yet in equilibrium. Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier, who has chosen to grow in the long term while retaining control – 38% of the capital -, must go through this.
The hunt for investors begins in September. In November, negotiations began with Bpifrance and the private equity firm BlackFin Capital Partners to raise 34 million euros. The public bank is ready to provide a dozen million if BlackFin does the same, the shareholders present in the capital pledging to follow. In January, the parties sign a letter of intent, the famous “term sheet”.
Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier, on a cloud, takes his teams – 200 employees – to celebrate the agreement on the slopes of La Plagne at the end of January. The signing is scheduled for March 13, a… Friday. Meanwhile, the health crisis has turned the markets upside down. March 12 is Black Thursday. The stock market falls 12.5% and BlackFin withdraws from the deal. Bpifrance collects. “This is the moment when the fear of the future, even more than of a crash, affected all investors and entrepreneurs forced to navigate on sight,” said Nicolas Herschtel, responsible at the time for the case at Bpifrance.
Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier is in shock but he clings to the idea that if he finds another “VC” (for venture capitalist), Bpifrance will remain in the race as well as Xavier Niel and the Serena and Breega funds. The banker immediately organizes a fight by telephone and video. Three days later, France enters containment. Fintech is holding up. Its results will even be historically good in March and April, propelling iBanFirst into uncharted territory, the “breakeven”. “Our customers made a lot of transfers, we had 40% of our employees in partial activity and all those who could telework”, explains Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier.
In March, a well-established survival pitch
The entrepreneur is also full of arguments on the “fundamentals”. Already 5,000 users in the portfolio, including the shower cubicles in kit form Aurlane, its first customer, the chain of fashion and decoration shops Bensimon or even Chrono Carpe, the carp fishing e-commerce company of the boss of the Medef, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux. A technological gem capable of processing nearly a billion transfers per month. “We provide bespoke Iban, a simple online experience and even a feature to rate us”, details the banker with a touch of pride. “Its platform has filled a real void. It is transparent on commissions and easy to use,” submits Sébastien Doumenc d’Aurlane, who uses it for his transfers in dollars with his Chinese subsidiary.
According to the TechCrunch site, the neobank is doubling its turnover and increasing its gross margin by 20 million euros each year. At this rate, within three years, it should reach 300 million euros in turnover. And investors value it around 100 million euros. “Because Pierre-Antoine is the opposite of a start-up entrepreneur who tells it to you, points out Jean de la Rochebrochard, at the head of Xavier Niel’s NJJ fund. He is very rational and he had the courage to put back into play to create its platform. “
In May, a 100% virtual closing
After ten calls, the financier has a prospect. Xavier Lazarus’ Elaia fund. The latter had a hollow nose by investing in particular in the champion of advertising targeting Criteo and in the unicorn Mirakl, which manufactures marketplaces for companies. “We have been looking at iBanFirst for years. They have a smart offer in a very buoyant market with the right technology, and we knew all of its investors,” said Xavier Lazarus, won over by the coolness of its founder. Between them, videoconferences on Zoom follow one another and lead to a deal, on April 10, finalized in mid-May, with 21 million euros of fresh money provided in equal parts by Elaia, Bpifrance and the historical investors. And iBanFirst signs the first 100% virtual fundraiser.
Everyone remembers the “closing call” on Zoom in a three-piece suit for Pierre-Antoine and his associates against VCs in a t-shirt. Another highlight of this year unlike any other, the “webinars” to support the morale of the troops, with guests such as market specialist and essayist Marc Fiorentino from Normandy, or Romain Grosjean, the F1 driver. “Pierre-Antoine is driven by the adrenaline of business and the taste for risk. With iBanFirst, he is undoubtedly pursuing the unfinished adventure of Cambiste.com, which was sold very quickly”, Sébastien Doumenc says. Become the darling of the VC once the operation is completed, the banker does not sulk his newfound pleasure. “This crisis has made us stronger and we have assured our customers,” he says. A cap, therefore.