Summary 

  • Fintech Satispay became Italy's second unicorn in September 2022. 
  • “Our goal is to become the biggest fintech company in Europe,” says CEO Alberto Dalmasso. 
  • Relative to its gross domestic product in 2021, Italy attracted just over a tenth of the amount of VC funding seen in France and Germany, according to fDi calculations using PitchBook and World Bank data.

As consumers have steadily shift away from cash in major economies around the world, a flurry of new payment services have been launched by start-ups, big tech companies and established banks.

Among them is Satispay, a Milan-based fintech that operates a payments network independent from debit and credit cards. Alberto Dalmasso, who co-founded Satispay with Dario Brignone and Samuele Pinta back in 2013, tells fDi that Italy has a “very fragmented” banking sector and believes it lags other European countries in terms of the availability of quality financial services.

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“You are not on the same level in a country like Italy, so there’s a strong entrepreneurial push to create [financial] products that can massively simplify the life of citizens, merchants and businesses,” says Mr Dalmasso, who also serves as Satispay’s CEO.

While the tech sector undergoes a major correction, with layoffs and falling company valuations and investment, Satispay is pursuing growth in Italy and abroad. In September 2022, the company became Italy’s second ‘unicorn’, or start-up valued at more than €1bn, after raising €320m from a group of notable international investors, including Lee Fixel’s New York-based venture capital (VC) fund Addition.

“Our goal is to become the biggest fintech company in Europe,” says Mr Dalmasso, adding that this injection of capital finally gives Satispay the resources needed to pursue its growth strategy.

Satispay is already the dominant mobile payment solution in Italy, with three million consumers and 200,000 merchants on its platform, but has so far gained less traction in international markets. Over the next 18 months, Satispay will expand its network at home and in France, Germany and Luxembourg, doubling its headcount from 300 to 600 people.

While this build-out will be challenging in the crowded payments space, experts believe Satispay is well positioned to become one of Italy’s first pan-European fintech successes.

Payments growth

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“Despite unavoidable increasing competition, Satispay is operating in a growing industry,” says Francesco Burelli, a partner at Arkwright Consulting, which tracks the payments industry.

Consultancy PwC forecasts the number of global cashless payments to almost triple by 2030. In Europe alone, it expects there to be 522 billion cashless transactions per year, about 17% of the global total.

“We are still in the early days of fintech in Europe,” says Ines Verschueren, a partner at Greyhound Capital, a London-based VC firm which first invested in Satispay in 2018. While many tech companies have had to pivot, Ms Verschueren says that Satispay is a “prime example” of an everyday product that consumers will continue to use regardless of the economic environment.

“People still need to pay their friends, pay bills and shop in stores,” she says, adding that Satispay has the advantage of providing merchants with a cheaper solution than traditional card payments.

In its aim to become Europe’s biggest fintech, Satispay hopes the prepaid accounts it offers, which boast a combination of features, including peer-to-peer transfers and bill payments, will garner success in markets across the continent.

City-by-city

Mr Dalmasso says that Satispay will take a “city-by-city” approach to expansion in Europe: “You really need to be very careful where you go and not spread too much of your efforts, otherwise you don’t really see any results.”

Rather than pursue aggressive growth and try to “conquer” large metro areas, Satispay is experimenting in smaller settings to perfect its model. For its entry to France, Satispay first experimented in Metz, a city of around 120,000 people near to its office in Luxembourg, and Menton, a town on the French Riviera close to the border with Italy.

After seeing “impressive” results in these two cities, Satispay has already defined its next steps for expansion from the French Riviera to Lyon and then eventually Paris. The platform is also available in Luxembourg, where Satispay’s electronic money institution is based, and is being trialled in Nuremberg, Germany.

“We are doing what we did in Italy, but there is always something to tweak and improve getting into a new geography,” says Mr Dalmasso.

Crowded space

Satispay is biding its time before approaching European markets where there are already established mobile payment players, such as Swish in Sweden, Vipps Mobilepay in Norway and Bizum in Spain.

You have to “spend more in explaining the difference” between platforms in these markets, says Mr Dalmasso. “It’s really important to always prioritise, strengthen your network and then go in pushing those most difficult geographies with bigger muscles.”

Mr Burelli notes that for Satispay to achieve a similar position in other markets outside Italy is “very much dependent upon its success in achieving critical mass adoption” by customers.

“The mobile payment race is quite crowded and often fought by value propositions with similar functionalities, differentiating and gaining customer preference in such a context could prove more challenging,” he explains.

Milan base

Satispay’s growth plans also align with Italy proving it can catch up with peers on the European start-up stage. Relative to its gross domestic product in 2021, Italy attracted just over a tenth of the amount of VC funding seen in France and Germany, according to fDi calculations using PitchBook and World Bank data.

Mr Dalmasso says that while Italy lacks talent with experience in scaling businesses up to millions of users, like in other European tech hubs and Silicon Valley, the “right environment” is being created for “Italy to scale, train great talent and get bigger investment”.

This conviction is clear in Satispay’s plan to open a new sustainable headquarters in Milan, which will have 8500 square metres of space over eight floors. Mr Dalmasso, who is keen on in-person collaboration and Satispay employees working together at least three days a week, says these headquarters will be key to attracting top talent to Italy.

He adds that Satispay also set up an office in Berlin back in 2020 where “there is a lot of talent you can pull from other marketplaces”, such as food delivery platforms. As Satispay seeks to turbocharge its growth, Mr Dalmasso is confident that current gloomy market conditions will work in the fintech’s favour.

“Hiring the best talent is the most important thing that is going to determine our success,” he says. “Right now, we see even the best talent looking around because they want to be part of a team that will grow and not be cut in the next few months.”

This article first appeared in the December 2022/January 2023 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.