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Ailleron wants to exceed PLN 200M in revenue, looks for acquisitions in Latin America (interview)

[translation of an interview of Rafal Styczen (CEO) for PAP Biznes https://biznes.pap.pl/pl/news/all/info/3210507,ailleron-chce-przekroczyc-200-mln-zl-przychodow–szuka-przejec-w-ameryce-lacinskiej-(wywiad) ]

Ailleron is hoping to exceed PLN 200M in revenue this year. The IT Group is looking for acquisition targets for Software Mind; Latin America is a priority. In November, the sales of the LiveBank SaaS product went live; soon, first clients should be coming in—Rafał Styczeń, president, told PAP Biznes.

“Our results after the first three quarters of this year are record high and the trends are fantastic, keeping up this unprecedented pace. Historically, Q4 is approx. 36–38% of our annual revenue. If the trend from previous quarters continues—and I think it will—we should exceed PLN 200M in consolidated revenue this year,” Mr. Styczeń said.

After three quarters, the revenue of the Ailleron IT group stands at PLN 145.4M, which is 42% more than in the same period last year.

The group’s operating and net profit went up significantly, as well, by 85% and 122%, respectively. However, the net result attributable to the shareholders of the parent entity fell by 20%, to PLN 2.9M. This is a result of this year’s sale of shares in Software Mind, a company responsible for the largest segment of the group’s operations: development and maintenance of IT systems (also known as enterprise services) for large clients, including in the USA, Western Europe, and Scandinavia.

Mr. Styczeń said that at the end of the year, he expects positive results in all segments of operations.

Between January and September, the enterprise services segment was most profitable (an operating profit of PLN 17.2M), while fintech (solutions for the financial sector) recorded an operating loss of PLN 1.6M and hoteltech (services for the hotel industry)—of PLN 0.5M.

DEVELOPMENT OF SOFTWARE MIND

In April 2021, Ailleron executed with Enterprise Investors a share purchase and investment agreement with respect to Software Mind; in it, the company’s value was specified to be PLN 150M. EI purchased 26.7% of shares in Software Mind for PLN 40M and provided a capital injection of PLN 71M, which increased the fund’s participation in the share capital to 50.2%. At the same time, Ailleron retained control over the operations of Software Mind and the right to appoint the president and most of the members of the management board, as well as two out of five members of the supervisory board.

Software Mind has announced acquisitions the total value of which will be PLN 200M. When asked by PAP Biznes, Mr. Styczeń said that these funds could be spent over the next year.

Acquisitions and the scaling-up of Software Mind are expected to more than compensate for the decrease in the profit of the parent entity, Ailleron, caused by the sale of the shares.

“Will that happen by the end of the year? We don’t know, but it will certainly take place in the first quarters of 2022,” Mr. Styczeń said.

He explained that the transactions are intended to open up new markets for the company and provide it with access to high level IT specialists. One example is the preliminary purchase agreement of Code Factory companies in Romania and Moldova, which employ approx. 200 specialists and generate a revenue of approx. EUR 11M per year.

Ailleron assumes that the growth of Software Mind will have a dynamics of 30–40%, partially thanks to the acquisitions. Next year, the company should be close to employing 1,500 people. Today, all members of the group have approx. 1,200 employees.

Mr. Styczeń believes that the sale of the shares in the company was a good move, allowing Software Mind’s growth to surge.

“There has been a number of opinions that we let go of the most interesting part of our business. This is not entirely true. In 2019, we employed approx. 200 people in that area; today, it’s almost 1,000 and we are moving towards 1,500 thanks to the acquisitions we have carried out,” he said.

MORE ACQUISITIONS IN LATIN AMERICA

Software Mind wants for its next acquisitions to take place in Latin America. Talks with potential targets are under way.

“This is a key region for us because of a smaller time difference to the USA. Entering one of the Latin American markets will also allow us to operate in the entire region through a single HQ. This is highly important considering the potential for recruiting employees, who could also work remotely,” Mr. Styczeń explained.

He also stated that the targets for acquisition use the same model of functioning as Software Mind and have an EBITDA of 20–30% or, in the case of smaller entities, even more.

The valuations of the companies acquired by the group so far were between six and ten times the EBITDA, with Mr. Styczeń explaining that the factor of ten is justified in the case of a high growth dynamics that is at least 50% year to year. In Latin America, valuations are higher due to increased competition.

“However, this is compensated for by high growth dynamics of the companies that operate in that region,” Mr. Styczeń believes.

In addition to Latin American companies, Ailleron is interested in acquisitions in technological areas, including blockchain, artificial intelligence, and data science.

WAGE PRESSURE UNDER CONTROL

Mr. Styczeń admits that the fight for employees has recently escalated. But he believes that his company is capable of doing well in such a situation.

“Most of the revenue comes from export sales and those are in USD or EUR. The recent appreciation of these currencies in combination with increasing costs that are incurred in PLN means that the margins remain unaffected. Periodically, we also talk to our clients about the rates, so that we can, to some extent, limit the effect of the growing costs of Polish companies,” he said.

Ailleron’s boss also explained that Software Mind uses exclusively the time and materials model and does not carry out projects for a price agreed in advance, which facilitates negotiations with clients.

He added that increasing rates for foreign clients is easier, but Polish companies will also have to face higher IT costs.

“If they are unable to pay appropriate prices for IT services, companies like us may switch to foreign sales to a larger extent. As a result, there will be more cost pressure in Poland from IT,” he said.

The group focuses on working with large entities that develop technological platforms, such as Branch.io, which employs approx. 30,000 software developers. According to Mr. Styczeń, one asset of working for such clients is the constant need for human resources. High profitability is another positive.

“Companies like that, which achieve high margins, have no problem with us increasing our rates because of more expensive employees. We avoid working for clients for which IT costs are relatively high—in such a case, appreciation of wages would make price negotiations difficult,” he explained.

NEW VERSION OF LIVEBANK IS LOOKING FOR CLIENTS

In November, Ailleron launched the provisional version of its flagship fintech product: LiveBank. The model used is software as a service (SaaS), which is fully cloud-based. LiveBank is a platform that integrates all of the communication channels of banks, including the popular online messengers and video chats.

According to Mr. Styczeń, the new form of sales means that banks can start using LiveBank more quickly, paying for each use of the platform. The first testing phase has gone live in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Ailleron hopes that this will draw a large number of smaller banks, which, due to barriers to entry, have so far been unable to afford this solution (previously, the product was installed directly on banks’ servers).

According to Mr. Styczeń, everything seems to be suggesting that LiveBank will soon have its first contracts.

A global launch of the product should take place in 2022. Due to the model of sales, in which payments are recurring and depend e.g. on the number of positions, Ailleron is not expecting for the revenue to be high from day one. However, the company sees lots of potential for growth.

The group wants to continue strong investments in its product. This year, expenses on the development of LiveBank are expected to exceed PLN 6M.

“We hope that next year, LiveBank will show its true value—this will let us know that we can confidently invest even more in that product,” Mr. Styczeń said.

HOTEL SEGMENT TO BE SEPARATED OUT

The group also intends to develop the smallest segment of its operations, hoteltech (solutions for the hotel industry). The ultimate goal is to separate it out and recruit an investor. The key part of this area is iLumio, a platform that brings together e.g. booking services and hotel TV.

“We want for Ailleron to be the first choice of financial institutions. This means that the actions we take in the hoteltech area are ultimately designed to strengthen this part of the business in terms of revenue and results, so that we can then make a spin-off and have iLumio as a separate, independent company, most likely with an external investor involved,” Mr. Styczeń said.

Currently, the share of this segment in the group’s revenue and results is not significant: after three quarters, sales amount to PLN 2.9M and there is an operating loss of PLN 0.5M. However, Ailleron still sees potential on the market of IT services for hotels, e.g. because of the consequences of the pandemic.

“In its first year, COVID shattered the hotel industry. However, at the same time, the owners of these businesses noticed that they have to have a technology that allows clients to look at their hotel through a smartphone. Those with a stronger financial position started to invest and came to us, among others. This shows that the industry will have big potential once it starts to recover in a stronger way,” Mr. Styczeń believes.

POSSIBLE BUYBACK

Since the beginning of the year, the price of Ailleron’s shares increased by approx. 11%. Mr. Styczeń believes that the company’s market valuation does not reflect its true value. The company may consider a buyback.

“It seems to me that now, at the end of the year, there are many changes to investment portfolios. We’ll see what our stock price is after the New Year and then a decision will be made; a buyback is possible,” he said.

“We are looking at our valuation from the long-term perspective. Today, this is not a crucial element from the point of view of acquisitions or recruiting capital. We believe that in the long run, the valuation will reach a level that will correspond to the company’s actual value,” he added.

Today, Ailleron employs approx 1,200 people in four countries. The group has clients in 27 countries. The share of foreign sales in revenue is 54% and, in terms of the amount, went up by 40% this year.