The Argentine who opened the startup with US$ 100 and now has R$ 100 million for acquisitions in Brazil


Created in 2017, the startup N5 received funding in recent months from funds linked to J.P. Morgan, Citi, Barclays and Jorge Paulo Lemann

"Julian Colombo: queremos ser unicornio en tres años" (N5 Tecnologia/Disclosure)

“Julian Colombo: we want to be a unicorn in three years” (N5 Tecnologia/Disclosure)

The many years working in the financial market in banks of different sizes led the Argentine Julian Colombo to realize that the institutions suffer from what he calls “technological entropy”. In other words, they spend too much time dealing with software, much of it with no communication between them, just to keep the system running.

From the perception, he created N5, a technology startup to connect the dots between businesses in a simpler way. The N5 model works with a set of 31 functionalities to help in the digitalization of processes, belonging to five business families: customers and prospects, employees, communication channels, products (complaints and processes) and data management. Depending on the customer’s demand, the startup plugs in the service that best suits it.

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With this, institutions are able, for example, to have the history of customer contacts in one place, as well as more structured data, which allows easier handling of information and also the creation of personalized offers. According to internal figures, banks reduce operating costs by 16% and increase commercial productivity by 53%.

This year, it is expected to earn US$ 21 million by the end of 2024 – the equivalent of 100 million reais – and register growth of 219%. The company is setting aside a sum to accelerate its growth in Brazil, through acquisitions, and has another 100 million for transactions in Hispanic countries.

In the next 24 months, it foresees the purchase of the majority stake of a number of between 2 and 8 businesses. Currently, the country ranks third among the largest operations in number of people and is in the top 5 in revenue, moving about 12%.

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How the N5 business works

The company was founded following the trends in the sector, with Open Finance, which promises a more digital, agile system for customers and connected between market agents.

In the race for digitalization, this is a segment that is expected to move more than US$ 120 billion globally in 2032, according to estimates by the consultancy Global Market Insights. In 2023, the amount was just over BRL 20.2 billion.

The current numbers of the N5 do not even remotely compare with those of the time it was created. Columbus is a citizen of the world: in his more than 20 years in financial institutions, mostly at Santander, he has worked in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Spain.

When he decided to become an entrepreneur, he chose to open the business in the United States, the global financial center. He went through the legal procedures and, when it was time to open the bank account, he used a little Latin wit to ‘cry’ a discount. The bank demanded $200 to create, but he only had half of it in his wallet.

“It was the only money I put into the business,” he says. “The lady on the bench had a little bit of empathy and a little bit of pity.”

The next step was to travel to Panama and talk to the CEO of CrediCorp Bank, one of the main institutions in the Central American country, about the startup, business model and what it would like to offer. He left with his first client and an advance payment to get the operation off the ground.

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The business now has more than 70 clients, including Santander, Mastercard, Itaú, Peru’s Interbank and Portugal’s BCP. The operation is in 18 countries, 13 of them in the Americas. The United States leads as the largest in revenue, in part because some transactions from other countries are executed by that unit.

Also from Colombo’s experience, the entire N5 model was structured for the financial, fintech, and insurance markets. Recently, businesses that have opened areas such as payment methods have resorted to the solution. “We have a big client that’s a hospital, but we don’t do the hospital technology, we do the health insurance,” says the CEO.

Acquisitions of Brazilian companies

In 2023, the startup grew 275% in the number of customers and is betting on following the pace of expansion at this rate. The estimated values for this year, says the executive, are from operations that have already been contracted and are starting to operate. In general, each customer takes around 90 days to enter the platform, in a process conducted entirely by the company’s team.

The new steps are driven by a recent investment in N5, the first in the startup’s history. The amount was not revealed, but the international press estimated it at US$ 76 million. “It’s the value is lower,” he says.Behind it are investment vehicles such as Illuminate Financial, (a fund with participation from J.P. Morgan, Citi and Barclays), Exor Ventures, Madrone Capital Partners, LTS Investments (owned by Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira) and Arpex Capital, an investment company owned by Stone’s founders.

In the acquisition strategy, it looks for startups that have average revenues of around R$ 5 million, an amount that can vary depending on the startup’s model.

“We want companies that are thinking about differentiated products for our market, whether from the point of view of technology or functionality,” says Colombo. “Artificial intelligence, channels, business intelligence, flows and new processes. All of these things are very important to us.”

According to the executive, the premise of the move is to maintain the fast pace of expansion and to be able to develop in two months what the company alone would take two years to build. An important element for Colombo is finding engaged teams and founders who want to stay in business. Hence, the option to buy the control, but keeping the partners with a stake.

The increase is aimed at a desire to arrive in 2026 with unicorn status, those startups whose market value exceeds 1 billion dollars.

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