A Conversation with Luis Leon of Leano
Today we have an interesting discussion with Luis Leon, the CEO of the French startup Leano. Leano is a platform that brings personalized financial services to small and medium sized B2Bs. Check out the interview below:
Tell us a little bit about yourself — what’s your background and how did you get to where you are today?
I’m originally from Venezuela where I did my undergrad in electrical engineering, and then I completed my Master’s degree in Italy, in Rome in 2008. After Rome, I went back to Venezuela and launched my first startup in informatics and data, so basically home automation and things like that. This was around 2009, though, and I think it was too early for automation/AI to work. Especially in Venezuela, these kinds of sectors were not really a priority, so I got tired of it. In 2011, two years after launching the startup, I went to France to start my PhD at Inria Grenoble (the National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology). For three years I worked in machine learning and automation, applying it to intelligent transportation systems, so basically like intelligent cars and intelligent highways. I stayed in that field for about seven years, and then I jumped into product management of AI, data, and finance at Allianz Trade credit insurance company (which was then called Euler Hermes), where I stayed three years. I was really interested in sales because that’s what I was doing with my startup – sales, marketing, talking to people etc. Then in March 2020, during the Pandemic, I started my executive MBA. I finished last year, which is right after I launched my second startup, Leano.
Explain your company Leano for our readers. What is its goal, and how do you accomplish that? How did you decide to pursue this start-up?
During my time at Allianz Trade and during my MBA, I started talking to SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises). Most of the time, SMEs have a very hard time securing capital for the working capital requirements, and we didn’t know at the time what kind of working capital requirements they needed or why. The market, especially in France, is usually conservative, meaning they don’t have the same feeling about debts that they do in Anglo-Saxon countries. So I wanted to dig deeper inside the question of, what do SMEs need to survive? That’s what I studied during my MBA.
The mission of Leano is to bring the best lending solutions for working capital to the hands of SMEs in the most straightforward and flexible way. On one hand, SMEs are having a very hard time securing stocks, retaining key suppliers, having flexible payment terms, and getting paid faster by customers – largely due to the macroeconomic situation today. On the other hand, there are great financing solutions that we call fintech out there and available to help them have a better peace of mind and focus on what matters to them the most, which is their business. The thing is, some of these solutions are still quite new and these fintechs that lend money are unknown to the general public. Plus they only solve one part of the whole working capital problem.
The solution we proposed at Leano is the integration of all of these lenders into one single platform, so SMEs can have all their financing requirements available through a seamless and single experience. In Leano’s platform, we seek to solve the main problems, which are fast and flexible working capital access for SMEs and supply chain financing programs for smaller companies in a larger spectrum and at lower costs. We hope to position Leano as a French leader in embedded finance. We enable fintechs to offer lines of credit to SMEs in a one-stop-shop platform. Right now, to fintechs, we can offer not only a healthy portfolio of clients, but also recurrent financing requests, which is important to them. And for our SME clients, they can subscribe to Leano’s platform and get financed 24 hours later by our fintech partners.
In the future we want to push the boundaries of embedded lending even further. We plan to build our own brokerage API to integrate into third party solutions like other fintechs, ERP (enterprise resource planning) platforms, marketplaces, etc. Think of it as “the API that rules them all”. It gives third-party solutions with a single integration, with access to larger financing solutions to our clients, saving time on integration and debugging and, consequently, saving the company money.
What trends are you excited about in the world of finance and technology right now, especially in the EU? Why?
Currently there are great business innovations in embedded finance, and that’s how Leano solves the problems identified. Embedded finance is, for me, one of the most exciting trends. It’s not really a new market though – we’ve seen it for a long time. What really interests me and what I find exciting is how financial products today can be seamlessly integrated into digital interfaces that users interact with on a daily basis. We’ve already seen this in the e-commerce world with the BNPL, so my question for the future is, how can we transpose this great user experience built for e-commerce into more physical and traditional trade sectors? For instance, food or agriculture, could we use the same fintechs to tackle new use cases? Can we build a connected world of lending solutions to tackle new kinds of SMEs and sectors, not just for e-commerce?
What skills do you think are important for people entering the start-up, entrepreneurial world today? Do you have any recommendations based on your experiences?
This may be unpopular feedback, but after this first year of working on Leano, my advice is to stay off of social media. It’s a powerful tool though, don’t get me wrong, but it should only be used as a lever for marketing, sales or networking. Not as a measurement of success. I’m a very impatient person by nature. I always say to my co-founder that I’m like a shark; I need to move, but I don’t always know where I’m going. For me, social media gives me this feeling that I’m not moving fast enough, or that I’m not going in the right direction. The world only commercializes success and not bumps in the road or failures, even though they’re inevitable. That can be dangerous because when you’re building a startup, it’s a very lonely journey with a lot of bumps in the road. The whole process can be quite complicated and nonlinear. So my advice is to stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve instead of looking around you at what everyone else is doing. It’s important to remember that it’s not about who starts first; the winner is the person who gets to the finish line. It’s better not to start the fastest, but to get there fastest.
Where do you see the world of fintech heading 5, 10 years from now, both in Europe and beyond? What predictions do you have?
There are two things that I see coming. First, there has been such a buzz around blockchain, and I think we’ve only scraped the surface of it. I predict that very soon we’ll see better use cases, and we’ll be able to use blockchain as it is, as a technology lever for faster payments and things like that. I think more people will use blockchain and it will be more tangible for end users, because the infrastructure will be better and faster. Second, I think it will be something related to green tech. I think ESG (environmental, social, and governance investment) and green financing is going to play a huge part in upcoming years. It’s like a puzzle: there are so many disconnected pieces today, but I think we’re going to see more of these pieces coming together in future years.
One of the things we want to tackle in the future at Leano is the trade sector. It can be very complicated for companies to handle suppliers or customers that are outside their home country. And prices are going up like crazy right now everywhere across Europe and the U.S. So how can we help companies trade more efficiently – on a global scale – through our platform? My goal is to come up with a strategy so that SMEs have finance capital at the lowest cost possible. Fintechs are great, they’re exciting, they’re very fast and agile, but small companies often have to pay high costs for that agility, speed, and flexibility. As a fintech integrator, at Leano our ultimate goal is to reduce the cost for these SMS while giving the same value to fintech.
For more information about Leano, you can visit their website or LinkedIn page. If you want to know more about how Pentadata is bringing financial data to apps across North America, visit our website or contact us to ask your questions.