Bloomberg Línea — Jeeves, a Mexico-based financial services company that helps businesses operate globally, is looking to improve its contribution profit numbers in 2023, according to the CEO and founder Dileep Thazhmon.
“For us, the biggest number is not gross margin. It’s not even gross profit. It’s contribution,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Línea.
The CEO said Jeeves’ gross margins are currently at around 70%, but the focus for this year is on profit. He explained that contribution profit, which takes into account all costs, is a more important number to the company.
A Brex-like firm, Jeeves is a developer of corporate card software designed that allows companies to pay invoices electronically, consolidate spending, and manage vendors and payments in the local currency. It has late-stage clients such as dLocal (DLO), Nubank (NU) and Kavak, serving businesses with 60 to 2,000 employees.
“For the second half of this year we are coming with three core products: business credit and corporate card, cross-border payments, and prepaid cards,” Thazhmon said.
By prioritizing contribution profit and expanding its offerings, the company hopes to continue growing even amid a tough environment for credit and venture firms.
According to PitchBook, the company received an undisclosed amount of debt financing in the form of a senior secured loan from Pollen Street Capital in August last year.
The company reportedly raised an additional safe amount of money with a sovereign wealth fund.
The CEO says Jeeves has enough funds for the next three years. Thus, Jeeves is doubling down on its payment product, which currently accounts for around 40% of its revenue.
The company is also expanding its offerings, with plans to add cross-border payments and prepaid cards that customers can use to bring their own money and spend against it. The prepaid cards will be collateralized, allowing customers to spend more while also reducing risk.
Jeeves’ CEO noted that the shift toward a global focus was already on the company’s roadmap but has been accelerated due to the pandemic.
The startup has already expanded to Mexico and Colombia and plans to add coverage in Brazil and the United Kingdom. Thazhmon aims to provide a way for businesses to operate globally without needing to worry about financial barriers, approaching to be a banking platform rather than just focusing on credit engine.
The SVB aftermath
Jeeves raised $180 million of Series C venture funding in a deal led by Tencent Investment in February 2022, putting the company’s pre-money valuation at $2.13 billion. SVB Capital, the venture capital and credit investing arm of Silicon Valley Bank, also invested in that round, followed by global investors such as GIC, Andreessen Horowitz, and many others.
However, SVB’s collapse also affected the lending market.
According to Thazhmon, there is now increased demand for companies to have access to credit in the US and Mexico, and this has led to more investment coming into the market, as companies look for alternative sources of funding in the wake of the collapse.
Interest rates impact the lending market
An environment with higher interest rates changes the lending market, and which is the biggest hurdle for startups like Jeeves, as they make the business tighter.
Thazhmon highlighted that in order to make money, companies need to charge more, which then leads to a different risk profile for companies that are able to offer high interest rates. While the largest companies in the market are able to cater to this segment, Jeeves’ CEO noted that their focus is on the 3,000-5,000 fast-growing companies that make up their long tail. This includes companies that operate in multiple countries, such as the Colombian market where their platform is used by multi-country companies.
Jeeves decided to add prepaid deposits as a way to meet the increasing demand for access to credit. According to the CEO, credit underwriting has changed in recent years, and the market has shifted. As a result, the company is seeing a lot of inbound demand for credit, and adding prepaid deposits will allow customers to move money into their accounts and spend again.
Thazhmon said this move is particularly important for new customers who want to be under the “stack boxes” of everyone, as they do not have a history with the company yet.
Full cost of lending includes losses, provisions, and hedging
Jeeves has credit facilities for securitization. For Thazhmon, it is important to look at the full cost of lending, including losses, provisions, and hedging, and not just the interest rate.
He said Jeeves is focusing on getting the contribution number positive. When asked about non-performing loans, he said that the unicorn has minimum long term loans and only deal with short term loans that vary by market. For them, long-term loans are anything over six months, and Jeeves has a minimum threshold to avoid risk.
Mexico is Jeeves’ biggest market, and the company is now looking to add more pre-funded loans in Europe, and specifically in Brazil, where Thazhmon sees a lot of potential for growth.
“Our future as a company relies on the future of the operation in Brazil,” he said.
The payments and capital products that Jeeves offers are already bringing in close to 50% of the startup’s revenue. The company’s focus this year is on contribution profit, while next year the goal is to increase revenue from the previous year. The company’s long-term objective is to build the product to a level that is publicly recognized, and to go public within the next four or five years.
Brazil, in particular, is a significant market where the company is investing in both product development and expanding its customer base.
-- Updated to fix quarters to years