Described by Dispatches Europe as one of the best places on the continent to grow a startup, Portugal’s capital Lisbon is fast becoming an important hub in the region’s tech scene.
With initiatives like the city’s much-anticipated ‘Unicorn Factory’ expected to come on stream later this year, and the authoritative International Trade and Forfaiting Association staging its 48th annual conference in Porto, it’s clear that the Iberian powerhouse has much to offer from an innovation perspective.
Marqeta wanted to find out a bit more about the Portuguese approach to fintech – so, we spoke to Miguel Quintas, the managing director and founder of buy now, pay later specialist Parcela Já. Here’s what he had to say…
We’d love to learn about your journey so far Miguel – what was the motivation to create Parcela Já and how did you get started?
I started my entrepreneurial journey 25 years ago with a software company in the travel industry. The thinking behind Parcela Já was sparked during a trip to Israel in the early 2000s. While there, I’d observed people paying for goods with predated cheques. This got me thinking about possible solutions that make it easier for retailers and customers to do business. After a lot of brainstorming and ideas development – and armed with a PowerPoint presentation, I managed to secure the assistance of one of the biggest Portuguese players.
They had the resource while I had the idea. We were so close to making a start and then, sadly, it fell through. I decided to put the project in ‘the closet’, where it sat for many years until I had enough money and know-how to start the business on my own.
In 2015, the initial business plan was created and late the following year we had an MPV with the first transactions happening in 2018. There then followed a couple of pivots but by 2019 we’d refined the product and started to achieve very positive figures. There are still plenty of things to be done, but we believe we are on the right track.
So, what does Parcela Já do and why?
Parcela Já is a buy now, pay later fintech company, which offers instalment payments at no cost to the end customer. Our software allows people to pay for products or services via a store checkout counter through two to twelve payments with their regular card, without any interest or charges and without any bureaucracy or waiting times for credit approval (in a matter of seconds). Stores or retailers can offer the Parcela Já solution to customers through a Parcela Já POS terminal, Parcela Já app or web application for their online shop (the last two options are currently in beta mode).
Tell us a bit about how the company has developed and the customer involvement in that process.
After the ideation phase, we developed and tested the solution in all product stages in partnership with retailers and end customers. This is vital to success, as we learnt early on that mistakes are made when you don’t listen to customers. Today, we have hundreds of stores which have adopted our solution and thousands of customers and are confident that 2023 will be a great year for growth.
What are your key learnings from the set-up and launch phases of Parcela Já – and would you do anything differently?
I would definitely do so many things differently, because setting up a new business has so many risky decisions and it’s easy to make mistakes, which only become clear when user engagement and sales figures come through. Being specific, I would say our three biggest learnings are: number one, listen to customers while developing and marketing the product. For Parcela Já, not doing this had a huge impact on our business plan, financing, sales, marketing and so on. The key thing to understand is that if we’re not solving a customer problem, it won’t work. Number two, it’s essential to evaluate all legal and compliance before stepping into the market, as this will help you avoid losing time and holding back growth. And number three, make sure your team is always motivated and able to keep up with the pace of development and growth during challenging periods.
Tell us about buy now, pay later in Portugal. Are the banks offering this, or is it a fintech focussed offering?
The local banks are not really offering the solution but I think they are looking at it seriously, now that it is driving competition in the market. Currently, Parcela Já is the only local buy now, pay later company offering the solution via POS terminal, app and internet.
We’d love to learn more about the fintech space in Portugal more generally. Who are you watching from an innovation perspective?
Fintech is growing in Portugal, thanks in part to the fantastic work of the Portuguese Fintech Association. It’s a group of extremely talented and motivated young people who are constantly striving to make their voices heard and present solutions to local authorities and regulators. At the same time, they are helping to bring out the best in the incumbents while supporting new fintechs. Whom to watch? I would say the world, rather than a single country. There is no such thing as nations anymore when it comes to innovation, and there’s so much happening that it’s difficult to keep pace. And while lots of personal contact was lost during the pandemic, innovation is really accelerating now that industry peers are coming together face to face.
What’s next for Parcela Já? Expansion into new geographies? More partnerships for rewards?
We definitely want to increase market penetration in Portugal while looking at new geographies. We are working to set up an operation in two further countries in 2023. But it will also depend on striking a deal with local partners and funding. I believe there will be good news soon.
How much do partnerships influence your innovation roadmap?
Collaboration plays a huge role. Not just in partnerships but with customers too. We’re always eager to develop new functionalities but, most importantly, try new things. I’m a strong believer in trying and testing. If a partner comes to us and says something like, “it would be nice if…” that’s the moment things become really exciting for me.