Interview with Federico Isenburg

20th November 2019  

Co-Founder of Easy Welfare

After a degree in Economics and Finance at the Bocconi University in Milan and having gained work experience in companies such as Telecom Italia (now TIM) and Samsung, in 2006 Federico Isenburg founds Muoversi, a consulting company for sustainable mobility, that, after only a year, turns into Easy Welfare, the first provider for corporate welfare services in Italy.

The company you founded, Easy Welfare, was recently acquired by the French giant Edenred for 53 million of euro. A successful exit that brings the company into a phase of further growth. How was born the idea of entering Edenred?

In my opinion, an exit is not so much a business success, because I think that an entrepreneurial success should not end with a sale, so I rather consider it a personal and economic success. With Easy Welfare I had reached a point where I thought that there was a need for new financial partners, in order to project the company into a new phase and give it a broader horizon. Several factors have led to the choice of a different route which has ended with the acquisition by an industrial entity. At that point there was a contest in which two other industrialists participated, Axa and Sodexo, and a small fund, but Edenred won for the conditions and the price. A battle deservedly won: I have to say that Edenred is a multinational with a very clear mission, which has shown to want this deal very strongly.

What are the goals achieved by the company since its foundation? What will be your role in this new phase of Easy Welfare?

I believe that it can be said without hesitation that the achievements are remarkable. We have built from scratch a company with over 150 employees, with offices in Milan, Rome and Albania, and five different legal entities, including an insurance broker and a health insurance fund with over 10,000 subscribers. But especially with Easy Welfare we invented a market that did not exist in Italy, at a time when no one knew what the company welfare was. At the base were a number of insights, such as the importance of health insurance, the possibility to offer companies tools that were not only needed to support workers, even with a tax benefit, but they allowed the same companies to use them as instruments of attraction and brand reputation. There was a latent need for this kind of tools, but no one had thought, before us, to systematize the flexible benefits and to implement them in a technological platform. In this way, we have developed a market by directing ourselves towards the SMEs and we have set up a technological team of the highest level. As for my role in Easy Welfare, after the sale I retained only the position of advisor. I hope, of course, that the company will continue to grow and reap success.

What is your career path and what are the most important skills and experiences in your career as an entrepreneur and startupper?

I came to be an entrepreneur because that’s what I always wanted to do. After a degree in Economics at the Bocconi University in Milan I had the opportunity to work in different companies and to gain experience in different areas, and I believe that each of these experiences has been useful to me in my later entrepreneurial adventure. Then I approached sustainable mobility, and finally I had the intuition of a company that could be successful in the sector of flexible benefits, which allowed the birth of Easy Welfare.

How was the idea of Easy Welfare born? To which needs and to which market dynamics responded the project?

Easy Welfare was born as Muoversi after a meeting with Federico Bianchi and it was a consulting company for sustainable mobility. We had some success in this field, but we matured quite soon the idea to differentiate ourselves from the players that were emerging at that time and to make a fairly aggressive dimensional leap. We decided to move towards mobility management services and we built an IT platform becoming the pioneers of car pooling in Italy. But in the meantime, we have begun to study the legal framework of employee remuneration, and from there began to germinate the idea that would lead to the transformation of the company into Easy Welfare after having made the pivot towards the flexible benefit. I started in 2007 from a small apartment, with some intuitions that turned out to be correct and, above all, a great determination to transform them into a concrete entrepreneurial idea.

Why is corporate welfare important?

It is important because it is the only way in which companies can contain labour costs in Italy, where the tax wedge is very high and imposes impossible costs on companies and punitive wages for workers. This helps companies to be more attractive to their employees and provides support to workers. But there are also other advantages: it is an instrument to fight against evasion, also because it discourages the use of the undeclared work, which in Italy is unfortunately a widespread phenomenon. In addition, corporate welfare basically provides welfare grants for family, which is an important value to be protected and promoted, and if well managed it could be a great support for health issues.

How do you judge the Italian ecosystem today? What are the main obstacles that an entrepreneur must overcome to launch his start-up?

This is a question that is difficult to answer. In general terms, in my opinion, there is a good ecosystem, but there are limits to the development of a truly diverse and interesting market. Of course, there are not the same money of Silicon Valley, but today, unlike a few years ago, there is so much liquidity that could be used to support and increase successful businesses. The problem is rather a lack of management culture. I met many people who would like to set up start-ups, and although I can’t generalize, many of these people do not have clear ideas. They often also have an interesting or brilliant idea, but they haven’t thought seriously about how to translate their idea into a real business project. Therefore, the problem is not so much the liquidity – and therefore also the attractiveness of the system in directing this liquidity towards the real economy, that is also important– but rather the management. This mismatch between the availability of resources and opportunities to be funded is perhaps also the reason why you see many companies with excessive ratings: in absence of interesting alternatives there is a tendency to concentrate investments on a few companies, inflating their valuation.

If you could choose another Country to work in, which would it be and why?

I am well in Italy and I believe that in terms of overall balance it is difficult to find a better place to stay. However, I hope that my children go to study abroad and get some experience out, because it’s always good to open your mind and know what’s out there. In terms of business, there are many attractive places around the world, but I think Italy is also an interesting system, able to offer opportunities to those who really want to make it. On the Venture Capital front, I believe that many things have improved, especially in Milan, but obviously there is still a long way to go.

How is the Italian panorama of start-ups today? What are the areas in which you see the most interesting opportunities and the most innovative ideas?

If I knew, I’d be gone! Seriously, I see that there are sectors that are rightly on the crest of the wave today because they are positioned on long-term trends destined to change the way we live, such as fintech and artificial intelligence. But I do not have any particular preference, because I think that a brilliant idea from which create a successful business can exist in every sector. I personally feel ready to go back to any area offering interesting opportunities. But as I mentioned a moment ago, it is not so easy to find: in my opinion, there are some, but the market at the moment does not fully express its potential for the already mentioned lack of entrepreneurial culture.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m looking at various options and I’m trying to figure out where to go from here, but the general idea is that I would like to support businesses. I realized that the experience I have gained with Easy Welfare, although in a relatively small dimension, is actually very wide. I went from one sector to another, turned a company with a 50% partner into a company with financial partners, set up a production center in Albania, organized a roadshow for private equity funds and then turned towards the sale to a strategic entity. I think that this whole experience is not only applicable, but that it can be useful to support the next big thing.